The screen prompted me, “Review the details.” I did as instructed, then grinned as I hit “Submit Payment.” Feeling as if a bunch of weight was lifted from my shoulders, I sat to ponder what had just happened. It was bittersweet.
A moment later my phone beeped. It was an incoming text from my daughter, Annie. “Thank you, Dad. I love you!” Immediately, a second text came from Annie; “How did it feel to pay your last bit of tuition ever?!” I smiled, thinking, “Pretty good!”
It seems impossible that she’ll be graduating from college already, just two weeks from now. I began to daydream about her future and reflect on the past.
It was the summer of 2013. Melissa, Annie and I had toured different school campuses. She considered the University of Northern Iowa, in Waterloo, the University of Minnesota in Duluth, and Winona State University in southern Minnesota.
When we visited WSU, we stayed at Heaven’s Valley Lodge, a bed and breakfast just outside the city. It was a small hobby farm, organic in nature, nestled in the beautiful valley amongst the hills and bluffs surrounding Winona.
We stayed in an apartment above the garages, where the tractors and implements were stored. The owners lived here while they built their house on the property.
Although we had to make our own breakfast, the hosts were very accommodating. Breakfast items were left in the kitchen, along with a note inviting us to gather our own farm fresh eggs from the hen house. They also left an egg carton with a separate note, “Please feel free to take a dozen eggs home with you.”
Annie and I headed for the hen house with a medium size kitchen bowl that was provided. Melissa said she would be along shortly.
The farmer showed us how to get in securing the gate behind us so the hens couldn’t get out - and predators didn’t get in. Then he instructed us, “To get the eggs, you just slide the back of your open hand gently under the hen. She’ll lift a little, and you can bring the eggs out.”
It was a neat experience. I hadn’t done that since I was a little kid. The hens breast feathers were soft and warm, as was the area underneath where she sat upon her eggs. One black and grey speckled hen pecked at my hand when I tried to get her eggs. I jumped back.
The farmer laughed. “She won’t hurt you. Not all of the hens will let you take their eggs without a bit of a fuss.” He said, explaining, “Just ease your hand under her...” I did. She pecked me several more times. It didn’t hurt, but it sure got my attention. I felt like a thief taking her eggs.
The farmer told us, “Take all the eggs you need for breakfast and be sure to gather an extra dozen to take home with you. I left an egg carton in your room.” He left and Melissa came in.
By now, Annie and I had gathered most of the eggs from the small coop. “Are there any left?” Melissa asked. Annie answered, pointing to a reddish brown hen. “She has some.” Melissa took the egg from under the hen and placed it in the bowl.
I pointed to the black and grey speckled hen, “She has some.” When Melissa reached for her eggs, the hen pecked at her hand causing Melissa to jump and pull away. Melissa tried again with the same response from the hen. “Don’t be a chicken!” I said with full pun intended, “Just get under there and get the eggs.”
Melissa tried again, and the hen pecked at her again. We had a competition at hand. Melissa was just as determined to get the eggs, as the hen was to not let her have them. Melissa guided her hand under the hen. The hen pecked at her. Melissa continued. With her hand under the hen, feeling about, she said, “Hey! There are no eggs under her!”
Annie and I shared a good laugh about that. The rest of the hens joined us, clucking and cackling at Melissa.
Annie decided on WSU, in Winona. I don’t know if the “Hen House Incident” had anything to do with her choice, but I can’t help but to believe it had to have some effect.
Several weeks later, we were back at the WSU campus for orientation. We decided to make a weekend of it, but knew the motels would be full - as were the campgrounds in Winona.
We pulled our Scamp across the Interstate Bridge, over the Mississippi River, into Wisconsin. We would be setting up camp at Merrick State Park, just up Highway 35 from Fountain City.
Our daughter, Delaney, was with us, and June Bug, too. Melissa had made arrangements for her friend Käri, to join us as well. The two of them worked together when Melissa was the Photo Editor at the Winona Daily News, and Käri was a reporter. They hadn’t seen each other for quite a while.
The five of us enjoyed an evening around the campfire. While June kept the area free and safe from squirrels, we made S’mores, roasted hotdogs and enjoyed a few brews as well. The evening was perfect as we shared stories, and told jokes. We had good conversation and plenty of laughter.
I suppose it was getting toward quite time - it was well after dark. Some kids in a campsite across the way were having fun. I imagine an older brother, probably eight or nine, was trying to scare his younger sibling. With arms raised above him, walking like bear, “Rahr!” came the cry in the night. The younger siblings let out a scream... and then there was laughter. Then another, softer “Arh!” From the little one followed by a louder “Rarh!” From the big brother. More laughter came with each series of beastly roars.
It was too much for me to contain myself. I bellowed into the darkness, “RRRarh!” There was a brief pause. I’m sure they weren’t expecting outside participation. Then my roar was returned. I called back, louder, “RRRAAARRRHH.”
Like echos, roars bounced through the campground, each time trying to be a little louder and scarier than the roar before. This went on for several minutes. Roars and laughter breaking the silence of the nights darkness.
I think maybe a voice up the way yelled, “Knock it off!” I don’t remember for sure, but I do remember stern warnings from my spouse to discontinue this juvenile activity before we were asked to leave the park. I returned one final “Rrrahhr!” Then defending myself, I grinned and matter of factly reminded my bride, “They started it.”
The next morning, while shaving in the shower house, I struck up conversation with another camper. “It sure is a beautiful morning.” I said, “Yeah, but I didn’t sleep so well.” He replied adding, “Did you hear those people roaring like bears and carrying on last night?”
“Yeah, I heard that too. It sounded like they were just having fun.” I replied. “Well it was uncalled for.” He complained, then accused, “I think it was those people in that Scamp trailer. I think it was them making all the ruckus.” I could only smile, “You’re probably right. You just never know about those Scamp people.”
I gathered my things and went back to our Scamp, looking behind me several times to make sure he wasn’t tailing me!
A week or so later, we moved Annie into the dorms at Winona State University. She got to move in a couple days earlier than the rest of the incoming class because she was going on a school sponsored Nature Adventure.
The last of our three daughters was off to college. She looked so small as stood on the steps of the school amongst dozens of freshmen, all hoping their parents wouldn’t do anything to embarrass them in front of their new peers.
She had a backpack over her shoulder, a pillow under her left arm and a sleeping bag in that hand. With her right hand, she waved at us.
I gave a couple blasts on the horn, waving my hand high in the air. As we drove passed the steps, I stuck my head out the window and yelled, “I LOVE YOU, ANNIE JO PALEN, FROM OTTUMWA, IOWA,” I could see her blushing. After sending out two more toots on the horn, I rolled the window up and let the tears flow.
Our little girl has grown up. She’ll graduate in May, and by this fall she will be a teacher with her own classroom. She’s going to be amazing!
To answer her question: “How did it feel to pay your last bit of tuition ever?!” “RRRaaaahhrrr!”
Teach them well, Annie Jo, I love you.
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!