It’s nice to have a retreat that isn’t too far away, a place to let your hair down when life gets too routine or you find you are taking it all too seriously. I have a place like that and it belongs to my friend of nearly thirty years, Mona Meittunen Abel. She lives in the woods north of Chisholm on South Sturgeon Lake where she says, “The FBI can’t find her.”
I met Mona in 1990 when I had graduated from the Graphic Design program at Bemidji State University and was employed as a summer intern at Ironworld USA, in Chisholm. My main duties were to create newspaper ads and posters for upcoming entertainment events and in addition take photographs of concerts, stage performers and general summer fun on the grounds. It was a job to remember!
Back then Ironworld, largely the brain child of former Iron Range Governor Rudy Perpich, was at its peak. It provided tourists and locals with a place they could learn about the land, people and ethnic heritage of the Iron Range. There were plenty of performing musicians, historic displays, huge concerts by top performing groups, ethnic food, flowers, flags, laughter and more! Mona was employed as Ironworld’s Group Tour and Program Coordinator. She brought in thousands of guests during her employ and rubbed elbows with celebrities such as Tiny Tim, Doc Severinson and Tony Bennett to name a few. Despite retiring many summers ago, she is still known in the northland for her jovial personality, smiling face and boundless energy.
Just last week I was at Mona’s place following a session with my hair stylist/therapist Janet in Hibbing. Feeling vibrantly red and enlightened from the visit at the salon, partner Bill and I headed north up Highway 5, then traveled down several more winding roads before arriving at the little blue house at the end of the road.
After greetings, we drove to Riverside Inn, a popular restaurant and tavern in that area where I’ve enjoyed so many fun moments with friends over the decades. This night would be no different! We sat chatting when a mutual friend joined us, hauling in a cardboard box, labeled MOEN. She set it next to Mona stating it was the second-hand faucet she was passing on. Shortly afterwards another friend arrived, we ate, drank and the subject of the faucet came up. Suddenly Bill chimed in, “I’ll install that faucet for you Mona, not a problem!” The festivities ended with Mona, the MOEN box, Bill and I taking off to get a night’s rest.
In the morning Bill was up early, checking over the faucet when Mona mentioned that there was a new sink to install as well. “No problem,” replied Bill, as he began to remove the old sink, scraping off discolored putty, while I sat sipping orange juice, commenting on how nice it was to watch him work. Shortly after, he realized he needed sink traps for the new drains. Mona hoped we could get them at the little CC-Camp store about four miles away so we drove there and were able to get the parts. Nifty!
Back at the project site, following a quick cigarette, Bill took the used faucet out of the MOEN box and realized that some of the parts were missing. In fact it wasn’t even in its original box. Mona called our mutual friend, who’d given it to her, and she had no idea where the missing parts were. At this point we scoured over the faucet, finding a small, rumpled manufacturer’s label and were able to go online to the Price Pfister site, find the model, and see which parts were needed.
A sketchy decision to order parts and put the project on hold was nearly made when Bill, lying on the floor, his back twisting over containers of Comet and Pledge that remained rolling around in the dirty, moist workspace, commented that he wouldn’t be able to turn the water on until a faucet was in place because the plumbing had been installed wrong and there was no shut-off valve under the sink for the cold water.
I sensed complications were accumulating faster than my longing to find an operational restroom. We headed to Lowe’s in Hibbing for a complete new faucet. Mona, dressed in wild pastel striped pants and sequin covered shearling slippers, tossed on her coat and Bill and I in our humdrum attire followed. It was snowing, so we drove cautiously, telling stories all the while. We somehow arrived on the subject of Bob Dylan, unaware that celebrity-saged Mona had gone to school with him. With detail, she reminisced about the talent show that took place in her senior year at Hibbing High School. Her Speech class performed a skit in which she played the part of a gray-haired hillbilly grandma. Having hurt her ankle she hobbled around in a walking-cast, carrying a real shotgun as a prop. The gun, unloaded of course, was not considered an issue, but nowadays would be reason for banishment. Also participating in the talent show was Robert Allen Zimmerman, (the young Bob Dylan). His performance followed Mona’s skit whereby he stood and pounded out his rendition of a Jerry Lee Lewis song on the beautiful Steinway baby grand piano. About midway through the piece, the principal, having concluded the performance was too raucous for the audience, let alone the Steinway, had the curtain abruptly pulled while the audience booed the performance. Mona commented, “Dylan was ahead of his time; the locals couldn’t handle it! No wonder he never wanted to visit Hibbing!” Mona’s skit won the talent show competition, beating out Bob Dylan! A claim not many can make.
We finally arrived at Lowe’s, got the faucet and headed back north. We were halfway back to Mona’s when we got way-laid at a joint with a delicious fish fry. We soon made the decision to stay at Mona’s another night and finish the project in the morning.
The next day Bill was up early, anxious to tackle his assignment. He opened the box and soon realized the present state of Mona’s plumbing (faux pas), wouldn’t accommodate the hoses. He needed more parts. By this time I was getting a doomed feeling for the little project that was growing into a plumber’s nightmare. The water at Mona’s had been turned off for over twelve hours, a shower would have felt good, not to mention brushing my teeth. There wasn’t even enough water for coffee so Bill and I dashed back to the CC-Camp store in search of more parts and morning brew. The man working there laughed when we shared our plight. He said, “It’s not a real plumbing project until you’ve made at least three trips to the hardware store!” This time the parts we needed weren’t there. What a sinking feeling-pun intended-but Bill found a cap to close off the cold water under the sink and turn the water on to service other areas in the house. We hauled back coffee, donuts and a couple jugs of Buhl water.
When we got back to Mona’s we explained the parts situation, adding we had to leave and head back to Ely because Bill was scheduled to work later that day. Feeling frustrated, we left the project uncompleted with hopes that someone would finish the job.
As we drove back to Ely we agreed that although a plumbing project may have monopolized much of our get-away, it was a great chance to visit a dear friend and share time together. As it turns out, we will be returning to finish the project, in confidence, this weekend. Back to the land where “the FBI can’t find us,” steering clear of taverns and fish fries, with plenty of plumbing parts accompanying us.