THE GRAM WITH A THOUSAND RULES: “The Egg and I, and other tasty dishes on the menu.
“My mother was perfect in almost every way, just as long as you weren’t expecting gourmet meals at her table. Actually, if you were expecting a tad of salt or pepper, you would be disappointed.
“It certainly didn’t matter to any of us, because we had never had our taste buds developed to know what we were missing until we entered the wide world and discovered restaurants. I could write a lot about the fond memories I have of the many fine old dining establishments in Minneapolis, but this is about the two I frequented on a typical day at work.
“Once I discovered just how tasty food could be, I couldn’t get enough. My oldest sister had gone through the same enlightenment at my age, so she had me step on the scale every time I came to her house. I bounced around the 108-110 weight range, and if she saw that I had gained to, say, 112 pounds, she warned me it was time to give up one of my breakfasts for a week or so. That always took care of it.
“Mother fixed me a cup of cocoa and a slice of buttered toast before I caught the Greyhound bus for my 30-minute ride to work. I arrived in downtown Minneapolis still hungry — and with 15 minutes to spare, I had just enough time to run next door to the coffee shop, the Land of Lakes Coney Island, for a quick second breakfast. The owner was a nice, fatherly old gentleman, and after several days of watching me wolf down a piece of toast while gulping my coffee, he urged me to try one of his fried eggs. (I had never eaten a fried egg. Mom made only scrambled eggs: little round, spongy morsels similar to chewing a gum eraser.) I kept turning him down until the day he brought a beautiful picture-perfect fried egg to my booth, set the plate down and said: ‘This one is on me. After you eat it, I guarantee you will like fried eggs.’ Boy, was he right.
“I had my third breakfast on my morning break, about 10 o’clock, at the Gopher Café, on the corner diagonally across from our radio station. I was really hungry by then, so I often ordered a slice of apple pie with melted cheese on top to hold me off until lunch. The first week I worked at the radio station, I had simply ordered the pie with a slice of cheese on the side, but one happy day my favorite waitress winked at me and said: ‘Try it this way. I put it under the broiler and melted the cheese. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay for it.’ Did I like it? Silly question.
“My lunch hour wasn’t until 1 o’clock, and the Gopher Café had my favorite item on their menu: a steak sandwich with all the trimmings, for $1.25. One time when my brother-in-law was on a break from his announcing duties, he and I went out to lunch at the same time; he ordered the chicken basket, and I ordered my usual. I finished my steak sandwich long before he was half through, and when he saw me greedily salivating at his lunch, he rather sarcastically said: ‘Well, why don’t you order one for yourself?’ I did. The waitress brought the chicken in a take-out box, and to her surprise I opened it and dug right in. I was finished before he was through with his lunch. My dear brother-in-law, the guy who had been my adored relative since I was 8 years old, gave me a withering look and said through clenched teeth: ‘This is the last time I will ever eat with you in a public place.’
“I took my midafternoon break about 3 or 3:30, and my standard order was for an egg-salad sandwich and another piece of apple pie with cheese. I needed to fortify myself because I never knew what Mom had planned for supper. During hot summer days, Mom often just sliced up some tomatoes and served them with watermelon and potato chips, so it was a good idea to not come home with an empty stomach. One afternoon, a couple of guys from our sales staff were in the Gopher with a group of car salesmen from down the street, and when I walked in, my co-workers politely beckoned me over to their table to introduce me, asking them: ‘Have you ever met our new Copy Writer?’ The baboons laughed uproariously and said: ‘Do you mean Miss Digestive Tract of 1952? No, not officially.’”
JOHN IN HIGHLAND: “Subject: Last of the Old Elms on Beechwood.
“When we moved into our home on Beechwood Avenue 40 years ago, the street was lined with alternating large elm and ash trees. The elms were threatened by the Dutch elm bark beetle and were slowly dying. Today there is only one left on our block. The disease had first appeared along Grand Avenue in the 1960s. We were lucky in that the disease progressed relatively slowly, unlike in cities such as Rockford, Illinois, where all of the elms were gone within a few years. The slower spread here allowed gradual replacement of the elms with other types of trees, principally ashes.
“Unfortunately, the ash trees are now threatened by another invasive insect, the emerald ash borer. All of the ash trees on our block have been marked for removal, save for a few that have been treated. Credit must be given to the Forestry Department, which has already started working on the enormous task of taking down and replacing all of the ash trees in the city.
“On a positive note: Ash trees are being replaced with a variety of other trees, including types of maples and oaks, hackberries, Kentucky coffee trees, honey locusts, and even disease-resistant elm trees. All of us can help in maintaining our ‘urban forest.’ If you are lucky enough to receive a new tree on your boulevard, keep it watered during warm weather.”
The Happy Medium: “Subject: Scandinavian Lutherans.
“After I retired, I became a delegate to our yearly ELCA synod meetings in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. This one time, our pastor drove John, Janet and me to the conference. Janet and I sat in the back and reminisced about our Sunday School days, confirmation and our parents.
“Long story short: Janet said that her father was not demonstrative about his feelings. He never hugged, for instance. She told of the day her father’s siblings gathered for a family reunion. They hadn’t seen each other for several years. She remembers that when they did gather for this special occasion, they shook hands. I told her that Dad always shook hands with his brother, sisters and in-laws when they met.
“I shared this little vignette with a friend of mine, to which she quickly replied: ‘Of course they shook hands. They were glad to see one another.’
“You can’t be a Scandinavian Lutheran for nothing.”
From Eos: “It’s a pain in the royal patoot,
“the state of my birthday suit.
“It’s wrinkled and dotted
“and saggy and spotted,
“and it certainly isn’t cute.
“But profound lessons I’ve learned —
“every spot, every wrinkle was earned.
“It still fits on my frame,
“and my heart’s still the same,
“so, I won’t let myself be concerned.”
KEN DEAKMAN: “Subject: Possible MnHealth COVID Lottery Responses.
“Signed up on the website for my chance to win a vaccine, but wasn’t one of the select few. MnHealth sent me a three-paragraph explanation. Condensed version: My name didn’t come up — good luck next time. They could save virtual ink with a short haiku:
“Nope! No shot for you.
“Shots and life are so random
“Don’t you think? Stay well.
“Or a limerick:
“You’d think that with time potentially
“Your chances would grow exponentially
“We’re excited to say
“We pulled more names today!
ZOO LOU of St. Paul: “Subject: On High Alert.
“I was watching a remarkable wildlife show recently on the National Geographic channel that featured the trials and travails of a pride of lions. While these noble creatures were on the hunt one day, there were some brief close-ups of greater kudu antelopes, who were on high alert after sensing the presence of the big cats. One of those images looked very much like a picture I took years ago of one of our kudus, a female named Jenny, when I was a keeper at Como Zoo. Illuminated by the soft, late-afternoon sunlight, this beautiful portrait of Jenny was absolutely stunning.
“I also have vivid memories of another time I saw greater kudus on high alert, and it wasn’t because of the presence of predators. It was on May 13, 1994, the day Casey the gorilla escaped from his outdoor exhibit at Como Zoo. One of the first things he did was attempt to go over the fence into the kudu yard, which had these skittish antelopes frozen with fear. Fortunately, Casey backed away. If he had gone into the yard, it could have been a disaster, with the kudus being seriously injured or killed trying to elude the gorilla in their midst.
“After this nervous moment, Casey, to the immense relief of the kudus (and myself and the rest of the staff), ambled over to the concession stand, where he sat on a table as if he were ready to order lunch. But he never did get any service, perhaps because they wouldn’t take an IOU, even though Casey was one of the zoo’s star attractions.
“Casey eventually returned to the gorilla exhibit on his own, without incident. It’s much nicer to remember that amusing scenario at the concession stand, rather than all of the bad things that could have happened, especially to the kudus.”
AL B of Hartland writes: (1) Subject: The cafe chronicles.
“‘Don’t put your elbows on the table’ is something every mother learned to say in mom school. It wasn’t polite, and it showed us to be the Neanderthals we were. I recall being a young man who stopped at a greasy spoon. I entered smirk first. The cafe offered good food and had both flies and sticky flypaper ribbons. I sat down, ordered the breakfast special and put my elbows on the counter. I was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt. It wasn’t the best shirt, but it was my good shirt. I figured the ‘Don’t put your elbows on the table’ rule didn’t apply to counters. I was wrong. My elbows became stuck to that sweet epoxy made from escaped maple syrup.”
(2) “Subject: Porky Pig was no weathervane.
“I wonder what happened to our old weathervane? We had several, but the one I remember most clearly involved the likeness of a hog and was perched on a high point of the barn. A free-spinning directional pointer was wider on the back end of the arrow and narrower toward the arrow’s head, allowing it to point into the wind. A change in the wind meant a change in the weather. South winds brought warm temperatures, north winds ushered in the cold, and wind changes from west to east brought storms. In the ninth century A.D., the pope decreed that the rooster be used as a weathervane on church domes or steeples. We used a pig because it was good with directions.”
(3) “It was one above zero. Crows gathered in the woods near my window. It was a murder in the first degree.”
A pre-Lenten note from MS. SARCASTIC’S MOM of Mendota Heights: “Subject: Some days when you get out of bed, you’re just asking for it.
“As I was catching up on Sunday’s Bulletin Board, Ms. Sarcastic’s Dad asked me if this Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. After I answered in the affirmative, he asked if I could send a story in to Bulletin Board, and he even supplied the subject line.
“The story was set nearly four decades ago, when our house had a real fireplace, and he thought I might remember it (yeah, right). He had decided to clean the ashes out of the fireplace, and I told him to be careful because I had just cleaned that room (well, that does sound like me). He told me that he would use the Electrolux vacuum, and as he worked, he noticed a huge cloud of ashes behind him and discovered that the vacuum bag had a nail puncture hole.
“And, of course, this happened on Ash Wednesday.”
Band Name of the Day: The Royal Patoots
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