1986, age 43-44, Part 1 of 2

 Themes and Events
*  The U.S. Department of Agriculture approves the release of the first genetically altered virus into the environment, it is used to attack a form of herpes affecting pigs.
*  As oil drops below $15 a barrel for the first time in years, there is an increased fascination with larger cars, the price decline helps fuel a stock market rally.
*  The national debt exceeds $2 trillion, having doubled in the last 5 years. The Trade Deficit jumps to an unprecedented $18 billion.
*  The world’s human population reached 5 billion persons in July, a 20% increase in 12 years. The Human Race is increasing in population by 150 babies per minute or 216,000 per day, a number that is clearly not sustainable.
*  A report in the New England Journal of Medicine that the risk of death from all causes, can be significantly reduced with moderate exercise.

Buttons & bumper stickers:
*  This car stops at all garage sales.
*  You’ve obviously mistaken me for somebody that cares.
*  Crime wouldn’t pay if the government ran it.
*  Go ahead hit me — I need the money.

A mid winter’s power outage
Living in Minnesota would be just fine, if it weren’t for the occasional life threatening scares we receive from the weather.
During the summer months we are concerned when there are severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings issued for our locale. Because we live in a mobile home, we are subject to greater risk from wind damage.
During winter, we become concerned over: 1) the possibility of being ‘snowed in’ for an extended period of time, 2) the snow depth accumulated on the mobile homes roof and 3) extended electric power outages. Unfortunately, major winter storms, snow depth, being snowed in and an electric power outage all can happen at the same time.

On the morning of January 27, I awoke at 3:45 AM and got up to go to the bathroom> While walking about in the house, I discovered we were in the midst of an electric power outage. Initially, I felt it was chilly in the house so went to the livingroom to check the indoor-outdoor thermometer. The outdoor temperature was a horrid -25ºF,. Meanwhile, the indoor temperature had  slipped from its normal 60ºF thermostat setting to 48ºF. The microwave and VCR display lights were out, of course, so were the house lights.

[Photograph. Winter 1985-86. My little pal, Jane, in her snow suit, on the driveway in front of our garage.]

I hurried back through the trailer to awaken Donna, so we could concert our efforts to warm the house and look into the situation. Donna immediately telephoned the electric company to find that the power had failed only an hour earlier. That told me the mobile home’s indoor temperature was dropping at the rate of 12ºF per hour.
We had to act fast, before the interior froze up.
We quickly dressed by flashlight, putting on multiple layers of clothes, then lit candles about the front room and kitchen. While Donna  brought Jane into the front room and dressed her, I started a fire in our wood burning stove and began warming a pot of water for coffee. At times like these we are extremely thankful that we had the foresight and took the expense of buy the stove and maintaining a supply of cut and split fire wood!
Once the living room was warming up, we started the Toyota Corolla and let it run for a few minutes to warm the engine oil and block. We wanted to make sure that we had any means of escape, if it became too cold in the house and we were forced to abandon the premises until power was restored.

At 5:17 AM the electricity suddenly blinked back on. Needless to say, with the outdoor temperature still in the -27ºF range, we were happy to hear the furnace’s air circulation fan come on and blowing warm air through out the home, to see the electric lights and digital clocks all functioning again. As warm air began pouring out of the floor registers our world rapidly returned to normal.
We remained a little tired from our short night’s sleep, but knowing we’d come through a potentially dangerous situation gave us cheer.

Music [album: Battlestar Galactica – Season 3, Mandala in the Clouds]

The Hero’s of Challenger
Around 11:20 AM on January 28, Donna telephoned home from work with terrible news. Her voice was cracking with stress as she solemnly told me, “The shuttle exploded just after takeoff.”.
A few moments later I turned on the television and found CBS anchorman, Dan Rather, explaining what had happened… For the rest of that day and the next several day,s we were filled with a sense of loss and sadness. Not only had we lost one of our space shuttles and her crew, but we lost someone who we’d all come to view, as a friend.

[Internet  image: January 28, 1986. The space shuttle   Challenger exploding  at ten miles   altitude, shortly after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center.]

During the summer of 1985, NASA searched the nation’s school system for a talented teacher who would exemplify the character of a professional astronaut, a pleasant and charismatic person with a friendly continence. From some 10,000 applicants, NASA chose one such person.
Last Fall we were first introduced to the teacher via television: Her name was Christa McAuliffe, a beautiful, thirty-seven year old high school Social Studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire. Through the winter the media kept we Americans up to date on Christa’s progress while providing taped footage of her astronaut training.
We watched with anxious approval as ‘one of us’ was fitted with her space suit and as she went through the various aspects of astronaut training.
Christa was always cheerful and happy, like one of us, she felt blessed by having been chosen to travel into Earth’s orbit aboard the space shuttle. As the months passed, through the national TV news media, we met Christa’s husband, Steve, her two children, even her Mom and Dad. The TV networks took us on a guided tour of Concord, Christa’s home town,we saw where she lived, worked and shopped, and even talked with her friends.

Christa prepared lesson plans and was to give  series of ‘Classes From Space’. TV networks were scheduled to air these, ‘the first school classes given by a teacher in space for children on Earth.’ It was a plan that was guaranteed to have large audience participation from schools and homes across the country.

At one minute twelve seconds after launch: Challenger had accelerated to 2,000 mph and was ten miles in altitude. In her main fuel tank was a half million gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
Mission pilot Michael Smith had just said the words, ‘Roger. Go at throttle up…’ when we saw in seeming slow motion and at high telescopic magnification, a yellow glow on the right side of the right solid fuel tank…which quickly exploded. A second later, as our jaws dropped open in horror, a much more devastating explosion occurred engulfing the entire ship in a rolling ball of fire. The maelstrom of fire continued to expand upward and outward, while particles of indeterminate size were seen blown out of the fireball. One solid fuel booster then  the other flew up out of the fire and smoke, continuing their death flight in separate wide arcs. Then  as the shuttle debris began falling, we saw smoke trails from a cloud particulate black rain,  as everything dropped from the sky toward the ocean.

At the White House, Mrs. Nancy Reagan was watching live television coverage of the lift off; when she saw the fireball, she exclaimed, ‘Oh my God. No!!’

Moments earlier, we’d seen what had been a happy, cheering party atmosphere in Christa McAuliffe Social Studies class at Concord. The scene quickly turned into a time of confusion, denial and horror. Immediately after the explosion, we saw students with their brows wrinkled and near tears; here and there, hand’s covered stunned face’s and mouth’s; some children looked at the camera, their face drained, wishing to escape from the formality of the television crew taping their class.

Everyone had the same exuberant happiness and excitement for Christa.
It was crushing to see our astronaut hero’s all die before our eyes.  This was a sad day, for me personally, for our family, and the United States.[1]

Our ‘Traditional’ English dinners
I always thought it was nice to have ‘traditional’ family dinners on  occasion when visiting friends and neighbors.
Donna’s and my family had no traditional meals to draw upon. The problem was that my much of the paternal side of my family had been on this continent so long, since the 1620 Mayflower and settling of Nantucket Island that we’d simply lost the idea of a traditional meal – all of our meals were simply – American. Donna’s family adopted American foods when they came to this country in the 1800s, so no traditional German or French foods came down through her line either.

During the winter we borrowed several English and New England cookbooks from the public library; I read one while Donna read several. After reading, Donna selected a variety of dishes traditional English dishes and began cooking special dinners for our Sunday afternoon meal.
English dinners are an excellent fare in cold weather, but were too heavy for our hot, humid summers.
The New England dinners we selected were quite heavy as well, but ohh, sooo, very tasty!
On occasion we’ve drooled over and eaten heartily of Donna’s sumptuous meals of:
1) Roast beef with horseradish sauce,  Yorkshire Pudding, and roast potatoes;
2) Pot pie, glazed turnips and Treacle Sponge Pudding;
3) North Shore Smothered Ham, Aunt Mary’s Brown Bread, Boston Baked Beans and white wine (recipes from New England). Note: England lies on a latitudes similar to mid Canada, but experiences milder winters.
We purchased three English cookbooks and one New England cookbook for our home reference library.

Books read during the year
During the year, I read books on various topics, mostly whatever was either important in our lives at the time or of general topical interest to myself, including:
British   Cookery © 1985 by Jane Grigson – A British cookbook with a historical look   at most of the food items discussed.
The New   Diary  © 1978 by Tristine Rainer – How to use a   journal for self guidance and expanded creativity. 323 pages.
A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries © 1984 Thomas Mallon – A history and study of diary forms, in their authors own words. 318 pages.
Shogun ©  1975 by James Clavell, publ. by Dell Publishing

Three types of supermarket
Of the three types of supermarket we encountered in St. Cloud, all shared several similar characteristics: the floors were apparently washed and polished on a daily basis, everything was clean, and there was good bright incandescent (neon tube) illumination. The buildings were all large  measuring a couple hundred feet or more on a side, with concrete floors that were covered with heavy duty linoleum or tile. Shelves were always kept well stocked with whatever products were carried. Store employees, whether they were stocking shelves, taking inventory or the cashiers, were all courteous, helpful, friendly and busy. Each store carried a large variety of food products and a plethora of other small household items, ie; toilet paper, Kleenex, paper towels, cat and dog food, soaps and laundry detergents, pot and pan abrasive powders, scratcher pads, polishes, paper plates, stain removers, shoe polish, some had greeting cards, a small selection of stationary, a few inexpensive paperback books, various non prescription pharmaceutical supplies. In the standard and upscale type super market, the sundries might occupy five percent of the floor space, in the ware house market they occupy perhaps one to two percent of the floor space.

The standard supermarket
The standard supermarket, which I think came into existence during my childhood (ca early 1940s), is a large one floor grocery store carrying a huge variety of brand name and ‘house’ label foods all in various size containers.
Coburn’s Grocery, was St. Cloud’s standard type of supermarket. It carried a large supply of quality fresh fruits and vegetables, but not always a wide variety of either. The standard supermarket maintained a large well stocked meat department. The cans, boxes and packages of food or sundry household products had all been taken from their shipping boxes and stacked neatly on display shelves that generally were not higher than an adult could reach. Occasionally after shopping at Coburn’s, we had to visit another market to pick up a few specialty food items.

The warehouse market
A supermarket type that developed since the 1970s is what we referred to as a “warehouse” market.
St. Cloud had two such grocers, one was aptly named, Warehouse Market, the other was, Red Owl.
In a warehouse type market, cans and packages are found still in their shipping containers.
Often, the store’s interior decor reminded me of an industrial setting. Employees might be seen using hand-operated forklifts to raise or lower pallets of unopened shipping boxes from overhead pallet racks.
Shopping carts were sometimes larger and more heavy-duty than the ones used in more conventional grocery stores, even low boy pull carts with flat beds were in use.

Warehouse markets seemed to specialize in bulk items, offering a smaller variety of products, in fewer size containers.  They carried fewer and lower quality fresh vegetables and meats. Many foods were ‘off brands’ or ‘house labels’ that supposedly tasted the same as the national “brand name” which they emulated.
We found that there was often a difference in either the taste or shape of the product inside the package, that made the house brand inferior to the national brand name. We found that the slightly more expensive brand name food item was always a better tasting product, that observation was never violated.

One practice the warehouse markets encouraged, and which I didn’t care for, was in offering bulk soda pop, bulk cookies and bulk candy. Customers buying these items received a small price break on the soda pop – when they brought their own empty and presumably washed, plastic quart soda pop containers back to the store and refilled them with any one or more of a variety of perhaps twenty premixed flavors.
Small candies and various cookies were sold by the pound and were scooped out of their individual bulk bins into thin plastic bags, by the customer.

About the only thing of value that I could see in this type of marketing was that individual items were priced a little cheaper. Of course you have to remember the adage, ‘You get what you pay for’.
We shopped at the warehouse markets a few times during their first couple years in town, but only while they were still a novelty to us. After shopping at a warehouse market, we always had to go to a standard grocer to pick up the items or packaging sizes that had been unavailable.
The little money we saved didn’t justify the taste difference, the inconvenience, or time wasted having to finish our weekly shopping elsewhere. Before long we quit shopping at this type of store, but noticed over the years, that their parking lots seemed busy, so they must have continued to thrive.

The upscale supermarket
Byerly’s, was St. Cloud’s only ‘upscale’ supermarket. The grocer seemed to have a slight international and cosmopolitan air to it, while carrying foods that the other grocers didn’t. Although most of the product brands and container sizes found in Byerly’s were exactly the same as found in the standard supermarket, there were differences. Unlike her competitors, Byerly’s carried live lobster and other fresh sea foods; vegetables not readily found locally, i.e. artichoke and egg-plant; many fresh herbs and exotic fresh foreign vegetables; fruits not in season i.e. strawberries, various melons, mango’s; fresh bakery goods from the stores own in house bakery.

Prices at Byerly’s were comparable with those at the standard (Coburn’s) supermarket. Generally speaking, the people seen shopping at the upscale grocer were better dressed, generally thinner, more handsome, have pleasanter faces, look more alert and cough less (generally healthier) during the winter.

‘Remember the Alamo!’
One hundred fifty years ago, on March 6, 1836, the American defenders of the Alamo died at San Antonio, Texas.
After a twelve day siege, one hundred eighty-eight freedom fighters who held the Alamo were overrun and killed to the man by four thousand troops under the Mexican General, Antonio de Santa Anna. Among our fallen heroes were colonel’s William Travis, James Bowie and Davy Crockett.

We should remember, American cultural difference with the Mexican’s in Texas could not be bridged in the 1830s these differences remain in the late Twentieth century. We Anglos, are giving up southern California and other property all along the US – Mexican border. Mexican Americans are taking the land back in a way that is completely legal, they know it, we know it: “One house at a time, one business at a time and one neighborhood at a time.”
In the decades to come, I think we will legislate ourselves right out of the southwestern USA. The direction this is taking, reminds me of Chief Seattle’s famous speech of 1854, “… I will not mourn over our untimely decay, nor reproach my pale-face brothers for hastening it, for we, too, may have been somewhat to blame….”
You can read Chief Seattle’s entire somber and heart rendering speech at the following website (and elsewhere):

Pepin is born
On March 8, Griz and Jessie (dogs) had their first of two litters of pups. We decided to keep the first-born of their first litter for ourselves, and sell the rest.
After we found a home for all his siblings, we gave our new pup the name, Pepin. [2]  From the beginning, it was apparent that  Pepin was going to grow into a big dog and just as we thought, he did; becoming much larger than larger than either of his parents. His sheer size and head shape pointed to the St. Bernard in Griz’s genealogy. Pepin’s adult fur coat was primarily of long white fur. He had the most interesting little round black spots all over his coat and a black mask across his face and ears, otherwise he was just a Big, long-haired, shaggy white dog.

The 1986 return of Halley’s Comet [3]
During late 1985, as Halley’s Comet approached from the outer reaches of the  solar system approaching the sun, it became visible just after sunset; however, because of the extreme cold winter weather, we didn’t go outside to stand around and look for it.

From the television news, we learned Halley’s Comet measured approximately eleven miles long and three miles in diameter, its long axis was along and pointed in the direction of travel. It was composed of a mixture of ice, frozen gasses, rocks and dust; the whole mass was moving along its orbit at speeds between 20,000 and 118,000 miles per hour.

As the comet drew closer to the Sun, the news media and specialty advertisers brought the importance of it’s “once in a life time” passage to the public mind. Over a several month period, the comet’s publicity increased interest in astronomy. The many beneficiaries of Halley’s Comets’ passing were the retail outlets who hawked binoculars, small telescopes, comet photographs, astronomy magazine subscriptions, Comet T-shirts, jacket patches, medallions, books, etc.
Unlike its previous passages near the Earth, this time no one was frightened, instead, ‘Halley’s Comet-1986’ was an interesting curiosity – and a commercial success at best.

[Photocopy: Journal 11: High Plains Drifter, drawing of Donna and me observing Halley’s Comet from the County road.]

By March 1986,  the comet reached  perihelion and was moving away from the Sun approaching Earth’s orbital radius. On March 15th and 16th, between 5:00 AM and 5:20 AM, Donna and I walked down our driveway, then a short way south along County Road #14, to a point where we had a clear view across the low land toward the southeast. We wished Jane would have been older than her two years three months, so she could have enjoyed the vague sight with us, never-the-less knowing she wouldn’t understand what we were looking for through the binoculars, we left her at home asleep.

Donna and I scanned above the southeastern horizon, but were unable to find the comet with our naked eyes. Then, using our 8mm x 40mm power binoculars we located its faint diaphanous glow above the distant, darkly silhouetted trees. The weather cooperated with our short viewing sessions by remaining clear and starry, but with chilly 22ºF to 27ºF temperatures.

It seemed to us, that with all the news coverage given the event, there wasn’t much to see, the performance did not match the advertising. Even with the binoculars, Halley’s Comet was not easy to locate, nor did it reveal much detail to us amateurs.
The comet was seen having a tail that appeared to be about three times as long as its greatest width. The tail extended in a direction opposite to the sun and had a slightly conical appearance. The entire apparition appeared as a very thin, light bluish-white glow and did not have truly definable boundaries. Because of its distance, there was no noticeable movement to the comet in the few minutes that we were observing, it just seemed to hang still in the predawn sky.

Clothes washing, 1980s style
Every two or three days, after Donna and Jane had awakened, I began washing a load of clothes. I might point out that for the most part, our clothes are washed to remove the smell of body odor, only my work clothes, some of Jane’s school clothes and our socks ever really get ‘dirty’.
Compared to the onerous duty ‘laundry day’ was prior to the advent of the automatic washer and dryer, in the recent decades washday chores have become an easy and almost non existent task.

Soon after buying our mobile home in April 1977, we purchased a Montgomery Ward Heavy Duty 18 wash machine and clothes dryer set.
The wash machine handles clothing loads up to eighteen pounds; it has a water volume selector, a water temperature selector and a washing timer that either can turn the internal agitator at regular speed or at  reduced speed for the more delicate fabrics (curtains, anything with lace, rubber backed throw rugs). We never weigh the clothes, figuring that eighteen pounds on the ‘fill’ setting means ‘full’, nine pounds means ‘half full’, etc.

The clothes washing technique I used: 1) Pour into the empty machine a measured quantity of either powdered or liquid laundry detergent, whatever we’re using at the time, i.e. Tide, Purex; 2)  turn the load volume selector dial to provide the quantity of water needed for the size of a load to be washed; 3) while the water is filling the machine, I rummage through the hamper separating the white and colored clothes, or occasionally toss all colors into the machine together; 4) when the clothes are loaded and the machine has about filled with the proper amount of water, I close the hinged lid; 5) twist the Timer selector to wash the load, usually for twelve minutes; 6) Press the Start button and walk away.

The wash machine’s agitator quietly twists clockwise and counter-clockwise stirring the clothes around and about for the chosen twelve minutes cycle, then the machine empties the water and spins the clothes semi dry. It then automatically refills the machine to the previously selected volume and goes through a several minute’ rinse cycle’. At the end of the rinse cycle, the water it again automatically pumped out and the clean clothes are spun semi dry. It takes about a half hour from start to finish for the machine to wash a load of clothes.

After about forty-five minutes to an hour, I lift the damp clothes out of the wash machine and toss them unceremoniously into the front loading clothes dryer. Once the dryer’s door is shut, I set its timer at thirty minutes and press the Start button.
A full load of wash usually requires two or three thirty minute dry cycles to dry and fluff the load. Although the timer can be set for periods up to two hours, we prefer to check conditions after thirty minutes, feeling that the dryer’s electric heating/drying elements represent a fire hazard. On occasion, clothes that have been over “dried” become so hot they almost burn your hands when they are initially touched.

It takes between ten and twenty minutes labor to sort, wash, dry, fold and put away one batch of laundry. Bulky items like towels, pants and shirts are folded and put away faster than smaller items, like socks, underwear, etc. It does not take over an hour per week to wash and put away the entire households laundry.
When I was a child, in the late 1940s, it took perhaps two hours on a Saturday morning to wash and hang the clothes on the clothes line to dry, and another hour or more of ironing before the garment and other items were put away.
Maintaining clean and fresh clothing has become a minimal inconvenience since the mid 1960s.

The curio cabinet
Using our Federal and State income tax refund [4] this spring, we bought a traditionally designed curio cabinet made of dark Fruitwood. The cabinet, measuring a little over six-foot high, two and a half feet wide and a foot deep, has two sets of glass doors covering an upper compartment with three shelves and a lower compartment with two shelves.

Over the years we filled the top shelf with small family heirlooms: Donna father, Don’s baby dish, a Knowles serving bowl that my parents used when I was a child, a ruler from the Hagameier store, several photographs, Bibles, my Grandmother Alma Shafer’s mechanical pencil, my old journal writing pen, etc.

[Photo at right: Our curio cabinet, shelves filled with the items mentioned in the associated text.]

The top middle shelf displayed our set of antique silver plated tableware including: an ornately carved teapot, creamer, sugar bowl with lid, syrup pitcher with separate plate, butter dish with elevated final for hanging the lid, butter knife. We bought the set piecemeal from several antique shops ca. 1977 and had the individual items professionally resilvered, the butter dish was restored prior to resilvering. The set dated from about 1901.

The third shelf contained a portion of our Anasazi Indian artifacts: An eight hundred year old bowl that Donna found; several stone ax heads, including one from my Grandfather Pearl Shafer’s farm; several stone arrow points, stone spear points, stone knives and scrapers; and a variety of pot chards; a handmade antique trading post doll and an old cast iron figural Indian bank.

The top shelf in the bottom cabinet became home to a variety of personal and heirloom glassware, including, a Carnival glass candy bowl from Donna’s mother, Eulah, a cut glass candy bowl, etc.

The bottom shelf  housed several antique wooden boxes and antique tins which contain: various small family heirlooms, mid to late Twentieth century political pin backs, and other small collectables.

Beside it being a handsome piece of furniture, the curio cabinet displayed, for our daily enjoyment, many of the small items which have special meaning and personal interest to us. Every few weeks I enjoyed looking through the boxes and tins on the bottom shelf, exploring and rekindling pleasant memories over the providence of many of the items stored therein.

Meltdown at Chernobyl , USSR
On April 26, an explosion and fire occur at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union, which eventually spreads over a large area contamination thousands and thousands of people. The accident was kept secret  by the Soviets, from the international community, until April 30th, when radioactivity spreads across Soviet boarders. The environmental damage done by Chernobyl could be thought of picking up, where Three Mile Island, left off in the degree of environment contamination [5].

We sold the electric generator
On August 8, we sold our emergency electric generator for $950 and used the money to pay off the balance of the Ford Granada’s installment loan. No sooner was the loan paid, when the car promptly developed mechanical problems.
I converted the small generator shed into a second dog house for our female Black Labrador/German Shepherd cross, Jessie.

A weekend in St. Paul, May 15-16
The family planned to take a holiday and go to the Twin Cities for Saturday and Sunday, May 17 &18. Our schedule of events was to leave early Saturday morning, drive to ST Paul and see the Science Museum, spend the night in a motel, then Sunday morning visit the Minnesota Zoological Gardens and return home in the late afternoon.

Being unemployed, I prepared for the trip by bringing in our Styrofoam cooler, filling the extra ice cube trays and a five quart container with water for freezing; brought the suitcases out of the closet,;  filled the Ford with gas, washed the car and cleaned the windows.
Friday evening, Donna brought home a pizza for our supper allowing extra time for our suitcase packing.

Saturday, May 15th
Saturday morning, the family awoke at our regular time of 4:30AM, did the last-minute packing and make sandwiches for our lunch. I fed the dogs two consecutive meals and set a feed tray in the garage for them to nibble on until Sunday evening. Lastly, the ducks and geese were given a double ration of corn. We knew the ducks and geese would be alright, since they routinely worked the upper and lower yard for bugs and frogs.

We left home at 6:30AM Saturday morning, everyone excited about our two days of discovery. It wasn’t often that we went on a ‘road trip,’ so we were looking forward to the novelty. We brought a large well packed suitcase and a cooler, which was filled with ice, soda pop, sandwiches, apples and a liter of white wine.

By 7:35AM we’d driven 52 miles and arrived at Rodgers, Minnesota; about half way between home and St Paul. We hadn’t eaten breakfast yet so stopped at the Country Kitchen restaurant. It had been fourteen months since we last ate here; we were about to find that the food quality and service had seriously deteriorated.

The window shades at our table hadn’t been opened yet thus leaving the table dark. I asked the waitress to open the shades whereupon she went into a dither and finally said, “I can’t, they’re broken!”, but when prompted to, she went ahead and gave the ‘broken shades’ a try, and to ‘all of our surprise’, found they opened normally.  8-)

When the waitress filled Donna’s cup with coffee, I asked her to only fill mine half way (I drink coffee slow and a full cup always gets cold while sitting), the girl nodded then filled the cup 90% of the way.

As I tried to pour some back into the pot, a little trickled onto the table. I used my napkin to sop up the spilled coffee. When the waitress returned, Donna asked for two more napkins, we had to ask her two more times before they were delivered.

Restaurants like Country Kitchen, Sambos, Perkins, etc, don’t cook excellent meals, the food is usually tolerable, a little bland, with a tendency to be greasy and with little consistency (the vegetables aren’t ever really fresh and crisp, the meat seems to have been processed with some kind of a filler, i.e., oatmeal). These shortcomings are not mentioned to be negative, because it is nice to go out to breakfast, or supper, and these restaurants are frequently found near common public destinations. Face it, when you go out to breakfast its for a change of habit and to socialize, not for the food quality.

Our breakfast meal consisted of:
•  Donna had 2 pancakes, 2 eggs-over light, 2 pieces bacon, 2 sausage links. $2.99
•  Jane: 1 pancake. 55¢ (plus tidbits off Donna’s my plate)
•  Larry: 2 pieces toast with jelly, 2 eggs-over light, 2 sausage patties, hash brown potatoes. $3.45

I’m far from being a connoisseur of fine foods, but there is a low-level of taste quality that when encountered, makes one sit back and look questionably their plate with a worriedly frown.
The ‘worried frown’ condition is reached when you find that the texture and taste of a particular food item doesn’t fall within what your memory says are the taste limits for that food.
When you’re hungry, but need to stop eating and dwell on whether or not to finish chewing and swallow a mouthfull of food that tastes odd, you’ve reached that point.
This is what happened to me when I began chewing a bite of my sausage patty. Then, not wishing to be overtly fussy with the waitress, after the hassle over the shade, coffee and napkins, I asked Donna to taste the sausage. She agreed. The texture was poor, as if the meat had been ground too fine and the spice mixture used in preparation was lousy.

Then, I found my hash brown were very poorly prepared. It was as though the premade serving had been only partially defrosted in a microwave, then put on a hot griddle, but just long enough to brown the exterior and finish melting the interior ice crystals, but not long enough to cook the interior.

Donna and I looked around the restaurant and noticed that the restaurant had stopped using the customary disposable paper placemats, dishes were now being set directly on the table.
It seemed par for the course that the salt shaker on our table was greasy with a pea size glob of food dried on one side…

Before leaving the restaurant, we’d already decided never to eat at this particular Country Kitchen again.
A couple of years later, while driving through Rodgers, we noticed that the restaurant had gone out of business. Another restaurant opened in the same building, but it too failed. In the fullness of time, as the city of Rodgers grew, the structure was bulldozed. Amen.

We arrive in St. Paul at 9:30. We located the Science Museum on 10th Street, just several blocks off the 35E Freeway and parked in their underground parking facility.

When the museum opened, at 10:00, we browsed through the Gift Shop, then saw the Technology applications demonstration.
At 10:30, when the Omnimax theater office opened, we bought tickets for the movie presentation, then stood in queue until the theater opened. It was a good thing we bought our tickets when we did, because it didn’t take long for a large queue of movie patrons to develop that extended  a city block in length.
At 11AM the theater doors opened and we filed in. Wanting the best viewing experience possible, Donna, Jane and I took seats in the center of the theater.
[Internet image at right is of Imax theater seating, which is the same as the Science Museums; however, the screen seen here does not curve around to the sides as it did in the Omni theater.]

This was our first visit to a theater using the large Imax film format on an impressively large screen. Unlike the customary movie theaters, where the seating rows are on a slight incline, which gradually rise from front to rear, the Omnimax format required each row of seats to rise about a foot, from the one in front. This resulted in two very steep stairways, which divided the theater into thirds. The seats were tilted back slightly to provide a comfortable view of the enormous 7300 square foot screen, which extended spherically to the sides, far beyond ones peripheral vision.

Here I quote from the museums brochure describing the Omnimax experience: “The world’s largest film projector, the Omnimax with ‘take up reels’ four feet in diameter, uses a single fish eye lens to project 70mm film onto the tilted dome. To ensure sound as brilliant as the picture, the theater uses a sophisticated six track audio system capable of producing 5,000 watts of power…”

The film we saw was entitled, The Dream is Alive. The combined effects of a huge, wrap around screen, the resolution of the 70mm film and tremendous acoustics, all combined to provide an incredible experience.

During the film, we spectators were taken into Earth’s orbit aboard three 1984 Space Shuttle missions.
When the Space Shuttle took off, the theater seats and our very bodies shook from the near deafening sound and low-frequency vibrations. Meanwhile, our entire field of vision was filled with the enormous space craft, rocket ignition, the gantry falling away,   searing flame, billowing smoke, and then the Shuttle rising, the Earth falling away behind us…
A few minutes later, while beautiful, ethereal music filled out ears, we visually drifted through space looking down on the Earth from a 200 miles high orbit…we floated down the Italian peninsula in a matter of minutes.

Then back at Cape Canaveral: In another sequence, while observing astronaut training, we were taken on an escape pod, which slid down an inclined cable from the Space Shuttle to a distant emergency capture net. Talk about the visual reality! As we spectators sailed down the cable in an escape pod, I found myself pushing deeper into the theater seat, twisting my head from side to side, tightly clenching the armrest and trying to escape. It was impressive, it was thrilling! There are, without a doubt, fingerprints pressed into the steel armrests throughout the theater. Whew!

By the time the film was over it was lunch time.
We took the elevator down to the parking level, found our car, popped open the cooler and set up a picnic lunch in the front seat. Our tasty meal consisted of both bologna and cheese sandwiches, each with various spreads and salad vegetables, also Frito chips and canned Diet Pepsi.

After lunch we returned to the Museum exhibits to see the, ‘Walk Through Time’ exibit and Dinosaur laboratory. Lastly, we  returned to the Gift shop and bought Jane a dozen hard rubber dinosaurs.

We left the museum at 1:30PM, realizing we’d have to come back to see the rest of the exhibits. Parking for a half day cost $3.00.
We drove out-of-town several miles on the I-94 freeway to the Holiday Inn-St Paul East.
We took occupancy of room #825 on the top floor, the room had two double beds and rented for $56 per night, including tax.

Our room had crème colored walls, a white stucco textured ceiling and mauve wall to wall carpeting. There was a contemporary floral painting print hanging above the head-board on each bed, and a small desk with chair. At the other side of the room a 19 inch color television sat on a chest of drawers facing the beds.
[Photograph at right: Holiday Inn East, St Paul, Room 825. During our visit to the Twin  Cities. Jane with toys laid out on the bed looks on.]

The rooms pecan colored furniture had what is called, ‘radiused edges’ (rounded). The dresser pulls were brass plated to make the furniture look more expensive and older in style. The desk lamp and wall lamps were brass plated.

The bathroom had a long sink, large wall mirror, toilet and bathtub-shower combination. Next to the toilet were two wall mounted dispensers each carrying a roll of toilet paper.
My first impression was that the hotel wanted to make sure ‘users’ didn’t run out of paper in the middle of a ‘job’, however, when I had need to use the paper I found that one roll was of coarse and other, soft tissue. That left me wondering if the hotel was offering ‘two texture choices’ to pamper guests, or if it was just a coincidence. Why would anyone use coarse toilet paper on a soft bummy? The hotel provided wash cloths and towels, however, they were made from thin, inexpensive cloth and didn’t have the name of the hotel imprinted; probably in an attempt to reduce patron theft.

After carrying our suitcases and snack food up to the room, we washed up and decided to drive around to look for a restaurant for supper. We’d already checked the hotel’s dining room and found the price of convenience was exorbitant.

Saturday mid afternoon, we drove through downtown St. Paul and saw an odd sight: Great buildings, that during week days held thousands of well dressed professional employees, were deserted. The sidewalks so busy during business hours were now essentially vacant, except for a few wandering derelicts.
The people loitering and shuffling about downtown were grossly overweight, of mixed race and poorly dressed.
And, what an interesting mix of architecture we saw, tall multi story modern buildings mixed with the shorter, older style buildings which had patina coated copper roofs and gutters.
[Metropolitan St Paul, photograph at left was taken from a ridge near Harriet Island (?) during a weekend family outing to the Twin Cities .]

Continuing our explorations, we drove up a hill six to eight blocks northeast of the State Capitol building and came upon a neighborhood that had long ago seen better days. Up behind the capitol lived a mix of poor mixed race peoples from all over the world. The community had few poor white children, but those we did see were fat. Motorcycles were parked here and there on small unkempt lawns, or what use to be lawns, automobiles were seen to be badly rusted, the older houses were not kept neat, many needed paint. Although we were on a hill, high enough to take a panoramic photograph out over the city, we thought it unwise to stop and get out of the car in that area.
Being rather well dressed, carrying an expensive camera and driving a used but nicer car (for that area) discouraged us from exposing ourselves to any unnecessary confrontations with people who might have thought we were taking photographs of their homes and unenviable living conditions.

A short while later, while driving down a main highway some four miles east of the St Paul downtown area, we found the ‘Ol Mexico’ restaurant. A Mexican meal sounded good to everyone so we stopped.

Seated at our table we chatted about our day while sipping Margaritas and eating tortilla chips dipped in salsa. Our meals consisted of:
•  Donna had 2 flautas, rice & beans with sour cream and guacamole topping.
•  I had a taco, enchilada, rice & beans with shredded salad topping (lettuce and tomato).
•  Jane had a plate with bits from Donnas and my plate.

We finished our tasty and thoroughly filling meal around 5PM and drove back to our hotel.

By the time we reached our room, we were all tired from a long busy day. The family washed up, put on our pajamas and sat back on our beds to watch television. The hotel provided HBO (Home Box Office), which was a cable subscription service that showed recent movie releases. The service was part of our rental fee so we started our evening watching the movie, Sweet Sixteen.
At 7:00 PM we watched a second movie, The Ambassador, starring Robert Mitchum and Rock Hudson. This was Rock Hudson’s last movie prior to his dying from AIDS. The movie was about mid-east terrorism, a decent movie up to the end which turned unnecessarily gruesome and bloody.

At 9:00PM we watched the National news. Jane fell asleep. Donna and I went to sleep around 9:30, after quietly practicing ‘the ancient arts’.   :-)
It was a good day!

Sunday, May 16th
The family awoke at 5:30AM. Jane promptly scooted off her bed and crawled into bed with Donna and me for some good morning kisses. We discussed the highlights of what we’d done the previous day and what we might find at the Minnesota Zoological Gardens that morning.

At 6:30 we got up and busy about our room. I disappeared into the bathroom to shave, while the girls put on their swimming suits. While I dressed, Donna and Jane went down to the hotel’s indoor swimming pool; I followed a few minutes later, bringing our 35mm Minolta camera.
Upon entering the enclosed pool room, I was  immediately hit by the strong odor of the pool’s chlorine disinfectant. The chemical dosage was so high that the girls were attempting to keep from getting their faces wet because the chlorine stung their eyes. The girls were making the best of their time in the pool; Donna was backing around in the shallow end, holding Janes hands. Jane held on, laughing and kicking, learning her first swimming movements.
Meanwhile, I browsed around in an adjoining combination, gym-exercise room and rode on an exercise bicycle for a few minutes. The ‘Dynamic Duo’ spent about twenty-five minutes in the pool before we all returned to our room.
The girls showered while I sat looking out our eighth floor window; watching the morning’s business activity in the street below.

To our immediate north, just beyond the hotel parking lot, is the I-94 freeway. Across the freeway to the northeast, are the 3M Corporate Offices, their Research and Production facilities, all being spread over an area of about acres. Beyond  3M is part of St. Paul’s residential suburbs, mostly hidden from view by stands of trees.

It didn’t take long for the girls to dress and pack our suitcases; by 7:30AM, we were feeling hunger pangs and discussing breakfast. Donna phoned the hotel restaurant and found they were charging a dollar per cup of coffee! (gasp) Donna drove a couple blocks to a local MacDonald’s fast food restaurant and bought two cups of coffee for a total of 64¢.

We left our room at 8:30AM and checked out of the hotel.

Since the Minnesota Zoological Gardens didn’t open until 10AM, we had a lot of time for breakfast and the commute. We stopped at a Mr. Donut shop for donuts and coffee. Donna wanted something more, so we drove across the street to McDonalds where she bought a Sausage McMuffin with Egg.

In Burnsville, as we neared the zoo, we took a brief sidetrip detoured to sight see a new housing development called Cinnamon Ridge. We hadn’t been in a new residential development for a long time and were curious to see current housing styles and trends.

As we drove up and down the streets in Cinnamon Ridge, we saw that some of the detached houses looked nice, but the yards were small and the houses looked rather cramped and close together.
Part of this new, densely populated community was composed of apartment complexes. The apartments consisted of dozens and dozens of 8-plex apartments which were clustered together, frankly it looked dehumanizing.

We arrived at the Minnesota Zoological Gardens at 10:30.
Our explorations began in the Gift Shop, conveniently located near the entrance ticket booth. Next we watched some thirty monkeys going about their daily business in an outdoor enclosure.
We bought buy tickets for the Sky Rail ride. The Sky Rail was an elevated monorail conveyor-train comprise of  eight totally enclosed cars, each car had four separate two person seats, large side windows, and an intercar loud speaker.  The one and a quarter-mile ride cost a reasonable $2 per adult, lasted almost a half hour and carried up to sixty-four passengers, around the five hundred acre zoo at tree top-level.

During the ride we saw a variety of zoo environments and exhibits, including: the bison, elk, Bactrian Camel, Musk Ox, moose, Siberian Tiger, prairie dogs, the zoo’s large natural Minnesota forest area with its wild squirrels, native birds, swamps and natural ponds.
As the monorail moved between exhibits, our Naturalist guide-monorail operator discussed each environment, the animals that lived there, and pointed out special recent incidents in any of the environments. The monorail ride provided a visually interesting and informative tour of the park, it was a fun experience that made us appreciate the zoo.

When the monorail cars returned to the Sky Rail station, we walked to a near by area where attendants were giving children rides on a young elephant. At first, Jane was afraid to sit on the elephant, however, considering that she was only two and half years old, who wouldn’t be?! During the ride, Jane assessed the situation and realized it was both safe and fun. A while later, after being helped down from the elephants back, she stood on the elevated boarding deck reaching out to pet  the elephant whilst happily exclaiming, ‘Big…Big”.

Jane’s enthusiasm directed us to the Children’s Petting Zoo, for a close up look at a horse, goat, some sheep, llama, geese, etc. Remember, during the previous summer (1985) we took Jane to the Benton County Fair for her first, second and third, ‘horsey’ ride, she never forgot the experience and was eager to see and pet a horse at the zoo.

[Photograph above: A view along the Tropical Trail, looking  across an  exhibit as the paved visitor’s ‘trail’ winds about within the enormous glass roofed ‘Tropics’ building.]

Around noon we finished visiting the Petting Zoo and realized it was lunch time. We walked  to the Zoo’s large cafeteria and bought a meal of hamburgers, French fries and Pepsi. By this time our legs were starting to feel tired from the unaccustomed walking so the break was welcomed.

Early afternoon was spent walking the Tropics Trail  and the Minnesota Trail in the zoo’s enormous main exhibit building.

The tall glass-topped building was filled with tropical vegetation and various larger animal species, each set in a habitat resembling their natural home. Visitors entered the exhibit from the second floor of the exhibit building and wound their way around and down, along an eight foot wide asphalt trail. The trail had a placard at each ‘view’ with a photograph and  discussion the each animal species. The wildlife was cleverly confined by use of water motes, concrete walls, Plexiglas or net, all unconstructive and built into the design of the habitat. The exhibits along the main trail were well illuminated from sunlight entering through the entire roof.
In order to increase the floor space, the ground had been dug out in the shape of a huge bowl and the ‘visitor’s trail’ wound around and down, zig zag style, between exhibits. At the lowest point of the trail was a large pond with a central island. Ducks and Flamingoes swam or stood in the water. Gibbons swung from branches of several tall realistic looking concrete (?) and dead trees on the island. As we worked our way back up the other side of the bowl, for about a hundred and fifty feet, the  trail wound through a darkened ‘cavern’ where nocturnal creatures  (several types of snake, leopards) were displayed un der dim red lighting within their naturalistic environments. There was also a large windowed aquarium view of the dolphin tank, then back up, across concrete ‘foot bridges’ amongst a cliff-like area where mountain goats lived, then up and out of the bowl and into the exhibit buildings 2nd story.

I was happy to see that the animals had freedom to walk about in a jungle like setting that was not only a lot larger than the steel cage zoos of my childhood, but that there was considerably more variety in their environment.

During my childhood in the 1940s, zoo exhibits consisted of concrete rooms with bars up front for visitors to look through, and steel service doors in the rear. Inside these cages, you typically saw one or two larger animals laying on a bed of straw, usually motionless, expressionless and ‘spiritually’ lifeless in their extreme and unending boredom. If one of these captives was seen moving, it was pacing back and forth, back and forth in its small area of confinement.
As a child, I felt the zoo was unnatural, cold and austere. I didn’t like visiting the zoo, it felt cold and unfriendly, the animals didn’t look happy, the poor creatures were kept in nothing more than concrete prison cells.

Recently built zoos are interesting and much more enjoyable to visit. The outdoor wild life exhibits provide one to five acres, maybe more, for each species to roam about on. Their terrain might include multiple environments, a mix of ponds, prairie, forest, hillside. The Minnesota Zoological Gardens had it all, the park was a pleasure to visit.

Jane particularly enjoyed the Bottlenose Dolphin exhibit. Donna held Jane up on several occasions so she could see over the crowd when the dolphins jumped out of the water.
I asked Jane how many Dolphins there were, she replied aloud by rapidly counting, 2-3-4-5-6-7-8’. All of the people around us turned and looked at Jane in surprise. You could almost read the confused expression on their faces, which translated into, ‘I didn’t know children that young could count!’  (At the time Jane was only 2 years 6 months old) Meanwhile, Jane continued laughing, completely beside herself with excitement as the dolphins threw a red ball to the audience, as they jumped up from the water, did ‘tail walks along the water surface, and splashed showers across front row visitors.

As we prepared to leave the zoo, we returned to the Gift Shop and bought Jane hard rubber figurines of a lion, antelope, zebra, penguin, seal and dolphin. Donna and I bought ourselves a molded composition sculpture of an American Bison ($20) and  a raging elephant ($35), both were about nine to ten inches long and seven to eight inches tall.
We left Minnesota Zoological Gardens at 3:00 PM and drove the eighty-two miles home in two hours.

All of our animal friends were happy to see us: Griz, Jessie and young Pepin barked and jumped with glee, the ducks and geese came shuffling up across the yard toward us, quacking and squawking.
We were home, back in the forest and so ended our delightful weekend trip.

This year’s events are continued in Part 2 of Chapter 1986, Age 43-44, Part 2 of 2.

[1]  See Journal 9, The People Book, page 1433, “The Hero’s of Challenger”
[2]  Pepin, named after the warrior king Pepin The Short, father of Emperor Charlemagne.
[3]   See Journal 11, High Plains Drifter, page 1714, “The Return of Halley’s Comet.”
[4]  The period Donna and I spent unemployed in the latter months of 1985 resulted in our receiving a $955 Federal and $206 Minnesota State Income Tax refund in early 1986. The $1161 represented the tidy sum of about one persons monthly net wages. The curio cabinet cost approximately half of the total tax refund.
[5] “Chernobyl Is a Vast Wasteland, December 15, 2000 ,By SERGEI SHARGORODSKY, Associated Press Writer.
CHERNOBYL,Ukraine(AP) – At first glance, it looks the same as the outside world: forests, fields and streams, peaceful village houses. But barbed-wire fences, radiation warning signs and checkpoints caution visitors that they are entering a different land.
It’s called the “Zone,” a term lifted from a Soviet science fiction novel written by the Strugatsky brothers more than a decade before the April 26, 1986,Chernobyl nuclear plant accident.
Here the rivers, land and trees are poisoned by radiation, and a closer look reveals that the quiet wooden houses are crumbling structures abandoned 14 years ago.
Barred to outsiders by about 800 guards, the 19-mile-radius zone around Chernobyl absorbed the bulk of the radioactive fallout from the 1986 explosion and fire. It covers 1,400 square miles and was once home to 120,000 people who lived in 90 communities.
Winding roads now lead to ruined settlements. In a field, nearly 1,400 contaminated vehicles and aircraft used in the Chernobyl cleanup are rusting.
The forests are rich in berries, mushrooms and animals, including some exotic varieties like the Przhevalsky horses brought here to eat and stamp out the high grass which is highly contaminated by radiation.

Pripyat, once the area’s largest city and home to 48,000 people before the accident, is a ghost town of apartment high-rises still sporting Communist Party slogans and Soviet-era symbols, overgrown bushes and an abandoned playground with a motionless Ferris wheel and broken toy cars. Electric poles and wires announce the approach to the Chernobyl plant itself. A giant red structure surrounded by rusty cranes is the remnant of two unfinished reactors. A sprawling building behind a fence houses reactors No. 1 and No. 2.
[Image at right: Winter in deserted, radioactive, Pripyat, USSR]

A bust of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin greets visitors at the plant’s entrance. Next to it stands a curvy modernist statue, a memorial to those who died trying to contain the 1986 catastrophe. Farther away is a huge building, its single smokestack supported by metal bearings. This is where it all happened 14 years ago.
At one end is reactor No. 3,Chernobyl’s last working one, which was stopped for good on Friday. The building’s other reactor, No. 4, is encased in a 1.1-million-ton sarcophagus that looks like a haphazard assortment of cement and rust-streaked steel plates.

Beneath is all that remains of reactor No. 4, a maze of collapsed ceilings, corridors littered with debris, and bizarre cankers produced by melted nuclear fuel that no human can approach without being killed by radiation.
Just one brick-sized piece of fuel that recently fell onto the sarcophagus roof emits deadly radiation. And radiation on a balcony facing the sarcophagus is about 80 times normal background levels.
The road out of the zone passes through the “Red Forest” – trees so damaged by radiation that they took on a reddish hue. Today, most of the forest is dead, and only a few dried trees stretch out their branches in a silent reminder of the century’s worst nuclear accident.”

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Filed under Autobiography, __4. Little House in the Woods- Beginnings: 1980-1987

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