Archive for February, 2012

Stay In Touch.


My friend Jill called this morning, much to my surprise. I like to think of her as my friend, but I haven’t been a very good friend in return.

Just as I was thinking of updating my blog with some vague, un-gelled thoughts of Uncle George’s funeral, the phone rang, and there was Jill, just calling to chat. Without meaning to, she managed to focus my entire thought process for this entry.

Jill and I worked together at HBJ, which then became Edgell Communications, which then became Advanstar Communications, which is now partly Advanstar and partly HCL. (But I digress.) We always had an easy friendship, partly, I think, because we both understood the absurdity of most things, and we both liked to laugh. We were each laid off during a downsizing event in 1992, and since she lived in my neighborhood at that time, we stayed in touch by phone, or going for walks, or wandering down to Lester River to sit on the rocks and discuss all matters large and small. Those were fun times.

Once, while looking for some distraction from unemployment, we decided to attend a court hearing. I’m not sure how we chose the particular case we ended up viewing, though I remember it involved a lot of young men in prison garb, and one in particular who caught our eye. Not sure who started the giggling, but I’m going to blame it on Jill. Of course I couldn’t resist, and the quick telling of the story is that common courtesy demanded we leave the courtroom immediately (before the bailiff threw us out) and I remember walking out with my hand over my face. I’m pretty sure some people thought I was someone’s distressed parent in tears. It was my first and last court appearance.

But then Jill got a job, and I got a job, and she moved to another part of town, and our lives took different paths again. I missed her, but I was too lazy to do much about it. We became Christmas card friends. After a few years of “we should get together for lunch” notes, I felt guilty about my inaction, and wrote “You could do a lot better in the friend department.”

We once ran into one another at the Duluth Clinic, though not literally, which is a good thing. I was going in one door with a broken arm, and Jill was going out the other door with a broken ankle, so of course we had to stop and laugh about that, too. (It’s wonderful to have a friend who doesn’t see you for a few years at a time, but then you can catch up on stuff in about 2 minutes.)

So, my point. (And I really do have one.)

Stay in touch.

Stay in touch with the people who matter to you. Call them or write them or go to their homes, but make time to stay in touch with the people who matter to you. Don’t assume they will always be there, because they won’t.

This past weekend I attended the visitation and the funeral for my uncle George. I saw so many relatives that I no longer spend any time with. People who meant so much to me at one time (and who still do, of course) are now relegated to the occasional wedding, funeral, or Christmas card note. I heard stories about my uncle that I’d never heard before, and wished that I’d talked to him about them, but of course it is now too late. And that’s just how quickly everything is over.

My uncle, it turns out, kept all the cards and letters and photos that were ever sent to him. Imagine that treasure. (And I’m so glad I’m still a letter writer, at least, and kept in touch with him by sending occasional cards with family news.) He kept in touch with his friends and neighbors, and he kept in touch with his church, despite an alleged disagreement that kept him away for many years. The number of people who showed up for both services was overwhelming to me. Uncle George understood the importance of keeping in touch.

So contact someone you care about. Write a letter or make a phone call or do whatever you have to do to let them know you are still out there, still thinking of them, still caring. They will be gone way too soon.

If you are too busy to keep in touch with the people who matter to you, then you are simply too busy. Rearrange your schedule. Remind yourself of what matters.

And Jill, if you’re reading this, let’s REALLY have lunch some day soon. Really! I miss you.

R.I.P. Uncle George


My uncle George Swor died yesterday afternoon in St Luke’s Hospital in Duluth. He was 88 years old, my mother’s youngest brother, and the last survivor of her immediate family.

That hardly covers it. My uncle George was a one-of-a-kind family treasure.

I have a photo at my desk showing the Swor family in 1954, which includes my mother and her sister Katherine (my beloved Auntie Kay, whose recipes I sometimes publish) and their six brothers: Sam, Jack, Mitchell, Nick, Henry and George. I imagine in their youth, the Swor kids were a force to be reckoned with. When I was a kid, they were a happy, boisterous bunch, gathered at Grandma Swor’s house every Sunday for chicken dinner. I thought my uncles were marvelous. They all seemed strong and capable, with swarthy Mediterranean good looks, and they seemed to be joking and laughing all the time, which made us kids feel safe and protected, and part of Something Big.

All those people grew up and married, raised families, and then most of them died way too soon.

Uncle George and Aunt Betty raised four sons, while my parents raised four daughters. For some years our families lived across the street from one another on Fern Avenue in the Kenwood area. My sisters and I spent some time with our cousins, especially with Aunt Betty, who loaded up her navy blue Cadillac (she always drove a Cadillac) with all 8 of us, taking us swimming at Park Point or to a cabin at Lake Minnisuing in Wisconsin. While I remember her large metal Red Dot cans filled with peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, I also remember Uncle George burying silver dollars in the sand for us kids to find.

I remember being in the car with my cousins when Uncle George would say “Hey, kids, let’s have a contest to see who can keep their eyes closed the longest!” I always wanted to win that contest. We only found out years later that he did this any time we were in the vicinity of a Dairy Queen. Other times he drove us over Superior’s “singing bridge,” always telling us to put one hand on the car’s ceiling and make a wish, because bridges were good luck.

Uncle George owned a Texaco station on Sixth Avenue East for many years, and during childhood I spent  happy hours there with my sisters and cousins, picking apples from the huge apple tree and throwing them (ineffectually) at passing traffic, or playing in the creek behind the station, into which my cousin Barbara was known to toss her much-hated eyeglasses. I can’t see a red Texaco symbol without thinking of my uncle in his dark green attendant’s uniform, running out of the station to clean windshields, check oil and fill gas tanks. (The man who wore the star is now among the stars.) Years later he opened a motel across the street from the station, which soon went from a regulation motel to a sort of shelter for local misfits. I doubt he collected as much in rent as he “loaned” to others, but he helped so many with housing, transportation, food and protection from the elements. Despite his happy association with more than one snarling rottweiler, he was robbed at least once, and perhaps more than that, but he never lost his faith in humanity, and he never stopped helping anyone with a sad story.

My uncle never forgot his nieces. He was especially close with my cousin Barbara, sharing a love of adventure and gambling with her. They often traveled to Vegas together, and I’m sure each trip was memorable. Every Christmas my sisters and I received gifts from my uncle, even though we hadn’t spent much time with him, and in our later years there were always Christmas gifts of cash. Family meant the world to my sentimental uncle, and he never wavered from his love or loyalty.

Depsite the death of his brothers and sisters, and the early and unexpected death of his son Greg, my uncle soldiered on. He and my aunt separated in the late 1960, but never divorced. Though he lived alone, he was never really alone. He always had a smile for every person he met. Though I’m sure they must have happened, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t see my uncle smiling.

I didn’t see my uncle much in the past few years, a fact of which I am not proud. He was always accessible and I was not. The last time I saw him feeling well was at the last Swor Christmas party at the Depot in December. He always made you feel as if you were the very person he wanted to see at that very moment. His health was failing, but not his generous spirit, his wonderful smile, or his love of family and tradition.

And so last Wednesday, when he wasn’t feeling well, he had the presence of mind to call an ambulance for himself, and to call my cousin Barbara (my mother’s namesake) to let her know something was wrong. At the hospital he suffered a heart attack from which he was unable to recover, despite vigilant medical care and the love and prayers of family.

It is sad to know he is gone. But I think we are all relieved that he did not have to linger in a bedridden condition for days or weeks on end.

I wish I had a scan of a photo to post here so you could see his smiling face. But I don’t. I do have memories of him that will last the rest of my life.

Rest in peace, Uncle George.

We love you.

You can trust your car to the man who wears the star...

Road Trip! Or, 235 Miles of Adventure.


I can’t think of many things I enjoy more than a good road trip, and for me, anything short of a head-on collision is a good road trip. There are always things to see, people to meet, local restaurants to sample. What’s better than that?

Yesterday I was on the road to Gordon (Wisconsin) to pick up my sister Kim who had graciously invited me to another auction, after I begged her to let me come along. Our usual meeting place is Gordon’s  ICO station on Hwy 53. I arrived there before Kim and bought a few newspapers and some nutritional road food, Hershey’s chocolate and a bag of cashews. My purchase rang up at 666 on the cash register, and after our initial surprised glance at one another, the cashier and I agreed we would not let it cast a pall on our days, although I did consider buying a pack of gum to change the number.

Got a chance to talk to the very nice man who gets up at 2:30 AM in Trego every day to deliver newspapers around small towns in Wisconsin. Every single day. I don’t even get up at 2:30 AM to toddle to the bathroom, so I don’t know how he does it, but I’m intrigued by people who drive places for a living, even when the roads are icy and treacherous. Hats off to them. (Though I hope they keep their hats on in winter.)

Our destination was a large auction house in Webster, Wisconsin. Kim figured how long it would take us to get there, but she forgot to factor in my lead foot, so we ended up with plenty of time to look around. “Show, don’t tell,” my writing instructors always advised me, so if you’re ready for more bad photography, I’ll show you what we saw first.

Was this my lucky day or what? A garage sale? In February? YES!

Kim bought a clarinet or flute or piccolo, or some shiny silver instrument in a beautiful blue velvet lined box. (What do I know? I was always in chorus back in my school days.) My find, which fit very nicely into the back seat:

ONE DOLLAR, people. No kidding. Score!

I bought this lovely brass headboard, for which I have no use. I think it would look great in someone ‘s garden next summer, so I will probably end up selling it. For one dollar, I could not pass it up. Frankly, I would not sit in a chilly town hall all afternoon to make one dollar for this lovely items, but that’s just me. I think it’s gorgeous.

After the sale, we followed another sign down a country road to find bison in a frosty field in Rusk, Wisconsin. This guy in the front couldn’t take his eyes off me, or else he was considering making a lunge for my big red car. Either way, we were both kept our manners, and I didn’t stay long enough to fully annoy him. But I thought he was a beauty.

It was still early in the day, so the frost hadn't burned off yet, and I think it added a lot to the photo.

On to the auction. It wasn’t a very good one, according to my serious-buyer sister (whose husband had gone to a separate auction in Amery, Wisc.) but for me they are all good ones, because I never really have a purchase in mind, but like to be surprised by what I find. This one was crowded, and at first we sat way in the back, but later walked up to the front for serious bidding. (Kim’s, not mine.)

You can barely see the auctioneer way up front, but he was there. Favorite auctioneer line of the day when the bidding slowed down: “Anyone else have the miserable winter cold? Raise your hand.”

I did see one thing I wanted, and my sister managed to get it for me for just $8. It is a Japanese salt and pepper set on a tray, with a little pot in the center that probably could hold preserves. Or M&Ms, at my house.

Isn't this gorgeous? I love it so much. Not a chip on it, either. Would love to know its history.

The day was gorgeously sunny. At one point I was standing at the car wrapping pieces of china in some of my 666 newspaper, and realized it was February 6, and the temperature was about 45 degrees. Amazing. One for the books. (In case you’re writing a book about weather. You can quote me!)

We didn’t stay too long at the auction, but decided to drive other places to see stuff. We were close to the town of Siren, so we went to have a look. This sobering sight was the most serious moment of the day:

I can not imagine a force so strong to have created that scene, nor the strength that wrapped it so tightly that it has stayed there for 11 years. I imagine there are happy days for Siren residents that are suddenly sobered by the memory of that storm. I don’t remember seeing any trees along Siren’s main drag, either.

But another “sign” quickly took our minds off the tornado.

No major purchases, but always fun to look at other people’s castoffs. I bought a movie whose name I’ve forgotten, and I’m too lazy to walk to the living room to look.

We visited another thrift shop, but came away empty-handed, and headed for lunch. We found this really good sports bar, Adventures, and the daily special was a fabulous patty melt sandwich, so my life was complete. The sandwich was served on marble rye bread with fries, and was so large that I took half of it home for dinner. Yum!

On the way out of Siren, we turned around to photograph this very tall cowboy with a stick that may explain why some cowboys walk the way they do. It’s a very tall cowboy, and I told my sister that the photo would be more impressive if she’d go stand by his feet, to which she replied “Why don’t you trot across that snowy field and I’ll take your picture?”, and so of course it never got done. But trust me. He’s tall. He should also be holding something, like a lasso for Rodeo Days, or maybe a very large basket of kittens. Though it’s hard to improve on a tall cowboy, most everything looks better with a basket of kittens.

I rest my case.


On the road again, our next stop was the charming little town of Spooner, where Kim has friends who have antique shops. Walnut Street in Spooner contains a two block stretch of interesting shops, and if you love antiques, you must stop at The Red Door Antiques and More Shop, which sort of reminds me of Vic & Sade’s Little Tiny Petite Pheasant Feather Shoppe, but that’s another story for another day, though it, too, is an antique.

I didn’t take a photo of it, but The Red Door is not hard to find, and is surrounded by other interesting shops. The greeting from Kim’s friends Carla and her husband, Joe, was so friendly and cordial that you want to pull up a chair and settle in for a chat, but there wasn’t time. The shop is filled with floor to ceiling treasures from various sellers who like the same kind of stuff I do, and I could have spent hours wandering around there. Even if you didn’t buy anything, the wide assortment is sort of like a museum tour of your personal history, where every dish and tin evokes things from your childhood that you didn’t forget after all. I loved it. And I bought something that I love.

This charming old cookie cutter has a slightly off-kilter handle, which makes me think it had been used a lot. I love it’s fluted edges, and it’s deep and large enough to be used for baking scones or biscuits. It’s perfect. I like to imagine a farm wife using it for Sunday breakfasts.

Carla has the kind of job I’d like to have if I ever reach retirement. I’d love to go places to buy things to bring back to that lovely shop to sell. I’d love to spend some winter afternoons surrounded by the memories of past lives. Carla seems pretty happy to be doing it. So would I.

After reluctantly leaving the shop, we headed back to Gordon, where I dropped Kim off at her car, and made my way back to Duluth, completely forgetting to give her the $8 I owe her for the Japanese pieces. Got home while the sun was still shining, and had a lot of fun going through the day’s treasures, which also included a loaf of home made bread and some chicken stew from Kim. A delicious end to a lovely day.

Get in the car and go somewhere soon. Take pictures and tell us about it!

And say hello to the bison.