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The trouble all started at Roseau Hardware: an Ace Hardware store in the small town of Roseau, Minnesota.
Roseau, is in northern Minnesota; on the Canadian border. Melissa’s great-grandfather, and great-grandmother homesteaded near Roseau in the early 1900’s. Her grandfather was born there in 1914, and we’ve traveled to that area a few times to do research, and learn more about her ancestors.
We were camping in Roseau. The campground was very wet and I needed a new mat to lay in front of the Scamp door so that we wouldn’t drag mud into the camper. (We learned later that Roseau had three inches of rain that morning before we had arrived.)
I stopped at Geroy’s Home and Appliance on the main highway. The people were very helpful. They had a small piece of green Astro-turf that was about twice the size that I needed. They gave me a great price if I wanted to take the whole remnant, and so I did. With the carpet in my van, I started for the campsite.
Just a couple of blocks back, on Highway 11, I had seen a hardware store on the same side of the road. I decided to go back. I had chicken hindquarters to cook over the fire for dinner, but all the firewood at the campground was wet from the rain. If I bought a bag of charcoal and a bottle of lighter fluid, I could cook the chicken on the old fashion BBQ grill mounted on a steel post in our campsite. Besides, I needed a roll of paper towel for the camper. I pulled into the parking lot.
Roseau, is a small town, with a population of around 2,700 people. They are the headquarters for Polaris snowmobiles, and several other industries. The town has a very impressive retail community with car dealerships, at least two hardware stores, two tractor supply stores, dollar stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, trading posts – all kinds of places that would sell charcoal.
Of all the places to buy charcoal in Roseau, Minnesota, I had to step into this joint; Roseau Ace Hardware. That’s where the trouble all started.
The staff was very friendly; I was greeted right away when I walked into the building. I swear, that store has everything; a guy could easily get lost in there. A gal named Sabrina took me right to the charcoal. I picked up a ten-pound bag, and a bottle of lighter fluid, then headed for the register. I suppose everything would have been okay, if I had just kept walking to the checkout counter. But, on the way, I passed a cooler full of Frost Top soda.
There was root beer, orange crème soda and several other flavors, but the one that caught my eye was the deep purple, Premium Grape Soda. I just had to have one. So with a bag of charcoal under my left arm, and a bottle of lighter fluid in my left hand, I opened the cooler and grabbed an ice-cold twenty-ounce bottle of that purple elixir with my right hand. I paid at the register, and headed for the van.
While fumbling with the keys to open the back doors, I dropped my bottle of soda. Fortunately, it was a plastic bottle and did not break, but did roll under the van. I put the charcoal in the van, then got on my hands and knees to retrieve my grape soda from the driver’s side.
A lady in the car next to me was watching as I climbed under my vehicle with my rump in the air. I stood up, brushed off my jeans, then held the bottle to show her. “I dropped my grape soda,” I explained. She nodded and smiled, and I climbed into the driver’s seat. I couldn’t wait to crack that bottle open, but maybe I should have.
When I twisted the cap open, it exploded. Grape soda sprayed everywhere. All over me, all over the dashboard, the seats, the steering wheel, and windshield; I even got my dog Nova Mae, sitting in the passenger seat. I was so anticipating that refreshing grape soda, I failed to consider the pressure it may have built up when the bottle was dropped.
I looked through the driver’s side window, which had purple juice streaming down. The lady in the car next to me was laughing. I reached for the new roll of paper towel. “Darn,” I cursed. “I forgot the paper towel.” I tried to clean up with a napkin from the glove box, but it wasn’t enough. I stepped out of the van, looked at the lady sitting in the car next to me, and said, “I had a little problem.”
“I see that,” she said, unable to stifle her laughter. I didn’t think it was all that funny. Neither did Nova.
I was greeted right away when I walked back into the store. “Where do you keep your paper towels,” I asked Sabrina, “and, do you have a restroom I could use?” I felt very conspicuous, but she was polite and did not mention my situation. Maybe she didn’t notice; the purple soda didn’t show on my black T-shirt, however, it did look like I had wet my pants. I washed my hands, got the paper towel, and was headed to the register. I probably would have been okay from there if I would have just kept walking to the register. But there it was in front of me, how could I resist. A popcorn machine with free popcorn.
Inside the clear glass display walls, a soft yellow bulb glowed on the golden salty treat. Mmm. I had to have some, and it would go great with what was left of my grape soda. But wait – there’s more.
“What have we here?” I picked up a container on top of the popcorn machine. “Grandpa Tom’s Cowboy Spice?” I sprinkled a little into the palm of my hand. “That’s pretty good,” I said. Then I picked up Grandpa Tom’s Jalapeno Pepper Spice and sampled it. “That’s really good,” I said. “It has a nice kick.” But then I saw the Grandpa Tom’s Sweet Smoked Chipotle Spice, and tried a taste. “Wow! That’s the best,” I said. It was similar to my Tom’s Secret Chicken Rub, which I make at home.
I looked on the side of the bottle, “For beef, pork, chicken, fish, and wild game.” My eyes lit up. “Chicken?” I had chicken hindquarters waiting at the camper, but I had forgotten my chicken rub at the house. The spice was very similar to my own.
“Who is this Grandpa Tom,” I wondered, “and where did he get my Secret Chicken Rub recipe?” I tasted the product again. Then I read on the side of the bottle, “It’s made at 610 3rd Ave, NE, right here in Roseau?” I looked up and down the aisle. No one was looking, so I tasted the spice one more time from my palm, then went to the display and picked up a bottle. I carried the spice and my paper towel to the register.
Back at the campsite, I seasoned my chicken. I grilled them very slowly and they came out amazing! “I thought you forgot your chicken rub at home,” Melissa questioned.
“Oh, this is just something I picked up at the hardware store,” I explained.
“It’s very good,” she said. “It tastes a lot like yours.”
Hmfph. “It’s alright,” I said, nonchalantly. I was worried my wife might end up liking Grandpa Tom’s seasoning better than my own.
Back at home, I made chicken on the grill several times, alternating between my Secret Chicken Rub, and Grandpa Tom’s. My wife never could tell which was which. A showdown was imminent. Then one day I was at Zup’s Food’s. “Chicken hindquarters were $1.09 per pound?” That was a good price. “It’s time,” I said with an evil laugh. “Bring out your best, Grandpa Tom, show me whatcha got!”
I kept hearing fiddle music. The Charlie Daniels Band, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, played over and over in my head while I seasoned the chicken carefully. I was sure to keep them separated, and cautious to sprinkle an equal amount of each spice on the meat to make it fair. I wrapped the chicken in separate bags, and placed them in the refrigerator. “The stage is set. Tomorrow is the day.”
I laid the two bags out about twenty-minutes early, letting them come to room temperature, while the Weber Grill warmed up. At precisely 2:00 pm, I put the hindquarters on the hot grill to sear; Grandpa Tom’s on the left, Tom’s Secret Chicken Rub, on the right. I turned them at the exact same times, until they were grilled to perfection. Honestly, they all looked the same – delicious.
I pushed toothpicks into the chicken with Grandpa Tom’s spice, in order to know which was which. I called Melissa to the dinner table; giving her pieces of each. “Which do you like better,” I questioned. I suspected she would pick my spice hands down.
“I like this one better,” she said pointing to my drum stick. “No, wait. I like the one with the toothpick better.” I made no facial expression. “No, the one without the toothpick, no with the toothpick.” She kept changing her mind, “Heck, I don’t know! They taste the same if you want to know the truth. I like them both.” Then she looked at the two bottles. “Grandpa Tom’s has a fancier label,”
Hmfph. “Well, it’s what’s on the inside that matters,” I said. “Besides, he’s probably got a marketing department to help him.”
After lunch, I got on the computer and typed into a search engine, “Companies that design chicken spice labels…”
Until such a time as I market my new product, “Papa Tom’s Secret Chicken Rub,” you might want to try the other guy’s spice. It is very good. You can order online, or you can buy it at Roseau Ace Hardware, while you’re in Roseau, Minnesota. It’s a fun town to visit, and the home of Polaris snowmobiles, and Grandpa Tom’s Spices, too. (I recommend the Sweet Smoked Chipotle)