Al Batt: Stay calm in a small town

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Echoes from the Loafers’ Club Meeting 

You live in a really small town. 

I know that.   

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What do you do for excitement?  

We try not to get excited.

Driving by Bruce’s drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Deep thoughts occur as I drive past his drive. I tried to avoid potholes deep enough to demand statehood. The weather couldn’t make up its mind. Many people, not all of them wearing aluminum foil hats, believe it’s bad luck to put winter coats away in April as it brings another storm of the century. 

I’d polished my shoes by rubbing the soft inside of a banana peel over them. We had assigned pews. My wife and I sat behind an above-average bachelor farmer. He wore hearing aids that whistled. When they whistled, he was the only one in the church who couldn’t hear them whistling. One Sunday, it occurred to me that the devices whistled only when the pastor’s sermon had run long. 

My mother worked for a grocery store in Algona, Iowa. She told this story. A little boy and his father visited the grocery store. As the two prepared to leave, the owner of the store offered the good customers candy from a large jar. “Get a handful of candy,” the merchant said to the boy. The boy stood there, looking up at his father. The owner repeated himself, “Son, take a handful of candy; it’s free.” Again, the boy didn’t move, continuing to look up at his father’s face. Finally, the father reached into the candy jar and grabbed a handful of candy and gave it to his son. As they walked home, the father asked his son why he hadn’t taken a handful of the free candy. The boy, with a big grin on his face, replied, “Because I know your hand is much bigger than mine.” 

I worked at Birds Eye. I wore an impressive hardhat and pretended to know what I was doing. A fellow I shared a lunch table with brought pickled peppers his wife had put in a jar for his culinary pleasure. We watched a woman refuse to eat the crusts of her sandwich, calling them bread bones. He twisted off the lid of the jar, releasing a little smoke, and offered me a pepper. I didn’t want one because I’d grown up in a household where ketchup was a hot sauce and the jar appeared to be melting from the heat of the peppers, but he was a good guy and I didn’t want to offend him or his wife. I’ve forgotten what kind of pepper it was, but eating it was like shooting my father’s shotgun when I was the same size as the shotgun. It had a kick. Once I figured out it hadn’t killed me, I turned down the opportunity to eat a second one. I’ve raised a lot of peppers in the garden. I like peppers, but I don’t need to sweat while eating one.

Nature notes

Terri Guillemets wrote, “My favorite weather is bird chirping weather.” Anonymous wrote, “Spring has sprung. The grass is riz; I wonder where the birdies is.” The birdies are here and on their way. I believe in the miracle of birds each time one swings into my field of view. If I’m fortunate, I might get to enjoy the terpsichorean talents of sandhill cranes. Reason number 397 why I like birds: just because.

House finches are permanent residents of Minnesota, but some undergo a short-distance migration south. It might be to avoid paying taxes.

Three mammals feast upon grapevines. A meadow vole girdles trunks. Deer find new shoots appetizing. Rabbits chew and remove the bark, and clip off branches of young vines. They feed on trunks of established grapevines in the winter.

A killdeer is so noisy it was called a chattering plover and a noisy plover by early naturalists. While leading a birding trip in North Dakota, I heard a participant call one a meadow plover. When foraging for insects or other invertebrates, killdeer move in fits and starts. When they pause, invariably they bob their heads up and down as if they have a severe case of the hiccups. They are pumping their tails and their heads follow along. This may be a strategy to make the birds appear larger than they are to an intruder or a perceived predator.

Meeting adjourned

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” — Leo Buscaglia.