Life with Grandpa: remembering a childhood of cardigans and coal furnaces, rocking horses and horseradish sauce.

Gee, our old La Salle ran great!
Coal Furnaces Division (cont.)

joegolfer writes: “The recent coal-furnace stories have been reminding me of my grandpa.


“After my paternal grandmother died, we moved in with Grandpa for a couple years. This was when I was 4 to 6 years old, a great age to be a kid in a small town in the ’50s. I have very few memories from before that, but I can remember many of the fun times on 4th Avenue: roller skating (with the key on a string around my neck); the treehouse that the big boys on the corner built; the older girl across the street who had hundreds of Little Golden Books, or so it seemed; the neighbors next door and their standard poodle, and the lady’s typewriter (she wrote children’s books, I later learned); the high-school kid who created a haunted house in his garage, and also built a working robot; the Avon lady down the block, who carted her wares around town in a baby buggy; and the lake at the end of the block, where we fished with bamboo poles, looked for minnows, and learned to skip rocks.

“Grandpa always wore a cardigan sweater (in my memory, anyway) and smoked a pipe. He grew a garden each summer, and made his own horseradish sauce. My eyes still sting when I remember how the entire house smelled of that stuff. It took me 50 years before I could bring myself to taste any, and now I love it.

“Grandpa had several different jobs over his lifetime, but the one that was most impressive to me as a kid was his career in the hardware business. This job spilled over to make for quite a workbench down in the cellar. I suspect we weren’t supposed to touch Grandpa’s tools, but I know we did. One summer, the big smelly coal furnace in the corner was taken out, and a modern replacement was installed. I also remember, one holiday season, discovering a handmade wooden dollhouse, a red barn and a rocking horse down there, which all miraculously appeared under the Christmas tree a week or so later. I don’t know for sure that Grandpa built them, but I like to think so. Sure wish I knew what happened to them!

“Grandpa’s attic was even more exciting than the cellar. The old-style floor-model radio was there, along with wooden skis, some old clothes and furniture odds and ends. Mostly I remember the steep, creaking stairs, the cloth-wrapped electrical wiring and bare bulbs, and the underside of the roof. No insulation or ceiling, of course.

“About 10 years later, I was hired to babysit for the family that then lived in Grandpa’s house. What a trip down memory lane. It’s quite amazing how much that house had shrunk!”

Play ball!

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “When it’s time to play baseball, who cares about uniforms?


“This is the Spirit Lake, Iowa, baseball team, circa mid-1880s. I especially like the derby hat my maternal grandfather, Joe Smith, is wearing. He is the mustachioed dude holding the bat on the far right in the front row.”

Our times

Al B of Hartland: “I wandered the aisles as if I had only a vague idea as to what I was doing. That wasn’t true, of course. I had no idea what I was doing.

“I closed my eyes as I walked the guilt aisle of the grocery store: chips on one side and candy on the other. Somehow, I’d managed to avoid being hit by a shopping cart. By the time I’d opened my eyes, I was checking out.

“The cashier asked if I’d found everything I’d been looking for. I said that I had, but not without considerable searching. Not everything was where I’d remembered it being. Grocery stores move things around. They rearrange the stores. Supermarkets regularly move items around a store in an attempt to make customers spend more time moving around the store. They place new products on shelves where top-selling items are usually found. This manipulates shoppers into buying new products.

“Stores aren’t the only ones that do this. In the summertime, the same thing happens to our roads. DOT rearranges things by calling them ‘Road Work Ahead’ or ‘Detour Ahead.’  Familiar roads become difficult to find. We try new roads and become lost in new and interesting ways.”

Now & Then


StreetRodder: “Subject: 700-pound doorbell.

“I acquired this 1857 steam-train railroad bell. It’ll be towed to parades, car shows, and railroad get-togethers this spring. My great-grandkids jump every time they make it ring, it’s so loud. I might have to make it into a doorbell.”

Life as we know it

Newport Reader: “My daughter reported that our grandson needed four teeth pulled, to prepare for braces. She also said that he went to the dentist, and he needs some fillings. She decided she better check to determine for sure which teeth needed to be extracted. Certainly one does not want a filling on a tooth that will be pulled! (Or to pay for it!)

“I told her it was kind of like last summer when my husband went in to buy new license tabs for his beloved convertible. After he applied them, he went to start the car and it was dead. After a service call at the site, he learned that the engine had seized. That meant it was the end and would be donated.

“After we digested that news, we recalled the money we had just spent on the tabs. That added insult to injury. Our elderly neighbor used to use that term, and occasionally I find a use for it!”

Today’s helpful hints

LeoJEOSP writes: “Subject: Life hacks.

“My Seiko wristwatch is powered by light. I have had it over three years. Last Monday, it stopped working. Direct sunlight would not revive it.

“I have an LED flashlight that for all purposes is a black light. I put my bright black light shining directly on the watch face. The watch started running and has not stopped running.”

Dragonslayer of Oakdale: “Subject: The missing sock caper.

Dragonslayer of Oakdale has a suggestion for Ramblin’ Rose‘s missing sock. My granddaughter has adopted a fashion statement that deliberately mismatches her socks — the more of a mismatch, the better. You have a great opportunity to join the world of youthful fashion. A good solution for all missing single socks.”

The self-incriminators?

Kathy S. of St. Paul: “A new decorating trend is for people to have bookshelves holding books — but all the books are shelved backwards, with the spines (and titles) inward, so all you see are the edges of the book pages and covers. Finding a particular book would be darn hard.

“Many people don’t read any books they have. It makes me wonder why they own them.

“I figure this way of shelving books is truth in advertising.”

The great comebacks

Tia2d: “Subject: Nothing.

“Working in the school library, I had the very satisfying experience of finding the right book for the right student.

“A group of third- or fourth-graders came in, and I saw one boy who was goofing off, so I asked what he was interested in reading. I got the very snarky reply of ‘Nothing!’

“‘Oh, I know just the book for you!’

“I went and found him a book on the number system, explaining the history and importance of zero. For at least a few moments, he had a very satisfying library experience as he went around bragging to his friends that he had a book about nothing.”

Our Birds, Ourselves (Ask Al B Division) (Update)

Elvis: “Subject: Turkey update.

Elvis noted the three turkeys who reappeared just before Easter at his folks’ place in the woods.

“A couple days after Easter, another tom showed up. He is in full display mode, with tail feathers fanned and shaking, big red wattles and a blue face. He follows the other three around all the time, every day. The two hens, and what must be a young tom, perhaps from their brood, simply ignore the new guy, but he doesn’t seem to care.”


Everyone’s a copy editor!

The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: STrib Creates New Word!

“A headline on the front page of the Sports section in Tuesday’s Minneapolis paper declares: ‘Two Twins aequally frustrated.’”

The fortunes of war

Transplanted (“just reminiscing in Florida”): “The story begins on April 1, 1944.

“The world is enmeshed in a vast conflict, unlike anything ever seen. It has gone on for years already. This terrible war had its roots in another, similar war, a generation before. One man, annoyed at the outcome, blamed a faith and a people for the result. He became a leader, then chancellor, and finally a dictator. Not many people can be called ‘pure evil.’ Yet, this definition fits.

“In a small rural town in Minnesota, a young girl, not even out of her teens, not an adult by the standards of the era, sits, anxious. Her beau is involved in the midst of this vast conflict, although on the home front. He could be shipped out at any time. Injury or worse is still possible.

“Suddenly, there is a knock on the door with an accompanying voice calling ‘TELEGRAM!’ Her anxiety level skyrockets. Telegrams, during time of war, can mean only one thing: bad news.

“She takes the telegram with trembling hands, afraid to look. Is he being shipped out? Is this a ‘Dear Jane’ telegram? Has he been injured — or worse, killed? She turns it over and over in her hands, until she realizes she must look, or she will never know.

“She reads it, once, twice, three times. Then she thinks: ‘Is this a joke?’ After all, it is April 1st, the day of fools. She tries to find proof — an ‘APRIL FOOL’ somewhere on the telegram.

“She finds none.

“From what I am told, the telegram read: ‘I’m coming home for a while. Let’s get married before I need to return to base.’

“The telegram, received on the 1st, had been sent on the 31st of March.

“It wasn’t until he appeared, in full uniform, that she realized it was no joke.

“That girl was named Dorothy. The man was named Edwin. They were married seven days later, on April 8th, 1944.

“These people were my parents.

“Wartime does not often carry blessings. But sometimes, it does.”


Fellow travelers
Photography Division

Mounds View Swede: “Fifth five Svenska Blommor.

“While we are having another April snowfall that seems to go on and on and on, I took a break to continue revisiting the flower pictures I took in 2007.

“I don’t know what most of these are called. This first one was at a cousin’s lake home. They were doing a good job of growing a variety of flowers . . .





“. . . which included a nice pink rose.


“These petals are really textured! Almost everywhere we went, properties were well tended unless abandoned. I keep the outside of our house the same way, but I have a hard time doing it inside. Too much paper, too many books. It’s hard to stop, but I am working on a strategy to start giving books away or taking them to a used-book seller. These photos residing on computers don’t take up much space at all in spite of the many thousands there. When I look out the window and back at these flowers, the flowers seem to provide a sense of relief and make me want to see them again.”

The vision thing (responsorial)


Hugo Woman: “On Saturday, April 7, the wonderful photo sent in by KH of White Bear Lake (‘Subject: April Sunrise’) reminds me of the ‘come to the light’ phrase often used by writers when describing near-death experiences. The blazing yellow light in the photo is just in front of the footsteps we see in the snow, making it look like the footsteps ‘disappear’ into the light.”

One man’s meat

Donald: “Easy for you to say.

“From ‘THEY SAID IT’ in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated: ‘”IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. IT’S JUST DEAD.” Toronto manager John Gibbons, on third baseman Josh Donaldson’s right arm. After struggling to throw to first base on Opening Day, Donaldson was relegated to DH duties, citing a “dead arm.”‘”

Funny business

Gma Tom: “I was aware that the author of ‘For Better or For Worse’ hailed from the country to our north and that Fred Basset’s creator was a Brit, but I was not aware that ‘The Buckets’ comic strip also has origins from across the pond. His use of the word ‘Hoovermas’ (akin to spring cleaning, I presume) makes me suspicious. The only time I have heard the brand name used as a verb was at least a dozen years ago, watching a British detective series. The detective was not convinced that the victim committed suicide, as she had just ‘Hoovered’ the rug. Who ‘Hoovers’ their carpet just before committing suicide?”

Know (and educate) thyself!

Tim Torkildson reports: “I didn’t know what an autodidact was until I looked it up.”

Band Name of the Day: About Nothing

Website of the Day, from The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Gram With a Thousand Rules (responsorial).

“I remember submitting this years ago, and you were concerned with copyright infringement. Now with ‘Website of the Day,’ perhaps it can be featured. It is a mirror of my adolescence winters in a two-story, ‘Polish brick,’ coal-fired home in Windom, Minnesota:”


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