I’m not one to watch a lot of television but when I do get into a show, I really get into it. Maybe I avoid watching because I become addicted, or I am too easily influenced by the shows.
For example, I never watched a single episode of the TV show, M*A*S*H when it originally aired for eleven years. I didn’t start watching until it became a syndicated series of reruns in the mid 80’s and I became hooked on the show. I would rush home to watch it at 5:30 on WOI-TV, channel 5. If I still had work to do at the office, I would go back. They ran two more episodes back-to-back at 10:30, after the news and I seldom missed those.
My kids swear they grew up falling asleep to the sound of an incoming helicopter and the theme song for M*A*S*H. When the TV station changed their programming and stopped airing the show, I bought the VHS tapes, then the box set of all the episodes when it became available on DVD. Yes, I was and still am hooked on the show. There’s no doubt I am influenced by what I see on the screen.
Just the other day, I watched the episode where the 4077th gets a can of tomato juice by mistake. When Colonel Potter sees Radar with a glass of the deep red juice, he reminisces; saying he hadn’t had tomato juice for years. Radar gave him the juice. The colonel drinks it and smiles, “Delisch. That really hit the spot, Radar.”
Wanting to please his commander, Radar started weaving a web of deals to assure the colonel would get tomato juice every morning. When Radar presented the tomato juice to the colonel, Potter pushed it aside, “No thanks Radar. I like it, but it doesn’t like me.” The juice gave him a rash.
After watching that episode, I went to the store and bought a big can of tomato juice as I hadn’t had it for years. The first glass was mighty tasty, but now I have bunch left in the refrigerator.
TV shows aren’t the only form of entertainment that can have an influence on me.
I was teenager on my motorcycle, racing down the alley alongside the Green Street parking lot, behind the movie theaters in downtown Ottumwa. I was speeding – going way to fast. A cop on second street saw me, turned on his lights and came after me in his Dodge Diplomat police car. I was going to take off to ditch him, but then thought it would be better if I stopped.
Ron Tolle, an Ottumwa police sergeant, stood next to me, sitting on my bike. The badge pinned to the front of his dark blue hat with the rigid, shiny plastic bill reflected the street light. He looked ten feet tall. “What’s your hurry, Mr. Palen?” How did he know my name?
I was scared to death. It was the first time I’d been pulled over by a cop – well, since getting my driver’s license; there was that one time on a bicycle but that’s a different story. I explained, “I’m not in a hurry. I just watched that new movie at the theater, Smokey and the Bandit. I guess I’m a little pumped up.” He let me go with a verbal warning; telling me to slow down. I love that movie!
A few years later I was watching Smokey and the Bandit, edited for TV. It sounded goofy when Sheriff Justice would curse, “You scum bum!” Certain words just couldn’t be said on television. The Bandit had just stopped to get a couple of cheeseburgers, when Sheriff Justice rushed into the same restaurant and ordered a Diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper. He wanted it fast as he was in a hurry. Despite seeing the movie over and over, that was the first time I ever wondered what a Diablo sandwich was. I wanted to try one.
Betty had a recipe for everything. I looked in my Betty Crocker cookbook but there was no such sandwich. I went to the public library to check Better Homes and Gardens and several other cookbooks. Still no success. I spent what seemed like hours, thumbing through pages in the aisle at Newsland, but not a single cookbook had the recipe. I asked friends and people I knew were good cooks; nobody seemed to know. People who had heard of the sandwich, only knew about it from the movie.
Over the next few decades, I watched that movie many times, but I eventually gave up on the Diablo sandwich.
A few weeks ago, Melissa and I sat down for a movie night. We watched a classic – Smokey and the Bandit. All my desires to try that elusive sandwich were rekindled. The internet is a much better source for researching such things since the last time I had looked - which should’ve made it easy to find the recipe, right? Wrong.
I typed “Diablo Sandwich” into the search bar, hit enter and sat back to review the results. “Come on. Are you kidding me?” In this age of technology and information, the best online recipe pages have to offer is a taco burger with corn and cheese. “Clearly, that was not the sandwich in the movie.”
I posted my dilemma on Facebook where friends responded with a variety of links to recipes. The people posting recipes claimed they were “real,” “actual” and “authentic from the movie.” One recipe claimed the Diablo sandwich was a glorified sloppy joe with corn and lettuce – but their photo had coleslaw with purple cabbage on the meat. Ick. There were no vegetables on the Diablo sandwich featured in the movie.
A couple other articles said the Diablo was a fictitious sandwich made up for the movie and didn’t really exist. Unwilling to accept that, I wasn’t going to give up. Later that night, after spending a few more hours searching the web for the recipe, Melissa said, “You’ve invested a lot of time in this Diablo Sandwich. It was a movie – it doesn’t really exist.” I couldn’t believe those words came forth from my own wife.
I felt abandoned - like Linus Van Pelt, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear in the pumpkin patch, when Sally Brown gave up, leaving him there alone. I wasn’t going to give up. Not when I knew in my heart the Diablo sandwich was real.
The next day, a friend sent me a link to an article where someone took the time to investigate the Diablo sandwich mystery in a near forensic manner. They found the restaurant location where the movie scene was filmed; The Old Hickory House restaurant in Forest Park, Georgia. They researched the menus from the seventies and concluded no such sandwich existed. However, they were able to demonstrate the meat in the sandwich Sheriff Justice ate was shredded, not ground beef like you would find in a taco burger or sloppy joe.
Because of the name Diablo, which is Spanish for Devil, they reasoned the sandwich was probably served with a hot or spicy sauce. Their article produced an old family recipe, handed down for generations by the actual restaurant owners, for a spicy BBQ sauce that would have been served over pulled pork or shredded beef. Then they determined the meat in the sandwich must have been pork based on its color.
The author of the article, concluded the Diablo Sandwich was what most Americans would call a pulled pork sandwich with BBQ sauce. They suggested the name of the sandwich may have been ad-libbed into the movie by Jackie Gleason, who played Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
The authors research was thorough. The article was very convincing, backed up with logical information and facts that included the recipe for the sauce. I was now on a mission to recreate the sandwich.
I planned ahead, picked out the perfect pork roast and made sure I had all the ingredients needed. I made the sauce a couple of days ahead so the spices would have time to blend well. Friday morning, I began slow cooking the meat. The moment was finally at hand.
Friday night I warmed the BBQ sauce and assembled the sandwiches. They were beautiful and looked exactly like the sandwich presented to Sheriff Justice at the counter in the movie.
We garnished the plates with kettle chips and a pickle spear and, of course, included ice cold glasses of Dr Pepper. When I took the first couple bites, I knew I had finally found it - the elusive Diablo Sandwich was mine at last; ‘twas a dream come true. By the third bite, a tear welled up in my eye. (My wife was laughing at this point.) Yes, I was pretty emotional, but the tear was most likely from the BBQ sauce – it had a real good kick to it. Wow!
For years, people have told me, “There is no Diablo Sandwich - it’s just pulled pork on a bun.” But I knew better! The Diablo Sandwich is just as real as the Great Pumpkin, the Great Oz, the Tooth Fairy and a few others I know of. But in order for any of these to exist, one must believe. I believe.
If anyone wants to stop by, I’ll let you try a Diablo Sandwich - I made plenty of extra. While you’re here, you can have a glass of tomato juice – I have plenty of that too. I’ve got to stop staying up late, watching old TV shows and movies. I’m too easily influenced…
We’ve always had pets in our house. Sometimes having indoor pets requires a little adjustment – or a lot. We have oak floors all through our house, except the kitchen and bathrooms - they have tile floors. We find it’s easier to keep the hard surface floors clean and we prefer their look to carpet. To avoid scratching the hardwood floors, we don’t wear shoes in the house.
Not everyone likes hardwood floors. I’ve heard many people complain, “They’re too cold.” They would say. “I grew up on those cold floors, I like carpeting – it’s warmer on my bare feet.”
Personally, I find our oak floors are usually warm to walk across barefoot, but will admit to telling family and friends, “we are a slippers house” and advising them to bring a pair when they visit. Especially if they are coming in the winter months. The hard floors can be cold in the winter; particularly the tile.
I got up from the couch. Since I was going to bed soon, I opted not to put my slippers on. Besides, I was wearing a pair of thin socks. I let our dog, June, out the front door to potty. There are wolves and other such critters around our place, so I walked out on the front porch to keep an eye on her. The wooden floor was cold, but not as cold as a concrete porch would be. June did her business, then continued sniffing around the bushes, “Come on Bugs. Let’s go inside.”
I made sure the front door was locked, then strolled across the wood floors to look out the east windows to check the driveway. I don’t know why I do it, but it seems like checking the drive is something I need to do every night. That end of the living room is over our unheated garage and those floors are chilly in the winter.
With the driveway secure, I walked through the dining room and into the three-seasons room. It has quarry tile floors and that room is open below. Those floors get really cold in the winter. I looked out the windows and made sure all was well in the backyard. The sky was clear, so I walked out onto the deck; June accompanied me. The wooden deck boards felt warmer on my feet than the cold floor in the three-seasons room.
I looked up in awe. It was a new moon and stars glittered, twinkled and danced about. The Milky Way was really bright against the dark sky. It’s such a beautiful scene, I could just gaze at the heavens for hours. I looked for satellites and planets, spotting just a few. Each time I exhaled, a puff of steam came from my mouth and disappeared into the night. I was getting chilly. My socks felt damp, like they were drawing moisture from the deck boards and my feet were getting colder. I went inside to the kitchen.
The kitchen floor is ceramic tile and most of it is also over the cold garage. I stood on the throw rug at the sink and drew a glass of water. The rug felt good under my cold feet. As I took a drink, I remembered there was laundry in the washing machine, that I needed to put in the dryer.
The basement floor was ice cold. I wasted no time getting the clean items transferred from one machine to the other. I closed the door, turned the knob, and pushed the button turning the dryer on, then quickly made my way to the steps. “Darn it.” I turned around, went back, opened the dryer and tossed in a couple dryer sheets, then high stepped it across the cold concrete floor to the steps going upstairs. June was waiting for me at the top of the steps.
In the bathroom, I stood in front of the sink, brushing my teeth. Again, the tile floor felt like standing on ice. I shuffled from one foot to the other. “I wished I had remembered to put the laundry in the dryer earlier when I was supposed to.” I told June, “The bathroom throw rugs were in that load.” I chuckled as I spoke to my dog, “I guess I should have put my slippers on when I got up from the couch.” June didn’t laugh. I looked down and she was no longer with me. Apparently, the floors were cold on her paws and she headed for her warm bed.
I walked through the dark bedroom, removed my dirty socks and slipped under the covers. Melissa had been in bed sleeping for over an hour. I pulled the covers up tight to my chin, rubbing my left foot vigorously on top of my right, then my right foot over my left. I was trying to warm them the same way one would warm their hands by rubbing them together. When your feet are cold, your whole body feels cold. I shivered and rolled over on my right side and curled up with my back toward her. I was trying to get warm.
I could feel the heat on my wife’s side of the bed and started to scoot a little that way. I wanted to take advantage of the warmth but was careful not to let my cold body come in contact with hers. I rubbed my feet together again then all of the sudden, it happened. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
It was as if my feet started thinking on their own – without me and without using good judgement. They couldn’t resist the warmth. They migrated her way and planted themselves firmly against her warm, bare calf. Ahh… The gratification was short lived. Very short.
The screams were incredible - first hers, then mine as she quickly and forcefully launched my feet and the rest of me, back to my side of the bed. “What are you doing?” She demanded, while pulling away. “You don’t come to bed and stick your freezing cold feet on my leg. What’s the matter with you?”
“You do it to me all the time.” Was my only defense.
“No, I don’t – and besides, that’s different!” She scolded, “My feet are never as cold as yours.” Then she questioned, “What did you do? Stand outside barefoot or something?” I was in no position to argue.
She went back to sleep and I curled up on my side of the bed, rubbing my feet together, still trying to get warm. After a few minutes, my feet, with a mind of their own, thought they had warmed up some and returned to the scene of the crime – this time trying to mingle with her warm feet. “Are you crazy? What’s the matter with you?” She blurted out.
Sensing the impending doom, potential injury and possible loss of limbs, my feet quickly retreated to my side of the bed. I justified their actions, “You said not to touch your leg and I didn’t – I touched your feet.” My defense was weak and I knew it.
She went back to sleep. A few minutes later, I was still rubbing my feet together. They were resting right on the edge of the warm area. I started wondering, “They might be warm enough to try again…but I don’t know about possibly waking her a third time…”
“What’s an ice cream social?” I asked my mom, who was busy getting all the kids ready to go. She explained that people just get together for ice cream. They talk and sometimes play games and such; it’s a social event. Ice cream? That was all I needed to hear.
I attended my first ice cream social a long time ago. Mom took us to a fundraiser sponsored by the St. Joseph’s Hospital Ladies Auxiliary Club. It was held on the lawn by the circle driveway at the front entrance of the building in Ottumwa, Iowa.
The ladies brought their own ice cream machines. A few had old fashioned hand churns. Most had electric motors that turned paddles in stainless steel tubs. All of the tubs were immersed in wooden buckets of ice. The homemade vanilla ice cream was still soft and creamy, being served right out of the ice cream makers. They had Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a can, if you wanted it. There were games for the kids to play while adults sat at little round tables on the front lawn, socializing. I remember it was a lot of fun and I’ve been to many such events since then – I even helped plan one.
Myself and a few colleagues from the local media met with Connie, a friend who worked at Evans Middle School. Her students were looking for ideas for a community service project. They wanted to raise money for the local fire department to purchase batteries and smoke detectors. The firemen provided and installed detectors for elderly people and anyone who needed them. They also went out annually to change batteries for people who needed assistance doing so.
I suggested holding an ice cream social in the garage at the central fire station. Surely people would come; they’re always curious about firetrucks and what’s inside the fire house. A second meeting was held with the fire chief who loved the idea. Another person from the media suggested a name for the event, and just like that, the first annual “Fire and Ice,” was underway.
The kids worked with Hy-Vee, a local grocery store, and several sponsors who provided the product. They took in donations from people who came for the ice cream and played games. Everyone was offered a tour of the fire station and a lot of kids (adult kids too) had their photos taken sitting in the driver’s seat of a shiny red firetruck. I couldn’t even guess how many people came sliding down the brass fire pole. It was a real fun time and the students raised a good amount of money for their cause.
Fire and Ice was a successful event for several years to follow, but coming back to the day at hand, ice cream was the furthest thing from mind.
We now live along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. It was cold with temperatures in the single digits and wind chill values well below zero. There was five inches of fresh snow on the driveway and no matter which way I turned the chute on the snow thrower, the wind blew the white stuff right back in my face. Snow stuck to my coat, hat and gloves as well as my goatee and eyebrows. My cold, wet cheeks were bright red. It felt like someone was poking my face with needles and my fingers were going numb.
I wasn’t just clearing the driveway, I was on a mission that involved digging through banks of previously piled snow. I called it quits for the day and put the snow blower in the garage. I would come back to this project tomorrow.
It took me several hours to cut through the three-foot-deep banks, then clear a path down the left and the right sides to free our little snowbound Scamp trailer. It was time well invested.
As we prepare for road trips, more and more we are finding “pet friendly” lodging, means dogs only – no cats. Even after telling them up front that we travel with a dog and a cat. Melissa had booked a few accommodations, only to be called the next day and told, “Sorry. We don’t allow cats.” We decided to take the camper where our dog, June, and our cat, Edgar Allen, are always welcome - with no additional pet fees or deposits required.
We made our way south to Gulf Shores, Alabama. The milder temperatures were a nice break from Minnesota’s March climate. We set up camp for a few days at the Fort Morgan RV Park. Our days were spent leisurely walking sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, looking for seashells and treasures. Our favorite restaurant had changed hands, so, we were also searching for a new place serving the best grilled shrimp and handmade hushpuppies. At night we relaxed around the campsite.
Each night I went for a brisk, two-mile walk. On our final evening, at dusk, Melissa and June wanted to go for a walk with me. We strolled down the lane toward the road. That’s when I spotted it; a yellow Schwann’s truck was pulled over at the end of the drive. It was like hearing the bells and music, faintly making their way through the neighborhood on a hot summer’s day – and then spotting the ice cream truck. We had to rush before it pulled away. I grabbed Melissa’s arm, “Come on, we have to hurry!”
“We don’t need ice cream!” She protested, dragging her heels in the rock. I had an idea and insisted we had to hurry.
I compromised, “If we get there before the truck leaves, it was meant to be. If not, then we weren’t supposed to have ice cream tonight.” June pulled hard on the leash in my left hand, I latched onto Melissa’s hand with my right. I leaned toward June; with the two of us pulling together– Melissa was coming along, like it or not.
We reached the truck and met Vicki – the driver. “How much is a box of ice cream sandwiches?” I inquired.
“Thirteen dollars,” Vicki replied, “plus tax…it’ll be fourteen-twenty-nine all together.”
“How many are in a box?” I asked.
“Twenty-four.” She said.
I quickly did the math. “That’s a little less than sixty-cents each.” Melissa asked about other options; drumsticks, fudge bars or cones with sprinkles, but I quickly decided, “I’ll take one box of ice cream sandwiches.” After some brief paperwork, we were on our way back to the campground.
“What are you going to do with all this ice cream?” Melissa wanted to know.
“I’m going to hand them out to people at the campground.” I said with excitement. Melissa was skeptical about my idea. It was now after dark and we were going to walk up to people, offering them ice cream from a stranger. “It will be fun; like reverse trick-or-treating.” I assured her.
At the first camper, I announced myself plenty early from the road. “Hello,” the people were friendly in greeting us. “We just scored a box of ice cream sandwiches from a Schwann’s truck at the end of the road.” I explained, “and we’re sharing them with all our neighbors.” The people seemed leery at first, until the first man spoke up in a thick southern accent.
“Ice cream sandwiches? Heck yeah, I’ll have one, thanks y’all!” The other three people each took one, too, and they were all peeling off wrappers before we left.”
At the second trailer, the people were very receptive, welcoming our unexpected treat. “I’ve got a big freezer in my RV,” the man offered, “If you need a place to keep the extras, I’d be happy to help.” We shared a good laugh about that, then moved on to the next couple. Melissa was adamant that I was not to knock on any camper doors. I could only give ice cream to people who were outside. We finished making our way around the campground and headed back to our campsite.
Another trailer had just pulled in and I was looking their way. “Leave them alone.” My wife advised, “You’ve had your fun for the night, let’s just go home.” We took the last six treats back to our Scamp and put them in the freezer. While Melissa went up to check on our clothes in the laundry room, I snuck over to the newcomers with my box of treats.
“Ice cream? Really?” The dad said, while unplugging his trailer from the truck. “This has been such a crappy day - I’d love some ice cream.” His wife quickly snatched up the four bars, thanked me and said she would put them in the freezer for their kids, until after they finished setting up camp.
It really was a lot of fun and I have to say, fourteen bucks and some change sure bought a lot of smiles. We shared treats, good conversation and plenty of laughs with people whom we’d never met before.
When Melissa came back from the laundry room, she ate her ice cream, leaving just one in the freezer. Guess who it’s for? Not me. I gave up desserts for lent. I just bought the ice cream for its social value. So, if you’d like to stop by the Scamp, I’ll give you my last Schwann’s ice cream sandwich. You can pull up a camp chair and we’ll chat for a while – it will be just like an old-fashioned ice cream social.
It’s happened to everyone I know; you’re running late for work or an appointment. You dash to the dryer to grab a particular pair of socks…but you can only find one. You quickly throw all the laundry in a basket, run to the bedroom and dump the clothes on your bed. Frantically, you search through the static-charged clothing to find the other, but it is not there. Immediately, the washing machine gets blamed for eating another sock. You probably left the house wearing socks that look ridiculous with the pants you had on or maybe even an unmatched pair.
Ever since mom traded her red and white Maytag wringer washer for an automatic machine, socks have been disappearing in the laundry. But washing machines aren’t the only untrustworthy appliance in the house.
When Melissa and I were married, we received dishes as a wedding gift. Dinner and salad plates, bowls and cups – a setting for ten. Our mismatched collection of silverware did not look good with the new dishes, so Melissa bought new. We kept the old and to this day we have two silverware drawers.
Day to day, I prefer the old knives and forks, but when company comes, we break out the good stuff. The new flatware came in a setting for eight. Since we had dishes for ten, Melissa bought two sets of the silverware. It has a hammered pattern on the sturdy handle. It looks really nice, especially with our plates, but I think the handles are too heavy.
The other day I was emptying the dishwasher. It seemed the silverware count was off, so I took an inventory. We have fifteen dinner forks and nine salad forks; fifteen small spoons, nine soup spoons and twelve table knives. We originally had sixteen of each. Where did the rest of the silverware go?
I checked the dishwasher, as one would check the washer for a lost sock; there was nothing there. I checked the other drawer to see if some of the new was mixed in with the old. Nope. I looked in the cooking utensils drawer and struck out again.
Pondering the whereabouts of the missing silverware, I began thinking of likely suspects. I began reciting that old nursery rhymes: “Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.”
With one eyebrow raised, I looked at my dog June, with suspicion. She looked at me declaring, “I didn’t take it. I don’t eat with silverware.” She was innocent and the dish couldn’t have run off with the spoon, because all the dishes are present and accounted for.
I’ve concluded, either the dishwasher eats silverware like a washer eats socks, or, we need to start having our dinner guests pass through a metal detector on their way out the door. Maybe I should check the utensil drawer again. There’s a lot of stuff in there.
Speaking of utensils, when visiting Duluth, Melissa and I frequently go to Father Time Antiques, in Canal Park. I always look at the old kitchen stuff. Some of my favorite kitchen tools are antique; my pastry and biscuit cutters, measuring cups and spoons and more. Those old utensils are better than what you can buy today, especially my potato masher.
A thick wire sweeps outward from the contoured wooden handle. It makes a squiggly line across the bottom of the masher then arches back up into the handle. It’s larger than most potato mashers – a real beast!
The other night, while fixing dinner, I called to my wife in the living room, “Honey,” I bragged, while smashing those Idaho spuds, “my potato masher is a beast - a real monster.” I wasn’t sure if she didn’t hear me or was just ignoring me. “Honey, I’m mashing the potatoes.” I said a little louder. No response. “Honey, do you know what I’m doing?”
She finally answered, “You’re mashing potatoes with your monster potato masher.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “you might say I’m doing the Monster Mash!” I started singing, “He did the mash. He did the monster mash. He did the mash. It caught on in a flash. He did the mash. He did the monster mash. Ow-oooo…” I danced with the pan in my left hand and sang into the utensil in my right, like a microphone covered with potatoes, “Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist? It’s now the mash…” From the living room, I could hear the volume on the TV increase – substantially. Oh, the fun I have entertaining myself in the kitchen.
Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever solve the mystery of the missing silverware - or socks, for that matter. On a brighter note, the sooner the rest of this silverware disappears, the sooner we can get some new – with lighter handles. For everyday use, I still prefer the old silverware anyway.
It was a beautiful Sunday, mid-morning, on the North Shore. The skies were bright blue, the sunshine was warm and the temperatures, mild. We were heading into town to run some errands. At the intersection of Highways 1 and 61 there were five deer feeding. A little further down, in the same yard, three more, and then four more. All the way to Duluth, we kept seeing more and more deer along the road.
With the mild weather, snow was melting along the sides of the highway, leaving occasional bare patches of grass. In the woods, you could see the ground was still well covered with snow. Food for the wild animals can be hard to come by in the winter; the deer were taking advantage of an easy meal. Seeing them out offered a promise of spring.
Passing through Beaver Bay, there was a line at the car wash. As a matter of fact, every car wash we passed throughout the day had a line of cars waiting. It was a good day for cleaning the car and people were anxious to get rid of the white chalky look left by road salt and see their cars shine brightly again.
Turning left on Park Road in Two Harbors, we drove past Burlington Bay Beach. There were couples holding hands, strolling along the beach. Families gathered for a day of fun in the sun. A group of people sat near the water’s edge, all wearing light coats, but stretched out like it was July.
Little kids were throwing handfuls of rocks into the water to see the splash – some were skipping stones over the smooth surface. Others just leaned back to take in the sun. Not far off the shore a man was standing in his fishing boat, anchored in the calm Lake Superior water. He would cast his line, then slowly reel it back in. I didn’t see him catch anything, but it sure looked like fun.
The sidewalks in Two Harbors were busy as well. People were walking dogs, some were pushing baby strollers while others were out for a healthy walk, or getting in a run.
We stopped to give a friend a slice of mixed-berry pie. It was made with fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. All the fresh berries made me really feel like summer. A few blocks from his place, we turned north on Sixth Street, driving back to the main drag through town.
At the intersection, we hit the red traffic light. Dairy Queen was open on the corner. This particular DQ doesn’t have a dining room and people were lined up at the outdoor windows to place their orders. Some teenage boys, wearing shorts, were standing in a group, enjoying ice cream and conversation with friends. It was good to see so many out and about.
People were really enjoying this mild weather. All around, they were showing signs of spring fever; ourselves included. Melissa and I were going to get something to eat while in Duluth, but decided to go back home after running our errands. We would fire up the Weber grill and take advantage of this nice weather, cooking out on the deck.
On the way home I noted the temperature. It was only thirty-six degrees, but the sunshine made it feel much warmer. I smiled and reminded myself to not be fooled. This is only March first – we still have a good chance of seeing more snow and winter weather. I do love the winters in northern Minnesota, and welcome more, but it was sure nice to enjoy a spring like day, today. March came in like a lamb, I wonder how it will go out?
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There was no school Thursday or Friday and I was going to stay with my granddaughters in Iowa. I called my daughter, Sydney, telling her I wouldn’t get there until around seven and she should go ahead and feed the girls. “They want to wait until Papa gets here to eat.” She advised. I said okay and kicked the cruise control up a few miles per hour.
After a full day at work, with household chores still left to be done, Sydney leaned against the kitchen counter, looking beat. “This pasta dish doesn’t take long to make, but I’m just so tired.” She said, “I wish we could just go get a pizza or something instead of cooking tonight.”
“I’m in the mood for pizza.” I offered, “Where do you want to go? My treat.” We went to a place called Your Pie, for individual pizzas baked in a brick oven. Before going to dinner, I gave each of the girls a cookie from a big bag of ginger cracks I made and brought from home. There were about four dozen cookies in the clear plastic bag with a white twist tie. Sydney packed a dozen or so, to take to her co-workers the next day. I told her she could freeze most of them to keep for later.
In the morning, Sydney called downstairs, “Dad? I’m leaving for work. Evelyn is up, Addison is still sleeping. I’ll see you tonight.” I didn’t get to bed until late, but pulled my tired self out from under the warm blankets and trudged my way up the stairs. Evelyn, almost three-years-old, was sitting at the table with a bowl of Cap’N Crunch, Crunch Berries and a partially eaten cookie in each hand. She spoke with a soft voice, “Papa can you get me some milk?” I closed the bag of cookies, setting them back on the counter, poured milk on her cereal and sat down to have breakfast with her. It wasn’t long before Addison joined us.
“What would you like for breakfast?” I asked the sleepy child who seemed disinterested in the variety of cold cereals. Addie looked at Evelyn, then at me and said she wanted cookies. How could I say no since her sister was already eating some? “You can have one after you eat your cereal.”
Addie reasoned, “Ev is eating cookies and she didn’t finish her cereal yet.” I remembered when Sydney was a little girl, she would debate adults by using logic and reasoning - Addison is the same way.
“That’s because Ev got up before me. If you want cookies with your cereal, you have to get up before me.” I poured a bowl of Fruit Loops for Addison and said, “Evelyn, put the cookie down until after you finish your cereal.” I served them fresh strawberries and blueberries, too, because it seemed like an adult thing to do.
Addison had asked if we could make an apple pie during my visit. We made a shopping list and went to the store. Fareway was only a few blocks away; I swear it took longer to get the kids in and out of their car seats, than it would have taken to walk to the store.
I went to the living room where the girls were watching a Disney movie and asked if they wanted to help make the pie. “No, not right now.” They answered, without turning away from the screen. I didn’t want them watching TV all day so I got two dining room chairs, placing them a few feet in front of the black iron railing that goes around the stairwell to the basement. I stretched a blanket from the chair backs, over the railing and another smaller blanket over each end.
Addison jumped up, excited, “Ev! A fort!” Both girls came running, abandoning the television for something more fun. They began moving their kiddie chairs and other treasures into the shelter. I crawled in with them to share the fort. “Papa! You can’t be in here. This fort is for girls only.” Banished from the compound, I went to the place where men belong - the kitchen, to make the pie.
It got pretty quiet in the living room – too quiet. “Knock-knock.” I announced myself at the closed blanket leading inside. I was instructed to knock on the wooden seat of the chair. I did, then poked my head inside. The two of them were munching away. “Addison, give me the bag of cookies.” They heisted the whole bag from the counter behind me while I was peeling apples at the sink.
A few minutes later I called the girls to the kitchen, holding a large mixing bowl of thinly sliced fruit. “Would you each like an apple?” They sported big smiles as they chose their slices, but upon eating them, the smiles turned to puckers. The tart Granny Smith apples were not what they were expecting. I laughed, added the sugar and spices, stirred the apples, then asked if they would like to try another. They were pleased with the new flavor and came back asking, “Papa, can we have some more of the apples with cinnamon?” I held the bowl for them, pleased that they were enjoying my cooking.
After running some other errands, we came back to the house. Addison walked into the kitchen from the garage and asked, “Papa, how did you make our house smell like your house?” Honey, that’s just apple pie.
Friday, Sydney called down the steps, “Dad? I’m leaving for work. Both girls are up, watching a movie. See you tonight.” I heard the garage door closing followed by little footsteps racing across the squeaky floors overhead. I was up late again the night before, but managed to drag my tired self from under the warm covers and trudged up the stairs.
When I emerged from the stairwell, both girls looked at me with surprise, like two deer in my headlights. Each of them eating a cookie, with the open bag sitting between them on the couch. I told them they could not have cookies for breakfast Addison immediately justified their position. “You let us have cookies for breakfast yesterday.” Not today kid, let’s go get some cereal. “But you said we could have cookies for breakfast if we got up before you did.” Hmph.
After a breakfast of cereal, fresh fruit and cookies, (yes, I caved in) Addison explained a new game they wanted me to play with them. “I’ll go in the bathroom, close my eyes and count to ten. You and Ev go hide then I will try to find you. It’s a new game called Hide and Seek, but you’ll learn it pretty fast.”
I hid Ev in her chair under a pink blanket, then I slithered behind the couch. “…eight, nine, ten. Ready or not, here I come.” She found Ev rather quickly, but it took them a few minutes to find me. “Where are you Papa?” I remained quiet. Standing near the front door, Addison called, “Come out, come out wherever you are.” Then she looked right at me laying on the floor, “PAPA! I see you!”
It was their turn to hide; I saw two rounded lumps under a blanket in a wicker basket. I quickly pulled the blanket away, yelling, “AH HA!! I found you!” The two girls screamed, tipped the basket over getting out and ran to the living room. It was my turn to hide again. It took them a while to find me standing behind a curtain. On their next turn, they hid together under their mom’s bed. I couldn’t find them right away, but then heard giggles coming from the bed skirting. I hadn’t played Hide and Seek since my daughters were little – we had a lot of fun.
Around eleven I asked the girls to get dressed so we could go to the store. “We’re going to pack sandwiches and go surprise your mom at work with a picnic for lunch.” Remembering what a hassle it was getting the girls in and out of the van, I bundled them up in their coats and mittens. It was a beautiful day: twenty-seven degrees with lots of sunshine and just a little breeze.
I took a large fleece blanket, folded it several times and lined the floor for them to sit on. I set both girls in the wagon, facing one another. I put another fleece blanket over their laps, tucking it in alongside their legs and sides. I started down the sidewalk toward the grocery store.
It’s a light-colored wagon made of wood; the removeable red wooden sides have gold lettering: Radio Flyer Town and Country. Just like the wagon my dad bought for our family when I was little, I bought one for my daughters when they were little girls. I recalled many times years ago, giving them rides. It’s a good wagon, well-built and a little more expensive than most, but I thought it was worth the money. Now almost thirty years later, I was giving my granddaughters a ride in this very same wagon.
As we made our way down the walk, the wheels went, squeak, squeak, squeak as the hard rubber tires mounted on white steel rims turned on the dry axels. “I need to oil those wheels.” I said to the girls.
At Fareway, people looked on and smiled as we made our way up and down the aisles with our little red wagon; squeak, squeak, squeak. The girls had juice boxes, some fruit, a package of lunch meat, chips and some cheese, setting in their laps. With everything on our list, we pulled through the check-out lane, paid for our groceries and headed for home in our Town and Country Wagon. “It’s good exercise.” I said, breathing a little harder as I pulled the wagon; the short three-block-walk home was all uphill. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
I packed all our sandwiches in one plastic container, some fresh fruit in another, slices of apple pie in a third, and a canister of Pringle’s potato chips. I hadn’t had those for years! I put everything into a plastic grocery sack with some napkins and forks. “Are you girls ready to go?” I went to the living room to check on them. “Where did you girls get those cookies?” I took the bag and said, “Come on, we have to go.”
Sydney was pleasantly surprised by the picnic. She looked at the girls, rolled her eyes and told her boss, “I’m not sure if the girls or Papa picked the outfits.” I’ve never been the best at coordinating fashions so I let them pick their own clothes. They chose items similar to what I would have picked. I thought they were stylin’ even if they did look like a couple of orphans.
We went to a break area to eat. “Guess what, mom.” Addison started telling a story, “Papa took us to the store in the wagon and we were under blankets and he took the wagon right into the store.”
“You took the wagon inside Fareway?” Sydney laughed. Well, I wasn’t going to leave it outside where it could be stolen. We enjoyed our picnic. Sydney told me when I got home, the girls would need a nap. “Put Ev in my bed and Addie in her room. You can try them both in my room, but Ev won’t sleep if Addison is keeping her awake.” Both girls fell asleep in the van on the ride home.
I put them down for a nap, then went to the sit on the couch. “Addison, stop it.” I called out, then “Addison, leave Ev alone and go to sleep.” The giggling continued. After several more calls, I went in to lay down with them. “Addie, go to sleep.” I put my arm around her, “Stop touching your sister and go to sleep.” Boy, I could use a nap as much as they did. “Addie stop…zzzzzzz.” I was down for the count.
I awoke when my phone rang. It was aunt Delaney. I spoke softly, telling her I was laying down with the girls, taking a nap and I would call her back later. I reached my arm over toward the girls but all I felt was an empty bed with covers. I got up. The door was pulled within an inch of being closed - I didn’t close it. I walked out into the hallway to find their bedroom door closed – I didn’t close it either.
I opened their door and the two of them were sitting at their little table playing. “Did you girls just wait until I fell asleep, then sneak out of the room?”
Addison pointed at Evelyn and confessed, “It was her idea.” That’s when I noticed they each had a cookie in their hand and the open bag was on the table between them. At least they were sharing.
“Girls!” I took the bag away, looking inside. “There are only four cookies left. Two of these are for your mom, and you can each have one after supper.”
As soon as Sydney got home, I had to get on the road heading north. We said our farewells, and I pulled away from the driveway giving two toots on the horn – see you soon, girls.
I yawned as I drove away; I was tired. “Where do those girls get all that energy?” I asked myself, then answered, “Probably from the sugar in the cookies.” I wondered if there would be any cookies left for after dinner. I started thinking about my own dinner and what I would make when I got home.
I thought, “I can find something leftover in the fridge that doesn’t take long to warm up, but I’m just so tired.” I said, “I wish I could just go get a pizza or something instead.” With that thought, I reset the GPS to take me home through Rushford, Minnesota – home of The Creamery Pizza. No doubt the best pizza in southern Minnesota.
Sunday morning, on my way home, I crossed the Baptism River on Highway 61. Looking toward Lake Superior, I could see people standing on the lower bridge. I decided to take a little excursion off the main road and turned into the Visitor’s Center at Tettegouche State Park. Passing the parking lot, I headed for the small bridge.
The bridge draws a lot of traffic in the spring, summer and fall; pedestrians and bicyclists safely share the road with cars and motorcycles. You don’t see a lot of traffic crossing in the winter. Especially people walking on a bitterly cold day like today.
I drove slowly across the bridge. Two people on foot, stood at the railing looking up the snowy, frozen bed of the Baptism River. They turned my way long enough to give me a friendly wave. The road was plowed but still had a thick layer of packed snow. Passing under the Highway 61 bridge, I continued onward, wondering how my two-wheel-drive van would handle the hills and winding curves ahead.
The parking area for the walk-in campsites was also plowed. That seemed strange, but I thought maybe people use this parking as a place to set out on snowshoeing trails. The road continues on back to the Tettegouche camping area, then on farther back to the parking lot and trailhead leading to High Falls. I was more surprised to see the campground road cleared. Most campgrounds have barricades blocking the entrance to traffic in the winter months. I turned right to investigate.
It was odd to see cars in the driveways at the rental cabins. Then I saw a motorhome in a campsite. Weird. As I continued around the loop, there were more campers. I wondered if this might be some special event going on.
A few campsites later, there was a large tent set up. Smoke rolled from the metal chimney pipe, poking out near the peak. The pleasant smell of birch wood burning caused me to yearn for the next camping season. Two sites later, there was a green canvas tent, again with smoke rolling out of the stack. The green canvas tent took me back to a time years ago.
My family had a large khaki-colored canvas cabin tent. When we went camping, it was always crowded with people. The tent was often used by my older brothers and sisters, who took it on camping trips with their friends. Along with a few of my younger siblings, we tried without success to set up the tent in our backyard. It was so heavy we were never able to raise it up without the help of our bigger brothers or sisters – and they were at a stage in life where they were too busy with friends to mess with little kids who wanted to camp in the backyard. I dreamed of a day when I would have my own tent. A smaller tent that I could pack around and set up by myself.
My dad owned WGLB radio, in Port Washington, Wisconsin. I loved sitting in the front office, listening to him on the radio – especially when he was hosting The Trading Post; a program people used to buy and sell a variety of things.
One day a man called in. “I have an older two-man pup tent for sale. It’s been stored in the garage for a while, so it needs to be aired out, but the canvas is in good condition and the poles are straight. It comes with a carrying bag but it’s pretty rough.” My ears perked up.
Dad asked more questions, “Does it have a screen door?”
“It has two screen flaps that tie together at the opening and they’re perfect; no holes or tears.” He said. Dad asked how much he wanted for the tent. “I want seven dollars. The price is firm and you can call me at…” I scrambled for a pen or pencil as he was giving his number, then wrote it down as Dad was repeating it.
I called the man who pretty much said the same things he did during his call. He reiterated the price was firm, then gave me his address. “Okay,” I said writing it down, “I’m going to ask my dad if he can bring me there to look at it today and I’ll call you back.”
“Hey Dad?” I started the conversation. He was working at his typewriter in his office. He looked at me over the top of his glasses and asked what I needed. “Do you remember that man that called the Trading Post with a two-man pup tent for sale?” He said he did. “Well, I called him and he said we could come look at the tent today if we wanted to. I told him I would ask you and then call him back.” Dad still looking over his glasses, asked if I priced a new tent. “I looked in the Sears catalog and it’s nineteen dollars for a new tent. But a new one is nylon and the one on Trading Post is canvas, which is much stronger and he only wants seven dollars for it.”
Still looking over his glasses, he inquired, “Do you have seven dollars?” I admitted that I did not.
“I’ve been saving my money from mowing Mr. Klinke’s yard and I have four dollars and eighty cents. I was going to ask the man if he would let me make payments on the rest.” Dad was quiet, still looking at me. “Can I call and tell him we’ll come today?”
Dad glanced at his watch then resumed typing. “I won’t be ready to leave until after 4:00.”
I was excited that Dad didn’t say no. “So, should I tell him we’ll be there at four?”
Dad paused for a moment, “What is his address?” He started typing again, while I read it from my note. “That’s out past Sentry Foods.” He said, without stopping. I thought he was changing his mind. “You better tell him 4:30.”
The man met us in his driveway and handed me a rolled-up bunch of canvas. We took it to his lawn and unrolled what appeared to be an old Army tent. Inside were four poles and a small bag. “What’s that?” I asked. He opened the bag and took out six stakes. He showed me how to anchor the first corner through the loop, while the tent was flat. “You have to make sure it’s taught.” He said, as he tugged on each corner before driving another stake. Then he pounded one stake about three feet in front and another about three feet behind the tent, although I didn’t know what they were for.
He put two pole pieces together and stood it in the front center of the tent. A rope was attached to the top of the tent. On the loose end, the rope went through a hole in a round wooden handle, then came back through another hole on the other side, creating a small loop. A knot tied at the end of the rope kept the handle from coming off. He slipped the loop around the front stake, then pulled up on the handle a bit so the pole would remain standing.
He put the last two pole pieces together, handed them to me and said, “You go inside and put this up in the back the same way I did the front. I’m too old to be crawling around in a pup tent. That’s why I’m selling it.” I did as he said, but the pole kept falling inward each time I tried to put it up. “That’s okay,” he said, “let it fall and come out here.”
On the back, there was another rope tied to the top, just like the front. He slipped the loop over the back stake, pulling it slightly tighter than the front. It brought the pole upright and held it in place. The tent looked good, but I pointed out how it sagged in the middle. “Well, just hold your horses.” He said, while walking back to the front. He pulled the front handle tighter and the tent stood straight as could be.
“So, the wood handle just slides up and down the rope and cinches to make the tent tighter?” I thought that was pretty neat. He showed me how to roll the canvas door flaps back and tie them to stay open when it was warm outside and how to tie them together to keep them closed when it was cold. The tent was so old that it didn’t have zippers, so the screen flaps tied the same way.
I sat inside the tent while the man looked in through the open doors. It smelled musky. There was a slight smell of petroleum or maybe plant fertilizer and campfire smoke all mixed together. “It stinks in here.” I told him.
“Well, I said it needs to be aired out.” He snapped back, “It’s been rolled up, sitting in the garage for a few years now. What do you want for seven bucks?”
I climbed out, looking to Dad to see what he thought. He said, “It’s older, but in good shape and I think it will air out. It’s your money, son…”
I turned to the man, “About that seven dollars…” I explained my financial situation, “I want to buy the tent. I’ve got four dollars and eighty-cents with me… The man interrupted to remind me the price was firm. “I know.” I answered, “I was wondering if I gave you this money today, would let me make payments on the rest. I get a dollar-fifty each time I mow Mr. Klinke’s yard, so I could have you paid off in two weeks.”
He looked at me, “You mow lawns?” I told him I did. “What would you charge me to mow my yard tomorrow – and rake it too, including around the shrubs?” I looked over the yard. It wasn’t any bigger than Mr. Klinke’s yard, but he wanted me to rake it, too.
I quickly did the math in my head. I wanted to make enough to pay off the rest of the tent. “How about three dollars and twenty-cents?” I said.
He shook my hand, “We’ve got a deal.” The man said, “Be here in the morning and make it early, before it gets too hot outside.” I gave him my money, then Dad and I left. We went to the A&W in Grafton where they had a special; three chili dogs for one dollar. Dad ate two and I had one. We split an order of fries and a small coke. All the while we were eating, I told Dad about the adventures I would have with my new tent.
Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was so excited about getting my tent that I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning, Dad dropped me off at the man’s house and told me to call him at the radio station when I was done. It took most of the day to mow and rake his yard. The man gave me a cold cheese sandwich with mayo on white bread, lemonade and a cookie for lunch. It tasted good.
Dad came to get me in the late afternoon. The man gave me the tent and handed me another dollar. Puzzled, I asked what the extra dollar was for. “Kid, you do good work, but in the future, you better let someone else handle the money.” He started laughing, although I still didn’t know why. Then he handed me another dollar, “Here. This is for you. I think the yard was a lot bigger job than you thought it would.”
I sat in the passenger’s seat, holding and admiring my new tent. Dad explained the extra dollar and the error I made in my math, then said, “Why don’t you roll your window down.”
I wrinkled my nose, “It stinks, doesn’t it?”
“It will air out.” Dad assured as he turned into the radio station driveway. “Why don’t you leave your tent outside for now.” He suggested, “You can set it up and tie the flaps open to let it air out.
In the yard of the radio station, I slept in the tent alone that night. It was a little scary for a twelve-year-old kid, even though I had the doors tied tightly for security. In the morning, when the sun shined on the green canvas, it got hot inside the tent. With no air movement, I woke up sweating.
It always got hot inside when the sun shined. If it rained, or the tent was wet with morning dew, and I slept touching the canvas walls, the moisture came right through the walls and I would get wet, too. Still, I kept that tent well into my adult years. When my daughters were little, I tried to get them to sleep in the tent, but they wouldn’t. “It stinks in there, Dad.” They would complain – so I bought them a playhouse, instead. I don’t know what ever happened to that tent.
On the way out of the park, I stopped and talked to a guy who worked for the Minnesota DNR. “I think Tettegouche is the only state campground that has heated shower houses.” He told me, “We keep this campground open all year, including the cabins and the walk-in sites.” I told him the park was basically in our backyard and I had no idea it was open for winter camping. “Yep, 24-7/365, we’re always open,” He laughed, “and just like the summer months, we’re at full capacity right now.”
Winter camping is so much fun, I thought maybe I should go home and dig our Scamp out from under the snow. I drove through the campground loop again, looking at the green canvas tent and how it sharply contrasted with the white snow surrounding it. The smoke billowing from the metal chimney smelled good. I smiled, wondering if they were as warm in their green canvas tent as I always was in mine.
“The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” (Navin R. Johnson, The Jerk, 1979.) On the driveway at the gas station, he couldn’t stifle his elation. “Page seventy-three. Johnson, Navin R. I’m somebody now!”
I picked up the new Dex, Northland Directory, that came in the mail last Friday. I did my very best to impersonate Steve Martin as I danced around the kitchen. Our dog, June and our cat, Edgar Allen, watched with confused amusement.
I put on my reading glasses and thumbed rapidly through the pages, landing on page fifty-six. “Right there!” I exclaimed, pointing sharply with my index finger, “Right there, between Palaszzari and Palfe! That’s where my name should be!”
Should be? It seems I’m not in this addition of the phone book. How disappointing.
The arrival of the new phone book was always an exciting day for people. My first recollection of its arrival was when we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. We had a phone upstairs, one in the kitchen and another in the basement, so we got three copies of the directory. It was a big, thick book – even bigger than the Sears Catalog. I opened it and scrolled through the pages until I found it; Palen, Daniel C. 4304 Hegg Ave. 222-1038. I found comfort and pleasure in that.
When we moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, I was still living at home. We got four copies of the directory. Back then, only the phone company could install a phone, so they knew we had a phone on each floor of the house and one in the barn. (Dad didn’t like walking all the way to the house when a call was for him.) When the new phone book came, I looked through it right away. There it was: Palen, Daniel C. RR#5. 683-1776. Again, I was thrilled to see that and dreamed of a day when I would have my own listing in the book.
When I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with my brother, the new phone book arrived. Keep in mind, I moved out the same year the famous hit movie, The Jerk, was released. Prepared to dance and celebrate, I immediately flipped through the pages, looking for my name - I’m sure that’s what everyone did as soon as the new phone book arrived. I found it: “Palen, J. Gerard. 224 East Maple St. 684-5310.” I was puzzled. “What? That’s my number and that is our address, but where’s my name?”
With the book tucked into the front of my pants like a pistol, I got on my motorcycle. I drove to the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company at the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets. I was going to show them their error and get some answers. Mary Ann, the clerk, explained, “Since the account is in your brother’s name, it’s listed in his name in the directory.” She went on to tell me I could have the number published in my name also, but it would cost fifty-cents per month for an additional listing.
Mary Ann told me, “Your name will appear in the new directory, which will be published next spring.” I protested, why the long wait? For that kind of money, I envisioned the phone company would gather up all the old books and give everyone a new book that included my name. She offered, “Your information will be available through Directory Assistance starting next month.” That made me feel a little better, but it’s not the same as seeing your name in the phone book.
The following spring, I whipped through the pages faster than ever. “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” My cat, who bore the same name as Navin’s dog in the movie, woke up from her nap on the couch and watched me as if I had totally lost it. “There it is,” I told her, pointing to the page, “Palen, Thomas A. 310 North Street. 684-5310.” I danced about the living room, joyously proclaiming, “I am somebody now!” Aloof to my excitement, the cat tucked her head back into her curled-up position and resumed her nap.
Cell phones and the internet have diminished what was once one of the most exciting days of the year. Not having a landline, my name wasn’t going to be listed in the new Northland Directory. With lack of enthusiasm, I dropped the book on the bench at the kitchen table. It bounced off and fell onto the floor, landing in an open position.
June and Edgar Allen, rushed with curiosity to the open publication. Maybe they thought it was something to eat. Maybe they were looking up the number for 911 to report a crazy man in their kitchen. Or, maybe they were going to look for their names. It’s what everyone does when the new phone book arrives.
I laughed over a vision appearing in my mind; the two of them dancing on their back feet, holding each other’s paws while chanting, “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here.”
Writing is usually easy for me when I know what I’m going to write about and today I knew what I wanted to write. But sometimes other thoughts race through my mind[TP1] , distracting me from the subject at hand. Today is the 29th anniversary of my father’s passing and he has been on my mind all day.
One thing was certain about my dad: when he said something, he meant it. His conviction and sincerity were unquestionable, although at times I challenged his logic or the basis of his statement. For example, pinching.
When I got into a spat, or even just playing with any of my siblings, if anyone pinched another person my dad would jump right in, “Don’t pinch! It can cause cancer.” Cancer? Really? I don’t think that was true, but dad said it, so it must have been. Another cause of cancer was the hickey.
The hickey, being a mark left on one’s neck from making out with a boyfriend or girlfriend, was a pretty common thing in the sixties and seventies. Dad did not like them at all. “It looks trashy and they can cause cancer.” He declared. I agreed with dad. They were not very attractive, but causing cancer? Later in life, I concluded hickeys may have led to a lot of unexpected babies, but I doubt anyone ever got cancer from one.
I suppose I was around eleven or twelve years old, when a cute girl at school was going to give me her phone number. I didn’t have anything to write on, so I let her write it on my arm. She drew some flowers, birds, stars and a rainbow with hearts. When I got home, dad saw the artwork. “Don’t ever write on your skin with ink. What were you thinking? That can work into your blood and you could get ink poisoning, which can cause cancer.” I suppose it could happen, although I never met anyone who suffered from ink poisoning.
I later learned a practical reason for not writing on your hand or arm: ink from a pen easily wears off and you could lose your note.
Once in high school, a girl was giving me her phone number, but I didn’t have anything to write on. We were going to go cruising around town that night in my 1974 Chevy Nova. I didn’t want to write her number on my hand, for fear it would wear off, so I dug in my pocket and pulled out the only three dollars I had to my name. She wrote her name, first and last, along with her address and phone number on one of the bills. I told her I would call her later and tucked the bill securely in my pocket.
After school, I put a few gallons of gas in my car, which cost a little under a dollar per gallon. It wasn’t until I got home and went to call her, that it occurred to me, I gave the bill on which she wrote her information to the guy at the gas station.
Thinking I stood her up, she didn’t want to talk to me the next day at school. When I explained what happened, she became furious! “You gave my name, number and address to a stranger at the gas station? You might as well have written it on the bathroom wall. Every boy in town is going to be calling me!” I guess I never thought about that. As life went on, I learned not to write on my hand, nor on money.
Dad always carried a wad of small papers - napkins, envelopes, receipts and such, folded and neatly tucked into his top shirt pocket or the pocket inside his suit coat. This is where he kept his notes. He would frequently pull out his papers and a ballpoint pen to add another note. I tried his method, but when the wad got too thick or cumbersome, I would throw it away – important notes and all.
One time a man was doing some work for my dad and needed to get some things from the lumber yard. He picked up a short scrap from a 2X4 board and wrote on it. When I asked why he was writing on a board, he explained, “It’s a carpenter’s tablet.”
“What’s that?” I queried, never having heard the term.
“A carpenter’s tablet is anything you can find to write on so you don’t forget what you went to the store for.” He said, laughing. I remembered his words.
When I started doing my own projects, I used a lot of different things to make a list or take notes; a piece of word, a scrap of sheetrock, a section of paper torn from a bag of mortar mix; anything handy to write on made a good carpenter’s tablet. Finding something to write a note upon goes far beyond just projects.
Around the house, I’ve written notes on envelopes which bills came in, empty cereal boxes, old receipts; anything close and available is fair game when you need to make a note. Just don’t write on your hand or on money.
The other day while I was driving, a lady from the doctor’s office called to give me the date and time for my upcoming appointment. I scrambled, looking for something to write on. Everything I picked up was important and couldn’t be used for notes. Finally, I found something but didn’t have a pen handy. I grabbed a Sharpie marker from my cup holder, clinched the cap in my teeth and pulled the marker loose. I wrote as she spoke. “Your appointment is with Doctor C. on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.”
“Okay, I have it written down.” I said, “I’ll see you then.” I was pretty proud of myself for finding something to write on so quickly and taking down this important information.
I left the note on the dashboard of the van where I originally found the “notepad,” that way I would see it regularly and not forget to transfer the information into my schedule book. This morning I did just that. Then, I set the grapefruit upon which my note was written, back on the dashboard in the van. Hey, anything close and available is fair game when you need to write a note. “I think I’ll eat that grapefruit after lunch today.” I said.
I smiled warmly as I could almost hear my dad saying, “Don’t write on your grapefruit. That ink could soak in through the rind and you could get ink poisoning and that can cause cancer.”
I was still smiling, while looking at the ridiculous note on the side of the pinkish-orange citrus fruit. A tear welled up in my eye. “At least I didn’t write it on my hand, Dad.”
On July 9, 2011, Melissa and I went to Des Moines, to celebrate her mom’s birthday. Our youngest daughter, Annie, who turned 16 just 9 days before, went with us. We enjoyed a good meal and conversation at the Machine Shed Restaurant. After dinner, we gave Annie a small gift bag. Inside was a key fob and a car key. Her eyes lit up and a smile shot from ear to ear. She thought we might be pranking her when we told her to go to the parking lot and find her birthday present.
She used the keyless entry and the car’s horn to find a shiny, bright red Chevy Cobalt sitting in a parking space under a shade tree. She was in disbelief. “Is this for real? Is this really mine?” We told her to get in and see if the key started it. She did and it did. It was her first car and tears of joy fell. She immediately named the car “Rosie.”
On the way home, I rode with Annie, while Melissa followed in our car. Riding in the left lane, I told Annie to get in the right lane. She turned on her signal and BAM, to the right lane she went…cutting off the car in that lane. “We’re going to have to work on your highway driving skills.” I told her.
A few weeks later, I stood in the front yard and watched Annie drive off for her first day as a junior in high school. I remember thinking, “I guess she doesn’t need us to take her to school anymore.”
It seemed like just a few weeks more, but it was a year later, when I stood in the front yard and watched Annie drive away in Rosie. This time she was headed off for her first day as a senior in high school. In that bittersweet moment, a flurry of “first days” went racing through my mind. Our little girl was growing up – and too fast. I wondered if she would still need me?
A week or so ago, Annie called me with bad news; Rosie died on the side of the road. She had taken the car to a mechanic and was still having trouble with it. Reality hit. She had owned the car for eight and a half years, putting well over one hundred thousand miles one it. It was a used car when we bought it; the time had come to replace Rosie.
Annie and Melissa did the preliminary work, looking online for a new car. They narrowed the selection down to two, both at Dakota Motors in Farmington, Minnesota. Annie had never purchased a car before and Melissa helped her through the process of getting pre-approved for a car loan. With everything in order, Annie and I would go to look at the cars together.
Driving home from Oklahoma, I stopped for the night in Missouri. The next day I would pick Annie up from the school where she teaches. Albeit treacherous, northern Missouri was beautiful. Fresh snow clung to tree branches, fence posts bushes, utility poles and even powerlines - anything it could stick to, including the road. A grey sky with limited visibility made it feel colder than it really was. The roads were icy.
Traffic was moving about 50 m.p.h. on the interstate. Every now and then a car would go flying by in the unplowed left lane; we would usually see them in a ditch further up the road. I called Annie to let her know I would be about thirty minutes late, due to the weather.
If you drive by any elementary, junior high, or high school, around 8 a.m., or 3 p.m., in any town USA, you’ll run into heavy traffic. Parents will be lined up on the side of the street to drop off or waiting to pick up their kids. I arrived at 12:30, so there were no lines. I parked in a space and waited for Annie to come out. I kept thinking, “It’s been years since I picked this kid up from school.” And now, I am picking her up again, but this time she is a teacher.
June was excited. Although she has never been to this school, she seemed to know Annie was coming. A person walked out the door, bundled up so tight I couldn’t even see their face. Their arms were weighted down with bags, a water bottle, books and such; but I recognized her walk. Sitting in the passenger seat, June put her paws on the dashboard, pressing her wet nose to the windshield. Her whole body wiggled with excitement. Annie opened the door and June jumped out to greet her.
After putting her bags in the back, Annie got in the front seat. She settled in, pushed back her hood, took off her scarf and stocking cap and loosened her coat. I could finally see her face. “Hi.” As I backed out of the parking space, she said, “It’s been a long time since I waited at school for you to pick me up.” That comment warmed my heart.
At the dealership, I rode along as Annie drove both cars. We asked a lot of questions, looked over both vehicles carefully and checked their history. I had her look in the manual to see when routine maintenance expenses would be coming. This was a first-time buying experience for her and I needed to let her do the work. I was just there to help. We asked the dealer if he could do any better on the price. Either car would have been fine, but I thought one was a little better than the other. She weighed the benefits of each out loud, then asked “Which one should I go with?”
“That’s up to you, kid. I bought your first car. This time you’re writing the check, so you need to make that decision.” She thought hard and seemed a bit confused. It would have been easier if I told her which one to go with, but I wasn’t going to do that. As she pondered her choices, I reminded her, “You do have a third option. You can go with the 2015, the 2016, or you can wait. You don’t have to buy a car tonight.”
But she had looked hard, done the research and was ready to make a purchase. She looked at the dealer on the other side of the desk. “I’m going to go with the 2016.” Bart was in and out of the room several times completing the paperwork and making copies. I asked Annie if she was excited or nervous. “Both.” She said, “I’m excited about getting the car, but nervous about having car payments.” I laughed, knowing exactly how she felt. She was thrilled, but I also know that sinking feeling of uncertainty, deep in your stomach that comes whenever you’re about to make a big purchase.
“That nervous feeling in your gut goes away after you’ve made two or three payments.” She wrinkled her face. I told her, “For what it’s worth, you’re buying the car I would have picked.” That seemed to put her a little more at ease. Still, she was nervous writing the check – it was clearly the biggest check she’d ever written in her life. I was proud of her.
As she got in the car, I heard her refer to the car as Sally. I followed her out of the parking lot. Our youngest daughter just made her first car purchase. I climbed into my van, watching Annie in her new ride, and said, “Goodbye, Rosie – Hello Sally.”
As I followed, watching her drive away from the parking lot, I was once again reminded – my little girl is grown up. Her tail lights became more distant down the road. I asked myself, “I wonder if she’ll still need me?”
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