Woodworking: Certain acts, long forgotton, simply end inexplicably
I have a friend whose motto is "No good deed goes unpunished." He points to all sorts of examples.
Adoptive children who turn out to be ingrates. Best friends who borrow money and are never seen again.
Maybe so, maybe so, but I have an anti-motto to counter his cynical perspective: "Sometimes bad deeds go rewarded."
Let me explain with a fable for our times.
There once was a fellow -- that would be me -- who had difficulty keeping track of books he had borrowed. In one instance, when he was in seventh grade he borrowed a book from the Whitehall Public Library.
It was called "Jack, the Young Ranchman." Somehow, it slipped behind the bookcase in his bedroom, invisible to the naked eye. Its renewal date came and went and he cravenly pretended to forget about the Adventures of Jack.
He never returned it.
Remember the "Scarlet Letter?" Jack became the boy's Scarlet A.
He felt so guilty that when Mrs. Hanson the librarian came walking down the street, he would slip into an alley until she passed.
Twenty five years later, after Mrs. Hanson had passed into the Great Reference Room in the Sky and when he was cleaning out his parents' basement, guess what he found?
"Jack the Young Ranchman" buried among seventy mason jars of peach sauce. He still didn't return the book, figuring he owed the city more than $2,500.
Who would know? And then one of his classmates was named librarian.
He confessed to her during a weak moment at the country club.
She smiled, patted his hand and said, "Oh, Dave, we have amnesty days every year. Drop it off, and I'll see that it gets back on the shelf -- unless it's too moldy."
If my friend's motto were correct, you'd think I'd have trouble with books loaned to other people. Not so.
Years ago I loaned one of my favorite books to a student. It was Max Shulman's "Barefoot Boy With Cheek," a comic novel about the misadventures of Asa Hearthrug, a country boy who attends the University of Minnesota and suffers under its weird mismanagements back in the 1940s. (Apparently things haven't changed.)
Here's a sample: "St. Paul and Minneapolis extend from the Mississippi River like the legs on a pair of trousers. Where they join is the University of Minnesota."
Well, my student disappears with the book as so many students do. And now I'm barefoot (and up the creek because the book is out of print.)
I happen to mention this misadventure in a column I used to write for Grit, the national family newspaper. Soon after, I receive a package from Pennsylvania.
It was a first edition of "Barefoot Boy with Cheek."
Attached was a note from a woman named Elaine Elstad Pope that said: "Dear Mr. Wood. Here's my copy of the Shulman book. You may be interested to know that I am also from Whitehall."
These days I hear a first edition is worth about $35. See what I mean by a bad deed being its own reward?
And I'm not finished.
I just received a package from Spring, Texas, from a woman I knew 30 years ago.
Jane Garny Rau, formerly of Minneapolis wrote: "Dear Dave: I feel just awful! I thought I had mailed this book to you years ago and, much to my chagrin, I found it while packing up our house of 25 years to move to a new home. I am so, so sorry! And I can only imagine what my mother is thinking. Please accept my profound apology. It is a fabulous cookbook. I know Mom would have loved it, too."
And returned was my long lost favorite cookbook, which I had loaned to Jane after talking about it at a dinner party thrown by her mother, my friend who died many years ago.
The book was called "Wild in the Kitchen," by the late great Minneapolis Tribune columnist Will Jones who, like me, adored playing with his food -- and writing about it.
Here's a sample in a chapter called "Breakfast:"
"Just so you know my heart is in this matter, I want to tell you what I had for breakfast before sitting down to write this chapter:
"Grapefruit, a hot dog, baked beans, spiced pears, green salad, potato chips, coconut cream pie and tea.
"Breakfast is an institution that needs some jazzing up."
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.