On July 9, 2011, Melissa and I went to Des Moines, to celebrate her mom’s birthday. Our youngest daughter, Annie, who turned 16 just 9 days before, went with us. We enjoyed a good meal and conversation at the Machine Shed Restaurant. After dinner, we gave Annie a small gift bag. Inside was a key fob and a car key. Her eyes lit up and a smile shot from ear to ear. She thought we might be pranking her when we told her to go to the parking lot and find her birthday present.
She used the keyless entry and the car’s horn to find a shiny, bright red Chevy Cobalt sitting in a parking space under a shade tree. She was in disbelief. “Is this for real? Is this really mine?” We told her to get in and see if the key started it. She did and it did. It was her first car and tears of joy fell. She immediately named the car “Rosie.”
On the way home, I rode with Annie, while Melissa followed in our car. Riding in the left lane, I told Annie to get in the right lane. She turned on her signal and BAM, to the right lane she went…cutting off the car in that lane. “We’re going to have to work on your highway driving skills.” I told her.
A few weeks later, I stood in the front yard and watched Annie drive off for her first day as a junior in high school. I remember thinking, “I guess she doesn’t need us to take her to school anymore.”
It seemed like just a few weeks more, but it was a year later, when I stood in the front yard and watched Annie drive away in Rosie. This time she was headed off for her first day as a senior in high school. In that bittersweet moment, a flurry of “first days” went racing through my mind. Our little girl was growing up – and too fast. I wondered if she would still need me?
A week or so ago, Annie called me with bad news; Rosie died on the side of the road. She had taken the car to a mechanic and was still having trouble with it. Reality hit. She had owned the car for eight and a half years, putting well over one hundred thousand miles one it. It was a used car when we bought it; the time had come to replace Rosie.
Annie and Melissa did the preliminary work, looking online for a new car. They narrowed the selection down to two, both at Dakota Motors in Farmington, Minnesota. Annie had never purchased a car before and Melissa helped her through the process of getting pre-approved for a car loan. With everything in order, Annie and I would go to look at the cars together.
Driving home from Oklahoma, I stopped for the night in Missouri. The next day I would pick Annie up from the school where she teaches. Albeit treacherous, northern Missouri was beautiful. Fresh snow clung to tree branches, fence posts bushes, utility poles and even powerlines - anything it could stick to, including the road. A grey sky with limited visibility made it feel colder than it really was. The roads were icy.
Traffic was moving about 50 m.p.h. on the interstate. Every now and then a car would go flying by in the unplowed left lane; we would usually see them in a ditch further up the road. I called Annie to let her know I would be about thirty minutes late, due to the weather.
If you drive by any elementary, junior high, or high school, around 8 a.m., or 3 p.m., in any town USA, you’ll run into heavy traffic. Parents will be lined up on the side of the street to drop off or waiting to pick up their kids. I arrived at 12:30, so there were no lines. I parked in a space and waited for Annie to come out. I kept thinking, “It’s been years since I picked this kid up from school.” And now, I am picking her up again, but this time she is a teacher.
June was excited. Although she has never been to this school, she seemed to know Annie was coming. A person walked out the door, bundled up so tight I couldn’t even see their face. Their arms were weighted down with bags, a water bottle, books and such; but I recognized her walk. Sitting in the passenger seat, June put her paws on the dashboard, pressing her wet nose to the windshield. Her whole body wiggled with excitement. Annie opened the door and June jumped out to greet her.
After putting her bags in the back, Annie got in the front seat. She settled in, pushed back her hood, took off her scarf and stocking cap and loosened her coat. I could finally see her face. “Hi.” As I backed out of the parking space, she said, “It’s been a long time since I waited at school for you to pick me up.” That comment warmed my heart.
At the dealership, I rode along as Annie drove both cars. We asked a lot of questions, looked over both vehicles carefully and checked their history. I had her look in the manual to see when routine maintenance expenses would be coming. This was a first-time buying experience for her and I needed to let her do the work. I was just there to help. We asked the dealer if he could do any better on the price. Either car would have been fine, but I thought one was a little better than the other. She weighed the benefits of each out loud, then asked “Which one should I go with?”
“That’s up to you, kid. I bought your first car. This time you’re writing the check, so you need to make that decision.” She thought hard and seemed a bit confused. It would have been easier if I told her which one to go with, but I wasn’t going to do that. As she pondered her choices, I reminded her, “You do have a third option. You can go with the 2015, the 2016, or you can wait. You don’t have to buy a car tonight.”
But she had looked hard, done the research and was ready to make a purchase. She looked at the dealer on the other side of the desk. “I’m going to go with the 2016.” Bart was in and out of the room several times completing the paperwork and making copies. I asked Annie if she was excited or nervous. “Both.” She said, “I’m excited about getting the car, but nervous about having car payments.” I laughed, knowing exactly how she felt. She was thrilled, but I also know that sinking feeling of uncertainty, deep in your stomach that comes whenever you’re about to make a big purchase.
“That nervous feeling in your gut goes away after you’ve made two or three payments.” She wrinkled her face. I told her, “For what it’s worth, you’re buying the car I would have picked.” That seemed to put her a little more at ease. Still, she was nervous writing the check – it was clearly the biggest check she’d ever written in her life. I was proud of her.
As she got in the car, I heard her refer to the car as Sally. I followed her out of the parking lot. Our youngest daughter just made her first car purchase. I climbed into my van, watching Annie in her new ride, and said, “Goodbye, Rosie – Hello Sally.”
As I followed, watching her drive away from the parking lot, I was once again reminded – my little girl is grown up. Her tail lights became more distant down the road. I asked myself, “I wonder if she’ll still need me?”
To coin an old phrase from Benjamin Franklin, (pun intended) “A penny saved is a penny earned.” I agree, Ben. This is especially true for me when it comes to buying gasoline, because I travel so much.
I was on my way to New Hampshire. By the time I reached southern Michigan, unleaded was $2.97 on the interstate. Last week I was on the same road, I-75, but on the other end, in Florida. Gas was less expensive down south. I filled the tank grumbling, “Why can’t this gas be cheaper, like last week? Afterall, it is the same road.”
Near Detroit, I get off the interstates to take state routes eastbound to avoid toll roads. Another penny saved, plus I see some really cool things when I get off the main roads.
On US-20 in Perrysburg, Ohio, I passed a Kroger Fuel Stop. “Holy smokes! $2.17 a gallon? You gotta be kidding me.” I reasoned, “You probably have to be a member to get that price.” I drove by, but curiosity got the best of me and I turned around to go back. That price was for everyone. It didn’t take much, but I topped off the tank and wrote a note to myself. “We’ll stop here for gas on the way home, too.” I told my dog, June.
Saturday afternoon, I finished my business in Derry, New Hampshire, and started for home.
Sunday morning, I stopped 185 miles from Perrysburg. I calculated exactly how much fuel I would need to get to Kroger, then added a couple extra gallons to be safe. I wanted a nearly empty tank when I got there, in order to get as much of that bargain gasoline as possible. I also checked the schedules at area churches.
There was a mass in couple of hours, but I didn’t want to hang around that long. I would be in Perrysburg at 10:30 and found a church there with an 11:00 mass. “Perfect.” I was pretty smug when I gave June a rub on the head, “Things are all going my way today.” I added St. John XXIII, to the route on my GPS. My fuel calculator said I had 220 miles to empty. “Darnit, I bought way too much gas.” I complained as I pulled away.
The GPS was taking me down several back roads to Perrysburg, but that didn’t surprise me since I added a destination. I didn’t mind, as long as I got to church on time and I was rather enjoying some new scenery.
miles to my destination. I was seventy miles out with only 85 miles to empty. I cursed the GPS. “Stupid piece of junk! Why do you do this to me? Why can’t you just stay on the main road?” I was worried about having enough gas to get there and slowed down five miles-per-hour, hoping for better fuel economy.
On the narrow shoulder ahead, I could see someone walking. The thermometer showed eight degrees; a bit cold to be out on a casual walk. I moved to the left lane and slowed down a bit.
I caught a glimpse of the man as I passed him. He was wearing a long tan, hooded coat, insulated pants and boots. He had a big red scarf around his neck and sported a backpack. He looked like he was freezing. I wondered where he could be going. There were no houses in sight. I suppose I was a quarter mile past him when I hit the brakes and pulled over and started backing down the shoulder.
I rolled the passenger window down. “Are you doing okay?” He said he was. I inquired, “Do you have far to go?” His cheeks were pretty red.
“I’m going to Portland.” He caught me off guard with his answer. I asked if he meant Portland, Oregon. “Yeah.”
“Dude, that’s well over two thousand miles away.” I said. He looked bewildered. “Are you cold?” He said he was a little cold. “If you’d like a ride, I can get you up to the next town.”
He was appreciative, “Are you sure? I don’t want to be intrusive or cause you any inconvenience.”
“You’re not, I would be happy to have you ride along.” He climbed into the van and sat in the passenger seat. June went nuts sniffing him. He still had his pack on his back which caused him to sit way forward on the seat. I introduced June and myself; he told me his name was Jeremy.
“Jeremy, it’s seventy miles to town. If you take your pack off you could sit back and be a lot more comfortable.” He set it on the floor between his legs then held his hands in front of the vents to warm them.
As we talked, he told me his story: His mom and dad had both passed away within the last two years. “I really miss my dad. We went fishing a lot. He understood me.” Jeremy was trying to get to Billings Montana, “I was told the Salvation Army there will give me a free train ticket to Portland.” His brother still lives in Portland, where they grew up. He told me he has a hard time accepting that anyone could love him. “Why would anyone want to love me? I’m nobody.” The more I listened to his story, the more I wanted to help him.
I try to go to church every Sunday but thought, “God won’t mind if I skip today to help this guy.” I asked Jeremy if he was a Christian, he said he believed in God. I told him, “I’m going to stop in this town ahead to go to church. If you want to find something to do for an hour, afterwards I could take you as far as Minneapolis.” He seemed very interested, “Or, if you want, I could take you to Duluth. They have a shelter called CHUM, where you could stay for a few days. I’m going to California next week and I drive right through Billings. I could take you all the way there.” I could tell his was thinking about it.
As we got closer to Perrysburg, I said, “I don’t want you to feel any pressure, I’m just making an offer; if you’d like to go to church with me, you’re welcome to come along.” He asked if that would be okay with the people at my church, or if he would be out of place. I laughed, “It’s not my church, it’s God’s church and you would be very welcome.” He said he wanted to think about it. We drove on and kept talking.
My miles to empty were still dropping faster than the miles to my destination, but I was no longer worried about it. If God led you to it, he’ll get you through it. I knew I wasn’t going to run out of gas.
Not far from the church there was a place where Jeremy could wait for me. He would be inside and out of the cold. I asked if he wanted me to drop him off there. “I’d kind of like to go to church with you, if you’re sure no one will mind. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.” I assured him he would be just fine.
As we walked toward the building, I said something about being Catholic. Jeremy stopped in his tracks. “This is a Catholic church?” I told him it was. “I’ve never been to a Catholic church,” he said, “I don’t know about this. Do they allow strangers?”
I’ve had people tell me they don’t think Catholic churches are very welcoming to strangers. I don’t agree but I can see where people who don’t understand all the standing, sitting and kneeling, can find it intimidating. I reassured him, “Jeremy, we’re in Ohio. I’m from Minnesota. I’m a stranger here, too.” I told him again, “I don’t want you to feel pressured. You can wait out here, or come inside the lobby where it’s warm and wait for me there.”
He thought for a moment. “Are you sure I won’t be intruding?”
I chuckled, “No more than I am.” I explained, “About all this standing and sitting stuff, you can follow my lead, or you can remain seated. No one is going to care. If you’re not comfortable, let me know and I’ll walkout with you.”
When we walked in a greeter in the lobby welcomed us. A girl at the doors leading into the chapel offered us a weekly bulletin; I took one, Jeremy shook his head to decline. The girl gave him a warm smile. Inside an usher approached us holding up two fingers. I nodded. There were plenty of places he could have seated us in the back of the church, but he led us about two-thirds of the way to the front of the church. The opening song was already playing. The band was amazing! We just barely made it on time.
Jeremy opted to stay seated with his hood up over his army green stocking cap. What I first thought was a red scarf, was a fleece blanket, still wrapped around his neck. His coat was zipped almost all the way up and he kept his head down.
When sending the little kids off, Father Herb asked how many had ever put their foot in a river. Several kids raised their hands. “While you’re at the children’s homily I’m going to tell the adults about a river. On your way home today, be sure to ask your parents about the river.” Wow, what a great way to get people to pay attention to the homily. Apparently, there’s going to be a test afterwards!
The gospel reading was about the baptism of Christ. Father quoted Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, who said, no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. The banks, the rocks and the trees might be the same, but as the water flows, the river is forever changing and the man changes too. It made perfect sense to me.
Father talked about the Sea of Galilea and the Dead Sea being connected by the Jordan River. The Sea of Galilea takes water in and passes it on through the river. The Dead Sea takes in water, but does not pass it along – thus the name. The gift of faith is meant to be shared, lest it should go the way of the waters in the Dead Sea. His message was really hitting home for me.
I was so caught up in the sermon I almost forgot I had a guest with me. He still kept his head down. I thought he might have been sleeping. At one point an usher came and whispered, “Is he okay? Does he need any medical attention, water or anything?” I thought it was very nice of him to ask. Jeremy was fine and occasionally looked up.
As the mass went on, he became a little more comfortable and would stand and sit whenever I did. When it came time, the congregation stood for the Lord’s Prayer. Holding hands for this prayer is optional. A lady, I suppose in her twenties, was sitting alone on the other side of Jeremy. She reached out and took his left hand while I took his right. The man on the other side of the aisle, crossed over and took my right hand. We all said the prayer together. I looked at Jeremy; there was a bit of a sparkle in his eye.
I’m not sure if the lady to his left had any idea what an impact she made on him. The idea that a total stranger would take his hand and pray with him, I believe, really made his day.
I spoke softly explaining to Jeremy, the practice of offering peace. “People may want to shake your hand and say, ‘Peace be with you.’ You can accept their handshake, or not. It’s up to you.” When the time came, I shook his hand, as did the lady next to him. The people in the pew behind us and in front of us also shook his hand, wishing him peace. I think I actually saw him smiling.
After mass, people gathered in the vestibule for coffee, donuts and conversation. I asked Jeremy if he wanted to get a donut and a cup of coffee. He respectfully declined, “I don’t want to take their food away from them.” I assured him they had plenty for all, but he still declined.
While I went to get a cup of coffee a person approached Jeremy. They talked for a few moments. Then another man stopped to talk with him, and another. People were stopping me to talk as well. By the time I got back to Jeremy, he was well into conversation with yet another lady and a man was standing to the side, waiting his turn to greet him. It was as if I had taken a kitten to show and tell, everyone wanted to meet him. My heart felt so full and warm. People not only welcomed Jeremy, but included him.
Before we left another man, I think his name was Paul, approached Jeremy. The man dug into his pocket and handed Jeremy a small metal cross. I thought that was very cool.
Afterwards, we went to IHOP and had pancakes for breakfast. Jeremy wanted to pay for the meal but I insisted, “This treat is on me.” He asked me how far it was to Toledo, Ohio. “I’m not sure,” I answered, “But it can’t be very far. I think Perrysburg is in the Toledo metro. Why do you ask?”
“My brother said if I could get to the train station in Toledo, he would buy an Amtrak ticket to Portland for me.” He went on to say, “I just hate for him to have to spend his money on me. It makes me feel like I’m taking something away from his family.”
I smiled, “Jeremy, if your brother is offering you a ticket, he doesn’t have to do this for you, he wants to. You should accept his offer.” He said he would, and I programmed Amtrak into my GPS.
I stopped at McDonald’s. “I’m going to grab a cup of coffee for the road.” I said.
He said, “Let me buy it for you. You’ve done so much for me.” I told him he didn’t have to do that. He replied, almost mimicking me, “I know I don’t have to. I want to.” I graciously accepted his offer.
I dropped Jeremy off at the train station. We said our farewells and I headed for the Kroger Fuel Stop. My miles to empty had been on zero for a while which was okay: now I could get a full tank of gasoline at just $2.17 per gallon.
Driving to Kroger, I related to Father Herb’s homily. Last week I was on I-75 in Florida. This week I was on the same highway in Michigan, and would be on I-75 in Ohio shortly. It’s all the same highway - but if a man never steps in the same river twice, would the same not be true of a highway where people are constantly flowing in traffic just as the water in the river?
I thought about my GPS and how it seemed to be senselessly taking me on a joy ride down back roads when I had neither the time nor the fuel to be doing so. But what if it hadn’t? I never would have met Jeremy, or found out just how truly beautiful the people are at St. John XXIII. With every new day, I’m reminded there is a reason for everything. I need to relax and see where life is going to take me next.
I turned into the Kroger fuel stop and filled the van. There wasn’t much gas left in the tank but there was plenty to get me where God wanted me to be. As I hung the nozzle back on the fuel pump, I noticed the fuel was only $1.16 per gallon. I compared the price to my receipt from the other day. “Hmm. The gas is one cent cheaper than it was two days ago.” I grinned, “A Penny Saved…”
Just before leaving Florida my friend asked if I had checked the weather. I told him I had not. He told me there was a lot of weather coming in the next day from the gulf. I assured him I would be long gone by then. He said the weather could reach well into the mid-west and I should try to keep my route as easterly as possible. I thanked him for the heads up, and started north.
The overcast sky followed me whole drive north on I-75 through Florida and into Georgia. I was hoping it would clear as the night would bring the first full moon of the year – the Wolf Moon. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, I turned west on I-24 - so did the overcast. It followed me all the way into Kentucky.
I brought a can of beer with me and kept it in the cooler. I left one for her in the refrigerator at home. I thought, after dark, I would find a cool place to stop for the night and call my wife. Even though we were a thousand miles apart, we could watch the full moon together while enjoying a New Glarus, Moon Man brew. The overcast scrubbed my plan and I kept driving.
Melissa called around 11:00 to tell me how pretty the moon was. “I’m standing outside on the deck.” She told me, “The moon is so bright on the snow, it looks like daylight.” I was jealous; wanting to be there with her.
I wasn’t going to drive much farther before calling it a night. The rain was starting to fall lightly and I was getting tired, so I pulled into a parking lot in Princeton, Kentucky.
“We’re going to crash here for the night.” I told my dog as I let her out in a small grassy area before bed. June wanted to run across the road to a wooded area. “You can’t go over there alone after dark, this is Kentucky and they have wildcats.” I don’t know if they really do or not, but it is the mascot of their university sport teams and I wasn’t taking any chances.
“I’m not afraid of cats.” June assured me.
“Yes, you are. You’re afraid of Edgar (our cat at home) and she’s not nearly as big as the cats around here. And besides that, we already had an alligator scare today.” Earlier in the day, June jumped into a moss covered, swampy area in Florida…
…I was pinned between the two large animals…flash flood warnings…Elvis was singing…
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June Bug has an appointment with her veterinarian this week. Even though we’ve been in northern Minnesota for over five years, I still take her back to Ottumwa, Iowa, to Thomas Vet Clinic. Dr. Kylee has been taking care of June, since she was a puppy. To clarify, that’s since June was a puppy, not Kylee. However, I must say, Dr. Kylee was just a little girl when her Dad, Dr. John Thomas, was taking care of my previous dog, Harry.
Years later, when we moved to Minnesota, we established a relationship with the Ely Vet Clinic to treat our cats, Salem and Eve. When Edgar joined our family, we took him to Ely for shots, check- ups and such. We certainly feel a loyalty to both clinics, so June goes to Iowa and Edgar goes to Ely.
Dr. Jenn Freking, at Ely, is a great vet and such an interesting person. She and her husband, Blake, raise and train sled dogs. Both have dog teams and compete in dog sled races and events. If you’ve never looked into mushing, you should. There is a special bond between a musher and their dogs that is very heart warming.
I’ve shown June online pictures and videos of Edgar’s vet, Jenn, and her family, working with their dogs. June is fascinated by it all and assures me, “Dad, I could do that. I want to be a sled dog, too.”
I gave her a rub on the head. “You can’t be a sled dog I need you to travel with me. You’re my driving buddy. Besides, I’m not sure you know what the word ‘woah’ means.” We shared a pretty good laugh about that.
On a recent trip, June and I took advantage of a good night’s rest while pulled over in the mountains. When I let her out in the morning, a blast of cold air rushed in the open door. After we ate breakfast, I put on my coat for our morning walk. In just the length of the van, I knew I would need warmer clothing and we climbed back inside. The thermometer on the dashboard read -11 degrees. I decided we would walk later, when it was warmer and started driving south on US Highway 20.
Two and a half hours later, we turned off on Highway 33 for Rexburg, Idaho. We stopped to get coffee. When I stepped out of the van, the air felt great! The wind was very light and the sun was shining, making it feel much warmer than the actual temperature of 9 degrees. “Wanna go for a walk, Bugs?” June wiggled her body and wagged her tail; her head moved back and forth like a bobble head doll. She was excited to get out for a stroll.
I had never paid much attention to Rexburg. Hosting the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University, the town is quite nice and very well kept. June and I noted how clean the sidewalks were and clear of ice and snow. I set a timer on my phone - I wanted to walk out 15 minutes and back the same to get our thirty-minute walk. In the brisk air we set out walking on North 2nd East Street; an odd name for a street, but who am I to judge. After a couple blocks west, we came upon a paved walking path and followed it alongside the Teton River. The setting was beautiful.
Water rushing over rocks in the river, created white rapids on top of the water that looked tropical green. But the color was deceptive. You could tell the water was clean and very cold. The tropical feeling was enhanced because I was very warm – almost too warm. I loosened the top of my coat and pushed my hood back to let some heat out. Trees along the trail seemed to block what little breeze there was. Part of my warmth was coming from the sun and part from June on her leash, who was pulling me along.
When walking on a leash, June has three speeds; very brisk, fast and faster! Sometimes we will pretend she is a sled dog – a team of one, pulling her sled-less musher along behind. June keeps me on a good pace for exercising.
I started making whip noises, “Wwha-kish, wwahkish! Come on girl, show me what ya got!” June knew what I was doing and started pulling a bit harder. My walk became a jog, then we ran for a while. “Whoa, June, slow down girl!” I called ahead, pulling back on the leash to slow her pace. We were coming up on an intersection. The trail continued straight ahead, or we could take the walk bridge to the left, crossing the river.
We opted to turn left. After the fast run, I was ready for a little break and slowed down to take in the beauty of the river, the blue skies and everything all around me. Very warm now, I lowered the zipper on my coat a bit more. June tugged on the leash, “Come on, Dad! Let’s go, the other sled teams are going to catch up to us!”
I imagined the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon; an annual race from Duluth to Grand Portage, Minnesota. Blake Freking won the race last year, his wife, Jennifer, (Edgar’s Veterinarian) came in second place. I looked behind us, they weren’t even in sight, yet. “June, you have to learn from the real mushers. We have to pace ourselves accordingly to finish the race.” June looked at me with disdain, as if to say we ARE real mushers. “Okay, Bugs, let’s go a little faster.”
The trail took us alongside a large open field, then led to another city street, West 2nd North Street. That’s an odd name for street, but who am I to judge. A bit puzzled, June asked, “Didn't we start on second street?” I explained, that was a different Second street. June insisted, “Are you sure, because…”
I interrupted her, “You pull the sled and let me navigate, okay?” Although June is an excellent navigator, she was good with that and we turned north on the sidewalk. Across the big open field was a waterpark, Rexburg Rapids at Riverside Park. It looked like a pretty fun place...for the summer months.
The sidewalk took me across the end of the waterpark driveway, which wasn’t well plowed, but why should a waterpark driveway be plowed in the winter months? The opening had that gritty, coarse mixture of snow and sand where cars have driven through – the stuff that doesn’t pack tight. As I walked into it, I could feel it was very icy and slippery under my feet. I was trying to get June to slow down for me, due to my unsure footing.
Just then, June saw a rabbit. “Oh God, no!” I prayed and yelled at her, “No June!” In her excitement to quickly switch modes from a well-disciplined sled dog to a great hunter, she was confused. Did he say, “No June, Woah June, or Go June?” It didn’t matter what I said, she heard “Go June,” and began a hot pursuit.
June lunged toward the furry critter with lucky feet. Reaching the end of her leash, it jerked her backwards and also gave me a good tug forward. Without steady footing, my sneakers slid out from under me and I went down to the pavement. I managed to get to my hands and knees. With my bare hands in the dirty snow, I held the leash tightly in my right hand and started to get up. June lunged toward the rabbit again when I was almost upright, taking me down again. This time I managed to fall backwards into the fresh clean snow at the edge of the field. Trying to get up and hold the leash, I seemed to move more into the field before falling flat on my back yet again.
In the mayhem, my hat came off. The snow was really cold on my somewhat bald head. The hood on my jacket was down, which allowed snow to reach my bare neck. Brrr. Something was pulling on my right arm strong enough to spin me in the snow – it was the confounded dog on the other end of the leash.
When a water skier goes down, it is important to let go of the tow rope otherwise it will pull them under the water. I was afraid if I let go of the leash, I may never see that dog again. I held on tightly.
As she continued trying to go after the rabbit, June dragged me, snow plowed down my neck into the back of my shirt. Apparently, my coat had worked up during the fall as the seat of my pants was taking on snow as well. Snow was working its way up each pant leg. I wondered if this is what it feels like to be caught inside an avalanche. Laying on my back in the snow, holding onto the leash for dear life, I yelled, “June! Leave it!”
The tension on the leash eased as I laid still in the snow, trying to figure out what just happened. The leash began to recoil. I heard June running toward me; like a Saint Bernard coming to rescue the distressed man buried in the snow slide. Help was on the way.
June charged into the field of snow, but she wasn’t there to save me. Seeing me down, she assumed I wanted to play and started jumping in the snow around me and over my body, kicking snow in my face and now down the front of my open coat and shirt as well. “June! Stop!” Finally getting the point, I wasn’t playing, she sat and rested – on my chest, and began licking the snow off my face. “Stop it!”
Still sitting on my chest, she stopped licking me and looked down at me. “Why are you laying in the snow, Dad?” I scoffed and gave her a dirty look. “Are you making snow angels?”
“Do I look like I’m making snow angels?” I growled. “Get off me.”
Sitting in the snow next to me, June offered, “If you can’t get up, I could pull you back to the van. Just hang on tight to the leash.”
“You’re not funny, dog!” Sitting in the snow, I took off one shoe at a time to shake out as much snow as I could. “Sled dogs do NOT chase rabbits!” I put my other shoe back on, then got up from the snow to brush myself off. The snow in my shoes had partially melted. My feet were wet and getting cold. We needed to get back to the van; our walk was over.
Ironically, as I stood up, my alarm sounded. I reached into my snow-packed rear pocket and pulled out my flip phone. I brushed the white stuff away and silenced the alarm; our fifteen minutes had passed. I zipped my coat all the way up, picked up my hat, shaking off the snow and put it back on my head. I reached in my coat pockets, looking for my gloves, but all I found was more snow. The gloves were nowhere to be found. We started walking south, back to the van.
As we turned from the sidewalk back onto the trail, the light wind from the west was in my face. Even a light wind is really cold when you’re wet. I pulled the hood back onto my head over my stocking hat and pulled the sleeves downward to cover my hands.
June walked ahead of me. She is a good navigator. It’s amazing how she knows exactly where we came from. When we came to it, she turned left onto the bridge. On the other end, she turned right onto the path taking me back to the van. I stopped long enough to pick up my gloves on the paved trail. Apparently, they fell out of my pockets when we were doing our “dogsled run.” I struggled to push my cold, wet hands, into the gloves.
June looked like she was shaking. I called her to me to make sure her paws weren’t too cold. Hmfph. She wasn’t cold - she wasn’t even shivering. She was still laughing at me. “Not funny, June!” She continued to lead the way. The wind seemed to be picking up a bit, making it even colder. From the time I spent down in the snow, my wet cheeks were nearly frozen and my face was cold, too!
There was tension on the leash as June pulled me along. Occasionally, she paused, looking back to assure I was still with her. I thought to myself, except for the rabbit issue, she really would be a good sled dog. I started making whip noises, “Wwha-kish, wwah-kish! Come on girl, show me what ya got!”
It was a beautiful day for a walk
Driving south on US Highway 191 through the scenic Gallatin River Valley, I was pondering life - thinking about New Year’s resolutions for 2020. What bad habit should I give up this year to make myself a better person? I’ve never done very well with New Year’s resolutions. The only one I ever made that stuck through the year, was to stop making New Year’s resolutions! I chuckled and drove on.
Coming out of the valley, I decided to stop for coffee in West Yellowstone, Montana. In the café, a man and his wife sat on one side of the booth; another man sat across the table from them. The second man complained, “I don’t see why one man can’t give another man a friendly hug without people making assumptions – trying to make it something more than it is. I don’t even care if it’s a complete stranger, I should be able to give him a hug without anyone leveling judgement.”
I turned to look at the man. He was probably ten years my senior. Even sitting down, I could tell he was tall. He wore jeans and a blue plaid flannel shirt under a sleeveless down-filled vest. His silvery hair was wavy and just a little longer than shoulder length. His strong hands showed he was a not afraid of work. From his soft brown eyes and demeanor, I could tell he was not only a man with opinions and strong values, he was a man of peace.
I walked over to their table with my arms stretched. He looked at me with a puzzled expression as if to ask what I wanted. “I came to give you a hug.” I announced.
His friend on the other side laughed, “Well there you go, Jim. Here’s the hug from a stranger you asked for.” Jim sat in his booth as I stood with my arms still open. “Well, don’t just sit there,” his friend encouraged him, “Are you going to give him a hug?”
Jim stood up saying, “You bet I will. I’ll give him a hug alright.” Jim was a lot taller than I thought he would be. I wondered what I got myself into. He reached for me, wrapping his arms around my shoulders, pulling me in. At five feet-nine inches tall, the top of my head barely reached his shoulders. I returned his hug.
This wasn’t a beauty queen hug either; the kind where the two women lean toward one another with arms reaching but not actually touching, while dainty taps on the back, using just fingertips, are exchanged. No, this was a full-on embrace, with meaningful thumps on the back, firm enough to dislodge a chicken bone caught in one’s throat. A sincere expression of love for our fellow man was evident.
After the hug, I took my coffee and joined them at their table for conversation. The couple told me they bought an RV and were traveling about the county. He was retired from the DNR, although I’m not sure I caught from what state. Noting the license plates on my van, he said, “We recently spent about four months exploring the arrowhead of Minnesota, especially the north shore of Lake Superior, all the way to Canada.” When I told him that I lived on the North Shore, our conversation became even more connected. It was a wonderful experience!
I continued my journey on US 20, near Island Park, Idaho, and on south. I was taking in the amazing scenery; the brilliant white snow weighed heavily, contrasting the deep green branches of the pine trees and the mountains. Fluffy clouds floating in the bright blue skies made a perfect backdrop for ravens dancing and making a playground in the air. Absolutely breathtaking!
Just that quick, I was out of the mountains and driving the high plains. Open meadows lined both sides of the road. Beyond the jackleg fences, prairie grass poked through the top of the deep snow.
In the Midwest, farmers work with tractors, combines and four-wheelers. Out west, ranchers still use horses for a lot of their work, especially when working with their livestock. Horses are great helpers for the ranch hands driving cattle. (Not to mention the companionship you get with a horse. You just can’t bond like that with a four-wheeler.)
In a field, I saw a herd of cattle with several horses mixed into the crowd. They were all sharing the large round bales of hay inside the rings. Others joined at the water trough, like cowboys who gather as friends at the bar in a saloon for a cool drink and fellowship after a long day of chores.
It was a beautiful scene that brought two things to mind:
1) Horses and cows certainly have their differences, and yet they gather together in peace to share their food and water. Why can’t people learn from the animals and get along just as well?
2) As a special note to the horses. If you see the rancher pull up, driving a large semi-truck with a vented trailer, get the heck away from those cows - and fast! Trust me, you don’t want to go where the cattle are going.
I smiled with an idea. This year I will make New Year’s Resolutions:
Happy New Year to my family and all my friends, the ones I know and the friends I haven’t met just yet.
I love this tree. It shines alone in the night bringing comfort and joy to weary travelers. As brilliant as the stars in the sky, she draws the attention of all. Some, such as myself, on their way home, other’s going places; maybe to join family and friends, or to, work.
In solitude, she stands strong, no matter the weather. The tree offers, peace, contentment and hope; warmth on a bitterly cold night. She encourages me.
Her gentle light dances on the soft bed of clean, white snow beneath her. Along the busy interstate, she sings softly: Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright.
I drive on into the cold, dark night; I will be home for Christmas.
I-35 near Faribault, Mn.
Someday I’d like to visit the Aleutian Islands, a chain of Islands running from Alaska to Russia. The islands divide the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. It’s also where east meets west – or is it where west meets east. I digress, but I ‘m sure you get the point. I’m not sure what there is to do on the islands; maybe there isn’t anything to see – but I love to travel and I still want to go.
Speaking of not much to see, the other day I posted on Facebook that I was turning on to I-80 eastbound in Nebraska. I asked people to wish me luck as it is a long, long, uneventful drive to the Iowa state line. Anyone who has traveled this road understands.
A friend of mine, Dave Peterson, who is now an over-the-road truck driver, (or drives truck – depending on where you live in the USA) commented that he too would be traveling I-80 across Nebraska, headed westbound. “Maybe we’ll pass each other.” He joked. I suggested we should meet for dinner. Dave said I would be long gone by the time he got there. As usual, things that distracted me, slowing me down.
Later, I messaged Dave to ask his twenty. (twenty, that’s short for 10-20. Truck driver terminology; CB lingo
for where are you?) He said he was about ninety minutes east of York, Nebraska, his stopping point for the night. I told him, “I’m about two hours west of York. Do you want to meet for supper?” And just like that, I had a dinner date on a Friday night out on the prairie in the middle of Nowhere, USA.
We met at the Huddle House. A nice restaurant just off the interstate with home style cooking and plenty of overnight parking for semi-trucks. I hadn’t seen Dave for several years. He had a few more grey hairs, but other than that he looked the same.
Dave and I go back a long way – over thirty years! We worked together at the radio station. I don’t think I hired him – maybe it was Bill. Whoever hired him, he was a good disc-jockey and turned out to be the best music director we ever had. We talked about the old days in radio. We caught up on what we were each doing now and what our kids are doing. I couldn’t believe how grown up his kids are – he was surprised how my kids grew up so fast, too. We laughed about how the kids got older – and we didn’t!
We met for dinner around seven and we didn’t leave the restaurant until ten. We had such a good time it surely didn’t seem like we were there for three hours. I’ve been blessed with many people in my life whom I may not see for years, but when we do get together, we click like it’s only been a few weeks. Dave is definitely one of them.
We said our farewells, “See ya later, Timmy.” He said, I smiled with a warm heart. When I first met Dave, he nicknamed me Timmy, while others called me Tommy. Some things will never change.
Dave went back to his truck for the night; I went to my van, but not before grabbing a couple of toothpicks to hold my eyelids open for the rest of the drive across Nebraska.
Heading down the road toward Iowa, I chuckled and gave my dog a rub on the head. “I didn’t even have to pay for my dinner, June Bug – Dave picked up the tab. That’s another thing I like about that guy.” June and I shared a good laugh about that.
I started thinking about the Aleutian Islands, in Alaska. Someday I’ll get there to see where east meets west, but Friday night, I was perfectly content being eastbound and meeting an old westbound friend on the same road, in York Nebraska.
It had been a difficult day to say the very least. Dealing with a challenging person (who I’m sure thought it was me who is challenging) had me about worn out. I was into the 24th hour of what should’ve been a two-hour project; and I wasn’t done yet. I was still waiting...
My patience was wearing thin, as was theirs, I’m sure.
I went to the mall to kill time while waiting. A mall security cop smiled at me. I asked him, “Has anyone wished you a Merry Christmas, yet?” He said no, so I said “Well then, let me be the first. Merry Christmas, my friend.” He reached his hand toward me. When I shook his hand, he pulled me close, embracing me with a big hug, pats on the back and also wished me a Merry Christmas.
He introduced himself, but I didn’t hear what name he said. “My friends call me Casey.” Then he introduced me to a man in a kiosk, who also wished me a Merry Christmas. Yes, this was the second nice cop I‘ve met recently, named Casey
I felt very good about the encounter. I went to Starbucks, inside Target and ordered my decaf-coffee. The cashier asked, “Will that be all?”
There was a teenage girl behind me and a boy behind her on the other side of the roped off line. “Are you two together.” I asked; she said they were. I told the cashier, “I’d like to buy theirs, too.” The girl smiled and ordered a chocolate latte fluff-o-rama foo-foo something or another with extra cream. (I was at Starbucks...) The young man thanked me for my offer but said he was fine with his energy drink, holding up a clear bottle with a fluorescent blue liquid inside.
I handed the girl her drink. She thanked me again, “Merry Christmas, sir, that was so kind of you.” I smiled and wished them both a Merry Christmas, also. They each held up their fingers, giving me the peace sign. That warmed my heart.
The cashier said, “Your total is $7.91.“
I swiped my card and got my receipt. “Where’s the line for a tip?” I asked her. She explained they are not allowed to accept tips. “Well if I could, I would give you a million-dollar tip.” She blushed and I said, “You have a Merry Christmas.”
She smiled a big smile and said, “Thank you. That is a million-dollar tip; Merry Christmas.”
Christmas day is coming soon but the Christmas Spirit is already here. Other’s showing love and kindness reminded me, Mr. Scrooge, cannot bring me down. I can however, share with him the same kindness shown to me and perhaps lift him to know the peace and joy that comes with this season.
Melissa said, “You have so much cooking to do for Thanksgiving, maybe we could get a pumpkin pie from the Rustic Inn…I mean, to save you some time.” I glared at her. She justified, “You’ve always said the Rustic Inn has the best pie on the North Shore.”
I reminded her, “I said they have the best pie of any restaurants on the North Shore. I’ll make my own pumpkin pie, thank you very much, ma’am!”
She tried to reason, “You could make an apple pie, and we could buy the pumpkin pie to save time.” I would hear no more of her nonsense and walked away.
I love baking all kinds of pie and I’m pretty good at it, but one pie has been giving me fits for as long as I can remember – the pumpkin pie. Not just any pumpkin pie, but specifically, Mom's - the recipe she gave me when I was putting together my first cookbook.
Mom had written across the top of the page, “Best Pumpkin Pie of All Time - It came from a friend in Glendive.” (The town I was born in so it has to be good.) Below was the recipe. I have tried for years to make this recipe and it never turns out. Melissa’s suggestion to purchase a pie this year, inspired me to try again. I knew I could get it right, before the kids came for Thanksgiving. Besides, Melissa might still be a little traumatized by my most recent attempt at making a pumpkin pie.
The last time I recall making a pumpkin pie was at our daughter’s house in North Carolina, six years ago. I was pleased with the pie. It looked and smelled good and the texture was okay. But when I tasted it? Well, I now call it “The Sugar Free Pumpkin Pie Incident.”
Without sugar, pumpkin pie is not delicious. As a matter of fact, it’s barely edible if you pinch your nose, swallow fast and chase it down with cold milk.
Still, I didn’t want to waste two pies, so to salvage them I scraped the baked filling from the crusts into a mixing bowl. I stirred in the forgotten sugar, mounded the recovered filling from both pies into one crust and tossed it back into the oven. The end result was a pumpkin pie flavored dessert with a texture similar to twice baked potatoes. Pumpkin pies have always given me trouble – especially Mom’s recipe.
With about ten days to Turkey Day, I had plenty of time. I made a couple pies using the recipe on the side of Libby's Pumpkin can. I made six different variations of this pie and begged people to take them. The pies were decent, but certainly not as good as I remember Mom’s being. I was ready to try her recipe again.
I took my old cookbook down from the cabinet over the stove. The blue three ring binder has a quilt pattern with lemons, garlic cloves, spices and tea kettles on the cover. The binding was tattered; nearly worn through. Over the years, my book has become frail.
I pulled out the recipe. The paper, discolored with age, has marks where it got splashed during previous attempts to make this pie.
I measured, mixed, stirred, blended and did everything just as the recipe called for. After baking for an hour, I poked a knife into the custard to see if it was done. Not even close. After two hours I checked again. Pulling the knife out, it was covered with sticky batter! “Why won’t this pie bake?” The resulting disaster was only worthy of the trash can.
“Why? Why can’t I make this stupid recipe work?” I compared the Libby’s recipe to Mom’s. The biggest difference was the milk. Libby’s called for condensed milk, where Mom used scalded milk. Researching online, I found a suggestion. I started over, this time adding cornstarch to the scalded milk. I produced yet another complete flop.
Defeated, I let the whole pie slide from the pan to the can. I think I heard Oscar the Grouch complain, “Come on buddy. I’m getting pretty full in here…how about a little variety? Something other than pumpkin?”
I looked at the recipe and came up with a thought. Was it possible Mom made an error? Maybe she wrote scalded milk, but meant condensed milk. I don’t mean to imply Mom would mislead me, but this was the same recipe where Mom wrote, in her own handwriting, “Buy 1 package Pillsbury Pie Crust in the dairy case – makes 2 pies.” My own mother, using a store-bought pie crust. The very thought makes me quiver!
I had an idea. I would use Mom’s recipe, replacing the scalded milk with condensed milk. There was no more time for experimenting. I would have to make and serve this pie no matter how it came out. I crossed my fingers and prayed for the best.
Opening the oven door, heat blasted my face. The metal rack quickly warmed the mitts on my hands as I pulled the rack forward; it felt good on a cold day. The pie looked good and smelled good. The moment of truth was at hand. I poked a table knife into the center of the pie and pulled it out. Perfectly clean! I might have nailed this, but would have to wait until the next day for the taste test. Hoping I remembered the sugar, I prayed, “Dear Lord, please let this pie turn out.”
Full of turkey, dressing, yams, potatoes and gravy, cranberry relish, green bean casserole and homemade dinner rolls, we waited a couple hours after our big dinner to cut into the pies.
Melissa cut into the pumpkin pie, putting a slice on her plate. She topped the wedge with Cool-Whip, cut another for Addison, then sat at the table. She cut a piece with her fork and tasted it. Her face lit up! “This is good.” She said, smiling, taking another bite. “Really good, Tom.” I felt relieved. After decades of failure with this recipe, I finally got it right.
Without much expression on her face, I could tell our granddaughter liked it by the way she devoured that pie. I took a slice for myself, cut it with the side of my fork and ate it. I thought to myself, this is good! The flavor, the texture; it was just like Mom’s pumpkin pie.
Looking at my old blue cookbook, still sitting on the counter to the right of the stove, I felt Mom’s presence. I could see her cutting a bite from the pie in the pan and tasting it. I could hear her saying, “You’ve done well, son.” Her round little body shook as she started laughing, “I can’t believe it took you all these years to figure out the milk.”
I leaned back against the kitchen counter holding my plate. As she took another bite, I said, “Oh yeah? Well I’m not the one who was using store-bought pie crust.” Mom and I would have shared a good laugh about that.
For a moment I felt removed, like I was standing outside in the snow with Mom, looking through the window at my family gathered around the kitchen table inside the warm house. They were content, eating my pumpkin pie, except Annie, she was having apple pie. Feeling Mom ever so present in my kitchen that day, brought me total peace. I was as carefree as the young boy to whom she handed a recipe to put in his first cookbook. I took another bite and looked toward the other counter. The pie and the cookbook were there. I couldn’t see her, but I could very much feel her spirit.
Missing her, a tear rolled down my cheek. I whispered, “Mom, this truly is the Best Pumpkin Pie of All Time.”
In 1988 the Chief of Police, in Ottumwa, Iowa, wanted his officers and the news media to work more closely together. He thought the media could help law enforcement when they needed information distributed to the public. In turn, news reporters (with proper training) would be allowed to get closer to crime scenes. Most reporters agreed it was a good idea, while the officers were leery. As a member of the media, I wanted to participate.
Presentations were given to teach what each side is trying to learn at a crime scene. One presenter said research shows the reason cops become cops is very similar to why reporters become reporters. Both want to know what’s going on; they want to be in the loop and both want to have an impact - they want to make a difference.
Detectives taught members of the media to be aware at a crime scene; watch where you walk. Stepping on a bullet casing can push it down into soft soil; a footprint or tire track may be distorted if stepped on. Important evidence can easily be lost or destroyed. The training was good. After completing the course, each media member was given an ID card that would allow them behind police lines at crime scenes.
To this day I feel I have a better understanding of what a police officer’s job requires, in part because of that training. During my thirty-five-year career in radio broadcasting, I worked closely with city police, sheriff deputies and state troopers. I even got to work with detectives from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation a few times and in a couple of instances, with FBI agents. I got along well with most of the cops and would help them out whenever I could.
One time the city cops were looking for a suspect they thought might have jumped a coal train headed west, out of town. I happened to be at the airport and called the police department. “If you can send an officer out here, I’ll take them up in the airplane and fly over the train.” If the suspect was there, they’d see him. A cop came and we went up to fly over the train. The suspect wasn’t there; officers on the ground had caught him. But I’m glad we went up. I’ve always liked working with the police - even though I had my own little crime spree going on the side. Traffic violations!
In those days it wasn’t uncommon for me to tell my co-host on the morning show, “I met the nicest State Trooper on the road the other day.”
They’d reply, “Did you get pulled over again?”
“Yeah, I did. Let me tell you what happened…”
Although not nearly as often, it still happens once in a while. Now I get more warnings than citations; apparently, I’m not as adventurous as I once was. I find myself less impressed with a low ‘zero-to-sixty’ number and more impressed with high MPG digits. Once in a while my needle doesn’t drop as quick as the numbers posted in reduced speed zones. Whenever I see a squad car, I still look at my speedometer, instinctively moving my foot toward the brake pedal.
Just the other night, I was nearing Billings, Montana on I-90 from the west. I saw the patrol car sitting on the median. No problem, my cruise was set at 74. As I passed, the car pulled onto the highway. Not seeing a speed limit sign, I glanced at my GPS. Crap! I was already in the 65mph zone. His lights came on and I pulled over.
I pulled off pretty far to the right in case the officer was going to come to the driver’s window. I don’t like to see a cop standing outside my left window with their backside to traffic, so I give them as much room as possible…actually, I don’t particularly like seeing a cop standing outside the passenger window either, but in consideration of my speed, it was inevitable he was going to come to one or the other. I saw him approaching in my right rearview mirror, and lowered the window before he got there.
My dog, June, started barking, causing the officer to understandably stand back a couple extra feet until he was sure she was no danger to him. Because I was so far to the right, the cop was actually standing on the down slope to the ditch. Add to these factors, me driving a full-size Ford Van that sits fairly high. When I looked out the window all I saw was a head and a flashlight. I almost lost it and started to laugh. I told myself, “Stifle that laughter! Let him speak first to assess his demeanor. “
I assured him June did not bite. “She’s just happy to meet someone new.” The officer introduced himself and told me why he stopped me. He was very polite when he asked for my information. This is where I got nervous.
We just bought this van and I haven’t got any of the documents yet; no insurance card, no registration, just a dog that would narc me out in a minute and threaten to tell the cop I stole the van, if I didn’t give her some dog treats.
I handed him my license and explained, “We had just bought the van and I don’t have the registration or insurance card yet. I do have this expired insurance card from my truck and the van is on the same policy – uh, but it’s not an expired policy, it’s good through September of 2020.”
The officer laughed, “I think I can get everything I need from what you’ve given me.”
When he came back to the van, he gave me a written warning for the speed. “I’m also giving you a written warning for the insurance card – you have to have that in the vehicle with you.” Again, he was very polite.
Now one could conclude I’m saying he was nice because he gave me a warning – not a citation. That’s not the case. He was one of those cops who could give you a ticket and make you feel good about getting it.
We chatted for a few minutes. He looked pretty young and I asked him how long he’d been a cop. He said a little over a year. I asked him, “Why would you want to be a cop in this day and age? People are getting crazier – they don’t respect authority like they used to.” He didn’t answer me, just brushed off the question.
He looked distracted, like someone was talking to him; maybe in his ear bud. “I have to get going. I have another call to respond to. Slow it down a little, okay?”
“I will.” I said and gave him my card. “If you get bored, look me up on Facebook. You might like some of the stories I post.” He walked back to his car, talking into his shoulder. Ear pieces, mics on their shoulders – all modern gadgetry. When I was his age, cops had to go to their car to talk on the radio.
As he walked away, I recalled a time when I was his age. All the cops I knew were older than me. Then, they were about the same age – and now, they’re all younger than me. A lot younger. This guy couldn’t have been any older than my youngest daughter.
I pulled off the shoulder onto the highway, using my turn signal of course, since there was a cop right behind me. I set the cruise at 65 in the 65 zone. (there was still a cop right behind me.) As soon as the squad car passed me, I kicked it up to 69 miles-per-hour. June and I continued east on I-94, about one hundred-fifty miles farther down the road, until we got to Miles City, Montana, where we stopped for the night.
The next morning, I went to get coffee. I thought I would check Facebook, then write for a bit. I had been working on a story about pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I had a message request from Casey Graff. I had no idea who this person was, but I opened the message and started reading it. His message read:
“Mr. Palen, I stopped you tonight and was rushed due to the busy life of being a Trooper. I had another call pending but did not want to be rude. I felt I gave you a shorter than normal answer when you asked why I would ever want to be a cop. I wrote this a few months back and wanted to share. Sorry it’s so late.” He attached his story:
I constantly get asked, “Do you like your job?” That question can mean so many things, especially in my chosen career. Usually the question is genuine. I give a vague but genuine answer. “There are good days and there are bad days, but yes - I love my job.”
Occasionally the question is asked with disgust and hatred. My answer remains vague but genuine. “There are good days and there are bad days, but yes - I love my job.” How do you answer a question like that with a job like mine?
I might follow with the fact that I was in the military and I’ve seen a couple other countries, therefore I’m grateful for our constitution and I believe in protecting it. I’d follow with the fact that I love helping people, if I can put a smile on someone’s face, I’ve had a good day.
I’ve got multiple opportunities to make people smile in this career.
Some examples: Changing a tire for an elderly man, woman, or someone with a child. Giving someone a ride, whose vehicle just broke down on the way to an important family function. Giving someone a warning and explaining the infraction and the reason it’s been made a law or how it’s unsafe. Locating stolen vehicles, school bus inspections, giving someone directions, giving someone spare change, the list is endless.
I love this job because I have multiple opportunities to share kindness, respect, love and compassion with everyday people. One small act of kindness can go a long way. I know first-hand. If it weren’t for the individuals who showed me kindness through my life I would not be where I am today.
If we were all kind to one another, it would build and build like the kindness I’ve been treated with. It’s given me hope and I believe it would bring hope to others. Therefore, I chose a career that I could reach out to people on their worst days and try to show them kindness in hope they might pass the action along to someone else. – Casey
Wow. I didn’t expect such a response. He is young – one year older than my youngest daughter. He served in the U.S. Navy, then went on to become a Montana State Trooper. He has a beautiful family - a wife and children. Still, every day Casey goes out on the road to serve and protect; to help people; to make a difference. He never knows what danger may be in store that day – but he goes out anyway.
I thought back to 1988, when the Ottumwa Police Chief wanted his officers and media to work more closely together. Specifically, the speaker who said the reasons cops become cops is very similar to why reporters become reporters. Both want to know what’s going on; they want to be in the loop and both want to have an impact - they want to make a difference. All these years later, those are pretty much the same reasons this young guy gave me, as to why he wanted to be a cop.
My pumpkin pie story can wait. This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for Casey Graff and all the police, troopers and deputies. While we’re sitting down to eat this year, let’s remember the officers who will wait to celebrate with their families, because on Thanksgiving Day, they will be out chasing the bad guys; patrolling the city streets, county roads and highways, keeping us safe; looking for people who need help and making a difference.
Thank you, officer. Wishing each of you peace. Be safe.
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our new Guest Columnist!