We’re on I ninety-four headed west just past Black River Falls, Wisconsin. I’m listening to every lyric of the country songs that droll, I should be thinking about the Norske Nook in Osseo and their thirty five blue ribbon award winning pies. I should be awing anticipation for the fluffy meringue as high as the sky, and the raspberry jam they serve in the little plastic cups. Deep down in my stomach, I am. My head and heart are focused on the lyrics of the songs and my eyes are watching the rolling hills of springtime pass on by.
”What are you thinking about?” Dawn asks.
”The lyrics to all these songs.” I say.
”What do you think about these lyrics?”
She’s bored and wants me to talk, wants to get inside my deep parts. We’ve just left the place of my youth and she knows that I get all melancholy on my way back on I ninety-four. She wants me to open up and maybe weep like I want to.
I want to tell her why my eyes are welling and how my throat feels full of pennies. I wish I could, but my youth betrayed my trust and left it drifting.
”These country songs are all about me, and they make me sad for all the words I never wrote.”
This makes her quiet. She goes back to thinking about the Norske Nook coming up and I look back out the window.
I watch the spindled pines and the tractors raking dirt.
I think about the farmers and all the friends I met.
I wonder high and low where I will become,
I ponder now and then and hate and love the same
My spirit lives where I’ve been and from,
and all and all, I’m just a gnarly lame.
When we get to the Osseo exit and get off the interstate, I am relieved and open the windows to let in the farmland Wisconsin spring air. Dawn tells me blue as we turn left that she’s going to have breakfast and rhubarb pie. I think that strawberries aren’t in season yet and wish they were.
“I’m going to order the special.” I say, not knowing what the special is.
There are two specials written on a dry erase board as we walk into the Norwegian goodness. One is pot roast and the other stuffed chicken. We get a seat in a booth and I tell Dawn to order me a coffee as I go hit the head. The heady wafts of the pink cake in the urinal ease my mind as I am within the salt of the earth. I come back out to coffee waiting and a waitress dressed in a fru fru white blouse and a long checkered skirt tied at the waist. She looks at me.
”I’ll have the roast beast special.” I say.
”We’re out of the roast beef special, we only have the stuffed chicken which comes with real mashed potatoes, green beans, bread and lefse.” She holds the tip of her pen close to the pad and looks at me again.
What’s it stuffed with?” I ask.
”Stuffing.” She says, looking at Dawn, smiling.
”I’ll have that.” Blushing and embarrassed.
I ask Dawn if she has a pen and she hands me one. I ask for paper and get a receipt folded into her purse. I begin to scrawl letters. Dawn is thinking about pie and doesn’t mind. When the food arrives, mine covered in gravy, I eat heartily. I’m beating this hangover. When we are finished, Dawn pushes her plate toward me with a slice of rye and a bit of the raspberry jam left in the cup. She orders rhubarb pie. I tell the waitress that I am having the rest of Dawn’s breakfast for dessert. She furrows her brow. When the pie comes, I take a savory bite and wish that strawberries were in season, or that Dawn had ordered peach or apple.
Whilst eating, I lean over to Dawn and whisper,
”Salt of the Earth.” She knows exactly what I mean. Sunday afternoon after church townies are about. I feel like a snob after saying it, but these folks are talking about selling cows and five generations are at the next table. Pie comes out of the non-revolving case so fast for $2.50 a gut. Huge delicious goodness. Everyone is old and happy, all the young people have moved away and come back to visit. It is the wake of a memory town.
When we leave and are full and beating our hangover, the two of us are happy and jolly and take pictures of one another on a bench that reads, “OOF TA” we are happy and in love again and the day gets green.
Back on I ninety-four, I tell Dawn a story. I tell her about at the end of every school year when the janitor would get atop the low side of the building and throw down all the balls and frisbees and kites that had been lost over the course of the year. How all of us kids would wait patiently, cheering for each throw and scramble for the prize. I didn’t tell her about the year I was too little and couldn’t catch a ball and how I cried in the postmodernist window slant while everybody else bounced their booty. How I cried because my legs were encased in braces, or how Mr. Grayson, the vice principal came up to me and asked me why I was crying and told me he had plenty of “toys” in his office. I went with him because I was too little to know. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that part.