John Wetrosky, Columnist
The sound of the huge elm branch scraping against the side of our farm home resembled fingernails being pulled across a chalkboard. The steady pounding of the wind against the walls of the house gave one the feeling that some giant being was about to enter uninvited. An Iowa ice storm was passing through the country. Giant cottonwood limbs were cracking, and the yard light was flickering.
I have a traditional column I submit each Christmas season and I hope you don't mind me re-submitting this season! I was recently asked to do a reading of this column for a local social club and the words always are new to me. The following Last Windrow "Classic" column was written in 1990 when my daughter was 5 years old. It was to be her first excursion to a Christmas tree farm that she could really remember. I wrote it as a Christmas card to her and I'm sending it out to Anna and my readers during this Christmas Day week. "The Ugliest Little Christmas Tree"
I like fruitcake. The gift that just keeps on giving, as Eddie said in "Christmas Vacation." I'm kind of tired of the lame jokes made about this holiday delicacy. I've heard my share of lutefisk jokes up here in the north country, but fruitcake jokes come in a close second. Comedians mock this traditional holiday treat, newscasters make jokes about it, and it rarely ends up on anyone's gift wish list. When's the last time you asked for a fruitcake for a gift? Fruitcake has been unjustly blamed for causing divisions within families, causing divorces and ending friendships.
The ice is a bit thin this year. Well, it's worse than that. There is no safe ice yet in the Northland. That could change this week. The ice fishermen are anxiously waiting onshore, casting a forlorn look across the still liquid waves of the lake. Those who do not live in this world where we drive pickups, cars and ATVs across frozen lake surfaces do not fully understand the anxiety endured by people who like to drill holes through lake ice. Actually, I did not understand that either when I first moved to northern Minnesota.
A credit card company didn't have to tell me to "shop small" during those growing up years on the farm. The fact was, there weren't any credit cards available then, and that was probably a good thing. Shopping small was what all of us farm kids did when Christmas time came around. The pay scale wasn't great on those Iowa acres, and our work was generously rewarded with great room and board accommodations. But, when Christmas came around each year, somehow each of my brothers and sisters received some spending money to be used to purchase gifts for the family.
A human can learn a lot from a squirrel. I'm writing this column looking out at a world of white. I mean really white! Last week's heavy snowstorm in northern Minnesota has snowmobilers cheering and snow-scoopers jeering. But so it goes up here where the glaciers only retreated a few thousand years ago. But just a day before I wrote this column I was sitting in the crotch of three huge red oak trees waiting to ambush a wayward buck whitetail deer. You find a way to quietly pass the time while waiting for a deer, and so it was with me.
This will be my 70th Thanksgiving. I don't remember much about the first three or four, but history comes alive after that. Those early Thanksgivings were simpler events. Usually they encompassed a short journey to a relative's house where all the cousins, aunts and uncles met to share a meal large enough to suit a company of soldiers.
Do they sell blaze orange flip flops, tank tops and sunscreen in blaze orange colored bottles? If so, they would have been in vogue during the opening weekend of the Minnesota firearms deer hunting season. A hardy deer hunter required a good dose of sunscreen on the nose after spending a Nov. 5 and 6 afternoon in a deer stand with a southerly exposure. Deer hunters clad in their normal Woollys were seen sweating as they trudged back to the noon campfires. The woods were littered with castoff heavy clothing.
The trek is about to begin. I can hear the brush cracking, gates creaking, pickups thumping through the early November darkness, headlights bobbing as the vehicles find a hidden rock in the road. Minnesota's whitetail deer season is at our doorstep. I carved the date of my first Minnesota deer hunting foray into our present hunting ground in the bark of a mature oak tree that held my hand-hewn stand. The date was 1975. I had hunted deer in Minnesota before, but not in the woods that surround my stand today.
Turning the corner to the ripe age of 70 brings one eye to eye with one's own mortality. No longer can one think he can outlive almost anything. The clock is ticking. The sun comes up every day. Time passes. Funny how I don't remember getting to the age when one must start to think of things like IRA spend-downs, Ibruprofen dosage, handrails near the steps and not straining something merely by bending over to pick up a stray nail in the driveway.