...in Minnesota with my mother and the rest of my family of origin (as therapists are fond of calling it). While most of it was sad, of course, some of it was quite special. I especially cherished the time I got to spend alone with my mom. She's really a wonderful lady.
When we weren't visiting my dad in the hospital (and later the hospice), my mother took me to her hospital where she has a procedure done a few times a week. (You know you're getting old when you have His and Hers hospitals.) As I pushed her in the wheelchair, I marveled at how many people seemed to know her. It was like she was the mayor of that place or something.
"Good morning, Mrs. Tracy!"
"Hello, Mrs. T."
"Ma, is there anyone in this building that you don't know?"
It was a nice hospital (as hospitals go), with a woman in the lobby who played the piano like in a department store. My mother told me that my father used to wait for her there while she was seeing the doctor. One time she came out and found the pianist sitting idly at the piano. It turned out that my father had told her to stop playing; it was keeping him awake. (You had to know my dad.)
We visited all the sights in Edina while I was there, including the spontaneously exploding house (I'm not kidding), my mother's hairdresser (where a woman crashed her car right through the wall within inches of where my mom was sitting under the hair dryer), and of course, the local DQ. (My attitude has always been: When life gives you lemons, go get a chocolate malt.)
The exploding house was chronicled in the Minneapolis StarTribune:
No one was hurt in the blast, which was heard and felt six blocks away. Insulation from the house was found as far as a mile away, Scheerer said.
Scheerer also said it appeared that the Augustsons' nine-year-old dog Grete had been blown straight into the air by the explosion. She was found with burned toes on three feet and the fur burned off beneath her chin. "She's a black Lab and looks like a chocolate Lab," Jen Augustson said.
Jen Augustson was at work at the time of the explosion. Their two kids, ages 5 and 2, weren't home, either.
Up to 60 homes in the area were evacuated. By late Tuesday, most evacuees had returned to their homes. Many, including children, had spent several hours at the nearby Edina Country Club, where clubhouse director Carl Granberg had told authorities to spread the word: Neighbors were welcome.
This last piece of information was further evidence for my mother (not that she needed any) that only in Minnesota are people actually nice to each other.
"You'd never see that in Chicago!"
"You're right, ma. We're too busy dodging bullets from the likes of Al Capone."
(In case you've never been to Minnesota, I can tell you that a bigger bunch of Kool-Aid drinkers has never existed. I don't know what it is about the place, exactly, but the people there never, and I mean never, stop telling you how great it is.)
The beauty salon story was a little curious to me on one level. While my mother has opined to me (more than once) that she has difficulty believing that airplanes wouldn't bounce off the World Trade Center on 9/11, she has no trouble at all understanding how a 91-year-old woman could drive her car right through the brick wall of a suburban office building.
But the most important place we went in Minnesota was a place my parents consider "sacred" and "holy"; I don't. On our way home from the hospital one day, my mother insisted that we "pay a little visit." Now those of you who know me know it's a place I never go anymore. I'll admit I went there when I lived with my parents, but ever since I moved out on my own I've just avoided it. I don't know what it is about it exactly; I guess I just don't feel comfortable there. Maybe it's because it just seems overdone to me. Maybe it's the way people seem to go there in order to "see and be seen." Maybe the reason I don't like it is because it just seems to always be about Money, Money, Money. And while most people are content to go but once a week, my parents are there practically every day!
I'm referring, of course, to Jerry's Foods in Edina.
At least I didn't have to push my mother in a wheelchair at Jerry's; she got around in one of those little motorized carts with the basket in front. Instead of a mayor, she reminded me this time more of the pope, riding in her own little popemobile. Like the hospital, though, she seemed to know everyone. And everyone seemed to practically want to kiss her ring. (I half-expected her, at one point, to bless some old guy by making the sign of the cross in the air.) She definitely seemed to be the most important person in the store--until we got to the fish counter.
There, behind the glass case, was The Most Intelligent-Looking Man in the state of Minnesota. (Think of Dr. Clayton Forrester, the world renowned physicist played by Gene Barry in the 1953 movie "The War of the Worlds.") Bespectacled and clad in what appeared to be a long white lab coat, the Fish Guy ruled his little world kind of like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. Everyone, except my mom, seemed to walk on eggshells around this guy. (He, like everyone else, seemed to love my mom.)
"Hello, Mrs. Tracy. How are you today?"
"How's the Walleye, Frank?" (This is a question you would only hear in Minnesota.)
"I just got some fresh ones in this morning." The Fish Guy then launched into his familiar yarn of how sometimes the Walleye come to the surface and sometimes they don't. Apparently they are crafty little critters. That day, however, we were in luck. (In other words, the plane from Canada arrived on time.)
The Fish Guy then strode out in front of the case like a professor about to hand out the final exams. Everyone scurried out of his way. He turned his back to the crowd that had assembled and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was too close. For a second there, I thought he was going to say, "Stand back, everyone, I'm handling fish."
After my mother stabbed the air with her index finger a few times, the Fish Guy selected only the finest fillets for our dinner that night. Everyone else around us seemed envious of the hold my mother had over him.
We went home that night and had broiled Walleye for dinner followed by cake-and-ice cream for dessert (of course). I got to spend some quality time alone with my mother, and we talked a lot about my dad. It was a special time.