That’s a wrap, folks. The Mrs and I have finished out our last work day for USD 470 School District and made plans for a quick run up to Minnesota for some R&R. I have not been back home for at least 3 years, and we needed to be in Grove City, for Augustfest, August 13th to 16th. The Matriarch of the Nelson Clan was slated to be in a parade for being the peachiest volunteer for the area. In addition to that, one of the wife’s many cousins was getting married to the neighbor lady, and that was a not to be missed opportunity to catch up with all the family.
We finished out the last day of work, early, as the boss was feeling friendly, and headed home to plan our trip. Around 645 miles, taking about 11 hours. Easy Peasy. I’m a get up early and get going kind of guy, while the wife is a see the sun and be civilized sort of traveler. We don’t physically arm wrestle to see who wins, but there is quite a bit of mental energy expended to prevail. Strategy is not just for winning at checkers, so I usually cheat and not sleep well.
Summer time in our house is always a bit of a challenge. We, being frugal refugees of second generation, great depression survivors, choose to cool our home with one window air conditioner. Most times, this will do the job fairly well. However, during the dog days of summer, the stone walls of our 1870’s house tend to radiate inward at around 85 degrees. No matter how much cool air gets shoved out that window air conditioner, you’re going to sweat a little. And the night before a long trip, you are sweating, tossing and turning and what the heck, it’s 2:30 in the morning, might as well get up, right? The Mrs was too tired to argue.
We were out the door and driving by 4:10 am. Right into a flashy, booming, drenching thunderstorm. Kansas is not real good about keeping the painted lines fresh on its highways. So, it was a bit of a squinty eyed challenge to navigate safely in my lane for the first hour or two. By the time the sun started to come up, it was dry roads and sips of coffee to stay awake. Who was it that decided to get up so early? Never mind.
11 hours and 4 minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot of our intended destination. The Matriarch of the Nelson clan, Carol, greeted us at the door to her apartment complex, and showed us to our room. This independent apartment living deal she has, includes the use of a guest apartment, for family, at the sweet deal of free. And quite often, free includes a condition or two. Remember the old Dick Van Dyke show? And remember their bedroom arrangement? 2 single beds, separated by a sturdy nightstand. Our new names were Rob and Laura Petrie. Happy to meet you. Also at the happy price of free was no internet access, and one folding chair to sit on. Well, you can’t beat free, so we slipped gracefully into our assigned roles of somewhat frustrated TV stars of the 1950’s. We had been here, 3 years ago and noticed the clock on the dresser was still set at 5 o’clock. It doesn’t have a battery and didn’t have a battery 3 years ago, so the wife had set it then to 5 o’clock, because in the 50’s, that was cocktail hour. Still is, apparently. Who am I to argue, I grabbed a beer.
There are two seasons in Minnesota, winter and road construction. Yes, many states claim this, but they live it like they mean it here. The small town of Grove City, 635 people, has its main street on the highway. And that was closed and had been since June, for a resurfacing job that encompassed 20 some miles. Makes things a bit challenging for down town businesses, and from reading about it in the paper, the construction company couldn’t be bothered. A big company, many jobs going, crappy equipment, poorly maintained. Plus the ever fun politics of who is more important. You can imagine 635 people in the middle of vast cornfields, not having a lot of pull. Such is life in the frozen north, and you do what the locals have always done. Ignore the road closed signs and drive where you want. Minnesota nice only goes so far. They tell me the road work will be done in September, maybe.
Carol, our gracious hostess and mother to the Mrs, makes a mean lasagna. It is traditional for her to make that for our arrival. Well, kind of traditional. Really, this the second time she had done it, all because of the last time, 3 years ago, the Mrs had called when we were a couple hours from being there and said I had requested lasagna. Carol had demurred, saying she did not have any fixin’s in the house. However, when we arrived, there was a steaming pan of what I was craving. Turns out, when she heard I wanted something special, her first thought was, let the boy starve. Then guilt worked, as it always does, and the next thing you know, she was out the door, picking up what was needed.
And the real story on why lasagna is what I want when visiting The Mother in Law, is 24 years ago, when I was the New Guy, the whole family (large) was invited to her house for supper. I got brought along to meet everyone and get their provisional approval. I work well under pressure, so I gave as good as I got, and dug in when the food was passed around. I took a bite and knew at that moment, I was keeping the chick that brought me, if it meant having access to this kind of cooking. I ate the first plate, powered through a second, looked around to see if anybody would notice if I snuck a third plate. As I was chewing, I fantasized about grabbing the pan and locking myself in the closet and eating the whole thing. I told my future wife this as we drove home. She, to her credit, did not think this was aberrant behavior. It is good to be good, but it is great to be lucky. I got lucky with her. Um, not that night though, ya perverts.
So, right after dropping our travel bags in the free room, we headed back to Carol’s for lasagna and lots of catching up.
Grove City is a quiet little town, smack dab in south central Minnesota. Hard working folks, and friendly too. You quite often hear about Minnesota Nice and how often it is perceived as being only skin deep. Maybe it is because I am from here, and it don’t cost nothin’ to smile and say Hello, but I got a warm feeling from dealing with the folks around here. The Mrs likes to walk, so we head out early, before the sun gets up and stroll around town. People would wave as they drove by, say hello if we passed them, just generally nice interactions.
We had a couple days until the parade event, so we headed over to Reflection Farm to see Jean and Jaime, and catch up from the last 17 years. The Mrs got to help put some horses out and I looked at all the work the barns needed. Gonna be busy when we get back. I got some quality time with the Pinto Stallion, Bring It On. He likes a good scratch and we did some guy bonding while the girls chatted.
We drove through my home town of Hutchinson and wow, have things changed. We have been looking at real estate online and drove around town, wondering if we would like the place. My perception was, only if the pay was really good. The next few days were puttering about, helping the Mrs’ uncle get a new computer, taking naps in the afternoon, because the single bed I was using did not allow a good night’s sleep.
The wedding of Mrs’ cousin to the neighbor lady was held at a rural country church that the Mrs’ cousins go to. It is a beautiful old church, and the hot afternoon of the wedding, many attendees commented about the ceiling fans and no central air. Like I said, old country church. You were meant to sweat as you got the gospel. The interior of the church was a total tin job. Decorative tin was used extensively in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. It is a beautiful way to finish the walls and ceiling and set off nicely the stained glass windows.
The church the Mrs’ family traditionally went to was similar up until around the 1960’s when they tore up all the tin and went Danish Modern. It was a bad mistake, in my opinion. The Swedes that attended the church were a practical people, not one to reflect on interior design nuances. That is also why lots of old homes and buildings that were salvageable and still in good shape, got torn down without a tear being shed. No sentimentality to the people of the Northern tribes.
The women were fanning themselves and the men stoically dripped down the neckline. Then it was outside and making connections with all the family members. My wife’s family is large, 7 children, and all the cousins have large families. When they were told to go out and be fruitful, well, you didn’t have to tell them twice. Lots of cousins, some the Mrs hadn’t seen for a very long time. We moved to the town of Litchfield, to the Eagles club, for the reception, and the conversations continued.
And finally, Parade day had arrived. I had been watching the weather, as I like to do, and it was looking to me like rain for just about parade time, 1:30 PM. Carol was hoping the parade would be rained out, so she did not have to ride on a float, but she’s just like that about parades. You normally think of Minnesota as being cool and temperate in the summer. We happened to arrive at the hottest time of the year. Temperatures of 90 and high humidity. Nothing like Southern Kansas weather. Just a little sticky. Carol’s entire family, sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren and a few additional friends of the family started to arrive. A couple of the grandchildren have large families. 6 kids in one and 5 in another. Many great grandchildren are still in diapers. All of them well behaved. It was awesome to behold. There were brand new twin boys to meet. Copy and Paste, cuter than a bugs ear and very hard to tell apart.
All of us are parked on the parade route, waiting for the show to begin and a few drops of rain start to fall. I tell them to sit tight. I was keeping an eye on the weather and watching the radar on my phone and it looked like we would just squeak by. Sirens start howling and the parade begins. From a kids point of view, this would have been the best day ever. Better than Halloween, much better. Just about everything that passed us, threw candy at us. 50 units, floats, vehicles of all sorts, fire trucks, everybody threw candy at us. The kids, a dozen or more of our own, dashed out to grab the candy. The drivers of the vehicles were very aware of who was in the road and the kids were encouraged to come out get the candy. We had to scramble to get plastic bags to put the candy in. Pounds of candy flying in the air, they were going to need a street sweeper to clean up. I noticed Carol’s float coming around the corner. She was sitting on a float with a Hawaiian theme and had a blow up doll for a companion. Not sure what that was about, and I mentioned to her, after the parade, that I was unsure which one was her. She tossed candy to her grand and great grandchildren and a few more drops of rain came down. We had about 15 minutes before it was going to pour, I told everyone. The parade came to a close with a garbage truck as the last vehicle. Everybody ran out and picked up the debris in the road. It looked much like a Tea Party rally, cleaner after the event than before.
We hustled everybody indoors as the rain start to fall in earnest. Since all the family was here, the decision to have a meal and conversation had been made. The only place large enough for all the people was the dining room of the apartment complex Carol lives in. Like a well oiled machine, everybody pitches in, food starts to arrive, a grill shows up, Grandmothers start to pick up the new babies, kids start to run and shriek. The dinning room was pretty much filled and people start talking and eating. It was a grand convocation of the Nelsons, the Johnsons, Winklemans, Maeschens and Cordes. After having 17 years of very little contact with family, it was memorable evening. I found my buddy for the night. Her name was Haddie, short for Hadassah, and she was a chucky little smiler. Not quite walking yet, we struck up a conversation and I picked her up and toured around. The Mrs grabbed one of the twins, Copy or Paste, I am not sure which, and was cooing and other stuff Grandmothers do. Yes, that’s right, the Mrs is a Grandmother. Just happened a couple weeks ago. Chuckles, our son and his girlfriend had a boy, Scotty I call him. That makes me a Grandfather. I guess it was bound to happen. Hope my hair don’t fall out right away.
Anyway, Haddie and I had a great time. I got to talk to and catch up with many people I enjoy and love. The Maeschen and Johnson girls are into gymnastics and we saw more of their feet than anything else. Many, many handstands and cartwheels. I got cornered by my great nephew, Spencer. He is starting the fifth grade in a couple of days and he wanted to run a new invention past me. The boy’s got more ideas than you can shake a stick at. I also finally got to meet his father for the first time. That was fun and I am looking forward to talking with him again.
Several families live a hour or two away and as the evening started to wind down, they started to pack up. At one point, one of the kids asked for Grandma and 4 heads turned and said “What?” The kid had to point to which Grandmother they were wanting. Lots of generations and connections in one room. This is all from Carol and Everett. Everett is gone now and missed very much. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could chat with him. He was a farmer, and later, a self taught metal worker. A soft spoken, humorous man that has 12 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren to his name. I am very happy to be associated with this family. Salt of the earth as they say.
So, we picked up and cleaned up and everybody headed home. It was quite a day and we miss them already. We spent one more rather sleepless night in the 1950’s and by 2:20 AM, the Mrs and I were both awake and ready to drive home. And wouldn’t you know it, it started to rain, about a half hour into the drive. Driving in the dark, in the rain and been a theme for this trip. 11 hours and 14 minutes later, we were home. After a meal and a well deserved and anticipated beer, we went to pick up our dog, Sweet Pea. Made for a good home coming. Now, we have to work our little hinders off, get the house ready to sell and get up North and home before the snow falls. No problem, I like a challenge.