Greg Peters column: Connect the polka dots
Clint Eastwood is known for iconic lines from "The Man With No Name" to "Gran Torino." From horseback to horsepower, the 88-year-old Hollywood legend has a career spanning over 60 years, appearing in over 60 movies.
It's Eastwood's line in his 1992 Academy Award winning film, "Unforgiven," that could be a metaphor for the journey of longtime River Falls residents, Steve and Patsy Linehan.
"It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have," said
Eastwood's character, Bill Munny.
For the Linehans, though, the "Unforgiven" metaphor is about not losing life by living it. This is a story about a shared love for polka music connecting the Linehans and Clint Eastwood and how they're choosing to live a new life.
You know about Clint Eastwood, the actor. You also know Clint Eastwood, the director, but did you know about Clint Eastwood, the composer? Eastwood has composed nine film scores and won a Grammy. His love for music dates all the way back to singing cowboy songs from the TV show "Rawhide" in the early 1960s.
The same man who played "Dirty Harry" in five movies also loves watching the "Mollie B Polka Party," in real life, every Saturday night at his house in California (on RFD-TV, Direct TV channel 345).
When a scene for the new Eastwood movie, "The Mule," called for a polka party in a VFW, Eastwood knew exactly who he wanted.
"Mollie B" is Mollie Busta and she grew up in Spring Grove, Minn. (about 30 minutes west of Lacrosse).
"He (Eastwood) and I had lunch for about an hour," said Busta, who can play 15 instruments. "We talked music the whole time. His (Eastwood) first words to me were 'Mollie, I watch you every Saturday night.'"
"The Mule" polka scene was shot at an actual VFW in Jonesboro, Ga., (much of the movie was shot in Atlanta and Augusta).
"It was the most real scene to be a part of," said Busta. "There was nothing fake."
Eastwood wanted "legit Mollie B fans" and good dancers.
Insert Patsy Linehan.
Linehan and her brother, David, grew up on a farm in Hager City. Their parents worked part-time at Proch"s Ballroom in Ellsworth and they grew up polka dancing to the Jim Busta Band, Mollie's dad.
"That's just what we did; that was our entertainment," said Patsy. "I loved it."
Patsy and her brother danced competitively for quite some time together.
Fast forward all the way to 2014, both Steve and Patsy owned two fast food restaurants, a Dairy Queen in St. Paul and a Firehouse Subs in Woodbury. David finally convinced his sister and brother-in-law to take a vacation and go on a polka cruise.
They cruised. They danced. They had a blast. Patsy's dancing also caught the eye of Mollie B, while she was playing.
"Patsy and David stick out pretty good when they dance," said Steve. "There are good dancers, there are bad dancers, and then there's me," he said jokingly.
Each one of us, however, has our own talents and Steve had also worked part-time for the River Falls School District for 19 years, driving a school bus. You may remember reading in the River Falls Journal about Steve being awarded Wisconsin Bus Driver of the Year for saving 40 children from a burning bus on its way to Greenwood Elementary in September 2013.
The Mollie B Polka Party had a need for Patsy to dance in their Branson Christmas Special and shortly thereafter, they needed a bus driver.
Insert Steve Linehan.
This past year, both were asked to help with promotions and managing over 150 shows per year.
Harry Callahan in "Dirty Harry" would say, "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky? Well, do, ya, punk?'"
Those were not the exact words discussed at the Linehan kitchen table when Mollie and her husband, Ted, asked Steve and Patsy about the new job, but it may as well have been.
It was time for the Linehans to put the restaurant businesses to bed and hit the road, a polka "Pale Rider," if you will.
"It was killing us," said Steve. "We were working 24/7 (in the restaurants) and we were about 10 years too old for that."
2019 has miles of road and mountains of new friends in store for the Linehans.
"It's a change but it's an awesome change," said Patsy.
"Many of the shows are fundraisers for community events,"said Steve, "so it's a win-win for everyone if we can help fill the seats."
Steve isn't the octogenarian "Mule" hauling illegal cargo in a 50-foot bus; he and Patsy are packing their bus with precious polka parties in the brand new life of retirement.
Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry would say, "Go ahead, make my day."
I would say, "Roll out the barrel; that's what I call living life."