Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sisters of Another Mother




The other day I finally was able to meet up with one of my friends from the old days…   I mean the really old days. Because of Covid and work and just plain busyness it had been almost 2 years since seeing each other. We were going out to celebrate her retirement.
We grew up together in the MIdway area of St Paul. The neighborhood was right smack between Minneapolis and St. Paul, just up the road a little from the neighborhood known as Frogtown. It was pretty much right at the middle class level of neighborhoods, and mostly Catholic with large families. It was a  great and safe place to grow up. There was even a candy store a few blocks away and lots of pop bottles around to collect and return for 3 cents to buy Banana Flips, candy, and baseball cards with the stick of powdered gum in the pack.
There were many kids in the neighborhood, most families had 5 or more and there were always kids out in their yards or in the alley playing, or riding bikes up and down the street. And true to any neighborhood at that time, we all played outside all day except to go eat. And we all were inside when the street lights came on. No texts, no cell phones, just the neighbor moms watching over our antics and keeping us safe without intervening much.
There were many boys in the neighborhood and along with my 2 big brothers, I got my fill of being a tomboy and playing sports and doing daredevil things along with them. The boys seemed to outnumber the girls at least 5 to1. But there were a few girls close in age to me and from the time we could go out and play we were friends. Our moms would get together for coffee sometimes when we were really little. And being that my mom was a beautician, every major Christian holiday the girls in the neighborhood would come to my house to get their hair permed and curled by my mom. My mom enjoyed doing it for my girl friends that had stick straight hair. She could never do my hair because I had massive curls and pretty unmanageable hair.
There were 4 of us girls that were pretty close to each other. We were all within a year or two in age. And the fascinating thing was, we all were the only girls in our families. None of us had any sisters, only brothers. And because of that it seems we became closer than just friends. We became more like sisters as the years went by. We could get along, do stuff together and fight like only sisters could fight. At least from what I had seen real sisters do. Once out of high school we all went our own ways and started our own lives. There would be years between seeing each other or hearing from one another. Word would come what was going on if you saw one of the parents or siblings. The 3 others had left the neighborhood and state for that matter and life went on for me still living in Midway. I had gotten married and we then bought the house from my parents who wanted to downsize. All 4 of our kids were born and spent their early years living in the house I grew up in. My friends' moms would stop by at times to visit. By this time my own mom had passed away, so it was always nice to see my friends’ moms. It occurred to me when they stopped by and I was watching my own kids playing with the neighbor kids that I had reached adulthood. I was doing what they had done years before.
Time passed quickly and I would get word of my friends’ lives and updates on what was going on. There were marriages, a child for one of them and divorces over the years for all of them. There were moves back to St Paul from California and Iowa and other places, and life went on without really having much contact at all. They were busy with their careers and I was busy being married, raising my kids and going back to school to become an RN. There was barely enough time to carry on with the daily tasks, much less find time to get together. We had grown apart in our lives and mostly it was due to changes in our lifestyles. Facebook kept us in touch to a point, but as we all know, Facebook can sometimes make life crazy with friends’ posts. Especially when it gets into the political realm of memes and pictures. 
While loving these 3 women as sisters, a few of us really have different points of view from one another when it comes to politics, and sometimes just life in general. It has been a journey and a challenge for all of us to look beyond our differences at times and just accept each person for who they are and the person that they’ve become. Afterall, we have a huge history together growing up in the ‘hood. While our lives have all taken a different path in this journey called life, we still have a 60 year history together that can’t be changed or unwritten in the book of Life.
My friend and I sat for over 4 hours catching up the other day at a local Thai restaurant in the neighborhood. We talked, we laughed, we even cried some together. When we went to stand up and leave, we both caught our balance and gimped the first few steps as we walked. We just laughed and realized that 60+ years of a friendship does have its kinks, but mostly it has been a good journey.
I was reminded of that old KT Oslin song called “80’s Ladies” it goes…

“We were the girls of the ‘50’s
Stoned rock and rollers of the ‘60’s
And more than our names got changed as the ‘70’s slipped on by
We were ‘80’s ladies and there ain’t too much these ladies ain’t tried”
Here’s to my 3 sisters from a different mister, those sisters from another mother...I love you all. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Big Brothers, Baseball, Hockey and Firgure Skates


Sitting here at the kitchen table this morning, I’ve been watching some of the grandkids playing out back in the field. At first they were just running around wildly chasing each other, but now it looks like they are organizing some soccer drills and what eventually will become a game I am guessing. Watching the older kids with their 6 year old little brother brought me back to when I was a kid. I am the youngest of three kids. I have two older brothers by a few years. I followed them everywhere I was allowed when I was younger. And the great thing was that they would usually let me tag along with them. They taught me how to throw a ball, catch a ball, get hit by a ball, how to skate, how to use a hockey stick, how to ride a two wheeled bike and crash gracefully into trees and not cry or tell mom. All the important things in life of a kid growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. I idolized and adored my two brothers back then. And still do to some extent now that we are older. But they are a little more geeky now that we are all adults.

We were raised in the city where playgrounds existed about every mile away, but they were rarely used by the kids in our neighborhood unless they were on a rec team. We had the back alley which literally was an old wagon trail that moved the military troops west in the 1800’s. It was a wide and crooked tarred perfect place to play baseball. At least as long as we only had 1st and 3rd base and home plate, which were pieces of old cardboard boxes cut in the shape of the bases and home plate. 

The neighborhood was full of large Catholic families which all averaged about 5-7 kids per family, basically always enough for 2 teams. Most of the kids were boys that were my brother’s ages, at least it always seemed that way from my kid sister point of view. While I didn’t get to go with my brothers every time they went out to play, they did let me tag along often times to go to the alley and play baseball. I’d take my hand-me-down right-handed glove (even though I was left handed) and chase after them with all the other boys from the neighborhood to the middle of the alley where we would play baseball a good part of the day.

There all the wooden bats, and cardboard for bases and the one ball would be dropped in Mr. Hanson’s parking spot. The bases would be set out after discussion about the precise distance and then teams would be picked. I never was picked for a team, because as I was always told, I was going to be ever-lasting catcher. So in a way, I was on both teams.

As awful as ever-lasting catcher may sound, it thrilled me to get to be included. I was about 6years old and the only little kid allowed, and the only girl. Being ever-lasting catcher meant that for hours I would stand behind home plate and another bigger kid that was playing catcher and not let the ball get past me if it got past the real catcher. It was hard work, I mean really hard work. Behind home plate, in that crooked alley was a pretty good slope down to the street a half block away. And the street was sloped down to the corner where the sewer hole was. If a pitch came in hard and fast and the catcher missed and then I missed, I would have to scramble down the alley, in hopes of getting the ball, or it would be to the street, to the sewer hole and get the ball before it went down the sewer! After a few times of chasing the ball and everyone annoyed at having to stop the game, I learned to catch that ball often. And my brothers would practice throwing balls at me to dive for when we weren’t playing in the alley. A lot of ball was played in that winding crooked alley.

When winter came all of the boys were hockey players on school teams and rec teams. Girls weren’t allowed to play hockey on teams back then. But we were pretty fortunate, because we had a neighborhood rink that took up the two backyards of the neighbors next door to us. The neighborhood dads would  get together and flood their yards every winter and in the spring others would get together and repair any yard that was hacked up. I was a little older when I was finally allowed to play hockey with the boys at the rink. When it was Winter in the neighborhood, we lived and breathed hockey. When they weren’t at their games, the neighbor boys would all skate and play at the neighbors rink.Everyone was welcome to skate at the rink, even if the kid who lived there wasn’t home. We would just knock on their back door and ask if they could turn on the floodlights so we could play. Imagine 15 or more kids in your yard and not one of them is your own. But that was how it was back then. No worries of injuries and lawsuits. No concerns of destruction. And if you messed up, any parent was free to give you a talking to as your own mom or dad would do.

I would come home from school, get a quick snack, and strap on my white figure skates. My dad drew the line at his daughter wanting hockey skates back then. This was decades before girls hockey teams came into existence, so I once again was the only girl out there with a rink full of boys older and bigger than me. And once again there was a catch to me being able to play hockey with the boys.

Because I had girls figure skates with the jagged front edges, I was only allowed to play... you guessed it...ever-lasting goalie. They insisted my skates chopped up the ice too bad. Try as I did, I couldn’t convince them that I didn’t skate or stop on my jagged toes. My big brothers would have been appalled if I did. But I wanted to play hockey so bad, that I resigned myself to ever-lasting goalie every day all the time. The boys were really good skaters, and players. They skated so well and dribbled that puck so fast it was hard to see it sometimes. But that isn’t too incredible, afterall, all of us were on skates about the time we could walk. We were from MInnesota where hockey was a big thing.

While I was happy to not have to chase a ball down the alley to the street and catch it right before it went down the sewer, being goalie had its own challenges. Mainly it was how to keep taking hit after hit from the puck to my shins. The boys didn’t cut me any slack and they would fire their slap shots at me all night long. I had welts and bruises the size of a hockey puck all over my shins. If it was nowadays and I was in school, there would be someone asking me if I felt safe at home. I looked pretty beat up. It was pretty painful, but I wasn’t going to say anything so I could keep playing. Then I got a great idea.

I was sitting at home and looking through my dad’s Field and Stream magazine and it came to me. I knew since I wasn’t allowed hockey skates, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed shin guards either. So I grabbed a couple of  National Geographic magazines and black tape we used to tape our hockey sticks with and taped the magazines around my legs as shin gaurds. I took my goalie stick and started hitting my shins, and it worked! I put on my snowpants and skates and went to the rink next door to take my spot as ever-lasting goalie.

I became fearless with my new protection. Let those slap shots nail me over and over again, it didn’t hurt. And then it happened. One of the older boys who was really, really good started skating in to shoot at me. I followed him, I moved right and then left to protect the net and then he took his shoot. It was the hardest slap shot ever and I got my stick out in front of me, but forgot in all the excitement to hold my stick straight up and down like my big brothers taught me. And it happened...the puck hit the stick and slid right up in the air into my mouth. While I had a moment of excitement that he didn’t score the goal, I then immediately saw blood all over the rink and my jacket. It was mine. No one ever thought of mouth guards back then for backyard hockey. The neighbor kid grabbed some snow and put it on my mouth. He commented that it was a good save but I had slanted my stick and that’s why it went into my mouth. I just nodded my head.

We sat there for a few minutes and the bleeding didn’t seem to be stopping. My lip had swollen to the point where it looked like the puck was lodged in my mouth.  I tried talking and it sounded like the puck was in my mouth. Luckily my teeth were all still properly located and not loose. I had to run to the house to get the bleeding to stop. By the time I walked across the two yards and was coming in the back door, the bleeding had pretty much stopped. I was met at the door by my Dad who had just gotten home from work. He took one look at my lip and said it was time to hang up my skates for the night. In my swollen lip, hockey puck still in the mouth sort of way, I begged him to let me finish out the game until supper time. He looked at my lip, checked my mouth and teeth and let me go back out for a little longer. And he told me not to slant my stick. 

That night after I came in, as I was sipping some soup through a straw and watching the Minnesota North Stars play hockey. I thought about how cool it would be to play on a professional team...or any rec team or school team for that matter. I was disgusted that girls weren’t allowed to play hockey. Although I never got to live that dream because I was a girl, the one who slammed that puck in my mouth that day did go on to play for the University of Minnesota and then the Minnesota North Stars and the New York Rangers.ANd that is my only claim to sports fame.  Yep, I knew him when I could stop his goals with my goalie stick...and my mouth.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

A Mormon, A Jehovah's Witness and a Nurse Walk into a House


I retired about a year and a half ago. For close to 30 years I was a Registered Nurse. When I was in my early 30’s and the 4 kids were in school and with the encouragement and financial support from my Best Half, I started nursing school. To this day, nursing has been one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I could ever have done in my life. Over the years I have held several nursing positions, from long term care to teaching, care management, to triage and clinic work. But my favorite of all was working as a Home Health nurse.

In 1998, after a stint in long term care and then a few years teaching Health Occupations classes, I got a job closer to home. It was as a home health nurse with the local hospital/ clinic. It involved doing nursing visits in people’s homes. The patients were those that were just being discharged home from a stay in the hospital, or maybe those that maybe were deemed by the clinic to need supportive services in order to stay at home, or mother-baby visits to new moms and babies. Put the wide range of variety of patients to be seen and combine it with the rural traveling from house to house and it was pretty much a perfect job for me and how my brain works.

While it may not sound like a lot, I’d usually see 6-8 patients a day and put on about 100 miles a day between houses. Home visits would consist of about 30-60 minutes per patient and then a 20 minute drive to the next house. Visits were always varied for the most part and that kept this ADD brain from getting bored at the job. There were basic skills like med setups, maybe simple wound care to a little more time consuming skills like wound vacs, IV and Central Line care.

My days were filled with seeing patients one person at a time and then driving onto the next patient. For 10 years this job was a good match for me. I had a great Team Leader who knew me well and my love for fishing and the outdoors. Whenever there was a possible pending visit needed, she would call me and tell me to find a nearby lake or river and stand-by. That was code for go fishing until you hear back. So I always carried a rod and reel and tackle box in my vehicle. And I would fish until I heard back from the Team Leader. We had an awesome boss-employee relationship. In my eyes, it didn’t get any better than this, it was a dream job. And to this day, I still carry a rod and reel and tackle box in my vehicle. You just never know when the need will arise to have to pull over and fish.

I met so many local old time Swedes in the community. Many with the last name of Johnson, Olson, Peterson all with the S-O-N spelling I was told the not S-E-N as those were the Norwegians. Many were out in the country on farms that they had been born on. Many had never ventured out much past where they were raised. Oftentimes, because I didn’t have quite the Scandinavian look about me, I would get asked the question by the old-timers, “What are you?”. Meaning what is your heritage, are you a Swede or something else? Because most of the elderly in the area are 100% full blown Scandinavian, I was at first pretty offended and thought they had a lot of huspa to be asking that question in this day and age. I mean did it matter? Haven’t we gotten beyond all that? 

By about the 10th time being asked, I finally got to where I would blurt out every ethnicity I could think of that my parents had claimed. And I would eventually throw Swedish on the list, right after Hungarian, Dutch and French Canadian. As time went on I realized it wasn’t so much they wanted a Swede to take care of them as much as it was they were interested in a person’s culture and ethnicity just because...well they just were interested. Much like  most Minnesotans discuss the weather, these old timers discussed heritage and ethnicity along with it. Over the years I learned there really wasn’t a need to be offended by most of the people who were asking. 

Doing Home Health in a rural setting is quite an experience. Besides distance from town, patient’s homes and lifestyles are also different. There were those that were kind of off grid out in the country and there were those living in the small towns around the area. But the one thing they all had in common was that they needed help in order to keep living in their homes independently. And the Home Health nurse was just one little piece of the big puzzle.

One day, as I was making calls to set up the next day’s schedule, I called one of my younger patients. She lived nearby the Catholic church in town and I knew she went to Mass most every morning. So I knew any visit I would make would have to be late morning or early afternoon. She just needed her vital signs taken and a med setup. I got her on the phone and asked if 11AM was ok to come over. She agreed, but said I would need to leave by noon as she had someone coming out to her home. I thought, Ok, no problem on my end, see you at 11.

Most of the people in the country I saw still got up early as in their farming days. I always tried to take advantage of that so it would get me off early in the day. There were some that wanted a 7 AM visit. When I got to one of the farms one morning, the patient met me at the door and said she couldn’t sit for a visit until the kids were all fed. I was there to see how she was managing around the house with COPD. I was there to check her activity level and breathing status. I was totally confused when she said she had to feed the kids. She was elderly and it was just her and her husband at the farm. Was her oxygen low and making her confused? I came into her kitchen and saw 4 bottles of milk heating on the stove. I was by this time pretty dumbfounded not having a clue what was going on. As she went about heating the bottles I did my assessment of her. She was up and moving about comfortably and not short of breath at all. She gathered up the 4 bottles and handed me 2 to carry to the living room. When I entered the room, there in a play pen were 4 tiny newborn goats bawling to be fed. So we sat down and fed the goat kids. All I could think was, no one is ever going to believe this one.

Well, 11 AM came and I was back in town after making all of the out of town visits I needed to do early in the morning. I got to the house and did the usual vital signs, depression questionnaire and med setup. As we were talking, I asked my patient what her afternoon plans were and she told me she had company coming. I was pretty impressed as she didn’t socialize much and I thought it was great she was having company at her house. She proceeded to tell me that at noon, two young men that were missionaries from the Mormon church (or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints as they now call themselves) were coming to rake her yard and prune her hedges and take out her garbage. She told me they came by every week and she would have a list for them of chores to do. When they were all done they would sit on her porch step and visit and tell her about their faith and church. Then they would leave and come the following week for their new list of chores and more conversation.

She then went on to tell me that this day she wouldn’t have much time to talk to them as she had 2 women coming out from the Jehovah’s Witness church that was out on the edge of town. They were going to wash all of her windows. She had an inside list of chores for them. I must have had a pretty perplexed look on my face when I finally had to ask the question. I said,” I thought you were Catholic and went to mass every morning? Are you thinking of changing religions?”. She just gave me an incredulous stare for a few seconds and then said, “Well Hell no. I’m Catholic all the way through. I was born and raised Catholic. But the Mormons will do my outside work and the Jehovah’s Witnesses will do my inside work and clean my house, they even do windows. I sat there for a moment and thought about it. She had a pretty good thing going. Free labor that was keeping her able to live alone at home. Then I got up and went to her closet as I had done over the past few months. I got out her vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming her rug. She had a good thing going.

When I went to my next visit, I found my patient sitting out on his docked pontoon boat fishing. I ran back to the truck and got my rod and reel and cast out a line and then proceeded to take his vital signs and set up his meds which his wife had brought out to the pontoon. Yes, in my tackle box I always carried hand sanitizer and gloves. You just never knew when you may be called on to do your home care visit on a pontoon. Best job ever.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

5'4" Amazon Woman


I’ve realized as I gotten older how much my dislike for shopping has intensified. While I have never been an enthusiastic shopper for anything, over the past few I have realized how much I hate going into stores to shop. I just have no desire to get into the minivan, drive 20 miles to the nearest store and walk around aimlessly looking at stuff. It pretty much is the last thing I want to do, aside from cleaning the toilets after the little grandsons have been around for the day.

For me to go shopping it is more like a hunting expedition. I go into the store knowing what I need, I spot it, claim it, bag it, tag it and go home. Done deal. 


We have had out of state friends and family visit and when planning what to do for adventure, it always seems that a visit to the Mall of America is on their list. Yep, the biggest mall in America with over 4 miles of store fronts, a place that can fit 7 Yankee stadiums inside it. They always want to go see that. For me...I’d rather clean the toilets after a solid week of the little boys using it.


But it never fails, we load our visitors up and take the trip down to the Cities to see MOA. We find one of the 12,550 parking spots, leave a phone with the “Find My Friends” app on it in the car so we can find our way back when we are done. We have literally spent a tortuous 9 hours going from store to store to watch people shop or just browse. Meanwhile I will volunteer to wait in the mall area with all the bags that accumulate. At least there I can people watch and see everyone mesmerized by the vastness of the place. And every once in a while, a fellow non-shopper, bag watcher like me, will sit down and just give me the knowing look..like “yep out of towners are visiting, so here I am too”. There’s an unspoken bond that forms for those few minutes of  non-verbal interaction. 


I have over the past 3 or so years become an avid online shopper. It is the ultimate thrill for us non-shoppers to be able to pull up a seat at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and a laptop. It is almost magical to be able to sit there all alone in my sweats “shopping”. There is no one blocking an aisle, no need for ankle guards from those who ram their shopping carts into the backs of my legs. No need to mask, or worse yet, be around those who don’t mask and are hacking up their lungs alongside you. There is a certain amount of joy in sitting at the kitchen table shopping for the groceries. No longer do I buy stuff because I can’t remember if we are out of it or not. I can just go to the cupboard and look. 


No longer do I have to unload all the groceries to check out, and then bag them all up, put them in the cart and pile them into the minivan, only to do the reverse once I am home. Nope, I order, I drive up and it is all bagged and loaded up for me. I just have to get it all inside the house and unload and put away just once. How cool is that? When I started doing this about 3 years ago it was a game changer in the way I go shopping.


And even better there is Amazon....my non-grocery one stop shopping experience. Just type in what I am looking for and a long list of items with descriptions and prices will come up. I have become a browser. Once again from the kitchen table I can look at the choices of what I need, read the reviews and see if it is what I am looking for. Heck I can go and google the item for in depth reviews. In 2 clicks of my mouse I can order an item and a few days later it is in my hands. 


Once the item is delivered and I have opened it, I can still decide if I want it or not. This is the greatest part of Amazon in my opinion. I can return an item, no questions asked. Just 2 clicks of the mouse again and drop it off at UPS. Returning stuff to stores usually makes me feel guilty somehow. I feel like the store people maybe think I stole it or broke it or whatever. I’m sure my body language says all there is to say about how insecure I feel returning stuff. Over the years I have to say that I rarely if ever return stuff to stores. I have convinced my Best Half that it was in our marriage vows that he would do all store returns and I would teach the kids to drive. This has made for a long and happy marriage albeit a little scary taking curves with the third born child in the learner’s permit days.


Amazon seems to work pretty well with ordering stuff, getting it and deciding after you receive it if it is worth keeping or not. When I return stuff, I usually just put it on a balance on the account. I figure I will eventually use it for something. And the return is quick, usually within an hour of dropping it off at UPS.


The other day as I was doing an Amazon return, I started thinking...wouldn’t it be great if life was like an Amazon account? Just order up your life experience, have it delivered to you without any work or fuss. Decide if you want it or not. If it fits you comfortably, keep it. If it is not what you thought it would be, 2 clicks of the mouse and it is out of your life. 


But then I thought the better of that. There are so many things in life that maybe started out as a struggle only to make me a better person in the end. For it really is because of the “no returns” in life that we all have to work on becoming better than the original purchase. Here’s to life experiences. May we all learn and grow from them and not be able to make an easy return...just like EBAY.


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Bumper Sticker Contest!






Hi It’s Sue from Solid Rock Minnesota wishing you all a happy July 1st. Summer is flying by fast and soon it will be State Fair time. Heck we are only a few weeks away from the snow season. 

So let’s enjoy Summer. 

We have started a contest over on the Solid Rock Minnesota website. We are mailing and giving away free Solid Rock Minnesota bumper stickers around the country. To enter the contest all you need to do is take a picture of where you have your bumper sticker and post it on the website. Around the first week in August we will have you all vote on the best location or picture of your bumper sticker placement. The winner will receive a $15 Amazon gift card from Solid Rock Minnesota. 

If you need a bumper sticker, just message us here or over on the website at www.solidrockminneosta.com and we will mail you one out free of charge. Just our way of saying thanks for listening, encouraging and supporting us. 

Take care everyone and for those in the USA, have a safe 4th of July!


Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sink, Sank, Sunk





The other day I met up with my brother and cousins. It was our monthly lunch date over at my Aunt’s house. We got to reminiscing like we always do and pretty soon our tales took us back to the cabin when we were kids. We must have ranged in age from about 8 to 15.

It was the Summer of about 1971 or so and me and my youngest brother (my oldest brother was in the service at the time) and three of my cousins were all up at the cabin for a few days. Somehow, our Grandma and Grandpa had been left in charge of the 5 of us while our parents went back to the Cities to work for the rest of the week.They were expected back on the weekend. 

Our cabin was a one room cabin partitioned off with curtains for bedrooms. No running water, no indoor plumbing, a pot-bellied stove for heat from my great-grandma’s homestead and no phones.The cabin was near the little town of Grey Eagle on Swan Lake. It is where both my parents grew up.It was the farmstead where my mom and her siblings grew up and my Uncle Ed now owned and farmed. The shoreline had been divided into lake lots for cabins and there were a few cabins on the lake that some of the extended family owned. And even my Dad’s partner from the police force and his in-laws, Grandpa Louie and Grandma Clara had a place.The front of the cabin had the shoreline and the back was all alfalfa pasture for my uncle’s dairy cows. Oftentimes we would wake up to a cow staring at us through the window.

Between the waves hitting the rocky shoreline and the smell of fresh alfalfa and clover mixed with the sounds of cows mooing as they headed to the barn for milking, it was pretty close to heaven as far as I was concerned. With the exception of one thing...the dark, smelly, spider webbed outhouse out back. 

Our Grandma, although raised by water, had an incredible fear of the water. There had been a family drowning of a young child years before and that always stuck with her. She didn't like us kids in the lake, much less near the lake. She didn’t want anything happening to anyone...not on her watch. Looking after the five of us near water must have been her worst nightmare being she hated the water so much. But somewhere in her watching us, she let her guard down and let us take the boat out on the water. My 2 other cousins were up at their cabin and had their boat out.

We loaded up into our 12 foot aluminum boat. All of us were strapped into our life jackets, tighter than last year’s tennis shoes, courtesy of Grandma.We hopped into the boat with my brother, in the back running the motor, and two of my cousins in the middle seat. Me and my younger cousin in the front seat scrunched in tight with our life jackets snug touching each. I felt like 2 marshmallows on a stick getting roasted and puffing up sticking to each other..

Off we went out to the middle of the lake where the other boat and cousins  were waiting for us. We were headed for the sunken island on the lake about a mile from the cabin. Swan Lake is a long and wide lake about 2 miles long and a mile wide. Back in 1971 there were really only a few cabins on the entire lake and they were down from my Uncle Ed’s farm.

We went racing out with the other boat bouncing up and down with the waves from the wind and from my cousin’s boat that was doing circles around our boat. They had way more horsepower and easily were doing donuts around us. All the time the water was churning and  splashing in on me and my cousin in the front of the boat.We were about ankle deep in water. We were all laughing and having a great time, until it happened. Grandma’s worst nightmare was beginning to unfold right before our very eyes. 

Our motor decided to die a fast quick death, causing the water from the wake we were leaving behind us to enter the back of the boat. And as that happened the boat started to plane and level off in the front as it was slowing down. Water started washing in the front and the boat took on the character of a submarine ready to dive under. I looked at my younger cousin as she started to drift away from me into the lake. My other 2 cousins were also floating out away from the boat. My brother was making last ditch efforts to make sure the motor was securely attached to the boat as it went under. And then all 5 of us were in the lake floating next to the boat that was now floating upside down.

Within seconds of being out of the boat and in the water floating with the lifejacket that I was thankful was on tightly from Grandma, I felt myself going under water. I was struggling to come up for air. I felt the weight of my younger cousin climbing onto my shoulders and holding me by the hair. She was convinced that her lifejacket wouldn’t work, and there were leeches going to get her. She decided to hop on my back to stay afloat with my lifejacket. Fortunately my brother saw what was happening and pulled her off of me as she was screaming and kicking. I was thinking she maybe needed someone to slap her back to reality like you see on movies with people who get hysterical. To this day, I am not completely sure one of her sisters didn’t slap her upside her head, because she eventually did calm down and hung on to the edge of the tipped boat like she was told.

Meanwhile in the other boat my cousins were floating next to us in the water and laughing at what they had just seen. Here we were about a ½ mile from the nearest shore with our boat upside down and us clinging to the edge of it. We were in deep water and not even close to the sunken island where we maybe could have got in shallow water and righted the boat to get home.

Once the other cousins got done laughing at us in the water, we came up with a plan. Somehow we needed to all get back to shore and all at the same time so Grandma would see us all and not freak out that some were not in the boat and were MIA. We were afraid, with her intense fear of water, she may have a heart attack if she saw that. Since we couldn’t have 7 people in the boat at once, we’d have to take turns getting back to shore. So we hoisted my younger cousin into the boat, all the while screaming she was going to drown and then my other cousin was lifted in. Off they went to shore down by Uncle Ed’s pasture about a ¼ mile from the cabin. They were told to not go back to the cabin until they saw us coming back. We were to arrive all at the same time. Me,my brother and other cousin stayed behind and held on to the upturned boat and drifted further out into the middle of the lake. We watched as the other boat hurried off until we couldn’t see them anymore, but could only hear the hum of the boat as it got farther and farther away. What seemed like forever was probably more like about 30-45 minutes until we could hear the boat getting closer coming back for us. But there’s something creepy about hanging onto the boat and floating farther away. A feeling like you may be forgotten out there.

Eventually they came back to pick us up. One by one we climbed and they pulled and we hoisted ourselves into the boat. Finally we were all in and on our way back to the cabin. As we headed back we could see the cousins on shore running through the cow pasture trying to get back to the cabin at the same time. just as we had planned. The cousins were rounding the corner of the cabin and we were in front of the cabin in the boat when Grandma saw us coming. She saw that it wasn't the right boat or the right people in the boat and clasped her hands to her chest. Even from the boat we could see her face pale and she grabbed for the railing to steady herself. We all started yelling we were fine and to look by the cabin where my two cousins appeared. We got dropped off on the dock and continued to yell and point to the two on shore already. Within seconds they had reached her and were wrapping themselves around her and we were running up to her saying we were fine. It took several seconds for the color to come back into her face.

We all felt pretty guilty putting Grandma through that ordeal. She never said a word to us about how we had scared her half to death. She pretty much didn't say much to our folks about it either when they arrived at the cabin. None of us got in trouble. As my cousin said the other day when I wondered why she never outed us to the parents, she said because then she would have outed herself for letting us go out on the lake. Maybe...but I think more so she was wise to let us each come to our own conclusions regarding that day.

The fishing tackle from the tipped boat remains at the bottom of the lake to this day 50 years later, the boat with the motor secured to it was recovered and cleaned up and had many more outings. Through the years, many a conversation has been had regarding the sinking of the boat and the Summer we almost killed our grandma. Never did she scold us for going out there that day. She was a wise woman, she let us feel our own guilt for putting her through the fear of losing her grandkids. And that was our consequence... feeling our own stuff. 

She was quite the lady with so much wisdom. I can only hope to have even half the wisdom she had as a grandma with my own grandkids. Hopefully they will benefit from Grandma’s wisdom too.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Camping in the "Damn Camper"



We were pretty excited that after a long year of being homebound, due to Covid, we can finally head out and do some traveling. Our first venture out post Covid, we decided, was going to be to take the camping trailer to a State Forest up near the Canadian border. There is a beautiful place right on a lake that we had been to several years ago. Warm days and cool Northern nights, no better weather to be in after the incredible heat of the past 3 weeks.


Way back in April my Best Half put in for vacation time and the preparations began once the snow was off the ground in May. We have a smaller camping trailer we bought used 3 years ago for a much anticipated trip to the Big Bend National Park in Texas. We knew there were a few things needing to be worked on in the trailer and we set out to fix them one by one. Fortunately the air conditioning was not one of them as the heat was in the triple digits most of our time down in Texas. We could at least have some cool relief while sleeping at night. You really don’t want to mess with a Minnesotan that has not slept because of temps being over about 75 degrees at night. We can get pretty sleep deprived and all out ornery. It is best to just stand back or walk away for your own well-being.


While we were there, at Big Bend, we discovered more “fixes” were needed just to make the trailer liveable and not just a metal box where we were sleeping. There were water lines to the shower not working, the hot water heater leaked, the siding had fallen away from the front of the trailer on the way down (Gorilla tape is an awesome temporary fix for many things and it worked for the siding). And on the way home in Arkansas we had a tire blow out. That wouldn’t have been too bad, but at the time “Mr. Fix-it” had a cast on his right hand and was totally unable to get the lug nuts loosened. We were on an entrance ramp somewhere 10 miles from the nearest town when along came Arkansas Jim. He was an elderly man who took pity on us. Seeing the casted hand he took the socket and cranked on the lug nuts and got them off, only to realize the tire we thought was the spare didn’t match up with the trailer. While I stayed back at the trailer, with the 2 dogs, the two of them went up the road 10 miles to Walmart to get a new tire. In the hour or so they were gone there must have been 15-20 people stopping to see if I needed help. Arkansas, you have my vote for friendliest state in the US. Thanks to Mr. Jim and his kindness and efforts we were back on the road and eventually home with no more trouble from the “damn camper” as it had been nicknamed. 


By the time we were home, we had a good sized list of “fixes” the camper needed to be safe and road ready. The entire kitchen side had no electrical power working, more hose lines for the water needed looking at, the hot water heater needed replacing and worst of all, the fridge did not work on any power source, electric, battery or propane. All were fixed except the fridge as the cost to replace was really expensive and it was decided to just use it as a cooler and put buckets frozen with ice in it. So over the past year,while stuck at home due to Covid, we got all the fixes done. I should say My Best Half got all the fixes done, I just watched from a distance to stay out of the way.


So the other day we were all packed up and ready to go on our maiden camping trip of this year with the fixed camper. We set out about 6AM hoping to get to our destination about noon, with a few stops along the way. The drive was beautiful and there was a cool breeze off the shores of Lake Superior. There were tons of fishing boats out there and I reminded myself of my longing to someday go salmon fishing out there with a hired guide. It was beautiful and slowly all the hassles of the “damn camper” seemed to melt away. And we both sat back into the van and got lost in conversation about what we will do and where we will go come December when my Best Half retires after 38 years at the medical facility where he works. As we got further North the scent of the pines filled the air. It was like Christmas time when you bring the Christmas tree in the house and the deep natural pine smell permeates the air. Just like that only magnified 1000 times. I don’t think there is a better scent than that.


As we pulled into the campground and started driving the circle of campsites, we realized that over the past few years they had started taking reservations. All the sites were reserved, each one that we came to. Just as we were discussing Plan B (which we didn’t have), we found the last site and it was open for the days we would be there. And it turned out to be the same site we had stayed at years before. I was thinking, it must be Karma, a sign it was going to be a great few days. The site was huge, tucked in beneath the towering pines with the shore of the lake right by the fire ring. There was a path right into the water and the beach area was sloping out with no drop offs, just a pebbled beach to wade into. Absolute perfection. 


We grabbed the site before anyone else came along and started the process of backing the camper into the site. After many hand signals and me waving my arms on which way to go, and my Best Half just throwing his hands in the air as I tried to guide him into the site, we made it. Backing a camper as a couple is not for those in a weak or vulnerable relationship. Many a marriage has come close to reaching the breaking point with trailer backing. Over the years, I have seen many a marriage teetering on domestic fighting throughout campgrounds in the US. And I am not ashamed to admit it that in our early years it could have been us.  But now we have a system that consists of my Better Half stating, “Remember if you can’t see me, I can’t see you”, and me flailing my arms with directions knowing they won’t be taken into consideration at all. We have perfected our method and it works.


So with the camper in place, the chairs set out by the fire pit and the dogs having a well deserved swim, we went to the camper. I made lunch and then we decided after getting up early a nap was in order. Afterall we were on vacation. For an hour or so the only noise you could hear was the Lab snoring. I couldn’t take any more of the doing nothing so went down to the lake and cast my line, again and again only to catch a perch about the size of a goldfish. I love to fish, but at some point, I love to actually catch fish. I had enough casting time so went on to get some firewood for the campfire and suppertime. 


In the State Forest you need to gather your own firewood, unlike the State Parks where they sell it by the bundles. We went across the road and looked at the downed firewood...and all the green that surrounded the downed firewood. The forest floor was covered with leaves of 3...poison ivy. Yeah, it was covering the entire area. We looked at each other and agreed I should try out the stove in the camper. So the steaks I had brought to flame broil over the fire got put in a pan and fried. With no seasoning as I forgot to pack that. And forks, I forgot to pack forks. The only thing in the camper were “sporks”, you know those things that look like a spoon with jagged edges on the ends? KFC sporks. Our supper consisted of soupy watery rice and not too tender steaks eaten with sporks.


I started to clean up and turned on the water in the kitchen sink. As I was washing the plates my feet began to feel wet and then soaked. A water line had burst open under the sink and water was gushing through the cabinets and under the sink. It was soaking wet on the carpeted area. Two bath towels couldn’t contain all the water. Yep the “damn camper” had done it again...another fix needed.


We sat there in silence with our soaked rug and feet and then the question was asked, “A penny for your thoughts?”. Trying to gather my thoughts, I finally blurted out, “I’m not really into camping much anymore. We live in the country, surrounded by nature, not much noise to speak of and no business around us. We have space with no one around us except deer, bears, coyotes and eagles to look at when sitting out on the deck. If I want a campfire, it is right by the house with a load of wood stacked ready and waiting to be burned. I can see the stars and the milky way on a clear night. I can canoe or kayak a few miles down the road and go fishing and catch all the fish I want. I like to travel and see new places and then move on. I’m just not sure I am wanting to sit here for the next 3 days when I could be home doing the same thing with running water and a dry floor. 


Leave it to my Better Half, he looked at me and said he kind of felt the same way. He loved hanging out at home on his days off and doing stuff around home. In a matter of minutes, we packed up the campsite, loaded up the dogs and at 7 pm headed home. We got home, showered and were in bed sleeping by midnight. 


I guess the last year of hunkering down at home because of Covid we learned to be ok and content in our daily surroundings. We have more here than we could ever wish for out on the road. We still want to travel and explore when retirement comes in December, but for now there is a contentment knowing that everything we want or need is right here. For the next few days, we are on vacation and will enjoy every minute of every day here at our home.