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An old friend of Melissa's came to visit – well, not an old friend, but one she's known a really long time, most of her life. They'd been friends for many years before I met Melissa. Saturday, the three of us went to the Anchor Bar in Superior to feast on their legendary burgers for lunch. Later, we would head home and put kabobs on the grill for dinner. I cut and seasoned the meat before we left home so it could marinate for several hours.
a local brewery in the Lincoln Park District, on Duluth's west side. Melissa had boasted about their ciders and was disappointed when they didn't offer their most popular flavors on tap. We ordered a flight of samples and found a table. The ciders were all very good. Even if they weren't what she was expecting, we each chose our favorite.
"They've changed their logo." Melissa noticed while studying the sign on the wall. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, "No wonder they didn't have the other flavors; this is Duluth Cider. We're at the wrong place." We all shared a good laugh about that. We were now committed to stopping at another cider brewery – but not before the girls bought a growler of Trailside and Sour Pineapple Cider to take home.
Wild State Cider featured a live band. We liked their sound and stayed longer than expected. A stop at Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors was also planned on the way home.
An iron ore boat was departing the loading docks at Two Harbors, so after our beverages we drove to the harbor to watch. It was nearing sunset, and the lighting was perfect. The girls took off down a trail to take photos of the boat and the lighthouse. Between the burgers and brews, the band and the boat, and all the bull… oops, I mean stories being told, we ended up getting home way too late to put kabobs on the grill. That was fine; the longer the meat marinates, the better.
It was fun to listen in as they shared memories of years gone by, stories from the past. In a way, I was jealous because I didn't know my wife back then, and I wish I could have been a part of that era too. Sometimes, while hearing of their tales and shenanigans, I'd shake my head and ask, "Did you really do that?" Other times, I feel a bit outside because I wasn't there when such memories were being made; they shared stories so quickly, I'd get lost trying to keep up. As much fun as it is to hang out with them, I try to make sure they have time alone together as well.
Melissa found a cabin rental that came available for one night only, Sunday night. (there's usually a two or three-night minimum, especially on Memorial Day Weekend) One evening would be perfect for a "girl's night out." Melissa and Nicole packed their fishing gear, hiking boots, growlers of cider, and life jackets. They headed out for Hungry Jack Lake on Sunday morning.
At the resort, they rented a canoe and went casting. Casting is when you intended to go fishing, but no fish were caught – zero – not one – not even a bite. So technically, they went casting, not fishing. (Just getting in a bit of jab there)
I had to drive to southern Minnesota and back Monday afternoon, and so I would be gone when the ladies returned from their outing. It was expected to be pretty chilly that evening. I knew Melissa would want a fire, so I prepared one in the woodstove with newspaper, kindling, and a few small logs. When she opened the woodstove doors, she would see my note inside, "Make sure the damper is open, then hold a lighted match to the base and enjoy." But that wasn't the only surprise I would have for them.
While the women were out casting their lines, I was busy at home. I prepared dinner by spearing cubes of marinated beef, red onions, green peppers, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms on wooden skewers. I covered them with plastic wrap and placed them in the fridge along with cobs of sweet corn cleaned and wrapped in aluminum foil. All the girls had to do was light the Weber grill and throw on the kabobs and corn. But, when old…I mean to say longtime friends reunite, no plans are firm; things can change.
I thought they would be heading home around noon or so. Apparently, the two went casting again on Monday morning (another jab) then headed for the End of the Gunflint Trail. They stopped at the Gunflint Lodge and had walleye chowder for lunch. They explored and hiked some trails shooting photos of the north wood's scenery and wildlife. Later, heading south on Highway 61 along the lakeshore, they went to Cascade lodge for supper. After dark, they got home, and they were in bed by the time I got back.
When I got home, I was looking forward to snacking on leftover kabobs. I laughed when I opened the fridge, "That meat is really going to be well marinated when I put it on the grill tomorrow night." I looked inside the doggie boxes they brought home from dinner. I was hungry, but it was already near midnight, and I didn't want to eat that late.
I turned off the kitchen lights and went to the living room. I opened the woodstove doors to find my fire surprise was still intact. "They must have been completely worn out." I closed the doors imagining the carefree day of fun they'd had, then I went to bed myself.
After Nicole left for home early Tuesday morning, I went to the refrigerator to get strawberries and milk for my cereal. I saw those bright, colorful skewers. "That's a lot of kabobs for two people; maybe I should invite Aunt Di for dinner – but she eats gluten-free." Right then, it occurred to, "Hey, kabobs and corn on the cob – I've already made a gluten-free meal."
I called Di, "I'd love to come over for dinner." She said, and we made plans for five-o-clock. I thought I should make a dessert to go with our meal. I could make my mom's "Berry Patch Treat," but it would take all the strawberries I had. I put the berries back in the fridge and cut up a ripe, half-brown banana on my cereal.
The dessert has to chill for several hours before serving, so I pulled out all the ingredients and got to work right after breakfast. "Darn! I don't have enough gluten-free vanilla wafers, but I have plenty of regular wafers. What to do?"
I worked at Pizza Hut in high school, perfecting my "half and half" pizza-making skills. I saw no reason I couldn't do the same with a dessert – make it half gluten-free and half regular. I crushed the wafers, keeping them in separate piles, and began making the delicious treat.
Whenever I layer the cookie crumbs, custard filling, strawberries, etc., I always think of the scene from the movie Shrek. He is trying to explain to Donkey that ogres have layers, like onions. Not liking onions, Donkey offered, "You know what everybody likes? Parfaits…Parfaits may be the most delicious thing on the whole darn planet." I love that scene.
Yellow onions can be hard to see on a pizza; gluten can't be seen at all. At Pizza Hut, I learned to mark a pizza with two small pieces of green pepper to know where to cut it for people who ordered their pizza with no onions on half. I had to find a way to define which side of the dessert was for Di, but I didn't want any green peppers on my dessert.
I cut some strawberries vertical and the other half horizontal to garnish the top of each piece of dessert, that way, I would know which half was gluten-free. "You, sir, are a culinary genius," I said to myself as I covered the dessert and put it in the refrigerator.
Di arrived a little before five. We had plenty of time to visit while I put dinner on the grill. The beef in the kabobs was full of flavor – as it should have been after all that time marinating. After dinner, I pulled out the Berry Patch Treat. Di's eyes lit up. "I have to confess," I told her, "I didn't have enough gluten-free vanilla wafers to make a whole dessert."
Di interrupted, "I don't care. I'm having a piece of that dessert."
I laughed, then told her, "I made it half and half and marked them with differently cut strawberries so I'd know which side was which." Di wanted to know which half was gluten-free. "The problem is, I don't remember. It's going to be like playing Strawberry Roulette. I wouldn't want to give you the wrong…"
Melissa immediately jumped to Di's rescue, "You remember perfectly well, now quit taunting the poor woman and give us that dessert!" Us?
"It's two against one; this situation could turn unfavorable for me." I thought to myself, "I'd better get cutting and serving." We all enjoyed our dessert, and more conversation while I packed some leftovers for Di to take home
As I slid the meat and veggies from the wooden skewers into a to-go container, I thought about the onions and Melissa and Nicole telling stories. Each story was followed by another and another. There were layers of stories just as there were layers to their friendship. - like an onion, the layers make it stronger. Donkey said, "Not everybody likes onions, Shrek." No problem.
I put two slices of dessert in a container and thought how it was also layered, just like a parfait, or an old…I mean, longtime, friendship. I wished Nicole could have stayed for dinner too. Parfaits may be the most delicious thing on the whole darn planet, but you just can't beat Strawberry Roulette with friends and family - people you love.
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I wrote this story several years ago, but I want to share it again for Memorial Day.
A few months ago, Melissa and I were at a Holiday Convenience Store in Two Harbors, MN. In came an elderly gentleman wearing a hat indicating he was a Korean War Veteran. He was about my height but stood much taller than I in stature. There was a swift confidence in his step and a bright, cheerful look about him. I greeted him, "Good Afternoon, sir."
He replied by shaking my hand, "You don't have to call me Sir anymore; I'm retired from the Military." I recall he had a very firm handshake, "I served in Korea and in Viet Nam. My name is just Carl now, and if you're not careful, I might sell you something today!" We shared a good laugh about that.
Although I don't remember his last name. Carl told me he spent his post-military career in sales; that didn't surprise me with his very outgoing personality. He was very familiar with Ottumwa, Iowa, the town I was from; he had been here many times before as he was a hog buyer for the Hormel Company. "When they sold the Ottumwa plant, I was old enough to retire, but I wasn't done working. I had a lot of spit and vinegar left in me, so I kept working buying hogs for Austin, Minnesota. Do you know where that is?" He asked. I assured him I did.
We chatted for a time; he was a lot of fun to talk with. He shared with me that he was 88 years old and had lost his beloved wife about twenty earlier to cancer. His love for her was still evident in his voice. He never remarried, "There could never be another one like her, and Lord knows she was the only one who could put up with me." He laughed.
I could tell he was one of those guys who has been there and done that. Everything along the way was done by a code of high moral standards. I could have listened to his stories for hours.
Carl picked up a newspaper. Reading the headlines, he slapped the front of the paper with his backhand saying, "I didn't get shot up in two different wars and watch my very best friends die for what these S.O.B.'s are doing with this country." Carl's demeanor had changed for a bit as the conversation turned to one of a political nature.
In his eyes, I could see anger, hurt, disgust, and even a twinge of shame. After a few moments, Carl looked at me, "I'm preaching to the choir, aren't I?" I said yes, and the conversation turned to happier topics. As we said our goodbyes, I knew I would never forget Carl.
On this Memorial Day, I think about Carl and all those who served in the Military. I offer my prayers for the Souls of those who gave their lives defending our country – our freedom – our world. I pray for the guidance and safety of those who continue to serve and those who will.
Happy Memorial Day, and Thank You, Carl, and to all the men and women who have served in the United States Military! Your service is appreciated.
That story was written on May 27, 2013. Allow me to continue:
A couple months ago, Melissa sent me a message with an obituary attached; "This is Carl, the man you met in Two Harbors years ago. He passed away."
God speed, Carl. Thank you once again for your service.
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Too often, I tell people, "The next time I'm in town, we'll get together for a beer." Then when I get to town, I'm so busy, there is no time to meet with all the people I want to see.
It's always good to chat with my friend Alan Stubbs, whether in person, by phone, text, or social media. Our conversation often closes with, "The next time I'm in town, let's get together for a beer." It's mutually agreed we'll do that, but again, I get busy, and it doesn't happen.
A few weeks ago, I was in town on a work trip. After a day filled with completing tasks, I was ready to call it a night, but instead, I decided to show up at Alan's house – unannounced. It was after eight – maybe closer to nine, in the evening.
I parked my van across the street, in front of his house. Alan has German Shepherds, and I don't know if they play well with others, so I gave my dog June a rub on the head, "You wait here; I should be back in a bit." I grabbed two cans of New Glarus Moon Man from the cooler. On the way to his front door, I noticed how well-groomed his lawn was. I didn't hear the bell ring when I pushed the button, but I knew it did because his dogs sounded off.
Now, German Shepherds have a deep, throaty bark that will definitely get your attention, and these puppies were barking in stereo. "I hope he doesn't release the dogs on the unexpected intruder," I said to myself. I was having visions of a police canine officer in training, taking down a fleeing suspect wearing those oversized protective sleeves. I envisioned myself lying face down in the grass, being apprehended, pleading for mercy while soiling my shorts right there on Alan's perfectly groomed front lawn. "How embarrassing is this going to be? Maybe, I should have called ahead."
There was a commotion on the other side of the door; Alan commanded the dogs to back up and be quiet. The heavy inside wooden door opened; now, just a thin pane of glass separated me from my potential demise. The dogs wanted to see who was outside or perhaps who was for dinner. While he wrestled the dogs, I intentionally kept my back to his door. With the dogs safely retrained, the storm door opened; I turned around, smiled, and presented two ice-cold cans of brew, "Hey, mister, if I give you some beer, can I stand on your front lawn?"
I fully expected Alan to say, "Get off my porch and stay off my lawn." But I could see the curiosity in his eyes; he really wanted to ask, "What kind of beer?" He greeted me, "Palen, what the heck are you doing here?"
"I told you the next time I was in town, we should get together for a beer, and you agreed." We shared a good laugh about that. The dogs were still restless inside the front door. "Let me get them settled down," Alan said, "go around to the back door; I'll meet you there."
When Alan came out the door on the back patio, one of the dogs ran out around him – I prayed the gate would hold. The German Shepherd pushed his nose between the bars in the fencing. I offered my open hand so the dog could sniff my hand but kept it back far enough from the gate so he could eat my hand, just in case Alan hadn't fed them supper yet.
Alan put the dog back in the house and came out to visit. I offered him a brew, "Man, I'd love to, but I'm on a working weekend – I can't have a beer." Well, he might be working, but I was finished with my chores, so I cracked my beer open, and we began to chat.
We talked about a lot; how things were going, the city, the airport, people we hadn't seen for a while – we even talked about the beer I was drinking while he held a frosty, sealed can. "It's brewed in New Glarus, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is the only place you can buy it."
"I thought you were living in Minnesota," Alan said.
"I do," I explained, "Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota, make up the Twin Ports. I just drive across the high bridge, and on the other side is an endless supply of this tasty brew." I took a swill of my beer, "Oh my. This is good." Alan said he couldn't wait to try his later. "If you ever get the chance, it's worth the drive to New Glarus to visit the brewery. It's built like a really cool Bavarian village."
As I described the setting, Alan had a look on his face like he knew what I was talking about, "You know, I have been there." Ideas began running through my head; I asked which was his favorite flavor. "That was years and years ago," Alan admitted, "I don't remember now, but one was really popular." I started rattling off a few names, "Spotted Cow. That was one of them I really liked."
It was getting late; time to wrap up our visit. I offered, "You know, the next time I'm in town, WE should get together for a beer." We shared a good laugh about that, said our farewells, and I was headed back to the van. It was good to see Alan – albeit a quick, surprise visit.
A week later, I had a trip planned to the Lake of the Ozark's in Missouri. Since it was a working trip, and Melissa had some other things to do, I would be traveling with June Bug. Since Ottumwa wouldn't too far out of my way, I stopped in Superior to pick up a sample pack of New Glarus – it was a twelve-pack with three bottles each of four of their brews. I also grabbed three extra bottles of Two Women, another New Glarus beer I thought Alan would enjoy that wasn't one of the four flavors featured.
I sent Alan a text inquiring about his birthday. If by coincidence it was coming up soon, that would be a reason to give him a present. He replied, "Lol. January." Eight months away. I asked what year. I needed to make sure he was of legal age to be drinking beer and cover my tracks for asking such an odd question out of the blue.
Quickly doing the math, I concluded myself a year older than him. "Crikey, how about a little respect? I am your elder." We shared a laugh about that. Well, the birthday angle wasn't going to pan out for me, but there's no need to wait for a special occasion; I would give it to him on my way through town.
With some last-minute changing circumstances, Melissa decided to go with me. Seeing the sample pack in the van, she said, "Oh good. I was going to ask if we could stop to get one to take to Missouri." I explained it was not for us – I bought it for a friend. "Well, couldn't we keep this and buy him another." I gave her a scowling look.
"Drinking another man's beer in his absence is just plain rude." I did the right thing; we stopped in Superior and bought another twelve-pack sampler.
I knew we wouldn't have time to visit when we got to Ottumwa. My plan was to set the package outside his door, ring the bell and run – a May Day gift of sorts since it was within the fifth month. With a few other stops along the way, time had gotten away from me; it would be well after dark when we arrived.
Plan B; I'd set the box of brews next to his truck in the driveway and let him find it in the morning. Driving south from Duluth on I-35, it started raining. It continued raining the entire eight-hour drive. Forty-five minutes from our destination, it was still raining steadily. Melissa checked the forecast. It was going to rain all night and through the next day.
I imagined Alan picking up the box. The saturated cardboard would fall apart. Bottles would shatter when hitting the concrete, leaving shards of glass all over his driveway. That would be a horrible surprise, and I didn't have a plan C. "Think, man, think."
We stopped for gas, and I went inside to get an ice tea. While I was paying, another clerk lifted a trash bag from a can behind the counter. She took a new bag and gave it a couple shakes, opening it with air. The clean bag was translucent white and just the right size. "Excuse me, ma'am," I said to the young lady, "could I trouble you for one of those bags?"
She turned around and asked, "Do you want the one with trash in it or the empty bag?" We shared a good laugh about that, then she reached into a cabinet and handed me a new bag." I asked how much I owed her, "One eighty-nine for the tea; the trash bag is free for giving me something to laugh about on a blah, rainy night."
The rest of the way to Ottumwa, I considered my mission. I would have to approach the drop-off point from the very edge of his property, turning perpendicular to make my way to the truck in his driveway. I decided against putting the package at his doorstep for fear of drawing the attention of his guard dogs. I couldn't let the bottle clatter at all while setting them down. I had to be perfectly quiet. I had it all planned out.
I parked a little way down the street from his house. I made sure I had the dome light shut off and removed the keys from the ignition to avoid the ding, ding, ding. I carefully picked up the twelve-pack and partial six-pack of beer and set them inside the plastic bag. Climbing over the driver's seat, I opened the door, stepped out of the van. I whispered to my wife, "Wish me luck." Melissa rolled her eyes; June said, "Be careful, Dad." Edgar, the cat, shook his head, "What an idiot. Only cats can see in the dark of night. This will be a disaster."
I softly pushed the van door closed, carried out my mission with stealth-like proficiency, then returned to the get-a-way vehicle. I pulled the door shut quietly, started the engine, and pulled away. At the stop sign at the end of the block, my wife said, "You did it, honey. Nice job." June said, "Good job, Dad." Edgar, the cat, declared, "You got lucky."
We started to head for the other side of town, then south toward Lancaster, Missouri, where we would stop for the night.
The next morning, I got a text from Alan, "Hey there, Santa, you are much too kind. Thank you so much!"
I tried to play dumb; what? What are you talking about? "How'd you know it was me?"
"1+1=2…I truly appreciate it!" That was the reply, and it made me feel pretty good.
The following morning, I received a message from my favorite priest, "Were you in town yesterday?"
I chuckled as I replied, "Quite possibly," then asking in jest, "was your house vandalized or something?"
He replied, "In a good way! Did you know it was a special day?" Unbeknownst to me, it was the twenty-fourth anniversary of his ordination as a priest. Melissa and I have a favorite coffee, Norseman Grog, roasted by Arco Coffee in Superior, Wisconsin. He wrote, "Well, thank you so much for the Grog. It made my day to find it in the mailbox! The Holy Spirit at work." That also made me feel pretty good. Another top-secret, covert operation was successfully carried out in the dark of night.
It truly is better to give than to receive – both of my friends really appreciated receiving the gifts I delivered. Still, I think I felt even better for sharing them.
I got to thinking; the next time I go to Ottumwa, I should get together with Alan. Maybe we could actually have a beer together, you know, the two of us, having a beer at the same time in the same place. Should such an event ever occur, I think I'd call it "Stubbs and Suds." In the meantime, these midnight deliveries are working out pretty well, too.
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I took June's water bowl and food dish to the car. With everything else packed and loaded, I was all set to head out on my trip. It was already after dark, but I figured I would get in five or six hours of driving before stopping for the night on my way to the East Coast.
I went back to the house to say goodbye to my wife. "Do you have enough cash with you?" I told her I had a little. "How much is a little?"
"I don't know, probably about ten bucks." I've become so used to swiping a card that sometimes I don't think about taking or needing cash.
"You need to take some cash with you. One of these days, you're going to get stuck someplace that doesn't take cards." Melissa reached into her purse and pulled out two, twenty-dollar bills and offered them to me. "Here, this is all I have right now, but I want you to take it."
"I don't need that," I insisted, "I have enough cash on me, and I don't want to take all your money" But she insisted more.
"I can get more money tomorrow when I go to work. Just take this with you." Maybe she's right; I do travel to some pretty remote places. I didn't resist when she tucked the two bills into my top shirt pocket, "I'll see you in a few days; you need to get going." She gave me a hug and a kiss and walked me toward the door, pausing at the coffee table to hand me my travel mug. "Here, don't forget your coffee, and pull over if you get tired."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." June followed me outside. I opened the car door, and she jumped in, across the driver's seat to the front passenger side. I sat down, put my seat belt on, and started the motor. I took the two twenties from my shirt pocket, and put them in the cup holder, took a sip of coffee, and set my mug on top of them. "She worries too much." I said while giving June a rub on the head, "You ready, girl?" She sat in her seat, staring out the windshield. She was ready. I turned on the headlights and pulled out of the driveway, giving two toots on the horn.
I wanted to get past Madison before stopping for the night, thus avoiding the metro traffic in the morning. We made it and drove on until we found a place to rest for the night. June and I got out to take a little walk before retiring. A lot of dairy cows reside in rural Wisconsin. The scent in the cool night air had June's curiosity - we couldn't have been too far from the farm. I told June, "I saw a bumper sticker once that read; Wisconsin – Come Smell Our Dairy Air." We shared a good laugh about that before we went to bed.
Jack called to discuss what time I would arrive at his house and if I would be staying in the area. I told him I would be heading home right after our meeting. "We have snow that popped up in the forecast for tonight. You'll have about two hours of driving on winding roads through the Appalachian Mountains to get up to my place, and some of them are pretty steep." He warned, "I want to make sure you get back out of the mountains before the snow hits." I stopped to check the weather and calculate my en-route time, and determined I would be okay.
After our meeting, June and I wasted no time getting on the road. We had less than an hour of daylight and two hours before the snow was expected. We were only twenty minutes down the mountainside when I told June, "It appears the snow is two hours early."
The snow was pretty light at first, but the snowflakes soon became big and wet. About an hour into the drive, the snow was falling heavily, and it was now dark. It was one of those snowstorms when turning the headlights on high beam made me feel like I was commandeering the Starship Enterprise. Traveling at warp speed through the galaxy, stars, meteors, and space debris streaked by outside.
We had to slow way down, especially for the hairpin turns in the road. It took two hours to travel this road, getting up to Jack's house and over three hours to get back down. Not far out of the mountains, the snow stopped as suddenly as it began. We drove through Virginia and deep into West Virginia before stopping for the night.
Early Sunday morning, I stopped in the small town of Bridgeport, West Virginia, for fuel and got online to look for churches in the area. I had just missed the eight-thirty mass at All Saints Church by ten minutes, and the next mass wasn't until eleven. I didn't want to wait that long, plus two hours down the road, I would undoubtedly find a church to go to in Charleston, a much larger city. I stopped in Elkview, about twenty minutes out of the city, to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Online, I found a mass at eleven - in thirty-five minutes. Checking the route, I was twenty-five minutes away. Perfect! I ran to the car and entered the address into my GPS, then ate my sandwich and drank my coffee on the way.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning in early February when I arrived at Christ the King Church in a residential neighborhood in Dunbar, West Virginia. I was eight minutes early and found a parking spot right out front, across the street. Things were going my way.
I walked into the church and took a look around. It wasn't a large church, but it was beautiful with natural brick walls. Large wooden beams and planks made up the ceiling. Pipes for the organ stood overhead behind the altar. Parishioners were flowing in, filling the rows of dark brown fabric chairs lining both sides of the altar. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. I decided I had better find a seat; I prefer to sit closer to the front of the church.
I found an open seat at the end of the second row. On the seat top next to it, a lady had set her purse. Not wanting to impose by taking a chair she may have been holding for someone joining her, I leaned forward and spoke softly, "Does this seat belong to anybody?"
She shot me a big smile. "Honey, you are in the house of the Lord. That seat don't belong to anybody but God Himself, and He's just been waiting for you to get here." I smiled and thanked her. As I was sitting down, she asked, "Have you got enough room, honey?" Lifting her bag and sliding it under her chair, she insisted, "You sit with us and make yourself comfortable."
The organist started playing; the congregation stood and began singing the opening song; the harmony was beautiful. I looked around for the choir but didn't see one. To the right of the altar, behind the organ, there was a piano with music stands and several microphone booms – but no choir, just one cantor.
The songs that day were all traditional hymns. During the second song, it occurred to me, some of the parishioners were adding harmony on their own. It was wonderfully uplifting and added a lot to the mass.
The priest called the children to come forward for a blessing before the children's homily, based on the same gospel reading the adults use but presented on their level of understanding. The lady next to me was encouraging a young boy to go join the other kids. The little boy seemed shy. His older sister stepped up and said, "Come on, I'll go with you," and the two went off together with the other children. It was beautiful the way she offered to go with her little brother. The entire service was very spiritually rewarding for me. I was glad I found this church.
After mass, I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me. I introduced myself and thanked her once again for the seat. She shook my hand, "Well, I'm Francine Peters, but I consider you a friend, so you can call me Fran or Frannie."
I told Fran how nice it was for her daughter, whom I guessed to be thirteen or so, to go with her little brother to the children's homily. "Sometimes when they hit those teenage years, they don't want to go to the 'little kids' stuff anymore, but she jumped right up to support him."
Fran smiled and continued, "They're not brother and sister; they're cousins. This is my 11-year-old granddaughter Charnesta and…"
I interrupted her, "Granddaughter?" I was surprised, "I thought these were your kids."
"Oh heavens, no." She laughed, "She's actually my step-granddaughter, but I fully consider her one of my own." She ruffled the little boy's hair. "This young man is my great-grandson, Kristopher – that's with a K; he belongs to my older granddaughter, Alicia, but she's not here today."
My comments about Charnesta helping Kristopher led us to a conversation on faith and doing for others. Fran shared that she had left the church for a while, "God has a plan for each of us. I was gone for several years, and He led me right back here, and here is where I'm going to stay."
I could tell Fran was a good lady, a caring soul who does a lot to help other folks. I wanted to do something nice for her. I started to reach into my pocket to give her some money. I would say, "Take your grandkids out to eat - my treat." Before I embarrassed myself, I quickly remembered that I only had about ten bucks with me when I left home. I put all of that in the collection basket when it went by. I could send something in the mail, but some people find it intrusive asking for their address the first time you meet. Suddenly, I remembered, "Wait here, Fran, I have something in my car I want to give you."
I rushed out to my car, parked across the seat, and picked up my coffee mug. Underneath it were two smashed, wrinkled up twenty-dollar bills that Melissa insisted I take. I smoothed them out as best I could, then neatly folded them in my hand and went back into the church.
I took Fran's hand, placed the bills in her palm, and gently closed her fingers over it so that she couldn't see what I was giving her. Still holding her hand, I said, "I want you to know; I make no judgments about you. If you can use this, that's great. If not, would you find someone to give it to?"
Fran opened her hand, unfolded the two bills, and paused. "Well, I've listened to your stories, and now I have one to tell you about how the good Lord works." There was a sparkle in her eye, and I couldn't tell if she was getting a little teary. "Several days ago, I came across a young mom sitting on the curb on the edge of the street by the bus stop. She was crying, so I asked her what was the matter and how could I help?
"The young lady said her husband, who was quite abusive, had left her the day before. She'd looked in her purse that morning to find he took all the money she had. She needed to buy groceries for her kids but had no money. Now, mind you, she didn't ask me for money either.
"Well, I opened my purse and pulled out all the money I had and gave it to her. I told her, 'It's not much, but I hope it will help.' She thanked me and accepted my gift.
"I got home and thought, 'Now Fran, what were you thinking?' The money I gave her was all I had until I get my check next week. I was out of milk and things and needed to go to the store myself. Then here on Sunday, I meet a new friend at church, who I've never met before, and you just give me some money when I didn't even ask.
"But the most amazing thing is when I reached in my purse and gave her that money – I gave her two twenty-dollar bills; that was all the money I had. Now here you are today giving me two twenty-dollar bills. No one will ever convince me that the Lord isn't watching what goes on around here – and He has a hand in it, too." Fran gave me a big hug.
Fran's story warmed my heart, topping off a perfect Sunday morning. I didn't want to share with her the coincidence in that the two twenties I gave her were all the cash I had left until I got home. I only had them because my wife gave me the last two twenties she had when I was walking out the door. I was afraid if I shared this, Fran would have refused my gift, and besides, I still had a credit card with me. We said our farewells, and I headed for my car.
I gave June a rub on the head, "I told your mom I didn't need those two twenties, but it turns out I really did."
June looked straight out the windshield; she was ready to go. "Are we going to get lunch soon?"
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In preparation for another exciting season of adventurers in the Scamp, I took it to an RV dump station at a campground yesterday. I needed to flush the lines and water system, removing the RV anti-freeze, then fill the tank with freshwater. It takes a little while to do this.
I had only been there for a couple minutes; I was just getting started when a very large, forty-foot RV pulled up behind the Scamp. It was one of those real fancy ones, built on an over-the-road bus chassis. The kind that starts out at about $450,000.00 and goes up in price from there. He waited behind me for about a minute, maybe less, then impatiently pulled a couple feet closer to me. I suppose he thought that would hurry me up.
After about another minute, he got out of his motor home and approached me. He didn't ask - but told me to move "that trailer" so he could dump his RV tanks. Would anyone like to guess how that went for him?
"Pardon me?" I said, in disbelief at his lack of manners.
He repeated, "Move your trailer; I need to empty my tanks."
I looked right at him, paused, then busted out laughing, "Yeah. I don't think so." Then returned to my work.
"This is an RV service station; it's for RV's, not trailers." He informed me.
With disinterest and without looking at him, I replied, "This isn't just a trailer - it's a Scamp, and a Scamp is an RV." He firmly ordered again that I move my trailer. I stood up, looked at him, and said, "Look, dude, just because you found a bank that would finance you on a motor home you probably can't afford doesn't give you the right to act like a pompous jackass. Now, you're just going to have to wait your turn. That’s how it works for everyone, even you" I returned to my task, and he stood back by his unit and glared at me.
I found it ironic and humorous that he really didn't seem to know much about the RV he was driving. You see, I intentionally pulled in the wrong way so that my water connections would be closest to the hydrant. My waste tank valves were on the other side of the Scamp. I left the bigger side of the island open if anyone else wanted to dump their tanks while I was flushing my water system.
He asked if I was almost done. "Nope, I'm going to be a bit." I then explained, if he was in such a hurry, he could pull up to the other side of the service island as I wasn't using the sewage drain yet.
All he had to do was back up, then pull forward to the other side. (Remember, he pulled in behind me, so he also had his drains on the wrong side.) Instead, he backed up, pulled forward way past the dump station and me, then tried to turn around using the narrow roads of the campground. You should have seen him trying to maneuver that albatross in such a small area. People began gathering to watch! This was first-class entertainment for the other campers.
Finally giving up, he drove around a road or two in the campground until he was positioned to pull straight in alongside the island. I shook my head. After all his effort, he was still facing the wrong way with his tanks on the wrong side!
He got out of his motor home, walked around it, looking down, opening a few lower doors, trying to find his water system service compartment. I could have told him the connections were located on the driver's side, but I felt it was best to just keep quiet at this point. He disappeared on the other side of his unit, then walked back around to the door. I looked at him and smiled. We both knew.
He climbed in, slammed the door, and pulled forward to a large parking area where he could have easily just made a U-turn. Still, for some reason, he decided to do a multi-point turnaround. While he was messing around, a guy driving an older mini-home pulled up to the other side of the dump station.
The mini-home driver got out and started connecting his hose to drain his tanks. Meanwhile, Mr. Big pulled up behind him (now facing the correct direction), got out of his RV, and didn't ask but told the guy to move his camper. The man's response was much less polite than mine!
While the mini-home driver was draining his tank, I pulled forward and made a U-turn in the same spot where Mr. Big could not maneuver a turn just a few minutes before. He watched as I turned around, then I pulled up, facing the right direction to empty my tank on the same side of the island I had just vacated. He did not seem impressed by my display of skillful driving.
The mini home guy finished and removed the hose. He was pretty quick because he wasn't refilling his water tanks. I had my hose already connected to the Scamp and ready to go. I placed the other end of the hose in the drain opening and pulled the valve open to drain my black water tank, then my grey water tank.
The mini-home guy put his hoses away. He nodded my way, "Have a good day, partner," he told me, flipped the bird to Mr. Big, then got in his ride and drove away.
Mr. Big pulled into position. He fumbled with hoses, trying to figure out his system. I rinsed my drain hose, put it back in the storage tube, rinsed my hands, then replaced the water hose in its bracket.
I complimented him, "That's a pretty sharp-looking RV you have there. Did you just get it?" He glared at me and cussed at his RV. His tanks still were not draining, and I could clearly see what he was doing wrong. "You should consider changing the way you treat people. I've owned several big RV's, but I prefer the Scamp. Had you been nice to me, I would have shown you how to drain your system when you first pulled up since you obviously don't know what you're doing."
He told me where to go...and it wasn't to the next campground! I just laughed, "You ought to think about getting something you can handle. Might I suggest a Scamp? They're really nifty!" I sat in my car, turned to grab the seat belt, and saw that he was flipping me the bird.
Well, the mini-home guy flipped him the bird, now he was flipping me the bird....is that like paying it forward in a weird kind of way?
I put the car in gear and waved goodbye, using all five of my fingers, to the big RV guy.
The old adage is still true: You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I can't wait to go camping in the Scamp this weekend; maybe we'll get a site next to the nice man with the big RV.
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It's a sickening feeling when you're driving down the road, and you hear that sound, almost like a pop or snapping noise; it's when a rock hits your windshield. I know this because it happens to me too often, certainly more often than the average driver. Maybe it's just bad luck, but I've dealt with windshield issues most of my driving life, especially when I started exploring out to see more of the country.
A sizable rock came off a construction truck in Iowa and broke my windshield. A large section of slushy, frozen snow popped off the top of a semi-trailer while driving through the twin cities. It seemed to float like a potato chip through the air before smashing my windshield. When I reported it, the state trooper asked if I was following too closely. "I wish I had been," I told him, "then the icy chunk would have sailed right over my car."
Shoot, I was on a four-lane highway in Idaho, in the left lane passing a semi-truck, and sugar
beet flew off the top of her trailer and cracked my windshield. Can anyone else tell me a sugar beet has stuck them?
In most states, if a vehicle kicks up a stone or any other debris from the road and hits your car,
it is considered a "road hazard," and the other driver has no responsibility for damages. However, if something falls off their vehicle, they do. In each case mentioned, I contacted the companies, and they paid for my repairs.
I don't even have to be driving to have an incident. One time I was watching a baseball game at
Wildwood park. A foul ball was popped up very high in the air. Naturally, it came down and hit my car, cracking the windshield.
Another time, I was following my wife to Duluth to drop off my car at the service shop; she was my ride home. All of a sudden, I heard it; SNAP! "You've got to be kidding me!" I said, then looked for the chip. Sure enough, there was a fresh new star in the glass just under the rearview mirror. I called her immediately, "You just kicked up a rock, and it chipped my windshield." At first, she didn't believe me, then denied any liability or wrongdoing. She claimed she was too far ahead of me for a rock from her tire, hit my car. "Well, it did," I said, then adamantly insisted, "and you're going to pay for my windshield." There was a long silent pause. "Hello? Are you there? Hello?" My car glass is immune from nothing, not sweet things, not even love!
A chip can turn into a crack running wild random directions across the glass in extremely hot or cold temperature changes. Having the chip repaired or filled can help avoid cracking. I get rock
chips frequently, so I'm familiar with the auto glass repair shop.
When I lived in Iowa, it was not a problem to drive a few blocks where Ottumwa Glass would repair my windshield. But living in northern Minnesota is different. We live sixty-five miles from the glass shop, a hundred-thirty-mile round trip. A rock chip is a real pain in the glass - if you know what I mean.
In the old days, doctors made house calls, but you had to take your car to the shop for a new
windshield. Times have changed; doctors don't make house calls anymore, but the glass shop does.
Shortly after we moved to Minnesota, I needed to replace the windshield on a truck I bought. I called City Auto Glass in Duluth for an appointment and was told, "We come to Silver Bay every Tuesday. Do you have a heated garage?" I did not, so she gave me the name of a local garage, "If you can bring it in a ten-o-clock, we can fix it for you there, and it will be ready to go in about two hours." Being skeptigal, as I am, (that's not a typo, it's a person who is skeptical and frugal – you know, cheap?) I asked how much more it cost to have them come up. "It's the same price. If the weather was warmer, we could replace the glass right there in your driveway." Wow. How could I refuse a deal like that?
The bright red City Glass van has been in my driveway several times since then, in addition to the numerous times I've been to their shop. About a year ago, they came and repaired a rock chip on my truck. During the past winter's spell of minus thirty-five-degree temperatures, the chip ran, making a large circle from the passenger to the driver's side of the glass. It was time to make an appointment to get a new windshield.
Admittedly, I'm not a real fan of some of the new technology; I don't get it; that's why I still carry a flip phone; however, some of it just makes good sense. For example, City Auto Glass has locations in several towns. If the office people are busy or on the phone when you call the local number, someone from another site will answer your call. You'd never know you're talking to someone out of town – unless, of course, you are one to break a lot of windshields. Lisa answered the phone, and I knew there's no Lisa in the Duluth office.
Lisa got some information from me about the vehicle. She wanted the VIN to make sure she ordered the correct windshield. I told her I didn't have the number with me, but they should have the truck in their system. "Ah yes, I see we repaired a rock chip on this vehicle last May." It's a mystery to me how she knew that or how she knew the schedule for the Duluth shop. "Okay, the guys will be out Tuesday morning at ten to replace the windshield on your truck in your driveway. Is there anything else I can do for you today?" With the business portion of our call done, it was time to have some fun.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, there is." I said, "While they're here, could you ask them to bring in the trash can from the curb and set it inside the garage?" There was a slight pause as Lisa tried to figure out if I was serious. "Also, can they feed the dog and do the dishes? Oh, and sweep the floors if they have time." We shared a good laugh about that. "You are full service, aren't you? This is my idea of full-service."
Lisa was still laughing when she asked, "Is there any laundry that needs to be done and would you like them to mow the lawn?"
I was pretty sure she was kidding, but just in case, I asked, "Do you think they'll have time?"
We shared another good laugh; I told her I'd look forward to seeing the guys on Tuesday. Amidst all the merriment, I forgot to ask about payment.
I called right back and reached Lori. I gave her my name and told her I had just set up an appointment. "Yes, I see Lisa scheduled your windshield replacement for Tuesday," I
explained that I forgot to ask about paying my bill, then asked if I could speak with Lisa. "Lisa is in our Rochester office, but I can help you."
"Rochester?" I questioned, "Then you must be in the Duluth shop."
"No," she replied, "I'm just down the road from you - in Mankato."
"Mankato? That's two hundred and fifty miles from here." I expressed.
"Right," she confirmed, "just two-hundred-fifty miles down the road from Duluth." I got thinking about it; when anyone drives enough to get as many rock chips as I do, two-hundred-fifty miles is just down the road.
"Let me see if I've got this right; I called Duluth, and Lisa answered the phone in Rochester and
scheduled an appointment for the Duluth shop. I called back with a question for Lisa and I get Lori in Mankato to discuss a question I had for Lisa, in Rochester, about the windshield the Duluth shop is going to replace in my driveway in Silver Bay?" My head was spinning. "Are you keeping all this straight, Lori?"
Lori laughed, "Absolutely, and to answer your question, Lisa, in Rochester, already received the authorization from your insurance company for the Duluth Shop to replace your glass. So, the service technicians will give you a paid receipt for replacing your windshield when they come to your house in Silver Bay – and they'll still be there on Tuesday at ten a.m." Whew! Somehow through all that, I was sure they’d come through as they always do. They've never let me down.
On Monday, I called again and got Debbie in the Duluth office. She confirmed, "The guys will be
there tomorrow, and the insurance company has already authorized the repair, so you won't have to pay anything – it's all taken care of." How could she possibly know this? That information was in Mankato – or was it Rochester? I was impressed, but that's not why I called.
I explained, "There's rain in the morning forecast, and they'll be working outside in the driveway,
so that's not going to work. Would you be able to get me in the shop if I bring the truck to Duluth tomorrow?" She said that it would be no problem if I could be there at nine.
I arrived at the shop just a few minutes early. The big overhead garage door opened, and Dakota, the technician, came out, "You must be Tom, with the Dodge Dakota?" I told him I was, "We're all ready for you." I handed Dakota the keys to the Dakota, then walked into the office, making no mention of the coincidence of names.
Debbie said, "It will take about two and a half hours to change the glass and allow drying time. Are you going to wait here?" I told her I would go to the restaurant next door to write while they had the truck in the shop. "The restaurant's dining room isn't open, just the drive-through," she said, "You can take our loaner car if you'd like to go someplace else." I thought that was pretty
nice, and I took her up on the offer.
About 10:30, I got a call from Dakota at the shop, "We finished your truck; it just needs to set a
while longer to dry. You can come to get it any time after 11:10." Wow, that was fast – they're twenty minutes early.
Another thing I like about City Auto Glass, if a chip they repaired turns into a crack, they'll take the repair cost off the price of a replacement (some exclusions apply.) I asked Dakota about it. "Well, the chip we repaired in May was on the bottom right side, and it ran up to another chip on the top right side." How could he possibly know that – not about the second chip, but the windshield repair in May, that was done in my driveway?
"I had two chips?"
"No," he explained, "the chip on the top right ran across the glass, then looped down to join the third chip on the bottom left, which then ran back over to the original chip. That's how it made a big circle."
"I had three chips." I was surprised.
"Four. There's another small chip down in front of the VIN."
I queried, "Does this fall under some exclusions apply?" We shared a good laugh about that. When he told me about the other chips, I remembered getting the one in the top left. I felt sick when I heard that popping noise when the rock hit the glass, but I had no idea there were two more.
I was very pleased with the work and they were right on time as promised.
In front of the shop, a van with a lift bucket was parked in the first sp*ace. I stopped to chat with the driver and his helper, "I wouldn't park there if I were you."
"We're changing the sign, the driver explained, "we'll have it done soon."
"I know," I said, pointing my thumb toward the shop, "But these guys are fast! If you're there very long, they'll slap a new windshield in your van before you know it." We all shared a good laugh about that. "By the way," I added, "the new sign looks great! You two do good work!"
When I left home, it was raining. Now, it was a beautiful sunny day in Duluth. It seemed even more beautiful than usual, but it always does when looking through a shiny, brand new windshield. I was sure glad it worked out to bring the truck to the shop in Duluth. Even though we changed locations, they still completed the job on Tuesday - and an hour and twenty minutes early at that.
I returned home to a real surprise! Someone took the trash in from the curb and fed the dog. The dishes were done, and the floors swept. Even the laundry was washed, dried, and folded. The lawn didn't need mowing yet, but still, I wondered, "How could those technicians possibly have got all this done? I was only in Duluth for a few hours?" The thought made me laugh.
My wife did all those chores while I was gone, but if City Auto Glass would have come to my house that day, I'll bet they would have done those things for me. Speaking of my wife, now that I think about it, she never did pay for the windshield when she threw that rock at me with her car.
Rock chips and cracked windshields are a pane in the glass - if you know what I mean, but having good people to take care of things, sure does ease the pain.
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I was trying to write a story, but it wasn't coming easy – I just wasn't into it and didn't feel like finishing this story this week. I pulled up another story I had already started. I had a good idea what it should be, but again, the words just weren't there, and to force the storyline would do it no justice. There was too much tension and turmoil inside of me, and I couldn't focus. I wanted to go for a drive to clear my head, but my story has to be submitted on Monday to the newspapers that print it.
My van is set up for writing when I travel, so I decided to take off in it for a while. Maybe something would come to me on the road. I drove about twenty miles and pulled off Highway 61 into a familiar wayside that overlooks Lake Superior.
I opened my laptop and began writing yet a third story for today. So many thoughts were running through my mind – I couldn't focus. I got a text from one of the publishers, "Do you have an ETA for your column?" I told him I would have something in thirty minutes – but what? I looked out the window over Lake Superior and thought:
From where I sit, I can see the lake. Her water changes colors daily, sometimes multiple times. The lake is a dreary shade of grey today. At the horizon, it blends into a similar grey, the overcast sky. The water is choppy with whitecaps. Waves are coming in, breaking a substantial distance from the shore. "She's a little rough today."
From where I sit, I could see Split Rock Light House. Her tan bricks didn't show their usual bright luster against the background.
I could see a faint silhouette of an iron ore boat far out on the lake. I wondered if the Captain and crew felt the rough waters the same way a smaller vessel would. A fishing boat or a pleasure boat would certainly get tossed and bounced about in those waves. I suppose that's why there were no other boats on the lake today. Of course, the ship had to be there despite the rough sea - it's their job.
It's just a dismal day – not even the pine trees seemed excited about this day. The ravens and seagulls weren't out flying. I sat and listened to the rain falling on the tin roof of my van. That sound is always soothing. I closed my eyes and saw a vision of another time.
From where I sit, I could imagine the lookout tower which used to be on this site before the state improved the sharp curve in the road. In days of yore, the tourist would pull over here and pay their admission to climb the tower for the best view of the lighthouse.
In my mind, I could see the people, families laughing and having fun on a sunny day. Excited children are running up the steps of the tower. Moms are grabbing their kids by the arm to keep them close, away from the traffic on the road.
I could see the lake with bright blue, smooth waters. Several ships were passing, going to and from destinations unknown. Fishing boats and sailboats played on the lake. Ravens danced in the blue sky, calling out to the people, "Rawk, rawk," Welcome. Seagulls swooped in to see if anyone had anything for them to eat. People wore sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats in the bright sun. Split Rock Lighthouse glowed warmly in the sunshine. Even the trees swayed in the breeze, showing their beautiful shades of green. I felt peace.
From where I sit, not all waters are smooth, not all times are peaceful. Not all days are sunny, nor all skies blue. But from where I sit, I can close my eyes and make them that way.
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Things can get foggy when I try to put my earliest life memories into chronological order. It’s probably because they are not complete, but more like fragments, bits of events, or things I recall. I remember a wooden privacy fence in a backyard with vertical boards that seemed to go all the way to the sky. The enormous green dinosaur, way up on the hill at Dinosaur Park, and Mount Rushmore, the four giant heads carved into a rock in Rapids City, South Dakota; were places our family visited when we lived there.
I always seemed to remember cars. Dad drove a Cadillac and bought an American Motors Rambler station wagon; I think it was pink and white; I clearly remember it smelled terrible inside. One day he came home with a new, green and white Chevy Greenbriar van. Mom was happy about that.
I recall a cement building inside a fence. One of my brothers told me it was a prison for bad people. It had a large door that was usually open. Although we couldn't see what was inside, my brother said there was an electric chair and explained its purpose. I have no idea what the building was, but it was creepy, and I wouldn't say I liked going by.
One day two of my sisters, in their early teens, decided to sneak out after Mom told them they couldn't go. I'm not sure they remember the story the same way I do, but we all agreed there was big trouble when they got back home. I remember thinking Mom might take them to the prison; she was mad!
I have a few memories of water in those early years. As kids, we ran through a water sprinkler in the yard. My brother and I collided and crashed to the ground. I went into the house, crying. We went to a swimming pool where I had to stay in the little pool while older brothers and sisters went to the big kid's side. I also remember the day the creek at the end of Jane Drive flooded.
Although it never got into our house, the floodwaters covered the street and rose into our front yard. Mom was worried and wanted to know where all the kids were. Dad didn't seem overly concerned except that his car was in the street. I always remember that creek being considerable in size. Maybe it was because of the flood or because I was four years old, and everything seemed larger than it was.
When I was five years old, my family moved to Ottumwa, Iowa. The Des Moines River runs through the middle of the town, and it was huge compared to the creek in Rapid City. As a kid, we went swimming in the lagoon at Ottumwa Park. There was a sand beach and a shower house, and we had a lot of fun swimming there. The lagoon, the largest body of water I'd ever seen, presented opportunities I'd never known.
One day my brother and I were going to sneak under the rope with buoys, swim to the far shore and back. I was worried about making it all the way. We took deep breaths of air before going underwater and coming up outside the boundary line. We only made it a few feet before the man with the white nose, sitting in the tall chair, started blowing his whistle and called out, "You two boys get back inside the ropes. Now!" The authorities thwarted our adventure; we would have to try it another day. This wouldn't be the last of our daring big water adventures.
When I was eight years old, we moved to Wisconsin. It took about ten minutes to walk from our house to Lake Monona, the second largest of four lakes in Madison, by far the most significant lake I had ever seen in my life. As kids, we spent plenty of summer days at Sandy Beach in Olbrich Park. From our side of Lake, we could see the state capitol building downtown. It was stunning at night when lighted.
Dad bought a boat, a 17’ Lone Star. It was a metal boat, painted white on the bottom and red on top. It sported a 45 horse-power Mercury outboard motor, and I thought it was the fastest boat in the world. My older siblings could water ski behind the boat, but I was too young. I would reach over the side in my orange life jacket and make my hand skip across the top of the wake, just like my brother did on skis in the water behind the boat.
One day, we launched the boat in Starkweather Creek. Dad took some of us kids for a boat ride, the rest of the kids went with Mom in the van. Passing through the Yahara River, we left Lake Monona and went to Lake Mendota – the biggest lake in Madison. We had to go through the locks to get from one lake to the other. Mom met us with the rest of the family, and we had a picnic at a park on Lake Mendota. I was so impressed by the bigger lake I went home and got the map out to see just how much bigger it was. I asked Dad if I could use the boat someday to take a trip across the lake. He said no.
By the time I was ten, my brother and I had met a lady who lived on Lake Monona. She was a widow who needed a little help around the yard. She had a rowboat, and we were two boys with plenty of energy and time on our hands. We worked out a deal where we would rake her yard and do other odd jobs to use her boat. Our arrangement was working out fine until one day when Gerard and I decided to row her boat across the lake.
We set out early in the morning - even before Mom left for work. We took three lunches, a thermos jug of Kool-Aid, two fishing poles, and a sack of worms. We pointed the boat toward the big white dome across the water. We knew that Mom worked in the city building next to the lake, just down from the state capitol building; Dad pointed it out one day when we were in the car. We would surprise Mom by taking her lunch. It was farther across the lake than we anticipated.
While one of us would row the boat, the other would cast a line to catch fish. Unfortunately, while launching the boat, we somehow managed to launch our paper sack of nightcrawlers into the water as well. The fish weren't biting on hooks without an entrée attached. It was just as well; I didn't know what we would do with our fish while visiting Mom. As the morning went on, the boat became harder to row.
The sun was hot, and the water was getting choppy. The little boat surged up and down with the pulse of the water; some of the waves would splash over the edge. Gerard said it was harder to row because we were heading into the wind. He was smart about that sort of thing, although I didn't even know what it meant. I thought about Gilligan's Island, envisioning such a fate for ourselves, but there was no island insight when I looked out over the water. We both sat on the center bench, each taking an oar, and rowed together the rest of the way.
We finally made it across the lake, pulled the boat up onto the steep bank of lime-stone rip-rap. We stretched out the chain connected to the bow and laid rocks on top of it so the boat couldn't drift away. Then we walked up to the city building and started asking people if they knew where Beverly Palen worked. A nice man asked us in what department she worked. We weren't sure. "She Mr. Gordon's secretary."
"Oh, in the water department." He said, then took us to her office, showing us to her desk, "Wait here. I'm sure she'll be right back." We knew Mom would be surprised to see us – and boy was she!
Mom and Mr. Gordon came out of his office. Mom was carrying her notepad with all the squiggly lines (short-hand) and telling him, "I'll type this and have it back for you to sign, this…" She stopped talking when she saw us. She forced a smile on her face, "Mr. Gordon, these are two of my sons, Gerard and Tommy, and I don't know what they're doing here." Keep in mind this was in an age when all the men wore suits and ties, and the women wore dresses in a professional office setting.
We stood out from the crowd; two hot, dirty, skinny little boys dressed in cut-off shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers with no socks. We told Mom we came to surprise her by bringing her a lunch – however, we had no meal to offer - we ate them on the ride over, including hers. Mom walked us to the front door and told us we were to return the boat and go straight home. She probably would have been happier if we didn't eat her lunch.
Rowing back home was eerie. I suppose it was at least a couple of miles, and we didn't have a tall white dome to use as a landmark. I was a little scared, but Gerard said he knew the way – he was smart about that sort of thing.
When we arrived at the lady's house with her boat, she was standing in the yard waiting for us. "Where have you two been? Did I give you permission to take my boat out all day? I was worried sick." She was furious, "This will be the last time you two use my boat." We got fired, but still, she reminded us, "You didn't get all the leaves out from under the bushes, so I will expect you back here tomorrow to finish the work you owe me."
By the time we walked home, Mom was off work and chewed us out again. The day didn't turn out to be the exciting adventure we expected as we set out in the early morning hours, but it didn't deter us from future big water adventures.
In 1972 my dad bought WGLB Radio in Port Washington, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. It was my first time to see any of the Great Lakes, and I was in awe. One day Dad took us to a beach on the lake. I scooped a handful of water and drank it. "Don't do that!" Dad scolded, then told me lake water had to go through purification before drinking. I didn't care; I just remember the lake was so big, we couldn't even see across it. Oh, the adventures I dreamed of.
The family continued to reside in Madison while Dad commuted to Port Washington on Monday, returning home on Friday. Gerard and I would go with him whenever we could. One summer's day, we walked from the radio station into town. It was only a couple of miles. Near the Smith Brother's fish house on South Wisconsin Street, we discovered a large, old white boat stored on dry land at the end of the marina. The wooden cabin cruiser sat on top of pallets and barrels with tall grass and small trees growing around it. She seemed abandoned, so we climbed inside to have a look around.
There were two long benches below deck, one on each side of the boat, with windows above that had old tattered curtains. There was a galley for cooking and even a tiny bathroom with a head and a shower. In the front of the boat was a small bedroom we could share. I imagined what it would be like to live on this boat. It would take some work getting it seaworthy again, "Mom can make new curtains for us,” I offered.
Gerard lifted a trap door on the floor of the back deck. Below were two big motors, "I'll bet they don't run, but I can probably get them going again." The ship was missing one propeller and a rudder, "It's supposed to have two – one for each engine," he said, "We can find a new one." He was smart with that sort of thing. There were some spots of rotted wood on the outside. I figured we could cover those holes with the lids from tin cans, the same way we patched mouse holes in the wood floors of the barn. We were anxious to get started.
We told Dad about our discovery back at the radio station and even got him to drive down by the boat with us after work. "Can you help us find out who owns it so that we can buy it?" Dad didn't share our enthusiasm, saying there were probably boats available that didn't need as much work, if we really wanted to buy one. He also suggested that the boat belonged to someone and we should not climb on it anymore. His negative attitude didn't sway our determination to become boat owners – of this vessel, and take to the sea. We decided to start saving our money.
When the next school year started, I told my science teacher, Mr. Savoy, about our find. I wanted to know what was on the other side of Lake Michigan from Port Washington. Mr. Savoy had a big map and helped me find White Lake; it had a canal coming in from the big lake. That's where Gerard and I would take our first trip with the boat.
Mr. Savoy told me there was a lake even bigger than Michigan and that Michigan was just one of five called the Great Lakes. He showed me on the map how all of the lakes were connected. I became more interested and decided our first trip should be an adventure sailing all five lakes. We could do it next summer – if we came up with the money for the boat, made some repairs, and got Mom to make new curtains. Walking home from school, I told Gerard about the new plan. Although we never bought the boat, my interest in these lakes continued to grow.
My family never moved to Port Washington; instead, Dad bought KLEE radio, and we returned to Ottumwa, Iowa. I traded my dreams of exploring by boat for something more affordable – motorcycles and cars.
In the summer before my senior year of High school, my friend John and I rode our bikes to Port Washington - mostly so that I could show him Lake Michigan. I told him of my dreams to explore all the Great Lakes. The year after graduation, and with a better-paying job, I traded my Kawasaki 650 for a Kawasaki 1100 full dresser – a real touring machine. At different times I rode to Lakes, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario. At each lake, I would scoop up a hand full of water and drink it. When I rode over the top of Superior – I forgot to get a drink from the lake. I guess I was too excited to get to Canada.
Years later, when I met Melissa, she told me how much she loved Duluth, Minnesota, and wanted to move there. One day, to surprise her, I was going to fly her to Duluth for dinner. When she figured out where we were going, she asked if we could go to Two Harbors instead – just up the shore. She wanted to take me to a place she knew of called Betty's Pies. "They have the best pies in the world." (at this point, she didn't know of my mad pie-making skills) I called the Duluth tower on the radio and gave them our new destination. I canceled my flight plan, then lowered the nose and went screaming down toward the water. We flew full speed along the shoreline a few hundred feet above the lake to the next town. I wanted to go out and buzz an iron ore boat but thought better of it. Okay, we did go circle the ship, but I gained a little altitude before doing so just to be legal. We waved at the captain in the pilothouse as we flew by.
After dinner, we drove down to the harbor and stood looking out at the big lake. It was calm and beautiful. The sky was full of stars, and a ship was passing by. Moved by the moment, I knelt and scooped a handful of water from the lake and drank it. "Don't do that!" She scolded, "You can get sick drinking water that isn't purified." At this point, I figured she must really like me – a lot. Actually, she was head over heels crazy about me, but that's another story.
Melissa and I got married and eventually moved to the north shore. We've enjoyed a trip known as the Circle Tour a couple of times, driving around Lake Superior. On one of these trips, we stopped to watch ships pass through the Soo Locks, at Sault Ste, Marie, Michigan – the route from Lake Superior, to Huron, then the other Great Lakes, and even to the Atlantic Ocean. It reminded me of the day Dad took us through the locks between the lakes in Madison, but on a much grander scale.
Watching the Michipicoten, which came in from Lake Huron, pass felt like we were even closer to the ship than watching the big boats go through the canal at Duluth. Maybe because we were on an observation deck looking down at the boat in the narrow lock. It was impressive watching the ship's propeller engage and the thrust of water hitting the back gates as she took off from a dead stop. I told Melissa Huron was the only Great Lake I had yet to visit. One day I would get there, but it wasn't in the cards for this trip. I do love the Great Lakes.
A few years ago, I had finished a working trip out east. My trek home began in Hamlin, New York - west of Rochester and not far south of Lake Ontario. I was too tired to start driving home, but it was also too early to go to bed. I had an idea.
There was something I'd long thought of doing but had not yet done; I didn't know anyone who has done it either. If I followed through with my idea, I might very well be the only person in the world who has done this. I took my Atlas, went to a restaurant, and sat down with a cup of coffee and a notepad.
The following day, at the crack of dawn, I was at Hamlin Beach State Park, on Lake Ontario. I climbed over a small concrete wall and walked down to the water's edge. Greeting the new day, I said a prayer, then knelt. Cupping my hands together, I filled them with water and splashed my face; then I did it again. I did it three more times before walking back to my car. A man sitting on the concrete wall asked me what I was doing. "My friend," I said, "before this day is over, I will splash my face five times with water from each of the five Great Lakes."
"Why do you want to do that?" The idea seemed pointless to him.
"Have you ever done it?" I challenged.
"Can't say as I've ever even thought about doing it."
"And, do you know anyone who has done it?" I continued.
"No. No, I don't," the man admitted.
"I don't either," I said, explaining, "so as I see it, that's reason enough for me to do it."
He seemed a little more spirited when he added, "Well I hope you make it and don't fall in." I thanked him for his good wishes; we said farewell, and I went back to my car.
I crossed over the Niagara River, north of Buffalo, headed across Canada via Ontario 403 – part of the QEW – Queen Elizabeth Way. I felt like royalty as I traveled these roads. At London, Ontario, I turned south toward St. Thomas (I had to take this route for my name's sake), then down to Port Stanley. I said another prayer at the water's edge, then knelt, splashing my face five times with the water of Lake Erie.
I crossed back into the United States at Port Huron, Michigan, then drove north to Bay City, where I found my way to the shoreline of Lake Huron in Saginaw Bay. The water was murky, with plenty of green stuff floating on top. "Maybe I could find another place." I said out loud, then reminded myself, "You're halfway there, don't blow it now." A deal is a deal. I said a prayer, then knelt. I pushed the algae to the sides seeking clearer water below. I dipped my hands into the lake and splashed my face five times. I refrained from taking a drink, even though Huron was the only Great Lake from which I had not done so. I used a couple of wet wipes at the car to clean green dots from my face before heading north.
My next stop would be in the UP. I programmed the GPS and drove away laughing at the little voice in my head, "I'll bet Huron's water would have been clearer at Mackinaw City."
Two and half hours later, I took a break, fueled the car, bought a snack and an ice tea. The Mighty Mack Bridge spans the Mackinaw Straights, which connect Lakes Michigan and Huron. Before crossing, I drove down through town.
I parked and walked down to the water. I cupped my hand, dipped it into the lake, and sipped Lake Huron's water. Finally, I drank water from each of the five Great Lakes. As I stood up, I imagined Dad was on my left; Melissa was to my right. They preached in unison, "How many times do I have to tell you, don't drink lake water. Unpurified water can make you sick."
Walking to my car, I laughed, "I guess we'll know tomorrow."
In the tiny town of Naubinway, I made my way down to the next lake, where I repeated my ritual. It was almost dark; Michigan's water felt icy-cold against my skin. Despite the dark of night coming on, I was confident I would make it. About an hour and a half later, not far west of Christmas, Michigan, I pulled over at one of the roadside parks. With a small flashlight in hand, I made my way down the steep, dark trail that led to the beach.
I took a deep breath. “The Big Lake - Superior.” The largest of the Great Lakes and the largest freshwater lake in the world was also the calmest of the five lakes I'd visited that day. Reflections of the stars danced on the smooth water's surface, and the lights of two different ships twinkled on the horizon as they made their way west. They were most likely coming from the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, making their way to who knows where.
In the tranquility of the night, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving. When I knelt, the knees of my jeans soaked up water from the wet sand of the beach. I smiled warmly as I recalled the advice offered that morning by the man sitting on the concrete wall at Lake Ontario; "Don't fall in." Wouldn’t that be a hoot if I did? I dipped my hands into the ice-cold water and splashed my face, then did it four more times.
I stood up very much refreshed and at peace with myself; a sense of accomplishment swelled within me because I did something I had dreamed of from time to time for much of my life; I visited all five Great Lakes in one day, refreshed by the waters of each. It might not have been a big deal to most people – but it was to me, and I did it.
I dried my face on the tail of my flannel shirt. My flesh was chilly and felt soft and smooth, not sticky like it does when you come out of saltwater. As the T-shirt says: “Superior. Unsalted and shark-free.”
I stayed there for a while, basking at the moment. I taxed my memory to think about all the water adventures I had experienced. Some changed from how I viewed them as a child. For example: visiting Rapid City as an adult, I found the huge creek was just a trickle running through a gulley until it rained hard. The lagoon in Ottumwa was just a small to average-sized pond. Others didn't change. Lake Michigan is just as massive as I recalled when first seeing her.
I've been to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Superior isn't the biggest body of water I'd known, but it sure is the greatest.
Seven hundred fifty miles, and about 15 hours later, I had completed this journey. This dream had now become a memory; it was time to move on to another. Maybe this year, we'll drive to White Lake, the opposite shore of Lake Michigan, from Port Washington, where my Great Lake adventures began. Where they'll finish is anybody's guess.
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There's a difference between putting things off and procrastinating. If you put something off because you don't want to do it, that's procrastination, and it comes with a penalty. For example, if I put off mowing the lawn until next week, the grass will be much taller, more challenging to cut, thus taking more time to complete the job, and it leaves those unsightly waves of cut grass through the yard.
You might put off a project because you're not sure how to do it. Putting off a leaky pipe or a running toilet repair because you're not sure how to do it will weigh heavy on your water bill. The high cost of wasted water can reach hundreds of dollars - not to mention the possibility of causing water damage.
Still, procrastinating is human nature. Okay, not all humans do it, but I do, so I should say it's my nature.
On the other hand, we sometimes put things off that we want to do. Things we even dream about doing, but we just didn't have the time, or in my case, didn't make time; time to live that dream or know the experience. Putting important things or events off comes with an even higher cost than procrastination – regret. Such regret is portrayed perfectly in Harry Chapin's song, Cat's in the Cradle.
The song is about a little boy who was growing up – fast, but his dad had so much to do. It wasn't until later in life when the dad noticed, "…he learned to walk while I was away, and he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew, he'd say 'I'm gonna be like you, dad. You know I'm gonna be like you.'" Those are some bittersweet lyrics. I think every man would like his child to grow up to be like him – at least acquiring his better qualities, but at what price?
I was very blessed to have made many good memories with my dad before he passed away, but bringing one dream to fruition eluded me. I always wanted to take my dad to Colorado.
I wanted to go hiking, and camping, and fishing with Dad in the Rocky Mountains. I wanted to show him the magical things and places I'd found. To share the peace and tranquility, I'd come to know in the forest and alongside a mountain stream. To gaze in wonder at how much brighter the stars are at ten thousand feet.
I wanted Dad to feel the joy of holding his open hands on both sides of his mouth, like a megaphone and hollering from a quiet mountain pass over a canyon below. We would send a ripple through the silence and hear our voices carrying on like a stone skipping over smooth waters. "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello…" and, "Can you hear me? Can you hear me, hear me, hear me…
As the stone takes shorter hops, eventually sinking into the lake, our words would softly fade away, gently settling into the treetops of the forest.
Dad goes to the mountains with me often, and we do all these things – in my heart. Unfortunately, we never made the time to go while he was still living, and that's a heavy regret that can never be made right.
Not long ago, I got a message from Tim Werner, a man I'd met through a social media site. He asked if I would be willing to read a short story he wrote about a 3-generation backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park. He went on this adventure with his 74-year-old father and 17-year-old son. "Sure," I replied, "Send it to me, brother."
Tim questioned, "Can I send it here, or would it be better via email? It's a decent size pdf file." I gave him my email address.
When his email showed up, I opened the file expecting to give it a quick read. "Human Nature, by Tim Werner. Page one of 128? Decent size pdf file?" The first thing that came to mind was, "I don't have time to read a book." I had several trips coming up and projects that couldn't wait and…
And then I thought about it. People take time to read my stories, and this one was about a hiking adventure through nature - with his dad. It started sounding similar to a trip I once didn't have time for – or should I say, I didn't make time.
It would do me some good to relax with a book in front of the fireplace. Maybe vicariously, through Tim's story, I would see what I missed out on with my dad. I replied, "I will read it, but it may take a couple of days before I can get to it." It took me nearly two weeks to get to it, but I didn't want to stop once I started reading.
Tim wrote about the hike they selected. "The Feldtmann Lake Loop? On Isle Royale? This guy is taking his 74-year-old dad on that trail?" I'd never hiked it, but it was a long trek with some pretty strenuous sections as I recalled reading about that loop. "Surely they went a different way." Not far into his book, Tim writes that the park rangers looked at him with the same skepticism. Now I had to keep reading.
The three rode on the Voyager II – the same boat we took to Isle Royale. The names of way-points and places he mentioned on the island were familiar – as were the aches and pains he described along the way and at each day's end.
I liked that his dad had never met a stranger – not even in the woods, on an island, in the world's largest freshwater lake. (sounds familiar) I could see the faces and knew the personalities as Tim described people they'd met, especially "Pat." I've met a Pat or two in my time, and I'll bet you have too! The book had me in suspense, brought back memories, and caused me to ponder, "what if."
Tim's timing in writing the book reminded me of Dan Fogelberg and his song Leader of the Band, which he wrote for and about his father. Dan expressed what the song meant to his dad, who was still living. His father was able to share and enjoy the song's success, and in turn, what that meant to Dan. It was simply beautiful. I felt that same sensation for Tim.
Tim wrote the book as a surprise, a gift. He wanted his now 82-year-old father to be able to read it. We never know what tomorrow will bring, and time waits for no one. Tim accomplished his goal.
His dad was thrilled and boasted of his son's accomplishment. I could feel Tim's gratitude toward his dad and son for going on this journey, making a long-time dream of his come true. Tim's deep satisfaction with himself was evident for writing and publishing the novella in time to share yet another joy with his father.
We chatted several times. I asked if he was an author; if he had written other books. I loved his answer, "I'm just a guy living in northern Minnesota." Me too, brother.
Tim mailed a hard copy of his book to me. Without procrastination, I read it again - this time with my dad. I imagined our trip to Colorado would have been much like Werner's adventure, having similar challenges and satisfactions. I'm not one to give away an ending, but the last six words of Tim's book perfectly described the way such a journey would have gone for my dad and me: "We didn't want it to end."
With Tim's permission, I've tagged him in this story. If you'd like to find out more about his book, Human Nature, you may contact him.
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"Evelyn's preschool is closed on Good Friday. How would you feel about spending the day in Duluth?" Let me think about that; hang around the house watching the snowmelt on the edge of the woods, or go hang out with my granddaughter for the day? I went to Duluth Thursday and spent the night.
Friday morning, we were up early. Ev and I dropped Addison off at school, then took her mom to work. Coming down the steep hill of Lake Avenue, we could see a ship in the Duluth Harbor. We drove behind the DECC center to watch the big boat maneuver in the port. Standing on the sidewalk by the railing made of steel posts and chains, I took notice of how clean and pretty the city was in the soft morning light. The air was fresh and chilly - the water in the harbor was smooth as glass. They are so graceful; the big vessel barely made a ripple in the water's surface.
Leaving Canal Park, a homeless man was sitting on the concrete boulevard, leaning against a signpost. He had a plastic bag of his belongings by his side. With his hood pulled over his head, partially covering his face, he looked cold and hungry.
Ev and I went through a drive-up to get breakfast, then back to Canal Park. I stopped at the red traffic light and rolled down my window. "Have you had breakfast?" He didn't look up but shook his head no. I offered the bag, "We bought an extra meal for you." He got up to his knees to take the sack. I reached toward him with a large cup, "Do you like coffee?"
"Coffee is really good; I like it a lot." He set the sack down, stood up, and took the coffee. Wrapping both hands around the warm cup, he started a brief conversation, "I've been on the streets for a long time, mostly in the south during the winter, but I'm 57 now, and I just can't do it anymore." His eyes looked empty and lonely as if he just wanted someone to listen to him.
"I haven't seen my kids for over seven years. A couple of months ago, I found out they're living up in Hibbing, so when the weather got warmer, I started making my way north."
I inquired, "Do they know you're coming?"
"My girl said If I could find a way there, I could stay with them." He looked exhausted, "It's just taking so long to get there. I've been trying to save some money for a bus ticket, but that's hard too." He seemed beaten down, losing hope.
I offered him a twenty-dollar bill, "You can use this toward a ticket?"
"Are you sure," he asked as if I was unaware how much I gave him, "The ticket is only ten bucks."
I smiled, "You might need a sandwich or a bottle of water to take on the bus." He thanked me and expressed his appreciation. "Tell your daughter we said hi and give her a hug from us."
We said our farewells, and I pulled away. "Who was that man, Papa," Evelyn asked from the back seat.
"Just a friend who needed a few minutes of my time," I replied and smiled at her in the rearview mirror.
Ev and I went back to the house. She turned on a DVD (The Princess Bride) and watched as intently as if it was the first time she'd seen the movie, not her 500th viewing. The character Vizzini would say, "500 times? Inconceivable!" But, whatever he declared to be inconceivable – turned out to be true.
After the show, we got Addison from school; it was a mild, sunny afternoon, and I had an adventure in mind. "We're going for a hike," I told the girls, "you should each bring a coat."
They insisted, "Papa, it's too nice to wear coats – we'll get hot." Fair enough. I let them make the call but told them they had to wear long-sleeve sweatshirts. We put on our boots and walked to a trail not far away.
Stopping at the trailhead, we looked at a map of the trail. "It's a half-mile loop, so we should end up right back here after our hike. Addie, you'll be the leader." She welcomed the responsibility and set out with an enthusiastic stride. "Addie, you might need to slow down a little. A good trail leader makes sure their group stays together."
Not far in, we came to a fork in the trail. We discussed which way to go. Addie opted to veer left. After a couple more splits in the path, we came out of the woods into a parking lot.
"Papa, this isn't where we started." Our leader declared we were lost. I suggested we go back to the last fork. "Should we go right?" I was proud of her for knowing that was the direction we came from; however, I suggested a turn the other way would probably take us where we wanted to go, and so we went left. "Watch your shoes," Addison would announce whenever we came to a muddy patch, a steep incline, or descent.
Once the sun begins setting in the Northwoods, it gets chilly quickly. "Papa, I'm cold," Evelyn said. We kept walking, and I helped Addie with navigation. I wanted them to experience the cold – it led to a good conversation about hiking.
We talked about bringing a backpack on our next hike and what to carry. The girls agreed coats, hats and mittens would be a good idea. Addison thought we should pack some snacks just in case we got hungry. Ev suggested water too. I prompted them for other items to bring along. "What if we were still in the woods and it started to get dark?"
"We should bring a flashlight," Evelyn added. Excellent thinking for a three-year-old. I asked Evelyn if she wanted to ride on my shoulders. "No, I want to walk." Then asked, "Papa, are we lost?"
"No. I know where we are. We'll be out of the woods in just a few minutes."
Our leader spoke up, "I knew you would know the way." I appreciated her trust in me.
We arrived back at the house right at six-o-clock. "Everyone, take your muddy shoes off at the front door." I instructed, "I'll clean them off after we eat."
Their mom made dinner the night before, so all I had to do was heat and serve. Both girls ate well, especially Evelyn. She was hungry, and she looked exhausted. The half-mile walk was nothing for me, but when one's legs are only fifteen inches long, she took many more steps than I did.
After supper, Ev got out a container of colorful plastic discs. Each had a hole in the center and slots around the edges. They snap together to build things. For this story, I did a little research and found they were Lego Brain Flakes. I was humored by the name as I have met people with flakey brains but had never seen an actual brain flake. But I digress...
Intending to play, Evelyn scattered the Brain Flakes on the table, the couch, the chairs, and all over the hallway, living, and dining room floors – then disappeared. The blue, red, yellow, green, orange, and white pieces looked like wildflowers in a meadow. I found Evelyn lying in her bed, reading a book. "You need to pick up your toys before you go to bed."
She looked over the top of the book, "But Papa, I'm tired."
"You need to clean up after yourself, Ev," I said, walking out of the room, "Come on. I'll help you."
She cried, "I'm tired."
I returned to the bedroom a moment later and found her sound asleep. The book she was hold laid open on her chest. I thought for a moment about waking her but recalled my uncle John telling me, "Choose your battles wisely." If she put herself to bed and was asleep by 7:25, she must have been tired. I figured I'd best let her be. I took the book and her glasses, then pulled her covers up. After kissing her on the forehead, I turned off the light and quietly pulled the door closed.
In the living room, Addison had gathered the colorful discs into one pile on the coffee table. Nobody can set Lego products in front of me and expect me not to start building.
I snapped pieces together until I formed a body with four legs. I added a neck, head, and tail. I envisioned the iconic green dinosaur at the Sinclair station on the expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors – but mine was multi-colored.
"What is that supposed to be," Addison asked.
"It's a Sagulla," I replied with a tone as if everyone knew what a Sagulla is.
"It's a what?"
"A Sagulla. It rhymes with koala; like a koala bear – but it's not a bear." I explained. "What are you building?"
"A fence to keep our Sagullas together." She explained.
I corrected her, "Sugullas is plural. We only have one."
Addison was excited and began building something on her own, "Make a smaller one be the mommy Sagulla." I wasn't sure I could make one much smaller, so I made one larger – like a full-size adult Brontosaurs. I told her it was a daddy Sagulla, then asked her what she was making. "The mommy is pregnant; this is a baby."
I laughed, "The baby is taller than the mom?"
"It's a teenager; it's supposed to be taller than the mom." Addison worked diligently to build two smaller, twin baby Sagullas while I finished the corral fencing.
I quizzed my granddaughter, "Where do you think Sagullas come from?" She shrugged her shoulder, saying she had no idea. I suggested, "Maybe they live in the woods – in the mud. They probably came into the house on our shoes and our clothes. I think that's where they came from, don't you?"
Addison looked at me as serious as could be and said, "I think Sagullas came from your brain and your heart." That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Addie was writing on a Post-It note, "Now you have to write a story about Sagullas, Papa. That's your homework. Let me know when you're done, and I'll check your work." (touche) I smiled. She knows her Papa well. She pulled the note from the pad and stuck it to the tabletop next to me.
At the top, she wrote the title, "Sagullas" (that's where I learned how to spell the word). On the bottom; "By Tom." I raised my eyebrows with uncertainty. "Mom told me your real name." That made me laugh, but what had me smiling the first time were the four lines she drew on the small paper – the amount of space she allowed me to write my story.
"I only get four lines."
"You can do it. You have to use your words carefully," the teacher instructed.
Although you don't often see them physically, you will always feel their presence. Sagullas are the contentment felt when holding a child's hand in the morning, the serenity of watching a ship together as it moves slowly on calm water. They are the feeling of equal worth that comes when you feed a homeless man and take a moment to listen to his story. Sagullas share a child's joy watching a favorite movie with the same intrigue as the first time she saw it. Sagullas come from taking little ones on a walk through the woods, helping them learn and understand. Sagullas are lifting a book, taking the glasses off a sleeping child, and tucking her in bed. They come when letting your imagination run alongside that of a creative seven-year-old. A Sagullas is a child recognizing something that came from your heart. How could I possibly write all of this on only four lines? I pondered it overnight.
A Sagulla is a meaningful time spent with another person. Sagullas are love.
By: Tom - with help.