Monday, September 29, 2014

ollie the oiler

I am in Minnesota not by choice but here I am nonetheless. My father wants to see some military museums so he sits in the back of our Impala as we head north. I want to make him happy. He's 90 years old and his fragile spirit could take flight at any time. I hear him humming to himself as I have heard all my life and I've adopted the same habit myself. He reads his newspaper, every single article and does the crossword puzzle as he has for the last seven decades.

Twice a week he dresses up as Ollie the Oiler in bib overalls and a train engineer's cap. He plays the part of a maintenance man on an ancient dredging boat at our local museum. Ollie will answer tourist questions for anyone showing an interest in river dredging and you would be amazed how many people want to know this stuff.

We will be gone four nights. My father refuses to buy the commonly used suitcase with wheels and extended handle, easy on the back and easy to move. He would never trade "perfectly good usable" anything in for a better, more accomodating model. He has four, FOUR hard plastic suitcases and a large cooler full of beer and fruit. I heard him say one suitcase was just for shoes. He packs like a wealthy elderly matron from the Victorian era, er, your ladyship.

I could successfully live the rest of my life without visiting 1) another military museum or 2) another  blacksmith demonstration. I grew up being dragged all over the Midwest visiting these exhibits and I should be excused from any further suffering. Military museum: after an hour or two of viewing Civil War amputation tools and related items I feel heavy and sad and I need to go hold a baby or something. And blacksmithing: another barn, another blue-tinged fire with a hairy half-naked guy in a leather apron wielding huge iron tools and the thick sticky smell of manure. Oh look! He made a horseshoe! Oooh, aahh . . .

 Everything in Minnesota is painted forest green or made of knotty pine.

 You could get knotty-pined to death in this place. This is the land of seriously Norwegian Lutherans and loons, often one and the same entity. Actually, the loon is the state bird and there are loon calling contests in every berg and church parish, kind of like pig calling contests in Iowa. Come to the Midwest, an alluring corn-filled paradise hosting abundant animal calling rituals. The little town we are visiting puts a twist on their contest. What does a loon with a sprained foot sound like?  A drunk loon hitting on a female loon? A loon with popcorn stuck in his throat? There's just so much you can do with loon material.

I ask the woman at the museum, is there a good place to eat around here? She is chewing her gum ferociously and finally says, "oh yah, just down the street, two bars that have good food, one on each side of the road, you betcha," in that singsong Norwegian Fargo lingo.  Instead I find a cute little French bistro in the travel guide. "But the woman at the museum said they have good food," spouse whines, he doesn't like those healthy eateries with complicated menus.  I will not eat bar food where nutritious innocent veggies get breaded and deep fried and then there's that other American creation, the family restaurant. They feel obligated to offer mac and cheese and other nightmare entrees on their laminated just wipe it clean menus.

At the French place my father smiles and slides into his seat and says, "always sit with your back to the wall. That way no one can shoot you from behind."

He's always been one to pull interesting philosophical ditties out of his head but lately they've been getting kind of strange.

1 comment:

Arizaphale said...

Ah yes. Suitcases. Who was the keen observer who marvelled at how our civilisation went to the moon before it put wheels on suitcases? Kind of makes you wonder what other problems we may have solved if we'd been paying more attention...
Tell your dad that with modern construction methods the bullet would go right through the wall anyway.....