How he learned to be an atheist up at the Red Owl store in New Brighton . . . and then committed the perfect crime!

Gee, our old La Salle ran great!

Tim Torkildson remembers: “When I was little, my mother had to take my sisters and me shopping with her, because she didn’t trust babysitters.

 

 

“She had good reason not to. She left us with the Meyerses, two doors down, one sunny day, to attend to some personal chores, and when she got back, she found that I had persuaded my sister Sue Ellen to put a half-dozen M&M’s up her nose — just out of scientific curiosity. It was great fun watching the doctor extract them with a long pair of tweezers. Very educational, too.

“Another time, Mom left us with her sister, Aunt Ruby, at her palatial house out in the posh suburb of Edina. I was put on Aunt Ruby’s bed for a nap, I recall, and as soon as the door was shut behind me, I slithered off the sateen duvet and headed for her dressing table. Aunt Ruby had a slew of tiny bottles on her dressing table, full of expensive perfume. Once again in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I gathered up as many as I could in my grubby little arms and took them to the toilet, where I opened them, poured them in, and flushed them away. I was hoping for an explosion or something else spectacular, but the results were disappointing — just an overpowering floral essence that gave me a headache. Of course, there were some spectacular fireworks once my work had been found out. I couldn’t sit down for a week.

“And so each Tuesday afternoon, after ingesting a baloney sandwich and drinking a glass of milk for lunch, we all hopped in Dad’s car for the trip out to New Brighton and the Red Owl supermarket.

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“My mother did not drive, and normally my dad would rather cut off his right arm than take her anywhere — she was an accomplished back-seat driver, whose melodramatic gasps and groans at near-misses and other navigating follies on my dad’s part should have garnered her a Golden Globe award every year. But since we would all starve, including him, if she didn’t get to the supermarket each week, he made an exception.

“Normally a shy and retiring child, who stuck to my mother like a limpet when away from home, I could never be kept within the confines of the grocery cart once we entered the portals of the Red Owl — because right next to the supermarket entrance stood a dozen vending machines that offered more mysterious and exotic merchandise than a Moroccan bazaar. A penny got me a red or green or blue or yellow gumball, which somehow managed to stay so much sweeter so much longer than any kind of flaccid chicle I could get at the candy counter at the corner store. And for a dime — why, for a dime I had access to a veritable Golconda. But I had to take my chances on the outcome. Sometimes a dime produced a tiny plastic egg that held a rubber skeleton; sometimes, a roll of lurid press-on tattoos; other times, a plastic siren ring; or perhaps even a set of stiff, evil-smelling vampire teeth. And when Lady Luck was really smiling on me, out would pop a magnificent, though artificial, rabbit’s foot, dyed purple. Then again, there was always the possibility of getting stuck with a crummy charm bracelet or a ridiculous hair scrunchy. Girl’s stuff — phooey!

“It was easy to get a penny out of Mom. No problem. She gave out pennies like a drunken sailor. But a dime — well, now, that was a horse of a different color. A very difficult color, cold and forbidding. To pry a dime out of her coin purse took cunning and exact timing. I had to be able to judge to a nicety how much nasal wheedling to use to force her to give up a dime: too little whining, and she would close up like a clam; too much, and I risked a box on the ears. For some reason my dumb ol’ sisters could get a dime from her with no effort whatsoever. They would simper and make petulant little moues with their mouths — and out would come two shiny dimes, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. But I had to work for my dime, and there was never any promise that I would get one, even when my sisters got theirs. This, I think, is why I became an atheist at the age of 10.

“Like all good hausfraus, my mother had a shopping list that she stuck to religiously. If it wasn’t on the list, it didn’t exist — no matter what kind of spectacular deal was being offered. Always on the alert for the Main Chance, I would breathlessly point out to her (once I learned to read) that Red Owl was offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal on a carton of Twinkies — Twinkies, for the cat’s sake! She would blithely ignore my heart-rending pleas, just because Twinkies were not on her stinking list! The only exception was canned tuna. Whenever THAT went on sale, she would stock up on it like there was no tomorrow.

“‘It’s so versatile!’ she would say in a sing-song voice to our grim, disgusted faces.

“I remember the huge, clanking, manual coffee grinder, fire-engine red, where Mom would pour in a bag of coffee beans and turn the handle on the huge wheel. I itched to throw in some other items to grind up, to see what the result would be — such as a can of corn or some ripe bananas. Luckily, that was one scientific experiment I was never able to perform.

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“The Red Owl supermarket gave out S&H Green Stamps — a line of trading stamps, which, when stuck into enough books, could be redeemed for merchandise such as toasters, clocks, cutlery, and even tacky furniture. While Mom would dicker with the cashier on how many Green Stamps she was getting, I would be left to struggle alone with the awful temptation of the Zagnut bars, which were displayed on a wire shelf that was exactly at eye level with a 6-year-old boy. Mom made all of our sweets, from cookies to cakes to candied apples — and they were all supremely delicious — so she was death on store-bought candy bars. They rotted your teeth in an instant and undoubtedly contained a goodly portion of rat droppings. But nothing ever looked so tempting to a bored and hungry 6-year-old boy as those Zagnut bars in their red wrapping.

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“One desperate Tuesday, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I made a grab for a Zagnut, just as my rat fink of a sister Sue Ellen turned her baby blues on me. Heedless of the danger, I ripped open the candy bar and took a wolfish bite of nearly half of it. Sue Ellen began to yowl like a prison whistle, and, for once in my luckless existence, I had an inspiration. I thrust the rest of the Zagnut into the tiny hands of my baby sister Linda, who immediately began gnawing on the goodie with fiendish glee. So when Mom turned around to discover the source of the tumult, she beheld baby Linda innocently destroying the evidence of my misdeed.

“‘Oh!’ she cried in embarrassment. ‘I’m so sorry. My baby has got ahold of one of your candy bars. I’ll pay for it right now.’

“Sue Ellen could only goggle in impotent rage. I had committed the perfect crime, with Linda as my patsy. I tried the same thing again a few weeks later, but Sue Ellen the bloodhound was now wise to my methods. Instead of screaming her head off, she silently pulled on mom’s dress until she turned around to see me smugly cramming a Zagnut into my mouth. Mom once again apologized to the cashier, paid for the candy bar, and then escorted me to my bedroom back home, where I endured solitary confinement for a period somewhat longer-seeming than the entire Pleistocene Era. Plus, the dime she had paid for the Zagnut was deducted from my already-skimpy allowance. But I certainly learned my lesson: Crime doesn’t pay (when you have sisters).”

Fellow travelers
Or: Our gardens, our squirrels, our rabbits, ourselves

The Gram With a Thousand Rules writes: “When I planted my 12 dozen tulip bulbs, I imagined my gardens looking somewhat like what Great Grandma Paula saw at Thanksgiving Point in Utah.

“This is what I have, thanks to the fat little squirrels and rabbits who feasted on the rest of the bulbs.

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“I am thankful that they overlooked a few for me to enjoy.”

Our birds, our plants, ourselves

Sharon of Roseville: “So this morning when I got up, I looked out the window in the loft to check on my newly planted Korean Maple. It looked just perfect.

“I loved it.

“Then I noticed a robin landing in my English Ivy under the garage eaves. The robin had a beak full of nesting material.

“I took a deep breath as my mind toggled back and forth: joy! frustration! joy! frustration! joy! frustration!

“I always hope for nesting birds in my courtyard. And a robin! But not in the English Ivy. They were perfectly welcome to set up house in the Fuchsia that I purchased from Aldi this year for $5.99, but not the English Ivy. I babied the ivy all winter long as it hung in the kitchen window. I was so proud of how well it did.

“OK, now what? Water the ivy, and robins be damned? Do I stop watering the ivy and let it die? Do I sneak out and water the ivy carefully — and risk hurting the baby robins?

“I already know that the robins will prevail. I will carefully attempt watering and snip some clippings and start some new plants. Who knows? Maybe the summer will end with a healthy batch of birds, an older but wiser English Ivy, and newly rooted ivy for another plant to hang in my kitchen window.”

Our boats, our whirlygigs, ourselves

The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “A few years ago, I posted on Facebook this video of the whirligig I made of my favorite boat.

“Now Social Media reminds me that The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin, has been sans dory for quite a while.

Minnie Swann has been gone for three years now and is catching prawns and navigating the seas of the San Juan Islands off Bellingham, Washington. I think of her as you would a disappearing pet dog as a child, comforting yourself by imagining it on a beautiful farm (or of course doggy heaven) chasing rabbits through a grassy meadow.”

Out of the mouths of babes

Peggy T of Osceola, Wisconsin: “Subject: miscreant.

“I had to chuckle when reading Sunday’s Bulletin Board at the use of the word miscreant. Our great-grandson, who was in kindergarten at the time, called his mother a miscreant. She was not aware of the meaning of the word, so she had to look it up in the dictionary. He had used the word in the right context, so she was impressed.”

Joy of Juxtaposition

Semi-Legend writes: “JofJ Comics Crossword Cheese Corollary.

“The New York Times Crossword in the Pioneer Press on Wednesday, May 9, was by Weird Al Yankovic and Eric Berlin, though you’d never know it in the PiPress, cuz they dropped that explanation, along with the creators’ names. (They’d already stopped providing the original run date and the syndication date, for us sticklers.)

“The theme was cheesy movie titles, like AFEWGOUDAMEN and FETAATTRACTION.

“At the bottom of the page, the single-panel ‘Brevity’ had this:

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“The next day, in the Star Tribune, the normally single-panel ‘Argyle Sweater’ became six frames, five of them with ‘More Classic Cheese Shows from Yesteryear,’ including ‘The Roquefort Files’ and ‘Hill Street Bleu.’

“Enough to make one a cheese-eating surrender monkey.”

Our pets, ourselves

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Cheesehead By Proxy, “back in Northern Minnesota”: “I was perusing pictures on my phone last night, and found this one that made us chuckle audibly. Our grandson is now about to have his third birthday, so it was taken awhile back.

“The cat’s expression needs no man-made caption!”

The Permanent Family Record
Including: The great comebacks

DebK of Rosemount: “Last week, Taxman made egg deliveries in the vicinity of our favorite Big Box Retailer. He took advantage of proximity to replenish our supply of the grape jelly favored by our oriole friends, who are visiting St. Isidore Farm in impressive numbers this year. As he swung the case of Welch’s finest (12 30-ounce jars) onto the counter, the clerk commented to my (admittedly still handsome and remarkably fit) 74-year-old husband: ‘You must have a lot of kids!’

“Taxman has taken immoderate pleasure in this incident and made it a point to share it with one of our grown children, whose rejoinder drove home a point that her dad wasn’t intending to make: ‘Wow! Welch’s, huh? We always had to eat generic.'”

Band Name of the Day: The Surrender Monkeys

Website of the Day: The Grocery List Sketched by Michelangelo

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