Travels with Myra, part I

Since that last post was so well-received, and since she is on my mind all the time, I thought I’d post a story about one of the adventures Myra and I had. We had quite a few, over the years, so if you like this one, prepare for others. And if you don’t like this one, consider finding a different blog to read, asshole.

I think this happened in 1997, when I had moved home to live with my mama again while I finished up grad school. I was smart enough to know better, so it must’ve been after undergraduate school, I reckon. Remember that 1997 was well before cell phones for most of us. Just, you know, in case you forgot.

Myra and I had been to Fargo until after dark one winter’s night. I don’t recall that we were Christmas shopping, so maybe we’d been to a movie, or just out to get groceries. I know we were in Fargo, though, because we were coming home via Interstate 29, which we only did from Fargo. I was driving, and as was our way, we were talking and laughing and having so much fun we missed the Gardner exit. Now normally this isn’t a big deal, but Gardner is the last exit before Hendrum that has paved roads all the way home. Grandin, the next exit, is technically closer to Hendrum, but there are miles of gravel between the Interstate and our sleepy little town.

We briefly discussed turning back at Grandin to go back to Gardner, but it would be another 6 miles then, before we got home, and the weather was clear, and it was late. Though we had some questions about Traill County’s abilities in road maintenence, it had been a while since the last snowfall, and as a farmer’s daughter I was confident in my gravel-driving abilities. So we pressed on, through Grandin onto the gravel that would take us home.

The road was clear but narrowed from all the snowfall (remember the winter of ’97? It was like driving through a tunnel up in there). This didn’t bother us, for we still (as always) had much to talk about.

Suddenly, miles ahead of us, we saw headlights. I know it was after eleven, because I remarked on the time to Mom. “Who in Traill County is out at this hour?” I asked her. “And on this road?” She had no answer, but we were fairly confident the road was wide enough for 2 vehicles, and went back to our visiting. I joked, briefly, that it was probably a serial killer, looking for a woman and her daughter out too late on a deserted road.

Remind me not to make such jokes, won’t you?

Suddenly, still about 2 miles ahead, the headlights disappeared.

“Ha,” I laughed. “See? He’s lying in wait for us, now.”

“Oh, stop it,” Myra said. “He probably got to his farmstead’s driveway is all.”

I assumed she was right. Until, a mile and a half ahead, I could clearly see a man standing in the middle of the gravel road, waving his arms above his head.

Now, gentle readers, you know that he couldn’t have killed either of us, because this was nearly 20 years ago and I’m still here and Myra’s only been gone about 8 months. So take a deep breath.

But at that moment, going 40 miles an hour, close to midnight on a dark rural road, I didn’t know who this man was. I had to slow down, because he was in the middle of the road. His car was in the ditch next to him, lights still on, shining into the snow (I’m still not sure how he ended up in the ditch. If ever an area had straight roads, it’s eastern North Dakota. Like driving on a damn grid).

So I slowed way down. “Crap,” I said.

“Jenny, we have to stop,” Myra said.

“Oh yeah? Why? What if he IS a serial killer?” We were still about 7 miles from Hendrum.  My suggestion that we tell Mike Smart about him once we got home was shushed before it came out of my mouth. (Mike was [and still is] Hendrum’s police officer, and he’s the guy to go to when you don’t know what else to do.)

“Jennifer. It is winter in the north. We do not leave people on the road in the winter.”

“But mom, we can’t stop for him. It’s like, not safe.” (I’m sure I was more articulate than that, but I do recall saying “like” a lot back then). As we approached him, I saw his letterman’s jacket, with the year ’98 proudly displayed on his sleeve. He was at least 6 feet tall, but he was only a junior in high school. I had almost half a master’s degree, for crying out loud. I don’t know why this made me feel more brave (I bet Ted Bundy wore fake letterman’s jackets…), but Myra was insistent. I scrambled to make a plan.

As we pulled up almost to him, I said to Myra, “Just do what I say. You drive. Okay?” She nodded, clearly not aware we were about to meet our doom. I got out of the car.

“Oh, thank God you’ve stopped!” he said, breathless from his arm waving (and evil intentions, I imagined).  The name on his jacket said “Jason.” “I think if we both push it, we can get it out of the ditch.” He nodded toward his car, a little red Dodge Neon-type. The hood was buried in the snow, and there was no way I was going to help this kid. I had seen Silence of the Lambs, and knew better than to help any man, even a young or injured one, with anything vehicle related. Besides, he was delusional if he thought anything but a pick-up truck or bigger was going to move that car back to the road.

Meanwhile, Myra got out of the car and went over to the driver’s side. I looked Jason over carefully, trying to see where he might have a hidden weapon or three, while I quizzed him about his whereabouts. Where had he been? Where was he going? Why did he go in the ditch on a straight road? He still wanted me to push his car out of the ditch, though, so finally I sighed and said, “Look, it’s me and my mother. We’re not moving your car.” Finally, he answered my questions: He’d been at his girlfriend’s house, 3 miles back. He lived in Argusville (the opposite direction of where we were headed). He had bent down to pick up his Funyuns and whoopsie, in the ditch.

I didn’t necessarily believe anything he said, but I could see he had no mittens, hat, boots or scarf with him. It wasn’t terribly cold, but it was certainly below zero, and there was no way he could walk three miles in the pitch dark dressed like that.  Finally, I said, “Look, we’ll drive you back to your girlfriend’s house. That’s the best we can do.” He looked longingly at his car, then went back to it, grabbed his Funyuns, and turned off the lights, sighing. “Seriously, dude,” I was thinking, “as far as I know you’re a goddamn murderer! Thank me for risking my life here!” Instead, he sighed heavily again, then got in the passenger’s seat, where I had directed him.

Here was my plan. I had dental floss in my purse, and as soon as I got in the car, I strung a 3 foot piece between my hands, shortening it to about 2 feet. I figured if he made a move to hurt Myra, I would throttle him.  This is why he had to sit in front of me, so I could keep an eye on him. Now, in hindsight, I recognize that flossing a man to death is not the best self-defense plan. But it was the best I could come up with on short notice. If you would’ve had a better one, by all means, share it in the comment section.

At any rate, Jason explained that his girlfriend’s dad would be so mad, because her curfew was 11, and he had stayed even a few minutes past that, saying his goodnights. Now he’d be coming back, close to midnight, asking for help. As we pulled into the yard, I could see all the lights were out in the house, and I felt a little bad for the kid. I mean, Funyuns? Really? He was never going to live this down.

He got out of the car, and thanked us for the ride. Myra moved over to the passenger side, and I slid in the driver’s seat, finally exhaling. We waited until the porchlight came on (a few minutes after he’d knocked) before turning back toward home. I was still shaking a little.

“We had to help him, Jenny. You know we did.” Mom was almost apologetic, but mostly chastising in her tone. Of course we had to help him.

I was upset by this episode in two ways.

First of all, I didn’t like that I had become so frightened of strangers that I considered leaving him out in the cold, even for the 30 minutes or so it would’ve taken for Mike to get to him. That’s just crazy. I blamed the movies, and stranger danger, and a new found instinct for protecting my mama. Somehow, if I’d been alone, it would’ve been easier to stop for him, but the thought of someone hurting my Mom? Uh, look out. Here comes the floss.

But secondly, I was mad at this kid. First of all, who travels with no winter gear in North Dakota in winter?? And also, what kind of balls did he have, to think he could just stand in the middle of the road and demand we help him? Hadn’t HE seen The Silence of the Lambs? Didn’t he know how women learn how to keep themselves safe by not PICKING UP STRANGE MEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? Why wasn’t he at least a little apologetic?

There’s a lesson here, somewhere, about youth and male privilege and being a good Samaritan, but recounting all of this has made me tired. You figure it out, gentle readers. And feel free to defend yourself with dental floss, should the need arise.

Posted in Family, Hendrum, Love, Mama, Nostalgia | 1 Comment

Springtime with Myra

Oh, man. Today it got above 50 degrees, and if I thought Christmas without Myra was hard, it’s got nothing on springtime. Mom was an avid gardener, a passionate iris grower, and until I was 12 I didn’t even know people could buy potatoes at the store. I thought everyone either grew their own or got giant sacks full of them from my mom’s garden. Honest.

So today I was walking around my yard, thinking of how much I missed my mama, and I remembered that the first time I ever wanted to plant anything was just as I graduated from the U of M Morris. I was 22, so I called up Myra and asked her advice, and I wrote it down. After she died, I found a book I had made for her (thank you Jenny Nellis’ bookbinding class) with all of her gardening directions in it.

Tonight, I sat down and typed them up for you. Go on ahead and plant something, gentle readers. She would want you to.

Gardening Tips from Myra Johnson

Spring 1995

So you want to plant a garden down in Morris? Well, it’s not the Red River Valley, you know. They have sandy soil down there. Though that might be better for potatoes….what do you want to know?

You can plant whatever you want. I don’t care. Sure, flowers, vegetables, whatever. Where exactly are you going to plant all this? I thought you didn’t have a garden. Around the house? Well that should be interesting. No, you don’t have to weed, I guess. Of course everything will die before it gets past the seedling stage. So what do you want to know then?


No, you don’t have to garden barehanded if it hurts. Gardening really dries out your nails and skin: buy gardener’s gloves if you want. I think your aunt Linda gardens in gloves. You don’t want rough hands like your mother, anyway. Of course, it’s not like you ever let your nails grow long enough to be nice. It’s up to you. Use gloves to protect your hands or don’t and let the dirt make them stronger. Whichever.


What’re you, crazy? No one plants tomatoes by seed around here. It’s too cold for that nonsense. No, go to Noel’s SuperValu—what’s that called in Morris? Willie’s? Go to Willies and buy a tomato plant. They’re only like $2. Can you afford that? Oh, they are so good, Jenny. You can pick them green if you want, and let them ripen on the windowsill in the kitchen.


I don’t know. What do you like? Aren’t you allergic to every flower on earth? Well, buy some seeds that look pretty and plant them. No carnations, though—they’re so hard to get to bloom. You’ll have moved away before you see a single flower. Try morning glories. Do you have anything for them to climb on? That fence will work. They’re pretty. Don’t plant marigolds. They stink. Unless you really like yellow. Don’t you have any lilacs down there?


You don’t usually go out and plant rhubarb. It just sort of shows up in your yard or in the yard of someone you know who doesn’t want it. I notice you have some back by the alley. Here’s how to harvest it. Go out (wearing your gloves, if you want) and bring one of those 49 cent steak knives I gave you. Cut the stalks about 1 inch from the ground. Then chop off the leafy part and throw it away. Don’t let those neighbor boys eat it.


Why on earth would you plant basil? Just go to Willie’s and buy a jar of it. Your garden’s too small to waste it on a plant that looks so much like a weed, Jennifer.

Working the soil:

I was hoping you’d ask. Well, your father and I bought you a spade at Tootie’s garage sale the other day for fifty cents, so go take the one you bought back to Pamida. You’re gonna take the spade and break the dirt up. Go about six inches down and break it up really well, because seedlings aren’t strong enough to do that themselves. And remember worms are your friends. Working the soil is usually the hardest part of gardening. Except maybe the weeding…


Pull up whatever you didn’t plant (unless it’s tulips or lilies or a tree or something). If you don’t know if it’s yours or not, pull it up anyway. I killed lots of little carrot/squash/corn wanna-bes in my time. Don’t worry. You won’t hardly miss it. Unless you pull them all up, so don’t do that.


I can’t believe you’re asking me how to plant potatoes. You’ve been planting them since the day you were born. If you really want to know, you can’t possibly be my daughter. When you do plant them, remember to leave pockets for the potatoes or they’ll grow weird. But you knew that. Right?


Why do you want to plant turnips? You don’t even eat normal vegetables like peas. You don’t just plant something because it’s fashionable or because the other kids are doing it, you know. Fine. If you want to plant them you’ll have to read the back of the envelope because I tried once and none of them came up. So what do I know?


Onions are fun. They grow well in sandy soil (like potatoes) so you should do fine. Just pull them when you can see a bit of the white of the onion. Earlier and you’ll be disappointed in size and flavor. Wait, do you even eat onions?


For Chrissakes, Jenny, don’t plant corn. We get corn free from that friend of your dad’s across the river. Don’t waste your time or garden space.


Just make sure you leave room for the vines and don’t mow over them and keep the neighbor boys away because they might think they’re pumpkins. They’ll bloom sometime in July, and you should probably pick off half the flowers or better if you want any respectable sized squash out of the deal.


Just like squash but orange.


You hate zucchini. Don’t bother. Besides, all you ever did with the zucchini I used to plant was to carve out the inside and make boats for your dolls, or hit your sister with them. Not good, Jennifer. Do zucchinis give you bad dreams?


You can’t grow watermelons here. Our growing season is far too short. If you insist, plant them somewhere sunny and when they bloom, treat them like squash and get rid of most of the flowers. Otherwise the plant won’t have enough nourishment for any fruit, especially in the sandy crap you call soil down there.


Water the garden when it looks dusty. Some summers you never have to water at all. Some summers I’ve watered 2 or 3 times a week. And keep in mind that if things get too wet there’s nothing to do but pray for sun, but there’s always a garden hose nearby. And don’t water too close to the house or it might seep into your basement and make a mess of things.


Home grown cabbage, boiled with salt and pepper and cream? Tastes just like candy. Better than candy. So yes, I think you should grow cabbage. But I hope you don’t have any rabbits, and if you do I hope you can persuade them to stay away. Oh, and some bugs are really hard on cabbage too.


Let’s see, what else can I tell you? It’s a helluva lotta work, but it’s usually worth it. I’ll give you some recipes so you don’t just sit around looking at your garden until everything rots on the vine. I can’t believe you’re planting a garden voluntarily! Write it down! It’s a miracle! I used to have to beg and plead to get you out to the farm. Ah well. I guess you’re growing up, too. Maybe you’ll even learn to eat peas eventually.

Posted in Family, Grief, Hendrum, Love, Nostalgia | 6 Comments

The Neighborhood Wildlife Report

I know this blog has been awful quiet lately, and I hope to do better at that, but we’ll see. How many posts have I begun with excuses and promises? Too freaking many.

There are wild turkeys living in our neighborhood. Or at least visiting our neighborhood. One startled Seven in the neighbor’s backyard a few months ago, and V and I came home from Target on Saturday to these beasts in the same neighbor’s front yard. IMG_0829

According to my 15 second Google search, a group of turkeys can be called a flock or a rafter, and according to the Vegan Peace website, the rafter refers specifically to groups of domesticated turkeys (But I’m not sure I should trust a vegan website’s post about turkey group names. Conflict of interest and so on and so forth….). I could do more research, but I don’t want to.


When he looks at me straight on, his head almost disappears. Crazy.

These fellas are not domesticated, and I was surprised they let us get as close as they did. (The steam you see in the photos is from our furnace vent, which is on that side of the house, and which, I hope, warmed them a little, since it was about -20)



These three stayed on the ground the whole time, as if keeping watch. They remind me of Silvio and Paulie from the Sopranos, sort of. IMG_0833

Eating berries off the neighbor’s tree, thanks to a handy porch rail. IMG_0832 I do so enjoy company! I wish I had a berry tree and a porch rail to attract this lovely rafter.

Posted in Wildlife | 2 Comments

It’s $haun’s birthday today, and all I got him was this lousy blogpost.

Actually, V and I got him lots of lovely gifts, but that’s not how those funny t-shirts from Vegas read. But to show that there’s more to my life than actively mourning and hating car dealerships, I’ve written a list of the top nine things I love about my husband on this, his 43rd birthday.

  1. He brought his brother along on our first date (He insists this wasn’t our first date, but I’m 93% sure it was), which was a hockey game. Mostly I spent the whole evening cold and being afraid of the puck.
  2. He can sing until I go weak in the knees. One of our first dates was with a group of our friends to karaoke night at the Nestor. He sang Copa Cabana, and I was his.
  3. He suggested we name our daughter a letter, after hearing a radio show about S. Epatha Merkerson.
  4. He claps at the end of movies in the theater. You know, like we all used to do when we were little. Usually people join in.
  5. His idea of exotic cuisine is the lamb roast I’m making in the crock pot.
  6. He loves to find the spot on dogs that make them move their back leg involuntarily.  He calls it “itchy,” as in “Oh, hey, I just found itchy on Devon.”  He is constantly disappointed by the fact that Seven doesn’t have itchy.
  7. Before we started dating, when I was just trying to get him to hold a conversation with me, I asked him for his five favorite movies. He listed The Little Mermaid, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rainman, Grease, and some other movie neither of us can recall. It was the most words he’d said to me in one day up to that point.
  8. His patience with our daughter is a least three times my own.
  9. One of the few times we were out together in Hendrum was karaoke night at the Last Chance Saloon. We’d only been married for a year or two, and when it was his turn he took the mic and spoke to my hometown. He said something to the effect of this: “I am just so happy to be here, in lovely Hendrum, where most all of you know my wife, Jen.” He gestured to me and I waved, regally. “She is the love of my life, and I want to dedicate this song to her.” Then he tenderly sang the KISS song “Love Gun.” It was hilarious and completely inappropriate.

Oh, $haunsie. I hope this birthday is the start of a marvelous year for you, and if not, may we all at least avoid hospitalization. I love you, sweet boy.

Posted in $haun | 2 Comments

Fall, literal and figurative…

For my usual autumn musings, see past posts here, or here. Or, strangely, here. I’m still grieving. It ebbs and flows, you know. One way that I’ve marked time since the 9th of July is to note each time I do something new without my mom. Even things that I never really did with her get counted. Here’s a partial list.

First shower without my mom. (weird, I know. It was just about “here is the rest of my life now, motherless from here on out” I think).

First time putting laundry away without my mom (oh, mercy. She had folded half that basket full).

First blog post without my mom (she remains the top commenter here).

First trip to the grocery store without my mom (oh, RyKrisp, why must you pain me so?)

First nightmare without my mom.

First doctor’s appointment without my mom (I bawled the whole time. My doctor cried, too).

First time mowing the lawn without my mom.

First time at Dairy Queen without my mom.

First hotdish without my mom (food was important in my family. Back off).

First episode of Little House on the Prairie without my mom.

First trip to the casino without my mom.

First early Elberta peaches without my mom (I didn’t get to eat any of these, because without Myra I didn’t know when they were coming. Next year I’m all over it).

First first day of school without my mom.

Shaun’s first play without my mom (I swear there was a woman there who coughed just like her).

V’s first parent-teacher conference without my mom.

First time whipping cream without my mom.

First pumpkin pie without my mom.

First cold without my mom (sniff).

V’s first strep infection without my mom.

The first MEA weekend without my mom.

First autumn without my mom.

I don’t know how to write about this without sounding melancholy and self-absorbed. But that’s about all my grief is right now.  Food-based, self-absorbed melancholy.  And so it goes.

Posted in Grief | Leave a comment

They won’t leave me alone, y’all.

Opened my e-mail today to find this gem (I’ve changed my last name for blog protection purposes):

Corwin Toyota Scion Fargo 888-605-9328
222 40th Street S., Fargo, ND 58103
Jennifer Languishing,It has been over one year now since we have seen your here at Corwin Toyota Scion Fargo.

Click here to schedule an appointment for a free multi point inspection.If there is anything else I can ever do to make your ownership experience better please feel free to contact me by replying to this email or by calling the dealership at 701-282-8425, anytime.

Jennifer Beltz
Service Director
Corwin Toyota Scion Fargo

I’m sure Ms. Beltz doesn’t mean it, but she asked me to contact her if she could help me in any way. So I had to write back. I’m so continually optimistic. I’ll let you know what sort of assistance/helpful response I get. Until then, enjoy my ire.
Dear Ms. Beltz:
I have repeatedly asked to be removed from automated e-mails (and this week I also received two phone calls!) because a year ago, I purchased a vehicle from you which required significant repair within 6 days of my purchase, and your Corwin team was completely negligent in assisting me. I detail that experience here:
A few weeks later, my daughter and I were in a horrifying, traumatizing accident in that same vehicle. I had purchased gap insurance through your Corwin sales team, and that insurance has still yet to be paid. I have received almost no assistance from Corwin. I reported this accident in person to both my salesman and the financial person in charge of my account. It is detailed here: I assumed they would have had the foresight to remove me from these mailing/calling lists. I was, obviously, wrong. Since then I have requested three times to be removed from mailing lists. I have clicked on the “unsubscribe” links. Tell me, please, how to make it stop.
Not once have I found the Corwin team to be helpful, responsive, or respectful since my initial purchase. Because of this, I tell every. single. person. I meet to never buy a car from you, nor utilize your service department, and to be suspicious of anyone who trusts your company. I don’t expect to get any sort of satisfaction or reasonable response from this e-mail, either. This is the fourth time I have sent links to my blog posts to someone at Corwin. I assume you don’t read them, or if you do you don’t care.
Please remove me from all contact lists, including mail, e-mail, and phone, for all reasons. If you continue to contact me, I will assume Corwin is actively harassing me, and will do all I can to make this even more widely known.
Jennifer Languishing
Posted in Blogland | Leave a comment

Today, in thrifty crafty news…

I love to make things, and I love to save money. So I often combine the two, and buy craft supplies at thrift stores. I can get a gallon-sized Ziplock bag full of still-in-the-package zippers for $3.99 that way, instead of paying over $2 for each one. It just makes sense to me to buy 15 or 20 zippers for the cost of two, even if the colors aren’t all exactly what I was looking for or the materials of a few are less than ideal. 

Even better than the savings, though, can be the unforeseen excitement inside. Today, I was sorting through my zippers, preparing to make some back-to-school pencil bags or something, and I noticed this kelly green number. 008 I don’t often use the metal zippers, because, you know, in the cold of Minnesota winter, terrible things can happen. But for a simple pencil case, it should be fine.  But then I looked a little closer.



Someone had crossed out the word “METAL”. Why would they do that? And they’ve written….”Nylon”? What? On an unopened zipper? So I opened it up to get to the bottom of this fascinating mystery. 

011 Hm. What’s been written is true: it’s not a metal zipper at all. It is nylon indeed, and it’s slightly frayed on the end. It’s not unusual for me to find used zippers among my sack o’zippers, but they are never put back in their package. But wait. There’s more.

012On a bit of scratch paper, a note cut to fit inside the package says “This nylon zipper opened up when I bent over in green flowered dress. Easter Apr 14, 1974.”

Seriously, this note is worth more than $3.99 all by itself. Forty years ago, this poor woman’s dress opened up, probably along the side or back, and left her more, um, exposed than she would like, even for springtime. So she bought a metal zipper to replace it, because, seriously, she loved that green flowered dress. Who wouldn’t? Now, this next part I don’t quite understand: rather than throw away the offending zipper, or tossing it into the “use for a pencil case” pile, she carefully cut scratch paper to fit the replacement zipper’s packaging, explained what had happened, then folded the offending nylon one exactly, and slid them both back in the package. I don’t think she tried to return it to the store, because she wrote on the package, too, that this was nylon, not metal. Eventually, I imagine, she died, and somebody donated her sewing supplies, and I wandered upon her note. Nothing this cool ever happens to me when I buy stuff in non-thrift stores.

I kind of want to make myself a green flowered dress now. But maybe I should look for a metal zipper. 

Posted in Craft | 1 Comment