Another Discontented Winter

It won't be long now. As much as I hate to say it, there's no sense in trying to deny it's coming. Winter will be upon us soon. Cold. Snow. Shoveling. Higher heating bills. Wearing extra layers of clothes to keep the chill out the bones. Whatever happened to the kid inside me who simply looked upon winter as another season with its own unlimited possibilities and opportunities? When did I embrace grinchness? Perhaps it was when the snow collapsed the roof on the garage.

We had only lived here in northern Minnesota for a year, and the first winter we lived here was very mild, similar to the winter of 97...make that 1997 (Y2K compliance, you know). We had never heard of having to shovel off the roof of your house. I was born and raised in southern Minnesota, and considered myself Minnesota winter-savvy, and I had never shoveled the roofs of any of the houses my parents had owned. It never occurred to me that we now lived in a place where a three-foot snowfall was not uncommon, and when you get a lot of snow you need to remove that weight from the roofs. There were further mitigating circumstances - an improperly installed original roof, for one and my bad back for another - which perhaps combined to set up the scenario on that Super Bowl Sunday 1989.

I got up that morning and was looking out the window in the front door, gazing at a pile of sparkling white snow at least three feet deep on the garage roof. I looked down and saw the open entry door and what appeared to be a jump rope or some such thing apparently hanging from the rafters. Kids! They're always getting into something. I was the first person up that morning, and decided I would go pull that rope down on my way out get the Sunday paper from the mailbox. I walked into the garage and my mouth fell open. That was no jump rope for doing Double Dutch, and my kids had had nothing to do with it.

The "jump rope" I had seen hanging down was an electrical wire which had been previously attached to a rafter. The rafter had previously been above my car, but now was resting on the hood of my car. Its compadres were similarly now loafing on the roof and trunk of the car. I don't remember if I went out and got the newspaper first or just stumbled back into the house and woke my wife up with incoherent mumbling about the roof not being up where it belonged anymore.

It had not collapsed, it had merely sagged in the middle. It didn't appear to be in danger of collapsing further but we couldn't get the car out, because the door wouldn't go up or down.

Do you realize how difficult it is to find a contractor willing to come out on Super Bowl Sunday to take a look at a sagging garage roof and shore it up so you can get your car out? While waiting to find someone willing to come out and bleed my bank account dry, I propped the ladder up against the garage and climbed up and started scooping the snow off.

The ironic thing about having the garage roof fall down on our car was that we were trying to save money to get rid of our old car and get a new one. When the roof could have completely caved in and crushed our old, tangerine-orange 77 Sunbird, it didn't even raise the dust when the rafters came to rest on the car.

As for me climbing around on a partially-collapsed roof: no, I didn't fall through and it didn't collapse further and I didn't have any Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor-esque mishaps. We found a contractor willing to come out and do what needed to be done, whether we ended up hiring him to rebuild the roof or not. He said he didn't care about the Super Bowl, but if UMD Bulldog HOCKEY had been on, that would have been a different story.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!! We've gotten used to shoveling the roof since then. We've learned to gauge the depth of the snow on the roof as we drive up the street and get up and scoop it off before we get in trouble. A couple of years ago we knew we had gotten a lot of snow in a blizzard because the doors in the house wouldn't open or close very well. There was so much weight on the roof from the three-plus feet of new snow and the drifts which had built up that the door frames were too tight. The snow was up to my wife's waist when we got up on the roof. All four of us pitched in and started scooping and pushing the snow off the roof. We had half of it done when my boss called to let me know he was on his way to pick me up in his Suburban. I told him he would have to pick me up down on the highway (a block from our house) because there was no visible street in front of our house. The snow had drifted across the street, and filled it in smoothly from ditch to ditch. It looked like an open field. The snow in our driveway was three to five feet deep. That was the first and only time we've ever hired someone to come and clean out our driveway. They got to our house that evening, and said they'd been going all day and planned on working all night. This one blizzard was paying for the their new machinery. They ended up running non-stop for three days.

Now that joyous season is coming again. The weather gurus are saying we should expect colder than normal temperatures and more snow than usual, too. Oh, boy.

Late at night, while the snow falls and the wind howls through the naked tree branches, my wife and I snuggle down under the covers and make plans for a time in the near future. After our youngest child graduates from high school in five years, we're going to tie the snowblower on the hood of the car and drive south until someone asks us what it is. Then we'll know we've reached our new home.


Copyright ©1998 Mike Zimmerli

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The Milk Jug of Death

The way I see it, it could be a whole new cottage industry, so pay attention. I'm about to give you a million-dollar idea for free. Here it is: job finishing. Completing jobs that others won't. Notice I said "won't," not "can't." There is a world of difference between the two, as any parent of a teenager can tell you.

I'm not talking about finishing big, important projects at the office. I'm talking about cleaning out the peanut butter jar, emptying the orange juice jug or the milk carton and then rinsing it out. Nothing big, bad or difficult, just little jobs that people in my house can't seem to do.

What is it about emptying out the peanut butter jar that sends teenagers into hysterics? I did it just this morning, and I not only survived, I had the pleasure of opening a new jar to replace the old one. I had the privilege of being the first to sample the wares of the fresh jar. I also was blessed with the knowledge that I had received my money's worth from that jar, because I took a spatula and scraped the sides to get all the peanut butter still residing in the jar. What did this effort cost me? Next to nothing, really. I admit I had to open a drawer right next to me and find a spatula, and when I had finished cleaning out the jar I had to put it in the dishwasher, but the impact on my morning routine was minimal. Ask a teenager to perform this same task and then sit back and watch the reaction.

Note of caution to the uninitiated: if you do not have experience dealing with a teenager in the morning (or any time of day or night actually), this experiment should not be attempted alone. You will want to have backup, preferably several large men wearing dark glasses and black suits, nonchalantly hovering around you and whispering into walkie-talkies.

There is a physical phenomenon which occurs when you ask a teenager to remove the last of anything from a container. Your words somehow mutate as they travel through the air from your mouth to the teenager's ears.

What you say: "I'd really appreciate it if you could please rinse out that milk jug."

Innocent sounding to you or me, sure. But, by the time the words have wormed their way through the force field surrounding your son or daughter's head and entered the auditory canal, they have lost all semblance to the collection of sounds which left your lips. The sounds strike your child's eardrums and become further changed. As they travel on the backs of the electric dolphins that carry sound impulses to the brain they continue their awesome transformation. The fully transmogrified words finally emerge in the brain's cognitive area resembling something from a Steven King nightmare. The simple request now sounds like a thousand crows calling to each other outside your bedroom window at 4:45 in the morning. The words have taken on a completely new meaning as well. Instead of an innocent request to rinse out a plastic container, the teenager hears the raspy snarl of a wolf closing in on its prey. The message has metamorphosed into something you'd expect to hear in a fantasy/horror film.

What they hear:
"You are the lowest primordial slime ever to ooze from the seas! As your sovereign lord and master, I command you to gnaw at your arm until you have shredded the meat into strips. Then grasp what remains of the useless limb with your other hand and rip it from your body! Then beat yourself in the head with your new 'club' until you fall senseless to the ground!"

It is no wonder our teenagers recoil with such graphic looks of horror when we ask them to do something for us. Through no fault of their own, they simply are not hearing what we are saying. I am not kidding. These are documented facts. Laboratory tests have been run repeatedly with the same results.

In younger children, the subject usually falls to the floor and kicks his/her feet, cries and screams how unfair you are. The closest thing I've seen to a credible performance on TV was The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke as the young Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan. When Helen Keller wasn't allowed to eat from Anne Sullivan's plate, it looked remarkably similar to the scenes we used to have in our kitchen when our children were younger. Little bodies whirling and screaming, like in the episode of Star Trek where Kirk and his troop of merry astronauts landed on a planet where everyone died when they got to puberty. It was the kids versus the Grups (short for Grownups). It also bears a great deal of similarity to any number of scenes from The Exorcist featuring Linda Blair, headspinning and pea soup.

Look in my refrigerator at any time, and I guarantee you'll find several containers nearly empty, although "nearly empty" may be a misnomer. Milk jugs or juice bottles with a tablespoon of liquid remaining. Jelly jars with barely enough jelly left to cover a half-inch square of toast. Mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise jars with so little substance left I thought we had a new recycling bin for glass in the door of the refrigerator. Salad dressing bottles, steak sauce and barbecue sauce bottles, each with so little inside they won't even run down the sides when you tip them upside down. Even if I can't get a drop to come out of a bottle, my children assure me there's still enough left inside to take a bath in! I keep hoping that one day I'll be able to open that new bottle of Worcestershire sauce that's been sitting in the cupboard since 1994, but until the one in the fridge is empty, I guess I'm out of luck.

And don't even think about asking one of them to put on a new roll of toilet paper!


Copyright ©1998-1999 Mike Zimmerli

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Stretching His Wings

When I open the door to his room to wake him, sometimes I stand there for a moment or two and watch him sleeping. I am looking to see if he still resembles the little boy who first came into our lives eighteen years ago. Even before he was born, he was stretching, uncurling his limbs and arching his back like a cat enjoying sun through a window. My mother always said she had never seen such a stretchy baby. He was always reaching outward, extending his hands and arms as far as they could reach. Today, he is eighteen and still stretching. As he did shortly before he was born, I think his stretching is an attempt to expand his world and horizons.
Adam at about 6 months He was three weeks early when he was born. Not "too" early, but early enough to make his first-time parents nervous, and early enough that he didn't have much meat on his bones. He couldn't wait to get out into the world and discover what was waiting for him there. He wanted to run before he learned to crawl. He rolled off a bed when he was only six weeks old, an age where other babies are just learning to hold their heads up. He started talking when he was eight months old. He took his first independent steps when he was eleven months old. He was about two years old when he first showed a talent for schmoozing and swaying people with his charm.
It was a warm summer day, and I was outside the mobile home we lived in at the time. Adam was inside watching Masters of the Universe, one of his favorite shows (perhaps because there was a character named Prince Adam). I was doing a little yard work, keeping one ear listening for any out-of-the-ordinary noises from within the house. Looking toward the kitchen window, I saw a small figure standing on the counter next to the refrigerator. Quietly walking over to the open window for a better look, I saw Adam reach up and get the cookie jar from the top of the refrigerator, reach his little hand inside, and emerge with a cookie. I took this opportunity to let him know he was caught (literally) with his hand in the cookie jar.

Through the open window I said, "What do you think you're doing, Adam?"

To his credit, his composure under fire was impeccable. He didn't drop the cookie jar or the cookie. He slowly turned around to face me and said "I was getting this for you."

When he was about three, we began to have some fears about our precocious handful. He had no fear of people. Living in rural southwestern Minnesota farm country in the early 1980's, there wasn't a lot a person needed to be afraid of at his age. There was still an aura of innocence to our little corner of the world, but we knew it could be easily shattered. We tried to explain to Adam that he shouldn't talk to people he didn't know. It was ok to talk to the people in church, and at Mom's work and Dad's work, and, yes, it's ok to talk to the people at Grandma's work and Grandpa's work. And our neighbors, and Grandpa and Grandma's neighbors, and the people who work at the store, and it's ok to talk to a policeman and....It became much easier to narrow the list of who he shouldn't talk to than who he could talk to. We simply told him not to talk to strangers. He needed an immediate definition of "stranger." We told him if he didn't know someone's name, that person was a stranger. He seemed satisfied with that definition. It was pretty clear, even to a three-year-old. Adam at about 3 years old
A short time later, we went fishing at one of the many little mud-holes that pass for lakes in that part of the state. Adam was running around investigating this new part of his universe. I was catching bullheads, which is about all you can catch in the little mud-holes. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Adam walk up to a man who had just pulled his boat up to the landing. He got out of the boat and was going to get his truck to load the boat on the trailer. I decided to go supervise and see if our little chatterbox could remember the new rule: don't talk to people if you don't know their names. Exit Adam the pre-schooler. Enter Adam the schmoozer. Walking up the fisherman with his hand out, Adam said "Hi. My name is Adam. What's yours?"

When he was five, we took him to be on the Captain Eleven show at the TV station in Sioux Falls. He watched the show every afternoon at three o'clock. The station weatherman would put on a cheesey 1950's vintage space-ship captain suit, greet the kids in the studio, introduce some cartoons, plug his next public appearance and chain-smoke while checking radar reports for the five o'clock newscast. He had a wall of switches and lights, and the kids got to turn on the switches to try and make the cartoons come on. Since it was Adam's birthday, he got a special handshake on camera and got to be the first kid up to the wall of switches. He also got to reach into the barrel to draw a name for a contest. The person whose name was drawn would win a bunch of prizes if the key they picked opened the treasure chest lock. Captain Eleven announced that his special friend from Marshall, MN (Adam) had drawn the name. The lock didn't open, but it was still a pretty good experience. On our way home, he told us "Captain Eleven loves me. Everyone on TV loves me!"

That fall, Adam entered kindergarten. He had a whole new world of people who loved him. And those who didn't just hadn't met him, yet.

Adam became a legal adult on Saturday, June 26, 1999. He got up, showered, dressed, and announced to his parents "I must be an adult. It's my birthday and I have to work all day."

Adam at his high school graduation, May 30, 1999 I wonder how many more mornings I'll be able to watch him stretch after I tickle his foot and tell him it's time to get up. He continues to stretch in other ways and tries to expand his world. Last year he went to Russia for two weeks. This year he may go to Germany at Christmastime.

He continues to walk up to people he doesn't know and just starts asking questions, beginning with "My name is Adam. What's yours?"

He still thinks everyone on TV loves him. Maybe they do. And those who don't just haven't met him yet.


Copyright ©1999 Mike Zimmerli

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