July 28th…“DID YOU EVER CRY HAPPY TEARS FROM RECEIVING MIRACLE GIFTS GIVEN TO YOU THAT WERE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED?”
“Home is where the heart is”. The home of my heart saw its foundations, built with love, emanate from the peaceful village of Kiester, Minnesota. From January of 1954, until late July of 1967, I was profoundly blessed to be a part of, not only my immediate family, but I was also intrinsically connected to the life enriching marrow of this sweet community nestled in the rich, black-soiled farmlands of south central Minnesota.
Fast forward the Time Machine to the year 1998. Financial obligations, such as the bills that come with life, required my full time job plus a custodial cleaning business that I ran in the evenings. I was clocking between 70 and 80 hours a week. While working as a Head Custodian of a Grade School in our town, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting one of the many parents who volunteered for her child’s classroom. Mrs. Teresa Petker was her name and we became fast friends. My custodian desk space was in the teacher’s work room and Teresa and I enjoyed fellowship as she’d work on projects across the expansive table top there. Our many conversations eventually touched on the fact that I had not been home to Minnesota for about 25 years, and that, as a father, I had always wanted to share the places of my beginnings with our five children.
Although my school district job provided a paid vacation to me each year, my cleaning business did not. “No workee, no getee payee!” If we took a three week vacation, I would lose $700.00 of desperately needed money to keep bills current. Add to this equation, our “Geezer Mobile” (family car) would never have made the long journey to Minnesota and back. And, if this were not enough, our son could not accompany us due to a job he had gotten unloading new cars from the trains. He would have to miss out on the family adventure IF we even went on one.
Teresa Petker had been so empathetic to my times of “dreaming out loud” of a trip. I knew, faced with limited resources, that I could not achieve such a joy under life’s current conditions. About a week or so went by and I had allowed my “pipe dream” to slip back into its scabbard in the land of “Woulda Shoulda Coulda”. Then one day, Teresa waved me down there at school and asked if she could talk with me a moment.
Here’s what she said, (paraphrased) “My husband and I have been praying about you. We feel led to reach out to you and provide a means for you to have a vacation back home to Minnesota. We felt that you deserve a real vacation with your family to show them your childhood farm and hometown. Here is our check for $700.00 to make up for the weeks you can’t work your business. We also want you and your family to enjoy our new Dodge Caravan to make the journey with since your old car can’t make the trip safely. AND, we want you to take along our video recorder to capture the memories on film and be able to share them when you get home with your son who can’t come along.” Needless to say, I began to cry happy buckets of tears and gave her such a big hug for the amazing generosity of this precious family who, just weeks before, were total strangers to me!! I offered up my profuse thank yous for their miracle to us that was now going to bless my wife, our daughters and myself…….and our son, too, of course. Plans were made, friends and relatives called……Minnesota, here we come!!!
This daddy and mommy and our four daughters were on “Cloud 9” as we piled into that gorgeous, brand new Dodge Caravan and began our family adventures on June 17th, 1998. For about 3 weeks, we visited family along the 1,717 mile route towards Minnesota. When we arrived in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, we met up with my eldest sibling, Lowell, and he took us to the gigantic Mall Of America there in the “Twin Cities”. Of course, the Petker’s video camera was rolling a lot of the time, capturing memory moments to show to our son when we returned.
As our vacation chariot rolled into the tree-lined streets of my boyhood hometown, I was one elated daddy!! Father’s Day had transpired on our way towards Minnesota, and here this father now could put actual locations to the stories I had told our children over the years. Stories such as…….to the north of my Grade School building was the red Future Farmer’s Of America building. While playing the game of kickball (like baseball, only kick a rubber ball), one of the “pop-flys” landed on a little flat roof part of the FFA building. Being the little monkey I was, I shinnied up the rain gutter downspout to access the roof and toss the ball down. Problem was, as I was climbing down the same way, I sliced the palm of my hand open (on some sheet metal stripping) so deeply, that you could lay back the flesh. YOWSA!!!
We had the sweet pleasure of being guests at the home of Archie and Denise Kluender (Grade School classmates) while visiting Kiester and Archie saw to it that I was escorted around town and nearby farms to be reacquainted with other Grade School buddies. Each day, there on that vacation, it was truly a dream come true, thanks to the Lord and the Petker family.
I was beyond elated as I took our daughters, and their mother, on a tour of what was left of our family farm there northwest of Kiester, Minnesota. Before pointing the van to the west again, we took one last leisurely drive down Main Street of this little town that I loved so well……. and I still do. Now, it was westward and new adventures on the way home to Washington State.
In a sense, we had two families in one. Our son and first daughter, then six years later began the joy of three more daughters. As a result, this happy daddy gladly read the entire “Little House On The Prairie” series of books through TWICE. Once for Nathan and Christa, and again for Rachel, Johanna and Rose. We all became giant fans of everything to do with “Little House”, so this vacation was the ideal time to stop off at DeSmet, South Dakota see the “Little Town On The Prairie”. From there we stopped at Mount Rushmore and took in the grandeur of Gutzon Borglum’s mighty stone carvings of our four Presidents. Being a fan of Western History, we also stopped at Custer’s Last Stand Memorial and took in the solemnity of what the Indians had called “The Battle Of The Greasy Grass”.
While passing through Custer, South Dakota, our attention was attracted to “The Flintstone’s Bedrock Village” Amusement Park. Here was another place to enjoy some family time that even appealed to the big kids………Dad and Mom.
Needless to say, when we got back home to Washington State, we first sat down with our son to share our videos with him of the joys of our recent vacation adventures. Then, a few days down the road, we invited the entire Petker family over for refreshments and a re-showing of the miracle vacation that they had blessed us with. Easily, it was the very best vacation ever for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.!!!!