Me and my big mouth…

Have you ever had one of those seemingly innocent conversations that, in hindsight,  ends up costing thousands?  If you have…welcome to my world.

Literally a few months ago Connie and I were sitting in our living room when I mentioned that it’d be nice to replace the carpeting in our living & dining room.  It was at least fifteen years old, had survived three daughters running across it, had absorbed multiple spills, had obtained a black stain about the size of a quarter that I think was asphalt and was an easy target for one rogue cat that had occasional bouts of the stomach flu…spitting up juicy hairballs.  It started its career as a pristine, beige in  color, medium pile carpet.  It ended its life as a well-worn speckled beige-like floor covering.  What began as a “thought” took on a life of its own.  Not only are we getting new carpeting in the living and dining room but also new flooring in our entryway, half-bath, kitchen, up stairs bathroom and carpeting up the stairwell and upstairs hallway.  Its true.  Most of the flooring in our home on the main and second level were from the 1990’s and (wait for it….) 1980’s.  While showing its age, fashion-wise, it was holding up fairly well considering all of the traffic that our and the previous families had put on them.  No sooner had we brought up the idea of getting bids on the flooring when Connie brought up the fact that our furniture in the living room was past its prime….so we went furniture shopping as well.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Between trying to match fabric samples verses carpet samples my right-brained analytical wife went into overdrive.  A new couch, chair, end-tables, coffee table and entertainment center are inbound to the Palatial Estates.  I honestly just lost interest and turned the decisions over to her.  Here’s another little deal….you can’t have new furniture and carpeting without….wait for it….a new paint job in the living and dining rooms.

So…the floor guys are here now.  They’re not being quiet.  There were around three or four layers of older vinyl flooring beneath the one that we thought was way past due.  They’re pounding the life out of our kitchen floor.  Literally…hammering away on it like their very lives depend on hammering away.  Stripping, sanding and hammering.  Our refrigerator and stove are in our dining room…as is the breakfast bar and kitchen table.  Its all a mess.  A big, noisy mess…so be careful of what you say. 

Our living room…full of kitchen stuff while Connie paints the living and dining rooms a different…more relaxing shade of….tan? Beige? I don’t know.  She’s hosting a party here in four days.  She’s just a little stressed out.

Onto another topic (stay with me now…its been two full months since I’ve blogged so deal with it).  I was removing the leaves from our ancient oak kitchen table when I had one of those “jeez…just think if this table could talk” moments.  It all started back in 1988 when Connie and I were newlyweds.  A co-worker had this old table that she wanted $100 for.  She had bought it from a farmer then stripped the paint off.  Stained and varnished it looked pretty good to us… being poor,  and needing a table we jumped at the chance and our seller threw in four chairs from a former pizza place.  What a deal!!  Our new table was built to last, hefty and if you accidently grazed your sock covered foot on one of its thick oak legs then you probably broke a toe as the table always held its ground like a fortress of heavy oak against that puny little toe.

The table is over a hundred years old.  Built to last.  Its seen multiple moves from rental house to apartment to first home to this home.  It was with us before we had kids…but not before nephews acting silly with Grandpa.

Connie with our nephews and Dad. Do you like our fashion sense? All that really mattered was family. We didn’t have much…but we had each other.  1989

Its seen our family go from two, to three, to four and eventually grow to five.  Feeding a young one in a highchair as we had supper.  Wiping up spilled milk as it ran between the leaves and onto the floor.  Thousands of meals.  Plenty of talk…lots of laughter and maybe a few lessons learned along the way.

Dad with Karalee and Jordan…drawing pictures for each other.

Many a birthday parties and holiday meals were shared upon this table.

Later on as we gained a dining room it became a “kids table” during the holidays.

Did I mention that it was built to last? I don’t think very many tables these days are made like this one. Its oak…solid…no particle board.

The holidays were probably your most used times…holding court as others mixed up ingredients and frosting.

If you ever want to get a message to me….leave a note on the kitchen table. I’ll get it there.

Once the kitchen flooring is done the table will return, minus any leaves.  We simply don’t need that large of a table.  In its heyday it held fifteen of us one Thanksgiving, though now it’ll just be the two of us…again.  Its kind of weird how things in life circle back around like that.  Weird and yet reassuring.  I hope it finds another good family after we’re done with it in a few years.

Thanks for coming along.

God Bless you,




Do you ever…you know…get deja vu…?

Have you ever had one of those moments when everything around you is familiar?  The sounds?  The sights?  The people?  The smells…even though its a completely new to you experience?  How does that happen?  It seems like it happens to me several times a year.  Earlier this summer I was at a basketball clinic attending a meeting between my games.  I sat in the back of the room, probably twenty feet away from the speakers, with one of my officiating partners directly in front of me.  An odd feeling came over me and I started looking around the room because I had a feeling that I’d been in that room before listening to the same things being said with the same people being present and so forth.  I shrugged it off since I’ve attended several of these kinds of clinics before and its not like I knew what the speaker was going to say next so I sat there listening.  The speaker was making a point about “even if you’re a really good official you can’t always get the best games….sometimes you’ll get Clarksville.”  A ripple of laughter went through the room as that particular school had struggled in basketball recently.  I leaned forward and tapped my friend in front of me and whispered “hey…don’t laugh.  I HAD Clarksville at Mesquaki this past season.” The speaker followed up with this “…sometimes you get a Mesquaki Clarksville game.”  Holy cow…that’s the game that I had back in January six months ago.  Was this just coincidence?  Was it fate?  How does this kind of stuff happen?  Iowa doesn’t lack for small schools that struggle in sports (or large schools for that matter) and for the speaker to have used those two schools in particular was really odd for me since they’re not even close to each other (75 miles separate them), they’re not rivals and with the aforementioned feeling of familiarity with the situation left me shaking my head and thinking of how in the past this has happened to me before in other situations.

Probably one of the most concrete “familiar feelings” that I’ve had is the following.  It was the fall of 1987.  As a family we had gathered together and were sorting out a few of our Grandma Wagner’s items.  She had passed away and these were what my Mom had for us, her three sons, to go through and pick out what they wanted from Grandma’s possessions.  Since I was single at the time I let my brothers and their wives choose the china and nicer items.  I was living in a single wide trailer and twenty-one years old….not exactly the stuff “The Bachelor” is made of.  What I choose was an souvenir ashtray.  It’s small for an ashtray and honestly….kind of gaudy….but then again…so am I.  I didn’t read the inscription on the inside of the ashtray, I just took it back to my place in Mason City and put it on a shelf.  End of story…right?  Wrong.  Three months later I started dating a young lady who, after just thirteen days, became my fiancée. Five months later she became my wife.  She’s from Estherville Iowa, a small town in northwest Iowa.  I’d never been there before meeting her.  In the weeks that led up to our marriage she was going through my stuff and came across the ashtray that I’d gotten from my grandmothers estate.  She asked me about it and I told her the story of how I came to it.  She asked “have you read the inscription?”  I told her that I had but had forgotten it.  The inscription reads “Souvenir of Estherville Iowa”.  It didn’t dawn on me until recently that maybe this wasn’t such a random thing.  For instance:

  • How does someone five and a half hours away from Estherville even arrive in Estherville when they live in Illinois?  What were they doing in northwest Iowa…there’s no relatives up there?
  • How does a small town like Estherville even have souvenirs back in the 1950-60’s?  It’s not like it was a tourist destination.
  • How does someone from Joy Illinois even think to buy a souvenir from Estherville?  It’s not exactly the crown jewel of Iowa.
  • How does a little porcelain ashtray survive all of the moves from Estherville to Joy Illinois to Aledo Illinois to Mason City Iowa,  in the house of a smoker and doesn’t even have a chip or burn on it?

It just seems like I was meant to have this gift, like it was purchased for me specifically even though I wasn’t even born yet and even when I did possess it that it’s message wasn’t meant to be understood until I was old enough to, kind of, understand it.  Its randomness is too specific for me to ignore.  I don’t get it.  Whether you believe that God’s hand is guiding us along the way and that if we slow down enough, look and listen that we’ll see Him at work, or guardian angels or loved ones that have gone on ahead of us…or a combination of things way above our own human conscientious…what is it and what does it mean?

I still have that ashtray.

Souvenir of Estherville Iowa

Souvenir of Estherville Iowa

I married that bride 27 years ago on August 6th 1988 in Estherville Iowa.

Two goofy kids on a hot, humid and utterly fantastic day.

Two goofy kids on a hot, humid and utterly fantastic day.

I still love that bride of mine.


Still goofy after 27 years....and I wouldn't want her any other way.

Still goofy after 27 years….and I wouldn’t want her any other way.

Take care my friends.  May God bless you and keep you in His way.


Heirlooms of the heart

As I wrote in my last blog “A misspent youth” my brothers and I had the better part of a year to help our parents clear out many of the belongings that they’d stored up over the previous forty odd years on their farm.  Not being an “heirloom kind of guy” I didn’t really cherish this task.  I wondered to myself “why” I didn’t want some pieces of Mom and Dad’s estate, while other pieces held great interest and sentimental value. 

Mom and Dad bought an old farm-house on a small acreage in 1968 for themselves and their young three sons.  It had no indoor toilet, no furnace and no “curb appeal“.  I was only two at the time so I don’t remember much of this, but thank God they owned a super eight movie camera and recorded much of these early “farm house times.”  The house had previously been a stage-coach stop as well, with small rooms for overnight travelers.  Needless to say, I grew up around antiques….lot’s of them...maybe that’s why I don’t really have a fond spot in my heart for them.  Long story short, I found myself picking and choosing kind of weird things from the estate that I wanted and my brothers consented.


These two bottles were found inside one of the walls of my childhood home. They’re old beer bottles from a brewer in Davenport IA. The axe or hammer heads were found somewhere near where my Mom grew up. To me…they’re all fascinating.

I wanted stuff that I spent a lot of time with and since I spent a lot of time outside as a kid I had some sort of weird emotional attachment to unconventional antiques.  I found myself wanting stuff from their garage, the barn, the hog farrowing house and other buildings.  I brought home pick-up truck load after pick-up truck load of tools, old farm supply stuff, old sports equipment, old toys and the like.  As long as I kept it out of our house, my wife was fine with it.

Old fruit crates make good shadow boxes for the miscellaneous things that I wanted from the farm.

At one time I had over three hundred different beer cans in my collection. Grain Belt, Hamm’s, Falstaff, Pabst Blue Ribbon…all the classics. This is all that remains. (sounds of quiet crying)

At the twelve o’clock position and moving clockwise. “The Ripley’s” sign went wherever my grandparents went with their RV trailer; fish basket, Dad’s old racing helmet; “church keys”, old pop bottles; Dad’s old tackle box; three steel telescoping kids fishing poles for us boys.

An old steel minnow bucket holds a photo of a trip that Mom, Dad and I took to Minnesota. That’s Lake Itasca in the background.

Old petroleum and auto stuff. Need a brand new headlight for a 1979 Ford Granada? I got one (left side, behind the bottle of Turtle Wax)

Who doesn’t need five oil cans, three never been used headlights, a fan belt and some assorted toy gas trucks?

My work bench, old license plates and some “old” reproduction signs. Can you tell me which one is the real old sign?

“My” trusty Daisy lever-action BB gun. Shared between three brothers, it kept the Nazi’s and other Axis powers from eastern Iowa in the 1970’s.

Does an old Prince Albert tobacco tin and Durant Polka Fest button from 1976 hold any value? Only to me. Grandpa Ripley smoked Prince Albert in his pipe and my brother was always traveling over to Durant to woo Muscatine Counties prettiest girls. The details of him ever learning to polka are sketchy at best.

So there you have it…a brief view of what I like to reminisce with.  I see it every morning when I back my truck out of the garage and see it every time I pull in, in the evening.  It’s a touchstone, mostly ignored, but at times….I’ll just walk along the inside of the garage and these pieces take me back to my childhood, and a terrific one at that.

What things “take you back” to your childhood?