"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.
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!