Labor Day Weekend

You might think it’s been a quiet weekend at the in-laws’ cabin.  A loon cries across the lake.  September-green leaves whisper high in the treetops.  No planes, no cars, no cell phones, no motorboats.  Just the whir of the faithful 1950s Coronado fridge.

Open the freezer compartment by removing a chunk of styrofoam and you’ll find evidence of our excitement, frozen to a comfortable 28 degrees, patiently awaiting the artistry of Royce the Taxidermist.

The Big E and I drove up separate from Ace, two cars to better accommodate the massive rolltop oak desk we intended to dismantle and transport back to the Cities.  I reminded The Big E to warn me early of impending bladder disgorgement.  He did.  We stopped in St. Michael, two miles off I94, at the rural equivalent of a 7Eleven.  Giddy from surviving the parking-lot speeds of our trip thus far, I allowed myself to be conned into purchasing Cheetos (MSG + petroleum byproducts), peanut M&Ms, popcorn, and a Dove “dark chocolate” bar.

We snacked.  He whined about the short story CD I thought he’d love.  I drove.

Our second pit stop found us smack in the middle of an impromptu doggie festival.  We met a lovely two-month corgie-husky mix, with one blue eye and one brown.  “We call her Blue,” they said.  Sasha, a Chihuahua-Yorkie mutt, joined us for a scritchy scratchy lovefest.  We snuggled a blind poodle and silently judged the owner of two labs and a flatcoat retriever when he ignored his dogs’ excrement.

About thirty miles from our destination, all heck broke loose with my dashboard lights.  Cruise and Brake began blinking just for kicks.  Check Engine and Slippery Road Conditions stayed on, harbingers of imminent coincidental danger.

The Big E rang up Ace on the cell.  “Don’t stop in Brandon!” he said.  “There’s nothing there.”  Convinced that my engine was about to erupt through the metal of the hood in an explosion rivaling any Fourth of July show, I clutched the wheel, eyes wide, pupils dilated, scanning.  Who’s behind.  Who’s beside.  How big is the shoulder.

Ace pointed out (to The Big E) the extremely low probability of four simultaneous issues.  As a former Volvo owner, I’m well familiar with electrical problems and suggested that my former electrical problems may have followed me into a Subaru.

I stopped in Evansville at Len’s gas station.  Though he departed our home an hour later, Ace was by that time five minutes behind us.  Len guided me to Evansville Automotive.  “They have one of them computer diagnostic things,” he drawled.  At least he drawls in my memory.

The gentlemen at Evansville Automotive did indeed have a computer diagnostic thing.  They did not, however, have the program for a 2010 Subaru Outback.  Being practical menfolk, they turned the key to observe the lightshow for themselves before concluding that I likely had myself a faulty wheel sensor.  I gasped and asked if “we” should check the tire pressure.  “Oh no,” they said, “it has nothing to do with tire pressure.”  “So it’s safe to drive back to Saint Paul?” I asked.  “Yep.”  “Can I give you some money?”  “Nah.”  Welcome to Evansville.

One guy gave The Big E a tour of his son’s demolition derby car.  “You put the gastank in the backseat.  See it here under this sheet metal?  And the battery’s up on the floor there.”  He fired it up, literally, flipped the ignition switch and flames shot out of the two exhaust pipes that rose like twin silos from the hood.  IMG_7350The man took us over to a gorgeous baby blue station wagon.  “We’re gonna turn that one into an ice car.”  “A what?”  “It’s like demo on ice, you know, you got the snow for bumpers.”



Ace led the way as we got back on the interstate.  He wanted to stop and look at a vintage Airstream with genuine Airstream trailer attached that he’d seen on the last trip up.  The Big E and I pulled over after Ace and ogled the enormous Airstream-Airstream spectacle.IMG_7351

I got real close, took a picture of the For Sale sign, and the mangiest stinkiest creature trotted out from around the bumper.  He appeared to be a Saint Bernard, all droopy-cute eyelids and slobbery tongue.  We scouted out the surrounding buildings, searching for an owner.  I became increasingly concerned for the dog’s wellbeing when he lapped water from a murky puddle.  I’d have to give him a bath before taking him home to St. Paul.  He’d do fine with Chester but would he eat Rafa?IMG_7356

We finally knocked on a neighbor’s door.  “Is this your dog?”  “No, he lives at the business over there.”  “Do they take care of him?”  “Well, he’s kind of on his own a lot but they do feed him.”  We reluctantly left him to his life of presumed neglect.

Ace took off down the increasingly windey road.  I followed at a safe three-second-rule distance.  Ace swerved to avoid something and that’s when I spotted her, belly up just on our side of the midline, her four little paws churning the air.  “E, call your father and tell him I’m stopping.”  Ace had passed the animal with me in hot pursuit and knew it was trouble.  He told me he’d wait at the Shell station up the road; his parents wanted to meet us there to give him a key.

I couldn’t stand the thought of the poor creature suffering alone, waiting to die in the middle of the two-lane highway.  I circled around and pulled over on the shoulder, weighing risks in my mind.  I left The Big E strapped in his booster seat and handed him the pre-dialed phone before turning on the hazards and cautiously exiting my vehicle.

I watched two other cars swerve to avoid the furry mass.  With a clear coast, I leapt to the middle of the road, made a quick assessment (dead), and grabbed the warm body with my gloved hands.

I always carry plastic bags in my car.

Not ten seconds after I deposited the groundhog in my trunk, a pickup truck slowly pulled up.  I waved and flashed a just-out-collecting-roadkill smile.  A ten-year-old boy sat, unbelted, in the passenger seat.  He leaned out the window, unsmiling.  I could almost hear his brain’s cool appraisal of me in my tie-dyed shirt and wild hair: “City folks.”

His dad peered around.  “You got trouble?”  I blathered something about a poor groundhog waving her little paws in the air, but now she’s dead, so everything’s fine, but thanks for stopping.  They left.

We finally arrived at the cabin.  I gently poured cool water over the groundhog’s adorable head, cleaning her ears of the blood.  Then I double-bagged her and popped her into the freezer compartment.  Her name is Charlotte.

Royce, you haven’t seen the last of me yet.

Musical Moment #1

Musical Moment #2

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4 Responses to Labor Day Weekend

  1. mom says:

    You’re going to have to get a bigger piano!!!

  2. Francesca says:

    You probably know this poem by Gerald Stern, but just in case you don’t –here it is, in honor of you …
    “Behaving Like a Jew”

    When I got there the dead opossum looked like
    an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
    it took me only a few seconds-just
    seeing him there-with the hold in his back
    and the wind blowing through his hair
    to get back again into my animal sorrow.
    I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
    bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking out of the grilles,
    the slimy highways, the heavy birds
    refusing to move;
    I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
    that joy in death, that philosophical
    understanding of carnage, that
    concentration on the species.
    –I am going to be unappeased at the opossum’s death.
    I am going to behave like a Jew
    and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
    and pull him off the road.
    I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
    with the Toyotas and the Chevies passing over me
    at sixty miles an hour
    and praise the beauty and the balance
    and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
    when my hands are still a little shaky
    from his stiffness and his bulk
    and my eyes are still weak and misty
    from his round belly and his curved fingers
    and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

    From THIS TIME: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (W.W. Norton, 1998)

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