Carleen by mia hinkle

October 2021

In the eyes of her loved ones, she wasn’t the worn-out weak-as-a-kitten cancer patient with sad eyes on the day she left this earth.

She was the peppy twenty-something working in the art department of Land O’Lakes in the early 70s.

She was the shapely blonde with a sparkle in her eye when her husband first spotted her across the crowded Left Guard on Lyndale after a Vikings game.

She was a stunning bride in 1975 with a brand-new life ahead of her.

She was the tender Mommy always quick with an encouraging word and a warm hug.

She was the young and energetic mother, raising four children, running her home daycare business, supporting her husband’s sales career, teaching Sunday School, coaching her kids’ teams, and driving them to their after-school activities.

She was the Executive Assistant at Tricord Systems, Inc. where she would solve a problem before her boss even knew there was a problem to solve.

She was the sister who could be counted on through good times and tragic.

She was the daughter forever frozen in time as the little girl her mother cherished.

Cancer may have taken her from us way too soon, but cancer can never take away our sweet memories.

Let me tell you a little about my sister-in-law Carleen. She was born the daughter of Dick and Ruth Schopf in 1948 in northeast Minneapolis. She had two sisters, Chris and Cindy, and one brother, Dick. And in a weird coincidence, she married my brother whose name is (what for it…) Dick.

They were married for 33 years until cancer whisked her away from us on a chilly October day in 2008. The word “whisked” may be a stretch; there was nothing quick about it. In fact, once the cancer took hold of her body, it took another eight long years of debilitating chemo and radiation before she passed thru the pearly gates.

She was just 60 years old.

Carleen was the oldest in her family and of course all parents remember all the little things about their first-born. The fact that she walked early at only eight months old! The fact that her folks owned a Doberman who watched over little Carleen like a rare treasure. One day her mother told the toddler, “Now you stay in this yard. Don’t go in the street!” Of course, Carleen slowly teetered to the edge of her yard only to feel that big dog’s teeth sink into the waistband of her diaper and gingerly drag her back to her mother!

At the age of 4, Carleen liked to visit her Aunt Lorraine, who lived right down the street. She would proudly don her cowboy hat and boots. And she would lead her imaginary horse outside. Then she would canter down the street and around to the back door where she would tie up her trusty steed and go into the house. After her visit, she would untie her horse and gallop back home. All within sight of her mother in the window.

Around the same time, on an Easter Sunday morning, the family was getting ready for church. You know the drill if you were a Lutheran in the 1950s: frilly pastel dresses, shiny patent leather shoes, and Easter bonnets with lavish bows. Well, Carleen was having none of it. She wanted to wear her favorite old Cowboy hat and there was no negotiating! Wisely, her parents gave in. Carleen walked into Easter Sunday service, head held high and pleased as punch, all dressed up in a crinoline skirt and patent leather shoes. And her well-loved crumpled-up Cowboy hat.

When Carleen was in first grade, the teacher gave the assignment for all the students to pack their own lunch for the next day’s class. Carleen packed limburger cheese on Wonder bread. The next day the teacher called Ruth called laughing, “Did you see what your daughter packed for her lunch today?” Carleen had eaten the whole thing; it did not matter one bit that the other children thought it stunk to high heaven!

A few years later when Carleen was a teenager, a boy asked her out for Saturday night, and she said “yes!” When Saturday morning rolled around, she began to worry she had nothing to wear. The problem solver in Carleen sprung to life; she went to the fabric store, bought a pattern, and spent all day sewing. By the time the guy picked her up that evening, she looked like a million bucks.

It might have been this guy or another high school crush who came a callin’ one day, and Carleen’s little brother Dickie commenced to buzzing around them, running, jumping, yelling, teasing, and generally driving them crazy. The story goes that when they had finally had enough, they tied Dickie to a tree, walked away, and left him there.

There is a meme that some of we Huseth girls have used, and it reads something like this, “Women bearing the name Huseth have always been known for their courage. You are brave and loving, even when you are exhausted. You never give up and you always learn from your mistakes which makes you an incredibly strong woman.” We found these words long after Carleen was gone, but it occurs to me just how perfectly they apply to her.

The first grandchildren, nieces, and nephews came into our family through Dick and Carleen. They were crazy about their kids: Dawn, Dayna, Nick, and Alex. The rest of the family agreed the sun rose and set around them. It would be many years until they would have to share the spotlight with the rest of the grandchildren.

It is true, Carleen was strong and courageous and innovative and creative, but best of all she was a kid at heart. From elaborate practical jokes on April Fools Day, to the most creative Christmas Eve programs, to Halloween mischief, to memorable birthday celebrations, to silly fun and games any old day of the week, Carleen brought her own fun with her wherever she went!

I remember Carleen telling this story from her high school years on Minneapolis “Nordeast” side of town. Friday nights at Minnesota Dragway in Coon Rapids featured a Powder Puff race featuring only women drivers. Carleen and Chris got the bright idea to wait until their folks were sound asleep, quietly borrow their dad’s 1965 Dodge Charger, tear up that track, and be back in their beds before anyone knew they were missing. This went well for a few weeks and then one day their plan was foiled by the unexpected. THEY WON THEIR RACE! And local news was there to cover the story! And their dad watched on the news as his girls accepted the trophy in front of HIS Dodge Charger! That was their last race! What a shame to get caught but what a great way to finish up their racing careers!

[DISCLAIMER: I remember Dick and Carleen telling this story to enraptured audiences over the years but in doing a few interviews for this piece I learned from Ruth and Chris that Carleen was not involved in the Powder Puff adventure, but it was just Chris who was the star of this family lore. Just goes to show the power of oral storytelling and retelling and retelling! But it was such a great story I had to include it here.]

Chris remembers Carleen as a serious kid growing up. She was a very good student and took life seriously when she was little. It must have been her husband and kids who brought out the little kid in her!

Dick and Carleen Huseth were married on April 5, 1975, at the Lutheran Church of the Living Christ in Chanhassen. They were still living in south Minneapolis (next door to the renowned wildlife artist Les Kouba incidentally) but made the drive out to Chanhassen for church every Sunday morning. Soon Carleen convinced Dick to teach Sunday School with her at LCLC, a practice they took with them as they moved three times throughout Minnesota.

When the kids were little, Nick wanted to play soccer, but it seems there was a shortage of coaches that year, so Carleen took up coaching soccer. When we asked if she knew anything about soccer, she pulled out a rule book from the library and said, “Not yet, but I will by morning!”

Over the next few years, she coached those little boys into a winning soccer team and eventually ended up traveling to Scotland for a tournament. It was truly a family affair; the boys ran their little hearts out and Dick ended each game by crawling around on the ground picking up orange peels. The kids on that team will never forget all the fun they had with the first “mom coach” in the league.

Alex remembers his mom coaching his hockey team. Carleen came from a hockey family; her dad coached and her brother was a goalie at St. Cloud State and on the semi-pro team for the North Stars. Carleen was the only mom hockey coach in the league and when she glided out on the ice in her white figure skates, the rest of the dad coaches couldn’t keep their bone-headed comments to themselves. Carleen went on to a paid coaching position at Hopkins High School for the Sophomore girl’s hockey team where she did well as a coach and more importantly as a role model for young women athletes everywhere. Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?!

Carleen could pull a party together like none other. Just for fun, she organized an outing for the siblings and cousins playing Moonlight Golf for charity. What could be more fun than running around in the dark chasing little glow-in-the-dark golf balls? They had so much fun that they made it an annual event.

Carleen and Chris were sisters and were born on the same day but three years apart. They always had a thing to see who would say happy birthday first. Carleen was tricky on that. One time she waited for Chris to call first and then answered the phone by shouting into the receiver HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!

On one of Chris’s birthdays, Chris and Tom went out for dinner. Their daughter, Mary, stayed home and secretly met Carleen. They clandestinely decorated the yard and house with women’s triple triple triple X size panties. They flung them in the trees, on the roof, on the deck, and all over the yard. There must have been at least 50 pair of panties. However, there was no Happy Birthday sign in the yard, so neighbors driving by just saw this bizarre scene of giant underpants lavishly draped all over the place!!

Chris recalls, “Who buys and collects women’s panties at garage sales and thrift stores for months just to prank her sister? You have heard of houses being TPed? My house got UNDERWEARed!”

A few years later when Carleen turned 50, Grandma Darlene, Chris, and Cindy conspired to throw her a birthday surprise party. They worked for months pulling together friends and family to conduct a birthday parade. Sadly, Grandma Darlene passed away a few months before she could see her plan executed, but the rest of the family stepped up to make it happen.

Chris lived on Weaver Lake Road and Carleen was waiting at her house for a little get-together when all at once there arose such a clatter, Carleen sprung to her feet to see what was the matter! There she saw parade of dozens of men, women, and children on foot, in cars, trucks pulling fishing boats, riding bikes and trikes, and armed with pots, pans, lids, kazoos, drums, and loud melodic voices, and tossing candy to the children who came out of their houses to check out the mayhem. Celebrating Carleen’s half century on this planet was quite the talk of the town for a long time.

Dick’s parents hosted Christmas Eve every year which involved Dick and Carleen traveling the furthest to be with family; first from Minneapolis, then from St. Cloud, then from Duluth, and finally from Maple Grove. Family tradition held that we would meet at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, attend Christmas Eve service in Chanhassen, have a full Christmas dinner around the heirloom dining room table, then retire to the basement for Christmas programs, and finally the opening of the gifts. We all grumbled when Grandma Darlene hatched her new plan of each family doing a Christmas piece before opening gifts, but not Carleen! She always came up with the very best and most creative presentations. I remember one year when Dayna was just a baby. I teamed up with Dick’s family and we created a film using a big old VHS camcorder. We looked like Channel 8 News ready capture the FILM AT 11. We drove out to where I was boarding my horses on the west side of Chaska. Our cousin Linda attached tree branches to her horse’s bridle to resemble a reindeer’s antlers, hitched old Fred to the toboggan, the rest of us piled onto the sled, and Fred pulled us through the snow. Carleen had written a song or a script but all that could be heard was the howling of the sub-zero wind and all that could be seen was that big bay gilding pulling something through the wind-driven snow flying sideways in a blur. The windchill was well below zero so I volunteered to take one-year-old sweet baby Dayna with me to sit in the warm car. My hands and feet and face were aching with cold, and I imagine everyone felt the same, but Carleen finished directing the scene and finally they all scurried into the car, freezing cold and weak with laughter.

Over the years, other Carleen Christmas programs featured Dick impersonating Ricky Martin, the whole family singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with tiny flashlights stuck up their noses making the tips of their noses glow red, lip syncing White Christmas to the Temptations version of the classic, drawing upside-down faces on the chins of the children who hung upside-down off the couch singing a Christmas carol, and many other programs that always stole the show and had us rolling in the aisle. But our very favorite presentation was in 1981. Carleen began by explaining the rules to a game of Family Feud. She began with something like, “name six Christmas carols” and “name six traditional Christmas foods.” You get the idea. This went on for a while and then she said, “name six Huseths.” We all shouted the names of all the Huseths we could think of but there was one slot remaining open. When she pulled off the last cover, it read, “You’ll find out in June!” It was her clever way of telling the family that Alex was on his way and their family of five would soon be a family of six. We all laughed and screamed and cried all at the same time!

Carleen was known throughout the neighborhood for her April Fool’s pranks. So funny. So creative. One April Fool’s Day it became clear that Carleen’s first born, Dawn, was the apple that hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Very late the night before, Dawn made sure that her parents and little brothers and sister were sound asleep. Then she sneaked out of her bedroom and down the stairs to the kitchen.

She started by filling her mom’s sugar bowl with salt; she knew that coffee with sugar was her mom’s go-to first thing in the morning. Dawn then slipped into her dad’s bathroom and stretched saran wrap over the toilet bowl; she also knew her dad’s first stop in the morning! Next, she tip-toed into her little brothers’ and sister’s rooms where she drew all over their faces with magic marker. She finished her April Fools masterpiece by making a bed of coats in the front closet. There she lay down, covered up, and fell fast asleep for the night.

The next morning, Dawn was awakened by the frantic yelps (and a little colorful language) from the rest of the family as they discovered her handiwork AND discovered that she was not in her bed! That day it became clear that Dawn was indeed cut from her mother’s bolt when it came to fun just for fun’s sake!

Halloween was one of Carleen’s favorite times of year and the costumes she came up with were legendary. She was known for wearing a big black cloak and witches hat dragging a shovel up and down the street, scaring any children still out late enough to encounter her! When the kids were getting too old for trick or treating, she got Nick (a teenager by then) to dress up like an old man sitting in a chair outside the front door. He looked just like the scarecrow figure that had decorated that same chair all thru October. When the little ones came close with their chants of TRICK OR TREAT, Nick would jump up and scare them! There was even legend of grown-ups peeing in their pants upon their discovery that it was Nick inside that costume and not straw stuffing. Carleen would howl with laughter every time. And then hand out extra candy.

Dick’s sister Holly remembers a time when she and Carleen were washing cars in the driveway at Grandma Huseth’s house. They began to splash each other and then throw water on one another. One thing led to another and soon they were dumping pails of water on each other! Holly dashed into the basement to fill her bucket with water and when she turned around there was Carleen! With the hose! At point blank range! Inside the house!

I loved the way Carleen would deflect when her kids would ask her the hard questions:

Nick: Hey Mom! I had so much fun at my buddy’s cabin last weekend. We should have a lake place. Why don’t we have a lake place? I wish we had a lake place.
Carleen: Oh Nick, I’m sorry. If I had only known you wanted a lake place, I would have gotten you one. If I had only known yesterday, but today it’s too late. Sorry.

Nick (about 5 years old): Hey Mom, I love that song playing on the radio. Who is that singing?
Carleen: Lionel Richie
Nick: Oh man! I wish Lionel Richie was my dad.
Carleen: Oh, Nick. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you wanted Lionel Richie to be your dad. If I had only known, I would have arranged that sooner. Too bad, you’re stuck with your dad now.

Another thing I loved about Carleen is that she was fearless. If she wanted a deck on the back of the house, she would figure out a way to build it. She would enlist the help of her kids and from an early age they all four became capable kids who had the courage try most anything. And if it didn’t work, they would try another way, learning from their missteps. Want an ice fishing house? Build one. Need a compost bin? Design one. Need a lawn mower shed? Build a GREAT BIG one. The bathtub fixture sprung a leak? Find the water main and just fix it. Husband taking too long to install a sump pump in the basement? Give it a try yourself (and then call Grandpa for help). Figure out a way and just do it!

I remember sometime during the early 80s when the Urban Cowboy craze was in full swing, Carleen and I went out to a country bar to listen to music and dance. Before the night was over, I looked up and there was Carleen riding the mechanical bull! I was too scared to look silly, but she was so gutsy. And she didn’t look silly at all. She looked awesome!

Carleen loved pets and probably would have had a zoo if she’d had her way. She loved frightening her sisters with cupped hands showing off a slimy toad or a frog, and not just as kids … well into their 50s! A long list of purchases and rescues including dogs, cats, spiders, birds, snakes, guinea pigs, and reptiles made their way into Carleen’s care. There was even a goat! And a Venomous African Frog who ate live mice!! Who needs TV when you have a Venomous African Frog and live mice?!

Alex remembers their friends were always welcome in their home. It was not unusual for any of the kids to come home and find their friends sitting around the kitchen table visiting with Carleen. They knew where they could grab a good meal (her specialty was pork chops) or just shoot the breeze. Carleen excelled at keeping all the plates of family life spinning. She was always there with a listening ear, a bowl of chili, and a laugh. She kept the home fires burning as her family ventured out into the world learning valuable lessons along the way.

Carleen just laughed and let the lesson teach itself when one day she got a call from the high school principal saying that Alex and some other guys were caught mooning the parking lot full of students from a second story classroom. How did they know it was Alex? Seems he was wearing his football jersey complete with name and number on the back! Sometimes lessons teach themselves. Carleen just laughed. And then she loved to tell the story to anyone who would listen.

Dayna was Carleen’s second daughter, and she was an equal measure of Dick and Carleen. She was a beautiful girl. She had a great big heart. She was super funny. She was the life of the party! She could weave a tale like none other! I remember one day she began to talk about a wedding she had attended over the weekend. About how long the photographer was taking with the bride and groom pictures. About how all the guests were waiting and waiting, getting more and more hungry, and grumpy. About how she just happened to have a yoyo with her (in her formal gown). About how she began to entertain the whole group with yoyo tricks.

As Dayna spoke, I remember looking at Dick and Carleen watching her holding court. She was animated, witty, insightful. We all hung on her every word, but to see the look in her parents’ eyes as they watched her regale us with every detail was truly a gift! Dayna’s eyes sparkled with every phrase. Carleen’s eyes sparkled right back! Carleen’s eyes told her own story about how proud she was to see the fabulous young woman Dayna had grown into. We laughed til we cried hearing all about the yoyo tricks and the personalities in her audience. But Dick and Carleen enjoyed it on a completely different level. They were watching the culmination of many years of human nature observations from this natural-born storyteller. Yes, Dayna was equal measures of Dick and Carleen, but Carleen knew she had raised an amazing young woman. Though she was gone too soon, there is a sweet blessing in knowing she was spared the pain of Dayna’s 2012 death just 4 years after her own, and that they are both now together in heaven with Grandma Darlene!

Carleen was creative, crafty, and artsy. Carleen was fearless and innovative. Carleen was the life of the party. Carleen loved her family deeply and would be so proud to see the fantastic adults her kids and grandkids have become.

If there is anything on this earth that Carleen would be sad to be missing, it would be meeting the rest of her grandchildren. Being in their lives would give her a brand-new reason to be the kid-at-heart she was born to be.

Carleen was not who she appeared to be on her last day on earth. Carleen was the vibrant wife, mother, sister, and friend living in our memories today.

15 AND 51 by mia hinkle

[2004] Suddenly and without warning, I am the middle-aged mother of teenagers. Nearly 13 and 15 years old, my two sons are in a wondrous, frightening, emotional, frustrating, exciting, and beautiful decade of their lives—and of mine.

I am 51 now and have been a mother for only the last 15 years. Seems like forever though. Life before 35 is a little hazy to me right now. My boys are spreading their wings, ever so gracefully and ever so clumsily, yearning to be free—if not in free-fall—from the nest.

Youth is really an amazing condition. I am sometimes in awe watching those boys run like the wind, their brain cells firing on all cylinders and making a hundred calculations per second. Zipping, zigging, zagging, calculating the speed of their opponent and the position of their team mate, measuring the angle of the goal, sensing the height of the grass and the pressure of the soccer ball, and then compensating for all of it before making their move. It’s the littlest things about them that give me the greatest joy.

Hard to believe it is those same boys who can’t figure out how to turn in their homework or brush their teeth. The whole idea of thinking ahead is lost on them right now. Asking them to study for a test more than one night in advance or to drink a little water before a game in 90 degree heat or to warm up for the 400 meter track and field event is like asking them to build a space station—quite “other-worldly.”

Watching this kind of short-sightedness and the inevitable result is like sitting across the table from someone, watching him poke himself in the eye over and over and over. I just want to reach across the table, shake him by the shoulders and shout, “JUST STOP IT!” It’s the littlest things that frustrate the [expletive deleted] out of me!

So…this is a very good time for me to sit back and revisit my life before I became a mother.

But first this …

A woman standing next to me at the track meet last week (yes the same track meet where we couldn’t quite connect the dots between preparing for and succeeding at the 400 meter race) said to me, “May I tell you a story?” She must have sensed my frustration as I watched my son throwing up after a dismal and painful finish. It seems he was too busy chatting with his buddies to stretch or to warm up a little before the sprint. She began:

Last summer I was in Wisconsin with my teenage kids, and we went parasailing near the Dells. Afterward, as the boat was docking, I said to them, “Wasn’t that a beautiful sight? The blue sky with the white billowy clouds, the green hills and the rugged bluffs with the crystal blue lake below. Nestled in the valley was that charming little church with the white steeple, the winding driveway like a dark velvet ribbon, the sun reflecting off the windows was so stunning, the way the hills around it seemed to cradle it just so…”

The words were snatched from my mouth by the looks on their faces. It was a look that said, “Are you nuts?” Their words followed, “What? What? What church? What steeple? We didn’t see any valley with a church. You must have been seeing things. All we saw was the sky and a few trees.”

Again I tried to describe the scene in more vivid detail, explaining that it was just north of the lake beyond the bluff, becoming impatient with them that they weren’t paying attention and missed such a great part of the experience.

Our parasailing guide overheard our growing argument. He chuckled and said, “Excuse me ma’am, you are both right. Because you are an adult, I could let you up 500 feet. But the kids are minors so regulations prohibit me from letting them up more than 250 feet. There is no way your children could have seen the sight you describe from only 250 feet up.”

The woman became silent. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. There I was. Guilty as charged. Angry and frustrated by a 15-year-old who simply isn’t up high enough to see things the way I do at 51.

So today I ask myself: Who was I at that age? And can I relax a little and forgive my kids for being up only 250 feet?

When I was 13 years old, it was 1967 and I was in eighth grade. I lived in the suburbs but I felt like a country girl. My family moved there from a farm near Evansville in west central Minnesota. My Dad had been a farmer but at age 45 traded careers to become a flight instructor. My mom had been a farm wife and, you know, just our mom, but now she was a teacher’s aide at Minnetonka East Jr. High. The rest of the family consisted of my older brothers, Hans and Dick, and my younger sisters, Holly and Solveig.

I really was a farm girl, but now I lived in the ’burbs. Under great protest, we had given up 180 acres of free roaming. You know what that means if you grew up in an earlier and more innocent decade. It was a be-back-before-dark kind of freedom—climbing trees, swimming horses across a rain-swollen creek, bike riding on gravel roads, seeing puppies born under the granary, checking mink traps with my Mom, ice skating on a rink flooded between straw bales, cutting my little sister’s hair to the scalp, swimming in the slough, feeding little pigs with Hans, watching Dick drag home two deer my Mom shot in the ravine behind the barn (while my Dad and his buddies, incidentally, were in Canada deer hunting), flying in my Dad’s Piper Cub crop dusting plane to fly-in pancake breakfasts, driving our surprise baby sister Solveig home from the hospital without a car seat, and Holly and I riding a Greyhound bus four hours all by ourselves (at the age of 10 and 11) to see the Beatles in 1965 at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis.

We left behind that kind of farm freedom for greater opportunity in the cities—that’s what people from our neck of the woods call Minneapolis/St. Paul. I guess it was a good chance for my parents to earn a little more money and make a better life for their kids. My brothers were out on their own, and it was just us three little girls at home. But with greater opportunity came more people, busier schedules, and new stresses.

My family’s farm life was auctioned off the summer I turned 11 years old. I entered sixth grade in a strange new land near the cities…Chaska, Minnesota.

Initially, I was an extremely shy and quiet kid, kind of lonely and awkward. When I was 13, I met my best friend, Diane. She too had moved in sixth grade. “What a rotten time for a kid to move,” we agreed. We found friendship in each other. That was the beginning of my life as a grown up.

My first paying job was picking strawberries. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and my family of five was living in a two bedroom apartment. Working that field was awful and hot, muggy and buggy, and undoubtedly the worst job I ever had. See this: A bunch of kids riding in the back of a one ton truck with wooden slats around the box to hold us inside all the way to the strawberry fields. There were so many of us we had to stand up. The truck delivered us to the strawberry farm by 7:30 in the morning. Don’t believe what they tell you about Minnesota. It isn’t always cold there. In the summertime it is H-O-T hot: 9am-90-degrees-and-climbing hot. We picked berries all day for a quarter a quart, cash at the end of the day. I don’t think I lasted too long at this job; sunburn and heat stroke were dangerous for this little blonde Norwegian. My Mom finally had pity on me and let me quit, which was as simple as not showing up for the truck ride to the fields.

At 14 years old, the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I got a job babysitting for a family in our neighborhood for $20 a week. Five days a week from 7:30am to 5:30pm I cared for a five year old girl, a boy just a year younger than I, and a girl my age who was mentally retarded [that wads the term back then]. Cereal for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, getting dinner started for the family, doing dishes, straightening up, and entertaining the children. Not much on daytime TV in 1968 and certainly no video games. I now wonder exactly what I did to entertain such a diverse group all day long all summer long.

By ninth grade, Diane and I were virtually inseparable and starting to spread our wings. We had class together, we hung out together, we had summer birthdays together, we rode the school bus together and then called each other the minute we got off the hour long bus ride, we dressed up and took the city bus downtown Minneapolis together, we went to school dances and football games together, we got dissed by the popular girls together, we snuck out together, we looked for trouble on Windy Hill together, we sipped cherry vodka together, we listened to Mason Profit through a Dave’s bedroom window together, we smoked cigars together when Diane’s surprise baby brother was born, we bought Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin albums together, we got our drivers licenses together, and we had our first hoodlum boyfriends together.

Oh…did I mention we were grounded for the better part of our freshman year together? Our folks thought we were no good for each other. But we knew otherwise. We are still good friends today. Many years later, I was living in Indiana and Diane was living in the Virgin Islands, we became mothers together at the ripe old age of 35. We are indeed kindred spirits.

I was 15 in 1969. I know there must have been important news going on in America, but I wasn’t paying much attention. That was the year I got my first W-2 job at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre washing dishes for $1.35 an hour. Actually, Diane and I got jobs in the dish room together. It was hot and sweaty work but we didn’t care…we had our own moolah! It didn’t take long, and we were both promoted to usherettes in the 600 seat dinner theatre. The play was Damn Yankees, and we got to dress in baseball caps and tight jeans. We were the cat’s meow! We were rolling in dough at $1.50 an hour. Gas was 47 cents a gallon. Over the next twelve years, the Dinner Theatre would offer ideal hours for me as I worked my way through high school and college; from the dish room to usherette to cashier to waitress to bartender to hostess. It was an amazing place with four professional theatres under one roof serving 920 dinners out of two kitchens in two hours before the plays would begin. My job at the Dinner Theatre became my social and educational life. In by 5:00 and out by 9:00, it was the perfect evening job for students, especially when the tips were good. For years after I left there however, I would have nightmares about serving salads in a panic as the lights were going down, unable to find my tables.

I had my first serious boyfriend when I was 15. Too steady and TOO serious. He was 6’ 6” as a junior in high school, a good Catholic boy who had just returned from seminary high school discovering in the nick of time that the priesthood wasn’t for him. When he was a senior, I was a sophomore at Chaska High School and he took me to prom. My hair was in a bee-hive which was old fashioned even then. I wore a pumpkin orange empire dress with a black orchid corsage. The picture is hysterical. By the next year, we weren’t a couple any more but I still have a tender spot in my heart for him.

Something astounding happened during the summer I turned 17 just before my senior year. I gave my heart to Jesus. A charismatic Catholic priest named Father Richard began holding prayer meetings in the homes in our area. Out of curiosity, my sister Holly and I began attending and at one meeting I had a vision of Jesus standing in the doorway with his arms outstretched toward us. That was it. I knew it was real. Thanks to my Mom, we had grown up in the Lutheran church and had been baptized and confirmed. But this was different. This was personal.

My senior year was great and everything you’d want for your daughter’s last year of high school. Involved at school, good grades, prayer meetings and Bible studies on the weekends, no boyfriend but lots of friends, Homecoming Princess, Jaycees Teenager of the Month (whatever that means), working hard, making money, getting along with my parents, planning for college. It seemed I had the world by the tail. I’m not sure if I was in denial or just plain clueless about the trouble brewing with my Dad.

I turned 18 the day after my high school graduation in 1972 and began a courtship with a guy from my class. Two years later we married just a month after my twentieth birthday. And this is interesting; our wedding ceremony was part of the Sunday morning worship service at my family’s church home—Lutheran Church of the Living Christ. I wore my mother’s wedding gown, said I do, and had coffee and donuts in the church basement afterward. That night we went to see Joni Mitchell in concert. The next day it was Monday. We went back to work. It was business as usual.

It didn’t take long for the marriage to begin to unravel and two years later we were divorced. In retrospect, I think we may have rushed the wedding just a teence. For me, I know it was just a good way for me to get out of the house. Seems silly now, but I didn’t have the courage to move out on my own. I had attended community college and lived at home for two years after high school. I was becoming more and more aware of my Dad’s drinking problem and my Mom’s misery over it. I remember the night we had decided to get married. My Dad was drunk again and my folks were fighting … something about some neighbors getting a little too friendly. I remember hearing the shouting, getting out of bed, pulling on my jeans, and walking uptown barefoot in my baby doll pajama top and jean jacket. I found a friend who drove me to Steve’s apartment where we made the plan and just a few weeks later we were married, no matter how fervently both sets of parents protested.

We were both born-again Christians, but we were the kind of superior new believers who thought we knew it all and really didn’t see the need for a church family. There were probably good churches all around us but we didn’t care to investigate or to become part of a Bible-based community. We lived separate lives. He worked and smoked…after he told me he had quit. I worked and went to school…and hated smokers. Our lives were on parallel tracks and heading nowhere together. A perfect petri dish for what happened next.

An older guy at work—a bartender with dreamy brown eyes who had been in the Navy—began paying attention to me. Twenty-two is a bad time in your life to feel like you’re taken for granted at home, so I began a five-year period of back-sliding in a big way. I left my husband, moved in with the bartender, which broke my mother’s heart, lived with him for two years, broke up with him, moved into my own efficiency apartment, and took up with a Native American story-telling horse trainer with steel blue eyes and curly hair 25 years older than I.

I worked as a teller at the local bank, showed horses in barrel racing and pole bending, and owned a dirt bike. I traveled to San Francisco, St. Thomas USVI, Kingsville, Texas, the Bighorn Mountains, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I finished my accounting degree and worked in a CPA office. I never stopped to open my Bible or darken the door of a church. My folks were disapproving but stood by me. My mom would drop off groceries outside my apartment door; she knew the only thing in my fridge was nail polish. She kept praying for me and one day—I forget why now—I moved back home and began to get back on my feet.

January 1981. I met my husband Karl on Super Bowl Sunday at my parent’s home. He was with the Wright Brothers Band. They lived in Indianapolis but often worked in Minneapolis. I wasn’t much for hanging out in smoky clubs listening to bands, but my sister had married their road manager and invited the band over to my parent’s house to watch the Super Bowl.

July 1981. The band visited my parent’s home again, this time for a picnic. Karl was miserable, sitting in front of a fan trying to get cool in our un-air-conditioned house. I asked him if he’d like to help me feed my horses that evening. He came with me and then asked me out on a date for that very night! We went to the drive-in movies – in Minnesota it doesn’t get dark until after 10:00pm in July. We saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and Airplane at the Mann France Drive-in. We knew we were made for each other when we both laughed hysterically at the humor in Airplane. I know it’s hard to believe but not everyone laughs at Airplane!

August 1981. I visited my sister in Indiana. Falling in love fast and furious. Karl lived in the same apartment complex as Holly. I did not see much of her that weekend.

September 1981. Very early one crisp autumn morning (I was just getting up in Minnesota and Karl hadn’t been to bed yet in Nevada) the phone rang. It was Karl calling me from Reno. He asked me to marry him. My heart soared. I said, “Yes!”

October 1981. I joined Karl in Nashville, Tennessee for the Country Music Awards. We stayed at the Opryland Hotel in the lap of luxury. There must have been country music celebrities and media there, but I didn’t notice. I only had eyes for Karl. We had an enchanted—and I do mean ENCHANTED—weekend. I cried like they do in the movies when I boarded the plane to go home.

November 1981. We had a huge reception open house at my folk’s house for friends and relatives to meet Karl. We stood at the front door and greeted guests coming and going all afternoon. Poor guy, the day was a blur for him.

December 21, 1981. Karl and I were married on a sub-zero Monday night at a local historic landmark. The first church built in Chanhassen, St. Hubert Catholic Church, was erected in 1887 and rented to the Lutherans when the Catholics built a bigger new facility in 1970s. We spent the next two days at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing and were back in Chanhassen in time to spend Christmas Eve with my family.

December 25, 1981. Karl and I moved all my earthly belongings to Indianapolis in my black Chevy pick-up powered by, of all things, propane. It was raining on Christmas Day. I thought I had moved to the Deep South.

So we began our life together: our honeymoon in October, our reception in November, and our wedding in December. 1981 was a big year for us. I began the year a perfectly happy single girl and ended the year an ecstatically happy married woman. Karl began the year playing in a regional band—a big fish in a little pond—and ended the year with a national recording contract with Warner Brothers—a little fish in a huge lake. The band had songs on Billboard’s Top 40 country charts and Karl was traveling 280 days a year. They played clubs from coast to coast. They performed on The Today Show and on Hee Haw. They warmed up for Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Oak Ridge Boys, and many other big names.

Fast forward through the next eight years, otherwise known as the Longest Honeymoon. During our pre-child years, we lived in a little love nest—a rented farm house on a country road near Westfield, Indiana. At $200 per month we couldn’t afford not to live there. I worked in the mergers and acquisitions business, managed John Biddinger’s Indianapolis office, and handled financial analysis of leveraged buyouts deals. Obviously it was the 80s. We made too much money and saved too little and used credit cards too freely. We saw too many movies and ate out too often. We vacationed in London. We paid more each month to board my horses than we paid for rent on the house. Life was relatively carefree. Perhaps I was in denial or just plain clueless about the trouble brewing with my husband.

There were three huge turning points during this chapter. First, in July of 1982 we discovered Northview Christian Life Church and Pastor Tommy Paino; both would become anchors in our lives personally and professionally.

Second, a secret addiction to prescription pain medicine brought Karl to his knees before family, friends, and God. When his head cleared and his body began to heal, he heard God’s call upon his heart and upon his music. He left the band, went to work at Northview as Youth Director, and later began a music ministry outreach which continues today. He became a licensed minister traveling to churches, prisons, the mission field, and special evangelical events proclaiming the Gospel of Christ with his words and music.

Third, our hearts began to yearn for children and at 33 years old I started infertility treatments. We ran through a truckload of dollars and a ton of tears before we began to investigate adoption. One day I was sitting in the doctor’s office lab waiting for results of my blood test. I casually mentioned to the woman next to me that this was my third month making daily visits to the doctor’s office and cheerfully proclaimed that I had a hunch the third time would be the charm. She hollowly replied that this was her eleventh YEAR trying to get pregnant. Hmmmm. I began to wonder just what was so special about our gene pool that would make us go through this kind of heartache for that long. It began to dawn on Karl and me that there just might be a child or two out there for us.

The dates are important here because it shows what a whirlwind the adoption process can be. It doesn’t have to take years of waiting. In June 1989 we visited an adoption attorney and got all the facts. In August we completed our home study and began to wait. On December 13, 1989 Walker was born and we got the call. “It’s a boy!”

On December 18 we picked Walker up from the hospital on a cold and snowy day. It was 19 degrees. He was five days old and SOOO adorable. I was 35 and Karl was 37. We just stared at Walker day and night. We were mesmerized by his very existence. We both got up for the 2am feedings. One held the bottle while the other watched. We made excuses to go out in public so we could show him off.

On December 22, Walker was nine days old. We boarded a plane for Minneapolis to spend Christmas with my family. What a sight! My Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews all showed up at the airport with balloons and banners to greet us and worship the child. The next day, my friend Diane brought her first-born to my parent’s house. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Two beautiful babies born just one month apart. So very different. One in blue and one in pink, one very dark and one very fair, one quiet and one not so quiet. Both with the same possibilities and opportunities awaiting them. Looking into their eyes, all we saw were their bright futures. Life would no doubt toss them around a little, but we just knew they would come out strong. We just knew it. We could see it in their eyes. We could see ourselves in their eyes!

Fast forward to summer 1992. We thought at 2 ½ years old, Walker might be ready for a little brother or sister. On July 27 we wrote our attorney, telling him we would begin the home study update and asking him to put us on the list again. On August 7, just ten days later, Jackson was born and we got the call. “It’s another boy!!” On August 10 we picked up Jackson from the hospital on a humid 91 degree day. He was three days old and SOOO adorable. I was 38 and Karl was 40. We discovered that one plus one is not always two; it might as well be five when you are adding kids to your family. Jackson was a really good baby, and once he started walking our family life was at full tilt.

The last 13 years have been a tilt-a-whirl ride: a thousand activities and committees and new friends, Little Lamb preschool, our first home in Carmel, Adirondack chairs in our side-yard, great neighbors, Cherry Tree Elementary, Clay and Carmel Jr. Highs, University High School, soccer, the loss of my 14-year job at Biddinger Investment, driveway basketball, summer camps, Smokey Row swim team, Sunday School, Youth Group at Radiant, Discipleship Walk, SIS (Sisters in Spirit) accountability group, SOS (Sisters of the Sand) pastors’ wives trips to Florida, deep friendships, vacations to Grand Marais on Lake Superior, Norway, the Black Hills, Destin, family visits to Minneapolis, sisters’ trips to Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale, hiking at Holiday Park, Springmill State Park, and Turkey Run, Karl’s music ministry and his ’60s rock-n-roll band, the best block parties in town, neighborhood night games, bon fires, travel soccer, caring for the dying and the passing of my mother and Karl’s mother and dad and Pastor Tommy, the murder of my boss and good friend Bill Rice, my Dad’s one-year AA Pin at the age of 83, the loss of our church in Carmel and helping to plant a new one in Westfield, my nieces and nephews growing up and having their own kids, my Scribes writing group, track and cross country meets, out of town soccer tournaments, a Belizean mission pilgrimage, a husband who loves me more year after year, two healthy and bright sons, soccer, soccer, and more soccer—and this week…the Unthinkable…the Unfathomable…Drivers Training!

But back to those two questions: Who was I at that age, at 13 or 15 years old? And can I relax a little and forgive my kids for being up only 250 feet?

I was a pretty good kid at my core who was loved by my Mother and Dad.

I was scared and insecure and pretty and smart.

I made good friends and good grades when I wanted to.

I made poor grades when I didn’t care.

I had great courage sometimes and great fear sometimes.

I made good choices sometimes and really stupid ones sometimes.

I broke my parent’s heart a time or two although I really didn’t set out to.

I put the needs of others before my own sometimes and only thought of what I wanted sometimes.

I did dangerous things that could have got me killed or hurt or pregnant or sick, but I really didn’t see it that way at the time.

I didn’t see the big picture or plan ahead very far to set my future in motion according to some grand design.

I didn’t live up to my full potential all the way every day.

And still…I think I turned out OK.

That’s how I see it today at 51 from 500 feet up. I thank God and my Scribes Group for this assignment. I ask that both keep reminding me to relax a little and rejoice in the fact that my kids are only 250 feet up right now.

THEY COULDN’T FOOL ME by mia hinkle

This is based on a story my dad, Donald Huseth, tells about himself. It takes place when he was four or five years old, living on the family farm in west central Minnesota in the mid 1920s. He always wondered where he would have gotten such an idea, as of course there were no TVs, radios, or magazines in the house at that time.

This is a story my dad, Donald Huseth, tells about himself. It takes place when he was four or five years old, living on the family farm in west central Minnesota in the mid-1920s. He always wondered where he would have gotten such an idea, as of course there were no TVs, radios, or magazines in the house at that time.

My heart was pounding in my throat. I could barely hear my footsteps for the sound of rushing blood in my ears. I knew I’d catch them this time!

Holding my breath, I tried to make my steps as light as feathers, to keep them from hearing me. Slowly I made my way across the creaky floorboards of the old porch.

They couldn’t fool me. I knew what they were up to. Ma and Pa, my sisters and brother were all inside. The sun was setting and the amber glow of the windows looked warm and inviting.

They couldn’t trick me. I knew that the minute I left the old farmhouse they’d push a button that made everything fancy inside.

When I closed the door behind me, I knew they pushed a secret button in a hidden place—and out came the crystal and the china. Out came food with names we couldn’t even pronounce. Out came fine dresses and high-heeled shoes, suits, and ties like the bankers in town wore. Chandeliers made of gold and pearls lowered out of the ceiling. The imported linen drapes replaced the feed sacks tacked to the window frame. Even the floors were covered with carpets in rich colors. Our homemade rickety furniture was replaced by overstuffed brocade chairs and couches. The dining room table was hand-carved and highly polished. An oil painting hung above the fireplace. A grandfather clock kept perfect time in the corner. Tick…tock… tick…tock.

They couldn’t fool me. I was certain that the minute my little feet hit the driveway heading for the barn, my Ma would sit down at a grand piano in her fancy dress and play Chopin. The girls would read to one another from leather-bound classics. My Pa would sit at a roll-top desk, smiling as he counted his money—because there was enough of it! Then they would all gather around the dinner table, eating prime rib and lobster, using perfect manners, visiting, and laughing. Even my big brother would have something nice to say.

Heart pounding in my ears. Sneaking across the rickety porch. Holding my breath. Who did they think they were? They couldn’t fool me. I grabbed the doorknob and turned it. For an instant, it stuck. I grabbed it with both hands and burst through the door. “Ah ha!”

But no. There stood my Ma, at the stove, in her faded house dress, stirring the stew in a black cast-iron pot. My sisters setting the table. My brother grousing about the price of a bushel of corn. No china. No crystal. Not even a tablecloth. Stew for dinner. Again.

The next morning, I left the house to check on the baby chicks in the coop. So yellow. So soft. Peep, peep, peep, peep. I wished they could just stay this age.

Suddenly I heard it. The faint sound of a piano. I looked up at the old farmhouse. The door was shut tight. The curtains were closed. The house had been built to stand against the Minnesota cold many years ago, and now it sadly needed a coat of paint. I was born in this very house four and half years ago, and I knew it’s every nook and cranny. I couldn’t help but wonder: How could they hide something as big as a piano?

I began to sneak towards the house. The strains of Chopin got louder and louder. As I crept up the porch steps, I thought I heard laughter coming from inside. A window had been left open and the breeze parted the curtains. I crawled on my belly across the porch, afraid I’d get a splinter. I gripped the window sill with my chubby little hands. I knew I’d catch them this time. I popped up and peered through the window.

Argh! Too late! They must have seen me coming and pushed the button just in time. Beyond the feed sacks, I saw only the same old dim ordinary interior. Foiled again!

Day after day that summer, I would try different doors…different windows…different plans to try to catch them in the act. But I was never quite quick enough. I never did catch them red-handed.

But I’ve always known the truth. They couldn’t fool me.

HOLDING ON by mia hinkle

June is the traditional month of weddings.

But not for me … I was married on a Monday night in December. It was a crisp winter solstice evening in 1981. I was holding on to the love of my life as we made our way up the slippery steps of the old church, snow squeaking beneath our shoes. Our wedding story is one thing, but now sit back and listen to one of our many love stories.

It was 1982. We had been married just three weeks when Karl’s band left for a four week engagement in Reno, Nevada. I had just moved from Minnesota to Indiana where I had no job, no church, and only a handful of friends. I had no money but lots of time, so when my brand new husband had been gone just a couple of days, I came up with the brilliant idea of hopping a Greyhound Bus to see him. Fifty-four hours and four time zones later, I was back in his arms.

We had had our first date in July and our wedding in December. Now it was January and he took off for a month. It was too much to bear. My heart was aching to hold him again. I had known Karl for less than half a year and it was a long distance courtship at that. But now the thought of one month apart – OMG!

So I packed two suitcases full of glitzy club clothes, spikey high heels, and dangly earrings. I threw on my favorite jeans, a sweatshirt, and my western boots and headed downtown Indianapolis to the Greyhound Bus Depot. They said it would take about two days to get to Reno. I missed my new husband so much; it was only a couple of days… how bad could it be?

First stop: Chicago. The three hour drive took about five hours. That should have been my first clue. Turns out riding public transportation isn’t all about me. The bus stops every two or three hours to pick up riders and drop some off, do potty stops and meal breaks, and trade out drivers. In other words I was not to get more than two hours of sleep at a time for the next 54 hours.

The Chicago Greyhound Bus Depot was even seedier than the one in Indy. I kept to myself, watched the boards, and couldn’t wait until we pulled out. Finally they called our number and I settled into my seat. The bus filled up with passengers and for a moment I thought I would begin the trip with an empty seat next to me. Guess again. An old disheveled woman and her two grown daughters boarded at the last minute. The “more than big-boned” daughters were crabby with their elderly mom, bossing her around in unkind tones. They placed her in the seat next to me and we took off toward Des Moines. The afternoon rush hour rendered the expressway a virtual parking lot and we inched our way out of the city.

Diesel fumes permeated my senses. It wasn’t until six years later in 1988 that the first smoking bans began to gain momentum across the US. The front rows of the bus were designated as no smoking, so you know what that means for the back of the bus. It occurs to me that having a no smoking section on the bus is sort of like having a no peeing section in the pool. Smoke and diesel fuel mixed in mid-air to assault my nasal passages and tear ducts. It was January in Chicago … windows remained shut tight.

The sun soon set and the old woman dozed off. I remember that her frame was so tiny in that big seat. She tried to sit upright, but when sound sleep overtook her, she found a pillow on my shoulder. I noticed her hair hadn’t been washed in a while. By morning the unthinkable had happened; she had wet herself. This added to the myriad of odors hanging in the air. When she awoke, it became clear that she suffered from some sort of dementia and her daughters were impatient with her nonsense and her needs. She was talking too much. She was hungry too much. She was thirsty too much. Her daughters withheld water from her in hopes she wouldn’t have another accident. This made her irritable and a little panicky. I was her only ally, which in time made me an adversary of her daughters. I secretly shared what I had with her and we were both scolded for it. I don’t remember where they disembarked, but it was a long ways into my journey.

Chicago. Des Moines. Omaha. Salt Lake City. And – every – little – town – and – burg – along – the – way. Every two hours. The sound of those air brakes jolting me awake. My eyes felt like sandpaper. My brain was so tired. My joints were so stiff. My skin needed a bath. My hair was a mess. I looked like someone had dragged me through the bushes backwards.

My next seatmate was a guy about my age reeking of Jack Daniels, beer, pot, sweat, and jail. And he was really chatty. He had lots of stories about his adventures, both real and imagined. I’m sure he thought he was really impressing this vulnerable little blonde. I couldn’t wait for him to get off the bus.

Bus depots are, almost without exception, located in the roughest section of cities. Salt Lake City was that exception. The structure was clean and new and shiny. I changed buses there and headed out on the last leg of my journey to Nevada. It felt good to be somewhere clean and light, but by this time I had been two days without a bath and I carried the aromas of fast food, diesel fuel, smoke, and the underbelly of humanity.

Finally after 54 hours, we pulled into the Greyhound Bus Depot in Reno, Nevada.

Now I was 28 years old and you’d think I might have had a plan. But as I stepped off the bus into the bright desert sunshine, it occurred to me that I didn’t have the phone number or the name of the hotel where the band was staying. No cell phones. No credit card. About $5 left in my pocket but no quarters for the pay phone. All I knew was the name of the casino where the band was playing; John Ascuaga’s Nugget. I had no idea how to contact Karl. They didn’t know to look for me. Remember, it was a surprise.

The words, “How could I be so stupid?” rolled around in my head as I waited for my luggage. “How could I have overlooked this one teensy little detail? Now what am I going to do?”

It was hot. I longed for the clean clothes in my bags. The luggage belt went round and round. “No, it can’t be.” One by one each suitcase was picked up. And then nothing. My heart sank. I dragged over to the office where they confirmed that my luggage was indeed on it’s way to Phoenix.

What to do? What to do? I started to sweat.

For some mysterious reason I decided to step outside to get some fresh air. And there … low and behold … right across the street up the block was a big casino with a sign from above. A giant marquee in tracer lights, “John Ascuaga’s Nugget”.

I could not believe my bloodshot eyes! My steps and my heartbeat quickened as I hastened up the street.

I was thinking, “They’re probably not at the club now at 10 a.m. since their last show was in the middle of the night. But I’ve endured the last 54 hours on a Greyhound Bus. Surely I can wait around til the band’s first show tonight. It’s only 12 hours from now. I can wait. I can keep checking back at the bus depot for my luggage. I can grab some free hors d’oeuvres and a coke. I can watch daytime gamblers. And I can wait.”

The automatic doors swung open and I stepped into the air-conditioned lobby.

And then … you won’t believe this! There they were. A wall of men walking toward me. As they came into focus, I saw it was Bernie and Al, the band’s drummer and sound man. They saw me at the same moment I saw them and their jaws dropped! They stepped to the sides — like the parting of a curtain — and there was Karl. Again … I couldn’t believe my now tear-filled eyes!

We fell into each other’s arms and didn’t let go. Never mind that I smelled like diesel fuel and all manner of human experience. Never mind that I was suffering from a severe case of bus hair. Never mind that I needed a shower — badly. Never mind that my clothes weren’t glitzy and my shoes weren’t spikes. We just held on to each other and didn’t let go for the longest time.

Almost 40 years later we are still holding on to each other. When our dreams of fame and fortune faded, we held on to each other. When we laid eyes on our baby sons for the first time, we held each other. When we bought our house and wondered how we would ever make those payments, we held on. When we lost loved ones to age and disease, we held on to one another. When our kids make poor choices breaking our hearts, we hold on to each other. When the world bumps us around a bit, we just keep holding on to each other.

Thinking back now on that January day in the middle of the desert, at that miracle of timing; me walking in the front door at the precise moment the love of my life was approaching; down to my last dollar and out of ideas, I think it may have been a sign from God that if we trust him and hold on tight to one another, we’re probably going make it just fine, come what may!


Larry Theis has been a force to be reckoned with for the last six decades, though you won’t often see his name in the papers or his face on TV. A tenacious dairy farmer from the time he was old enough to attach a milk machine to a cow’s udder, he sold the dairy operation in 2001 and turned his exclusive focus to growing corn and beans. By that time, Larry and his son had formed L & B Theis Farms and began methodically expanding the family farming operation.

Born June 2, 1954, and raised in Shakopee, Larry was the fourth of nine children born to Norbert and Corrine Theis. He grew to be a formidable 6’ 5”, which has served him well in many tough spots over the years. Truly, the guy has outlived his nine lives! Larry has survived a playground slide accident, a snowmobile accident, a motorcycle accident, a bob-cat accident, serious car accidents too numerous to count, and one incident involving a brush pile and a flash fire. “Hard-working and hard-playing” doesn’t come close to describing his family.

The grueling and relentless work associated with milking, cleaning, breeding, and housing 300 head of dairy cows helped shape Larry into the strong, self-sufficient, and innovative man he is. There is no shortage of wild stories illustrating just how hard they worked – and how hard they played – growing up. THOSE stories could fill a book with chapter titles like:

  • 6 Police Officers Required to Issue Larry a Speeding Ticket
  • Pumpkins on the Jordan Hill
  • Drag Racing on Country Roads
  • Theis Boys Victorious Over Blinding Blizzard
  • Stitches Removed With a Seam Ripper
  • Theis Brothers (ages 8, 9, and 10) and Their Mom Disassemble a Corn Crib, Load it Onto a Flatbed, Transport It With a Tractor, and Reassemble It. Why? Cuz Dad Told Us To!

Farming runs in Larry’s veins, but family is at the root of who Larry is. Married to Solveig Huseth since 1992, with three grown children (Brad, Mandy, and Micah) and seven precious grandchildren, there is never a dull moment at Nana and Papa’s house. Family and friends know they are welcome to drop in – the door is quite literally always open – to splash in the pool, take the four-wheeler or the Harley for a spin, have a Michelob by the fire pit, or just hang out at the kitchen counter catching up. All the grandchildren agree that going “farming” with Papa is their number one favorite thing in the whole wide world with a cherry on top! They all know where Larry stands when it comes to his family. There is nothing more important to him.

Over the years, Larry has weathered seismic changes in the world of farming. He says the most important thing is to keep one eye on the sky and the other on the indicators of world market trends; he’s learned not everyone has the best interests of the farming community at heart when making public policy. In the 1970s and ‘80s, fast credit from local banks and grain embargoes out of Washington set in motion the biggest farm crisis since the Great Depression. Thousands of family farms throughout the Midwest over-borrowed from the banks; when grain prices plummeted due to international embargoes, land prices dropped, and many farmers could not afford the property taxes, let alone the principal and interest on what they had borrowed. It looked like the family farm would soon be a thing of the past. Those who were savvy enough and patient enough to avoid getting caught in that spiral are the ones who are still in business today. That would be Larry.

Larry’s folks started out in the early ‘50s with just a few acres south of Shakopee. Fresh out of high school, Larry took over the farming operation and steadily increased the acreage so that by 2003 when they sold it to developers, the operation had grown exponentially. The price per acre in that single transaction remains the highest in the history of Scott County. Now, in 2014, they farm 7,385 acres from Belle Plaine to Waterville and beyond. Larry’s key for success? Take a stand to live beneath your means. Invest, don’t spend.

Here is something you should know about farmers. They are a close knit group of people. They watch out for one another and help each other out whenever they can. For instance, if a farmer gets injured and can’t bring in his own harvest, it’s not uncommon for several of his neighbors to work together bringing in the crop for their injured friend before it freezes in the field. If one farmer gets hailed out, his friends will pull together and help him make ends meet until the next year. If a farmer’s truck breaks down, he just heads to his buddy’s place to borrow his; the keys are undoubtedly in the ignition.

So it made perfect sense. In the 1980s, when farm after farm began falling like dominoes to banks and holding companies, Larry Theis joined the Groundswell Movement of Minnesota started by Alfred and Bobbi Polzine of Worthington. The Polzine foreclosure case had served as a flashpoint and Groundswell chapters began to spring up in farm states across the region. Movies like “Country” featuring and co-written by Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard exemplify the struggles of a farm family trying desperately to hold on against all odds. Opponents called the Groundswell organization militant, but if you asked supporters, they would tell you they simply wanted to conserve an American way of life vital to the nation, a way of life that was now being derailed by big business, big government, and banks with loose regulations regarding land. “NO SALE!” was their slogan.

If you know Larry, you know that no one pushes him (or his friends) around without a fight. Suddenly across the country and right in their own backyard, family farms were going under, being gobbled up at tax sales or cannibalized by banks through farm auctions. Watching his friends being stripped of their land, their livelihoods, their very family histories was just too much for Larry to take lying down. He knew he had to take a stand.

Spring of 1985. West central Minnesota. The Jim and Gloria Langman family farm. Foreclosure. Farm auction. Politically charged. Hot tempers. Neighbor against neighbor.

That spring Larry and his Groundswell cronies made several trips to the Starbuck area, where the Langman farm was located, and to Glenwood where the bank that was foreclosing was located. The object was to protest the growing trend of foreclosures and stir up some publicity. During one visit they showed up with a backhoe and dug a trench at the end of the driveway so no one could get to the auction. Another time, 23 famers were arrested for locking arms across the street blocking the sheriff’s path from his office to the courthouse.

During another visit, Jesse Jackson (yes, the Jesse Jackson) rallied protesters on the steps of the Glenwood Courthouse. According to the April 22, 1985 issue of Jet Magazine (featuring a grainy black and white photo of Larry walking with Jackson), over 1,000 people listened as Jackson spoke in support of the protesters who had managed to block three attempts to hold a foreclosure sale on the Langman farm. “We must choose farms over arms and give peace and justice a chance!” was his message. He went on to criticize the Reagan administration for its farm and defense policies, urging urban and rural groups to band together demanding better prices and an end to foreclosures.

It was a pretty big deal; Jesse Jackson had just made a run for President of the United States the year before. He had been part of Martin Luther King’s entourage in the ‘60s and had traveled around the world to spotlight injustices and encourage world leaders to take a stand for people without a voice. In 1979 he had traveled to South Africa to speak out against Apartheid, and on to the Middle East to throw his support behind the creation of a Palestinian State. But on that warm April day in 1985, the Reverend Jesse Jackson was traveling with Larry Theis in a shiny new Lincoln Continental to Glenwood, Minnesota.

Larry, who didn’t always follow the letter of the law, tried to stay under the 55 mph speed limit. After all he had a celebrity in the back seat. A mile or two from the terminal the Reverend leaned forward and spoke in a low tone, “What’s the matter, White Boy? Don’t you know how to drive?” Well I don’t need to tell you, that was all Larry needed. He smiled playfully into his rear view mirror and put the pedal to the metal, passing cars like they were standing still, that big V-8 engine roaring up Interstate 94 all the way to Glenwood. It was a day he would never forget.

During another visit to the same courthouse, Larry and hundreds of Groundswell protesters assembled and were chanting “NO SALE! NO SALE!” The Langman farm was again in jeopardy of auction. After several attempts to calm the agitated crowd, Pope County Sheriff Gerald Moe zeroed in on Larry standing head and shoulders above the mob.

“Mr. Theis,” said the sheriff. “This crowd must disperse. NOW! I’m going to give you one chance. I want you to calmly walk with me into the courthouse. If you come with me peacefully, I will not place you under arrest – I’ll let you walk right on out the back. And then you just keep on walking … all the way to your car and get out of my town!”

Larry looked down at the man in authority, nodded, and quietly followed him into the courthouse. Then Larry proceeded to walk out the back door, circle the building, and slip right back to the courthouse steps emerging in the middle of the chanting crowd! “NO SALE! NO SALE!”

A few weeks later, long after the crowds, demonstrators, and Jesse Jackson had quieted, a large envelope came in the mail for Larry. It was from Jim and Gloria Langman, whose farm foreclosure had been successfully blocked. Larry opened the envelope and read the scribbling on the back of the photograph. It seems the press had been there to capture that tender moment between Larry Theis and the Pope County Sheriff.

The note on the back of the photograph read simply, “Dear Larry, thank you for taking a stand.”

Pope County Sheriff Gerald Moe and Larry Theis, the steps of the Glenwood Courthouse
Jet Magazine, April 22, 1985, Jesse Jackson and Larry Theis
Theis Farm, Shakopee, Minnesota

DAYNA by mia hinkle

Dayna was my God-child. I was 22 the year she was born. It was 1976. I was a mess that year and that’s why it was especially amazing to me that Dick and Carleen chose me to be their baby girl’s God-mother. What an honor and what a joy.

As I look back, Dayna was my touchstone to the rest of my family during those couple of years. She was just a baby but I adored her and I couldn’t wait to be with her. In 1976 the rest of my family was vocal and disapproving of my choices, of my relationships, of my friends … perhaps rightfully so. But not Dayna! She would kick her little baby feet and her eyes would light up whenever she saw me. As she grew she began to look like me and worse yet … act like me. Dick began to call her Mia Jr.

I was so painfully shy as a little kid. So that is why it wasn’t curious to me on Dayna’s fourth birthday when she disappeared into the bathroom and locked the door just as her guests were arriving for her birthday party — where she remained throughout the ENTIRE afternoon. The rest of the family tried to coax her out with cake and presents and promises of fun. But no dice!

Just a few months earlier on Easter Sunday the whole family was together at Carleen’s folks Dayna had crawled inside a hexagon coffee table, pulled the doors closed, and stayed in there until everyone was gone. No amount of bargaining would persuade her to come out and join the fun.

Her dad loves to tell this story: Dayna was taking swimming lessons at a pool in Maple Grove. She was just little and wasn’t interested in getting into that freezing cold water to learn some ridiculous strokes. Every time they went to swim lessons, it was the same old struggle – she wouldn’t get in the water. One time I went along and Dick asked me to talk to her and convince her to cooperate with the instructor. There she stood in her cute little swim-suit at the edge of pool … NOT getting in. Dick watched me lean down and look into her eyes, offering words of bravery, encouragement, and stick-to-itiveness. After a little back and forth exchange, I called Dick over and proclaimed, “She doesn’t want to get in the pool. She wants to go to Dairy Queen. Let’s go.” And off we went. That was the end of swimming lessons.

Some worried, but I knew that everything would all turn out alright. I knew she’d be fine. Dayna and I had a connection because I knew what it was like to be in her skin … so painfully quiet and shy and terrified of people.

Well, I don’t need to tell you that Dayna grew up to be anything BUT quiet and shy and terrified of people.

We have all heard the story of the little girl walking along the beach where thousands of starfish had washed up and could not find their way back to the safety of the ocean. A sensible grown-up happened to walk by and notice the little girl picking up one starfish after another and tossing them back into the sea, “What are you doing?” he asked. The girl replied, “Throwing starfish back into the sea. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they will die.” The grownup replied, “Don’t you realize there are thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach here? You can’t possibly hope to make a difference.” The little girl listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. She turned to the man and said, “I made a difference to that one.”

That was Dayna. She made a difference to one at a time.

Beautiful Dayna blossomed into a smart and pretty and confident and independent woman. She grew up to be a unique individual not tied to convention. She grew to be a leader in her own corner of the world; an advocate for the forlorn and the forgotten. She grew up thinking outside the box with a deep compassion for those around her.

In her teens, Dayna worked with Habitat for Humanity and other service groups bringing tangible help to the underprivileged. In college she worked at a home for autistic adults showing unbelievable patience for those in her care. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in social work where she, along with the State of Minnesota, could help those who were down on their luck get back on their feet. She volunteered at a home for displaced teens doing art therapy. She gave of herself to provide a wide range of help for the poor, women and children, victims of domestic abuse, and the homeless. She raised money for the lymphoma society, suicide prevention, breast cancer research, and a variety of other great causes through walk-a-thons, marathons, and other means.

With an immense heart for humanity she continued to “throw back into the sea one starfish after another because”, as the story goes, “it made a difference to that one.”

Dayna has always meant a great deal to those who knew her well. Whether she was god-child, daughter, sister, niece, grand-daughter, aunt, cousin, friend, co-worker – Dayna will always hold a special place in our hearts.

But let’s never forget that Dayna made a big difference to the world around her in so many ways. Every day, Dayna brought a ray of sunshine and glimmer of hope to everyone who happened across her beach.

Dayna left this life for a far better one on March 11, 2012. She was just 36 years old.

QUIET CRUNCHING by mia hinkle

The Scribes assignment was to write a Thanksgiving story or a Halloween story. This is what I came up with. It is both a Halloween and a Thanksgiving story. Again, a true story.

“Now try to relax, Mr. Hinkle. You’re going to feel sort of a…well…a quiet crunching.”

The smooth steel rod had already been inserted firmly up the nostril against the cartilage. With a quick jerk, the doctor’s small but strong fingers snapped the nose again. The room went white. The taste and smell of blood was overwhelming, but the pain in his face, so near his brain, was off the hook! A hundred times worse than the pain he had felt just 24 hours ago when his nose was broken the first time, leaving it in a Z formation, drifting from the center of his face off to the right.

The pain made him sick to his stomach and weak in the knees. They had tried to deaden the tissue by sticking swabs soaked in a cocaine derivative into his nostrils. It was a flash of light and sound. Was it a quiet crunching or the sound of a nail gun going off in his head? It was hard to sort it out or think clearly.

“We’ve almost got it,” said the little doctor (he was about the size of a hobbit).




And…CRRRUNCH!…one more time aligning the septum with the rod.

In just a few moments the searing pain settled into the feeling of a screwdriver embedded between his eyes and silly putty up his nose. They handed him a mirror. He looked like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull…unrecognizable.

In the blink of an eye, yesterday’s fishing trip with his little boys had turned ugly. It was a warm sunny day in Chanhassen, Minnesota. They had borrowed Grandma’s car, grabbed the tackle box, and headed to Lotus Lake. At the top of the hill, they stopped to open the gate. He set the emergency brake (which incidentally hadn’t worked in years), put it in neutral, and got out to unchain the lock. Walker (age 6) and Jackson (age 3) unbuckled their seat belts and stood up, excited to finally be at the lake and ready to go fishing.

He walked around to the front of the old Honda Civic. As he reached for the chain and padlock, he noticed a crew of men working in the yard next to the beach property. About that time, he heard one of them say, “Oh oh!”

No time to react. No time to turn around and see it coming.

Now rolling at a pretty good clip down the steep driveway, the car hit him in the small of the back and threw him up on the hood. His head flew back and shattered the center of the windshield. There he lay…spread eagle atop the hood of the little car, the back of his head lodged in the dent of shattered safety glass. Thank God for safety glass!

The sky was so bright, like looking directly into a grand opening searchlight.

Then in an instant…BAM! The diagonal pipe of the iron gate smashed into his upper lip.

And again…BAM! The same pipe caught the bottom of his nose, collapsing it and pushing it off to the right in that Z formation.

And then…SCRRRAAAPE…across his forehead, before it came to rest at the very top of the windshield, preventing the car from traveling down the driveway between the trees and into the lake.

All of this happened in less than five seconds. In the blink of an eye.

Like a rag doll, he slumped forward off the hood onto his hands and knees in the gravel. Blood was pouring from his nose. One solitary thought, “I can’t let my sons see all this blood.”

The workmen came running. They called 911 and got the boys safely out of the car. A neighbor lady came out to see what all the commotion was about. She whisked the boys off to her house to play with her kids as the sirens of the ambulance drew closer.

We later asked Walker, who was standing up in the front seat, what he did when he saw Daddy’s head coming through the windshield. He said, “Well, I just stood up and shook all the ‘ice’ off my shirt.” Jackson, who was in the back seat, was so little, all he remembered later was playing foosball with the neighbor kids. He still has an aversion to fishing and lakes.

This may sound more like a Stephen King story than a Thanksgiving story, but I am here to tell you how thankful I am that it ended the way it did.

I am thankful the gate held…my little boys were in that car, and the lake was at the bottom of the drive.

I am thankful that my husband’s nose wasn’t driven up into his brain. I am thankful his skull wasn’t crushed or his neck broken. His teeth weren’t even chipped. Just a little lower and the pipe surely would have strangled him or at the very least damaged his throat. Just a little higher and the car could have slipped under the gate and down the hill with him still on the hood.

I am thankful he was hit before he unchained the gate. He would have been run over by his own car as it careened down the drive between mature trees toward the boat access.

I am thankful the safety glass remained intact. The back of his head and neck were not cut, although he did comb shards of glass out of his hair for a few days afterward.

I am thankful that none of that “ice” got in Walker’s eyes. Both boys escaped unscratched.

I am thankful the neighbor (who just happened to be a nurse) was home that day, and that those workman were right there (one of whom was an off duty EMT). Both gave him good advice and care until the ambulance arrived. The rest of the neighborhood was quiet and vacant.

Most of all, I am so thankful that God was watching over and protecting my family that day—

that I am not raising my kids as a single mother,

that they are not growing up without a dad,

and that I did not lose the love of my life that warm summer day.

MY MOM WAS A NUT by mia hinkle

My Mom was a nut. She died in 1998. My boys were 5 and 8 when cancer whisked her away from us. They are now 33 and 30; it occurs to me they barely knew her at all. I was 8 when my Grandma Tody died and over the years my Mom often remarked, “Oh you would have loved my Ma, and she would have loved you kids so much.” But my memories of her are pretty foggy.

So I thought it might be time to put some Mom stories on paper.

If you ask my husband, Karl, who is a fabulous singer and has recorded several albums, he would tell you that his favorite Darlene story is the time she asked him if he could do her a big favor and get her a copy of his latest album, “you know … just the music … without the vocals – no singing, OK? The music is just so beautiful.” Wait, what? What a nutty request; no one had ever asked him that before … or since.

If you ask my youngest sister, Solveig, about her favorite Mom story, she might tell you about the time they went to New York City together for a weekend of shopping, sightseeing, and theater. Just the two of them. Lo and behold, Solveig grew up to work in the theater business. Growing up in the burbs, Mom dragged us to every play she could. Against all odds, she was determined to make sure we got a little culture.

Or maybe Solveig would tell you about our family vacation to the Black Hills and Wyoming when she was about three years old. Mom made sure that Solveig’s imaginary friends, Misa NeeNee and Toke, were invited along but Solveig assured her they wanted to stay at home. We were all elated when they caught up to us on the plains of South Dakota in their red convertible. Solveig and Misa NeeNee and Toke hopped and skipped circles around us all the way around Devils Tower. Mom loved to tell that story, even though embracing your little girl’s imaginary friends may have sounded a little nutty to some.

If you ask my sister, Holly, she might tell you about Mom taking us girls to Flying Cloud Airport where my Dad worked, to watch airplanes take off and land, just for something different to do. In 1965, we had just moved off the farm where we were busy 24/7 and now had time on our hands. With lots of time and no money, Mom would invent free and fun things to keep us occupied. Holly grew up to work at the airport behind the desk for a time. She loved the action and energy of the airport and she loved working with my Dad. When our friends would say, “Why would you spend the whole day watching airplanes take off and land?” we’d say something like, “I don’t know, our Mom is sort of a nut.”

If you ask the grandchildren, they might say their favorite Grandma stories would include King for the Day or Queen for the Day which was a special day designed by Grandma where each grandchild would choose an activity and spend the day just one-on-one with Grandma. Movies, shopping, Mall of America, fishing, museums, lunch, manicures, amusement parks, or whatever their little hearts desired. On Grandma’s dime. Or they might tell about their 70-something Grandma driving all across the Minneapolis- St. Paul seven-county metropolitan area to watch a 10 pm hockey game in the dead of winter. She looked like the nuttiest grandma in the stands, blowing kisses to her grandson doing his time in the penalty box.

If you ask her friends, they would tell you that Darlene was always learning, learning, learning. We lived in Sunrise Hills, which was a sub-division with lakefront property and a nice swimming beach where all the kids hung out all summer long. She had never learned to swim as a child so she took swimming lessons in her 40’s so she wouldn’t be so nervous at the lake.

Over the years she saved a boatload of money by clipping coupons and one summer day when she had saved up enough, she purchased a little Sunfish sailboat, then she signed up for sailing lessons. She took her friend Myrna Carr and me to Lake Minnetonka where we learned how to launch, set sail, steer, and load the Sunfish back on the trailer.

Sometime in the middle of their 54-year marriage, she felt like she wanted to learn more about her husband’s profession, so she enrolled in Aviation Ground School so she could learn about flying.

When my brother, Dick, was building his business, she learned all she could about sales and sold vacuum cleaners on Dick’s team, and then took her commission money and started college funds for his kids.

When my oldest brother, Hans had horses boarded west of Chanhassen she would drive out on the weekend to help take cockleburs out of their tails. And years later when he was ordained at his church, she was front and center at the ordination service.

She loved working at Minnetonka East Jr. High helping kids learn and learning a lot from them along the way. Learning and growing every day, that was my Mom. Some of these things may have seemed a little nutty to us growing up, but I think I get it now. I think it was all about investing quality time in others, in her family, and in her kids.

Perhaps my personal favorite Mom story might be the one where we were shopping for clothes together and I tried on a low-cut tight-fitting sweater dress. It was fabulous and it looked like it had been custom-made for my young shapely figure. We were at Braun’s at 7-HI. I must have been 16 or 17 years old. It was so sexy, I knew it was out of the question but I had to try. She took one look, tears welled up a little in her eyes, and to my surprise, she said, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and you have the perfect figure for it. I can’t believe how my little girl is growing up into such a beautiful young woman.” She hesitated a moment longer looking me up and down … and came to her senses, “But you know honey, most men are quite a bit taller than you are and they might be able to see right down into your cleavage. Do you really want ‘Mr. So and So’ down the street to look at you like that?”

As you can well imagine, I could not get that dress off fast enough! The thought of that middle-aged dad down the street I used to babysit for looking at me in ‘that way’ made my stomach turn and it was back to blue jeans and flannel shirts for a couple more years. Mission accomplished! She didn’t say anything like, “Over my dead body are you wearing that out in public!” No, she got me to say that to myself. Oh, and she managed to tell me I was a beautiful woman, all in one fell swoop. Nutty like a fox.

If you ask my older brother, Dick, about his favorite Mom story, he might tell about the cold winter’s day she shot two deer on our Minnesota farm, while my Dad was away in Canada deer hunting with his buddies. Dick was 9 years old and was watching cartoons (“Ruff n Ready” to be exact) on a snowy Saturday morning. He was enjoying the lazy winter morning without chores when suddenly Mom burst through the door from outside all bundled up with sweat on her brow. “Come on, Dick! Get dressed! I need you to help me haul the deer I shot home so we can get them gutted.”

“Whaaat?” Dick lazily quipped, “There is no way you shot a deer. I don’t believe it.”

Our neighbor, Osborne, was right on her heels. “Oh yes, she did. Two of them! I saw them. A doe and a big buck. Now get dressed and help us. Time is running out. We’ve got to get them field dressed right away.”

My sweet little Mom had used a high-powered .30 06 (illegal by the way, for hunting on farmland because of the one-mile kill range) to shoot a small doe, but the doe had kept running and died out of her sight. She thought she had missed, so she took a second shot and hit a big buck on the ridge. She watched him tumble down the snow-covered ravine all the way to the creek at the bottom. She stashed the illegal .30 06 in the bushes and carried the more legal 12 gauge shotgun to the scene.

Once they got the carcasses back home – which was quite a struggle for my skinny 9-year-old brother and my 120-pound Mom – they gutted them and hung them in the machine shed where they remained frozen until my Dad returned from hunting up north … empty-handed, I might add.

In the meantime, one of the neighbors drove by and saw the deer hanging in the shed. He went into town and spread the word that a couple of deer must have wandered into Donny’s machine shed and the little woman had shut the door and shot them inside the shed. He knew my dad was out of town so that must have been what had happened.

Ha! We knew the truth. We still have that box of Rifle Club trophies around somewhere with her name on them. Not so many with my Dad’s name but LOTS of sharp shooting awards with my Mom’s name engraved on them.

If you ask my oldest brother, Hans, about his favorite Mom story, he would say it was that she always brought home more trophies than Dad from Rifle Club competitions.

Over the years when this story would resurface, she would quietly tell us girls that it was the last time she hunted. She said she just didn’t like the way it made her feel. She would run her mink traps for extra money, but she never hunted again.

That is until four decades later when a blue million chipmunks were invading her suburban Chanhassen yard. By this time she was in her 70s and early in the morning, she would sit at the dining room table, sipping her morning coffee. She would silently slip the screen out of the window and aim her pellet gun at those speedy little varmints. Every few minutes she would shout, “Donny, I got one! Run out there and put him in the trash before anyone sees!” What a nut!

If you ask my niece, Dawn, she might say her favorite story was the time that Grandma delivered homemade chocolate chip cookies to Prince’s house and invited him to church.

During the early 1980’s when my Mom was in her 60s, and Prince, riding the success of Controversy and Purple Rain, was newly rich and famous, he lived in my hometown of Chanhassen.

When Mom told us kids what she had done, we were mortified because we were Prince fans and we had heard the rumors about all the stuff that went on behind those gates. Oblivious to all that, my Mom had baked cookies, packaged them up pretty, hopped in her rusty old Honda Accord, and drove out to County Road 117 to the very same address where my high school friend, Ron Lybeck, used to live. The guard house at the end of the driveway was new since Ron’s family lived there. Whatever possessed her that morning we will never know! She pulled up to the gate and a huge and handsome and very polite black man with a ton of gold chains draped around his neck stepped out in front of her car. He slowly walked up to her rolled-down window.

“May I help you, ma’am?”

“Good morning, young man. Is Prince home?”

“Why no ma’am, he’s not. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Well, yes you can. I brought him these cookies I baked this morning. And a bulletin from last Sunday’s service at my church. I would like to invite Prince to visit my church sometime. Oh, and you are welcome to come along too if you’d like.”

Still chattering, she handed him the tin of cookies and the bulletin. “The name of the church is Lutheran Church of the Living Christ and I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s just south of Chanhassen out on Hwy 5. We really look forward to seeing you there. Service times are in the bulletin. Have a nice day.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you, Ma’am.”

Well, I probably don’t need to tell you that Prince never did darken the door of my Mom’s fine little Lutheran church. But it made for a great family story, a story all her kids and grandkids love to tell each for their own reason. All the way from “My Grandma is so gutsy” to “Mom took every opportunity to share her faith with new neighbors” to “I think my Mom is losing it” to “Do you think that really happened?” I am sure the polite man in the guardhouse just thought she was nuts.

A few years later when my niece, Dawn, brought her new boyfriend over to meet Grandma, out came the ritual cookies and coffee. His name was Shawn and he was way too quiet. But in time the conversation meandered around to Shawn growing up in nearby Chaska. It turns out that when he was in high school, Shawn hung out with Prince’s bodyguard’s kids. Hmm, small world. “Big Chick” Huntsberry and some of Prince’s entourage provided a free and easy place for his kids and their friends to hang out, and Shawn was one of the crowd.

Dawn piped up, “Oh yeah! Hey Shawn! Did I ever tell you about the time my Grandma brought cookies to Prince’s house and invited him to go to church with her!?”

Relatively aloof up to that point, Shawn choked, nearly passing coffee through his nose. When he regained his composure, he said, “THAT WAS YOU!!??”

Dawn couldn’t believe her ears. Shawn recounted one day back in high school he was hanging out with the Huntsberry kids when one of the bodyguards had come back to Big Chick’s house with home-made chocolate chip cookies which he shared with everyone, saying something about a little old church lady who had invited them to church. They had all had a good laugh as they munched on the best chocolate chip cookies in Carver County. When he stopped talking, my coy little Mom quietly looked at Shawn and asked him, “Well, why didn’t he come?”

My Mom believed for the best in people and she met them right where they were. While she could always be counted on to be the voice of reason in any given situation, we learned early to expect the unexpected from her. I can’t help but think that my boys would have loved her and would by this time have their own favorite Grandma stories.

My Mom was a nut and we miss her so much.


Her voice came softly through the darkness from the other twin bed, “Mia, tell me a story about when you were little.” We both knew what that meant. Tell me a story about when our whole family lived together on the farm. Night after night. “Tell me another one. Just one more.” And before long I would hear her breathing get slow and regular, we’d both drift off and soon we’d be lost in dreamland.

My little sister was 5 and I was 13 when this ritual began. We had moved off the farm and our big brothers had moved out, one went off to college and the other enlisted in the Army. Now it was just the five of us living in a three-bedroom ranch home in the suburbs.

I was the oldest girl so I initially got my own room while my two younger sisters had to share a room. Solveig was only 5 years old and Holly was just 18 months younger than me.

I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) respond to our mother’s threats that if I didn’t keep my room picked up, the single room with the double bed would be awarded to Holly and I would be banished to bunk in with the baby. Holly had proven that she would keep her room clean because, after all, her clothes, her hair, and especially her room were always perfectly in order. I was a little less, okay a lot less, buttoned down. My room always seemed to look like burglars had just fled the scene interrupted while searching for the secret microfiche; bed never made, clothes and books everywhere, dirty clothes mixed up with fresh laundry waiting for hangers.

Our mom had gone into debt shopping at Sears Roebuck picking out the perfect bedspread and curtains for us. I am sure it made her crazy that my room was always such a mess.

In my mind, I was 13 and expressing myself. After all, 7th graders should be able to do whatever they want, right?


One day I came home to find that all my earthly belongings were piled up in Solveig’s room. And there was Holly, decorating MY room, arranging everything just right, sorting her clothes by body part and season, placing the hangers 2 fingers apart in the closet. Well, that might be a teensy bit exaggerated. But still.

Just like that, I had a new roomie. They thought I would be punished by losing my room or at least show a little remorse. But Solveig and I ended up looking forward to this little bedtime ritual after a busy day at the lake or running the neighborhood. The sun would set and our room became dark and quiet; the perfect backdrop for painting an intriguing, sometimes funny, sometimes adventurous, always historical story about when I was little. It was a regular touchstone we could always count on since bedtime in our house was always 9 o’clock; it didn’t matter old you were, 9 o’clock was bedtime.

“Mia, Tell me a story about when you were little.”

“Well, there was the time I climbed up a tree, opened an umbrella, and jumped. Because we had just seen Mary Poppins at the movies. Needless to say, I broke the brand-new umbrella that I had just purchased with my own birthday money.

I told her that our teenage cousin Linda would come and live with us during the summer because she loved the farm life better than life in the city. And how she would tell us scary stories and we’d take turns scratching each other’s backs before bed. That she bought a horse and named him Fred and that we had a flat tire on a country road while we were out shopping for him.

I told her about Holly falling off the top of a Butler grain storage bin and breaking her arm and that the doctors didn’t set it right and that’s why her arm looks like a boomerang when she tries to straighten it. But it doesn’t hurt.

How about the time I found a frozen dead squirrel on a bright cold winter morning, feeling sorry for it, smuggling it into the house, and hiding it under my bed? But just for a few days until my mom began to investigate the suspicious odor coming from my room. [Do I need to tell you she was not pleased?]

There was the story about the time we swam the Hanson kids’ Shetland Ponies across a stream and discovered an abandoned house in the woods. There was a stuffed porcupine inside of all things! We only had the nerve to stay around a few minutes after we broke in. I think I might have been about 10 years old.

There was one story involving Holly, a wooden swing seat, copious amounts of blood, and me hiding in the haymow until nightfall. Spoiler alerts: Her nose was not broken. And she survived.

We giggled when I told her about one night during harvest season when we looked out our bedroom window to see our dad, our brothers, and our hired man all taking a shower on the back step under a garden hose hung over the screen door. Yikes! What a sight!

Oh and then there was the time I cut Holly’s beautiful shoulder-length curls (down to the scalp in places) in a game of who can amass a bigger pile of hair, about how I cheated and cut off ALL my curls in order to win the game. Holly maintained her cuteness but I looked like a boy for way too many months. Mom was furious and once we looked in the mirror we were so embarrassed we wouldn’t let our Mom take our picture. My Dad had been out hunting so they tricked us into holding the dead geese for the camera so they could get a photo of just how big those geese were. [How old was I when I learned that those giant birds were swans and not geese? I was today years old!]

I told her about the time I was snooping around in my 14-year-old brother’s bedroom because I smelled juicy fruit gum, when suddenly the wardrobe tipped over on top of me, pinning me between the wardrobe and the bed. Mom heard the crash and rushed in to see me trapped underneath. She also saw all the stuff from the top shelf that had spilled out onto the bed. She spied a pack of cigarettes and stormed out to the barn to give Dicky hell, leaving me pinned under the huge piece of furniture! I guess I was ok.

Solveig loved me telling about the time Holly and I took the Greyhound Bus all by ourselves four hours from Evansville to Minneapolis to see The Beatles. We were 11 and 9 years old. Tickets were $4.50 each. Girls screamed so loud no one could hear a note. But oh, what a memory.

I loved to tell her in great detail the story about discovering sweet soft warm newborn puppies under the granary on a cool dewy morning. Sparky was the best mamma dog. And smart, too! She once herded the cows back into the pasture all by herself after the gate had been left open by mistake. Or something like that.

I think one of her favorites might have been the time I was stampeded by a herd of pigs when I was about her age. I was so little and scared. My brother, Hans, felt so bad he fashioned a whip out of a stick and some braided twine so I could defend myself should I ever see a herd of swine coming after me again!

She loved to hear about the time our brother Dick led his colt into the house and up the stairs and into his room to take a nap. We wondered why exactly he ever would have thought that might have been a good idea.

I told her about the time our Dad crashed his crop-dusting plane and broke his back and his nose, about how scared we were when the neighbors came to tell us, about how he was in a plaster cast from his neck to his hips when he finally came home from the hospital, but even so, he took the winter to build a brick fireplace and bookshelves in our living room. [We didn’t find out for another 40 years that our mom had illegally been in that plane with him. She had broken her tailbone but couldn’t go to the hospital or tell anyone for fear that he would lose his pilot’s license. 60 years later I feel that was either true love or kinda crazy.]

I told her about the cold November day in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, that I was in Mrs. Lundstrom’s 4th-grade class, what the classroom looked like, who was sitting behind me, the look on our teacher’s face when the news came over the scratchy intercom, and how quiet everyone was as we walked out to the buses. Our mom was sitting at the kitchen table with red puffy eyes when we got home that day.

I told her about the day the baby of the family came home from the hospital, a little towhead named Solveig, about how she was born with a raspberry birthmark on the tip of her nose. We figured she got it when our mother, just a few days before her due date, opened the porch screen door on a hot windy day in May and holding tight to the door latch, was thrown by a gust of wind off the steps, across the sidewalk, and way out into the yard, landing flat on her back. Just a few days later she gave birth to a healthy baby girl! With a red spot on her nose.

I don’t think my little sister ever grew weary of hearing these old stories night after night. And I never got tired of retelling them.

I moved out when I was 20; she was 12. A quick 7 years. But those years loom large for both of us, shaping, in large part, our worldview and sense of security. George Bernard Shaw once said, “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” I am so thankful for those happy memories and how they fortified us against the world.

It occurs to me now how significant formative years are. And how they are gone in a flash. As I write this, our oldest grandson is 8 years old and has moved 5 times so far. Will all that change make him strong against what comes his way? Or mistrustful, like he can’t count on a sturdy framework.

Countless children around this globe spend those quick formative years going to bed hungry, listening to their parents scream at one another, or fleeing unimaginable dangers in their home countries, or a blue million other hostile factors. Domestic violence calls are up 40% since this Coronavirus stay-at-home order went into effect this spring. Families already held together by a thread are being stretched too thin.

What kind of stories will those children tell about when they were little? Will their memories include PTSD symptoms as they describe visits to food pantries, going without school lunches, trying to soothe their mother’s anxious brow or their dad’s short fuse, or worried about getting Grandpa sick?

Or will they vaguely remember that one-time summer vacation was super long and everybody wanted to be on the computer at the same time, but they had plenty to eat and got to spend more time with Mommy and Daddy around the house all day and weren’t bothered with soccer practice and piano lessons?

Kids grow up regardless of what’s going on around them. Good. Bad. Nurturing. Destructive. They just keep growing and absorbing. They are 5, and then 12, in a flash they are 20 and moving out. As the great philosopher John Lennon once penned, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

Raising kids is hard. Growing up is hard. Maybe our best strategy is to tell and retell the stories that mean something to us. Build a fortress. Spend the time and the breath to impart a little bit of our history to someone who might need to hear it. A little sister. A child. A grandchild. A friend. A small group co-member.

Mark Twain and William Shakespeare and Anne Lamott knew the power of storytelling. Jesus spent his entire 3-year ministry on this earth using stories to get his message across and 2,000 years later those stories are still connecting ideas with hearts across the globe.

Maybe I don’t need to change the world overnight. But I can start by telling you a story about when I was little.

Solveig, Mia, Dick, Holly, Hans (Winter 1962)

THAT VERY WINTER by mia hinkle

She came bearing gifts. Timeless treasures wrapped in heavy brown paper with little clods of black soil mixed up with dry bulbs and withered stems. That warm autumn weekend we turned the hard clay soil in my yard and planted irises and daylilies and peonies that had been dug up from her garden and her mother’s garden over 600 miles away.

That very winter, she died.

And in the spring those purple irises and yellow daylilies and scarlet peonies accessorized my yard with the same splashes of color that had dressed up my childhood home.

Was there some internal clock that whispered to my mother that it was time to dig under her cutting garden? A garden she had tended since I could remember. She was known as the “flower lady” at church because she made sure there were flowers on the altar every Sunday. Sometimes they came from her own garden and sometimes they came from the local florist, but one thing was clear. She loved how God could talk to us through flowers.

At her funeral, we handed out more than 400 flower seed packets to everyone there. Ten years later, people still send us pictures in Christmas cards of the perennials that come up every year from those little seed packets.

My mother loved the earth. She loved the soil. She loved the work and the sweat and the sore muscles that came along with tending her garden. She loved the idea that the hard thing you do today almost always blooms into something beautiful in time.

She loved the fact that, if we let it, our future has more of an impact on our actions, than our past does. She knew that last summer’s flowers were gone and forgotten by fall. It’s the season to come she had on her mind when she started to page through those seed catalogs every January. Then she would begin with the work of it. Enriching the soil with real horse manure. Slipping the seeds in just right. Pulling out the weeds that would strangle. Keeping the water just so, not too much – not too little.

She always learned a little something from last year’s mistakes, but it was the anticipated season that kept her out there on hands and knees, with dirty hands and aching back.

The connection with the land runs deep in our family. My grandparents were farmers. My dad was a farmer. My uncles were farmers. My sister married a farmer. My brother and his sons love to escape their day jobs to help my brother-in-law with planting and harvesting.

There is a rhythm, a very heartbeat within some people that resonate with the earth. The ebb and flow of the cycle of life, of sacrifice and reward, of death and rebirth, is a constant reminder of the power of God in the universe. A reminder of the fortitude and strength and foresight it takes to continue to do the hard thing on the inkling that something wonderful will result in time, even though all you may see right now is dirt and sweat.

Giving birth is a hard thing. Babies are born into or out of all kinds of circumstances: a loving home, a backseat romance, a lifeless marriage, a torrid affair, a violent rape, cultural obligation, too little money, too much money, and the list goes on. But that little egg and sperm couldn’t care less. They just join up and take hold. He begins to grow regardless of the circumstance of his conception. Mysteriously life makes a way … and he just holds on. No mistakes. No accidents in the eyes of God. Yes, giving birth is a hard thing, but almost always that new life blooms into something beautiful in time.

This year we met the birthmother of our oldest son. Talk about doing the hard thing with little expectation of seeing the blossom of it. When she signed those papers and held him for the last time in the hospital when he was just three days old, I am sure it didn’t feel heroic or selfless. It just felt like she was doing a very hard thing. And then she had to wait 18 years to see the beautiful blossom her baby boy had become. When she signed those papers and the nurse lifted him from her arms, she must have had blind faith in a better future for him. What was done was done and over and in the past, but she held his future in her hands … along with that pen.

My mother was right. Again! The future does impact our actions more than our past does. The hard thing you do today does bloom into something beautiful in time. My mother was right because she was listening to what God can tell us through the flowers.