Category Archives: home

A Special Gift

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

Robert was a painter whose wife, Donna, was his agent. Donna contacted me when I was editing a regional outdoors magazine. Robert hoped my magazine would publish a painting that he would create to my specifications. Although Robert had never painted wildlife before, the February, 1978, issue of Fins and Feathers featured a bobcat painted by Robert.

I later asked Robert to paint the cover for my first book, Modern Pheasant Hunting, which was just about to be published. Because Robert didn’t know what pheasants looked like, I invited him and his family for dinner so I could give him a pheasant taxidermy mount to use as a model. That dinner happened in September of 1979. My wife and I were in our third year of living in a pink bungalow in Saint Paul. Our daughter, a chatty toddler, had just turned two.

Robert and Donna were then living in a dinky rental home in South Minneapolis. Although Donna was ferociously romantic about Christmas, their home didn’t offer enough room to put up a scrawny Christmas tree. Robert, a freelance painter, had a meager and erratic income. He and Donna had not felt secure enough to take on a home mortgage.

In some ways, our dinner was “typical,” typical for how we entertained in those days. We served wine—not a “good” wine, for that would have been beyond our means, but a frisky dry white from Napa. I cooked the pheasant casserole that had become one of my signature dishes when guests dined with us. My wife prepared a side dish of wild rice with mushrooms and sliced almonds sautéed in butter.

Because we dined on a crisp night in September, we set a fire in the big fireplace. The old bungalow glowed and filled with the fragrance of burning oak. Robert described his experiences as a combat artist in Vietnam. I probably talked too much about pheasants. Brandy and Brinka, our dogs at the time, wriggled in next to us when we sat on the soft carpets before the fire.

Our dinner happened on a Friday evening. On Monday morning, quite unexpectedly, Robert appeared at my office with an object wrapped in paper. He thrust it in my hands, mumbled something and disappeared.

The gift—for that is what it was—was a watercolor Robert had made of my taxidermy rooster. Robert had painted it in one long, passionate session over the weekend. The painting included squiggly lines on the lower right side where Robert had cleaned his brush when going from one color to another.

On the lower left side Robert had written a message, a note to our daughter. He described the magic meal we shared when she was very young. Robert said he and Donna would never forget that special evening.

 

I later learned more about that. Robert and Donna were bowled over by the feel of our shared evening. It all blended together—the wine, the talk, the food, the charm of a 75-year-old bungalow, the dancing fire. By the time Robert and Donna got home they had decided to buy a home.

We had dreams, or at least the adults present that evening did. The dreams did not fare well, although Robert and Donna did buy an old Victorian home in South Minneapolis. My wife was going to get her PhD and teach English, but she never did. Robert anticipated a satisfying career as an artist, although that never happened as he pictured it. While I was thrilled by my work as an editor, that dream died in a long, sorry struggle. Worse, both marriages eventually failed. I don’t know what became of Robert and Donna’s children. I don’t know what will happen to the little girl to whom the painting was dedicated, although a splendid outcome is still entirely possible for her.

That’s how it goes. I could dwell on the ways our dreams unraveled, but I don’t. I remember a lovely aromatic evening when everything seemed possible. This is easy to remember because Robert’s pheasant and its heartfelt message are on my wall, and I smile to see them every day.

Do you remember a special gift?

 

Sugar Loaf in the Cool of the Morning

To stay cool this Sunday, we got up early to explore the trail up to the base of  Sugar Loaf ,  Winona’s major landmark rock. Nice woodsy switchbacks on the way up, well groomed trails esp. at the base of the rock, and of course, the higher up we got, the more spectacular the views. Besides seeing downtown and East End Winona, we could (once we got high enough) see West Burns Valley, and some of Pleasant Valley. There are lots of valleys around here, and I still have trouble keeping them straight. We even saw the barn and silo of the “hippie farm” Husband live at in the 70s.

Here are some of the sights:

On the way down (9:30-ish) we met several people headed up, and thought “You’re going to be warm up there”.

How have you been staying cool this weekend in the 90 Plus temperatures?

Sharing Spaces

I got a credit collection call today asking for “Jane”. When YA was younger and still needed daycare and after-school care, I rented out a room in my house to cover the costs.  Over the years I had a variety of housemates, some great experiences (still friends with Fredrick) and some sad (Dawn passed away a year after she lived here) and some just downright weird.

My first suspicion that Jane was a little on the weird side was the day she moved in. We had agreed on the day; I had told her I would be home about 5. When I arrived home, her car was parked in the driveway and she was asleep in the front seat.  I knocked on the window, she rolled down the window, said she’s be in shortly.  Then she went back to sleep and didn’t come in until 2 hours later.

She wanted to set up a weekly house meeting which I resisted; that’s too formal for my taste. Our dog, Katy Scarlet, didn’t like her.  She was estranged from her adult daughter but wouldn’t tell me why.  She never got a job, although she talked about looking quite a bit.  When she’d been living at the house for about 5 months, she told me she would have to travel to Colorado for something and due to a previous legal problem, she might be arrested and have to spend a couple of months there.  She never went to Colorado.  Then at the 6-month mark, massive numbers of forwarded pieces of mail started showing up for her.  One day I counted 44 of them and this went on for about 3 weeks.  She never explained.  Did I mention the dog didn’t like her?

At the 9-month mark, she made coffee in her little coffee pot and then left about an inch of coffee in the pot for days on end, never cleaning it. I asked her about it a few times and she always said “Oh, sorry, I’ll get to it today” but never did.  When the coffee had completely dried up, she moved the pot to the top of the refrigerator.  At this point I told her that things weren’t working out and that she’s need to find another place.  She didn’t argue.  The day she moved out, I took the ratty coffee pot and set it on top of one of her boxes.  She moved it to the counter.  I carried it out and put it in her car. After that day I never saw her again or even heard from her.

The credit collection calls began about 6 months after she moved out. These calls came from Colorado, Arizona, California and also here in Minnesota.  And the callers asked for her under a variety of names, although they were all a variation on “Jane”. They did slow down and then trickle off but over the years I’ve probably gotten 50 of these calls.  Today’s call was almost exactly 22 years since she moved out.

Tell me about a “colorful” housemate/roommate that you’ve had.