Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

On snowstorms and gratitude...

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On the heels of the penultimate snowstorm, I drove the 317 miles to Rochester, on what turned out to be a beautiful day and a delightful drive, much to my surprise. The highways were bone dry, except in and around Cloquet, which I have determined is either the colliding point between Zone 3 and Zone 4, or some strange confluence of bio-magnetic or cosmic energies. I was prepared since I’ve hit weird weather situations there before, and started to slow down when I saw glimpses of white in the distance. Sure enough, there were accumulations of ragged strips of snow, the kind that can knock your car sideways if you’re going too fast. I made my way carefully through the town, and the pavements were again dry once past the snowy ramp onto Interstate 35. Two additional delights of the day were the light traffic, even around the Twin Cities, and that it only took me five hours plus a few minutes to reach my destination.

Thanksgiving Day radio helped make the drive much less tedious than it might have been. I channel surfed a lot, picking up stations from towns I was passing through, sampling a bit of country; a very little bit of rap; some old, favorite hymns; some beloved folk; a lot of MPR, news and classical; some jazz; and a very, very tiny bit of Bill O’Reilly, just to say I made an attempt to listen to the “other side,” but his rant on guns didn’t hold my attention.

I heard several Thanksgiving food call-in shows with people eager to share their brilliant innovations or desperately seeking a culinary savior. One woman said one of her cats had jumped up on the counter to play with the chunks of potato destined to become mashed potatoes. She wanted to know if the show’s hosts thought it would be all right if she washed off the potato cat toys or should she throw them away. The hosts concurred that since it was in a private home, not a restaurant, she could probably wash them, or peel away one more layer, and not sacrifice them totally. Then she shared that the cat had bitten into some of them, and she wondered if those pieces should be thrown away. The consensus was that the owner had probably shared her cat’s germs anyway through cat kisses, so not to worry about it, and that if she wanted to be very careful, she could cut away the bite marks.

Doesn’t it fill you with a peaceful joy to know that here in America, you can be isolated in your house with a problem or a question on a national holiday, and via the wonders brought to us by Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi, (who would have had a hard time imagining that scenario), you can find a listening ear, some advice, maybe even wisdom, and feel at one with humanity?

With so little traffic, it was easier to relax and appreciate the changing landscape from the Northwoods, through farm country, suburban, and urban settings. Do you wonder about the inhabitants as you drive through small towns or pass intermittent farmhouses? Where do they work? Do they like it there or are they struggling and wish they could live elsewhere? Do they have a supportive, interactive community or a whirling ball of competitive gossip mongers with long memories? After 20 years of small town living under my belt, I know that all of those things are true for some of the people, everywhere, in all kinds of settings.

Some other holiday shows featured topics like, “How to avoid turning into your worst 13-year-old self when you walk into your parents’ house.” “How to have a civil discussion around the dinner table with your in-laws who disagree with you on any topic that is likely to come up.” “How to remember that you are all children of God and ought to know and respect each other…or at least not pound on the table, throw food, and stomp out of the house.”

The family I was visiting, who were new friends, had no need of such advice. The three sisters and two husbands truly liked each other and enjoyed being together, laughing, swapping stories, and telling jokes. I felt like I walked into a warm embrace of welcome. The delicious food had been prepared with love and excellent ingredients: grilled turkey, sweet potato casserole, kale and cranberry salad, sage and onion stuffing, and three picture-perfect homemade pies, pumpkin, pecan, and sour cream apple. Everyone found a thoughtful quote placed near their plate, which they took turns reading. After dinner, the dishes were done quickly, two sisters played duets on the piano, the men immersed themselves in books, one sister headed home, and I crocheted, enjoyed the music, and soaked in the sweet ambience of a loving family, feeling like I might have stepped into the pages of a storybook.

I had thought earlier that I might compile a bunch of mini-rants for this week’s column, to provide a little balance to the tidal wave of gratitude and appreciation that flowed in the very airways and within me. However, I found myself just feeling grateful for so much and wanted to write about it: new, safe tires on a reliable car; friends who call to check in, help out, or suggest an outing; strangers who offer hospitality; dry pavements; delicious food; good health care insurance and excellent medical care; and snowstorms that hit when I could hunker down, wait them out, and get much-appreciated help from neighbors with the plowing and the shoveling.

I found inspiration this weekend from an old favorite, the Fonz. Henry Winkler was on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and MC Peter Sagal introduced him as the”nicest man in the Universe,” recalling that Paula Poundstone once said she ran into Winkler on a plane and thought to herself, “there’s a happy little fella.” Sagal asked, “Do you think that’s an accurate description?” and Winkler responded: “It is. Because I’m short, and because I live by two words, gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go. And gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” Bingo! Thanks, Fonzie!

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