The Next Thing

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was a hot day, and lovely, and so much celebrating going on all ‘round.  Fourth of July weekend, what marks mid-summer for me, and we celebrated with a cookout and a bunch of brats from a butcher shop where you can find just about any flavor you want.  We had tater tot hotdish brats and whiskey peppercorn brats and beer batter cheese curd brats (I didn’t get the blueberry brats, but next time for sure). Oh my. And there were hickory beans and potato salad and corn on the cob, some broccoli salad with cheese and bacon, and for dessert, homemade shortcake with fresh berries and whipped cream. Pretty much what we had last year, and what a time we had together. And then everyone disappeared, and there was this silence. Not silence like void and darkness but silence like reflection and peace, and fireflies, and how you can hear things you might not normally hear, like trains in the distance and crickets and the sound of wind through leaves. And way out on the edge of it all, just beyond reach, the echoes of the kids talking and laughing. Life is pretty dang good, I thought. I read somewhere a while back a quote by Norman Lear, where he says he would advise anyone, including himself, that any moment you understand your life is good, then everything that led up to it was worthwhile.

Saturday wasn’t the first time I realized my life is good. I’d say that happened way back when I was young, maybe even about four years old. Thing is, all kinds of things happened along the way that might have changed my thinking. The deaths of dear people, the time I got so down I stayed in bed nearly a week, all the weeks we’ve had to go without a decent load of groceries and focus on pasta, the often-lonely stretches without Mr. S around, all the painful losses, stretches of time where things just didn’t go right, the agonizing goodbyes everyone has in a life where there is love. And still, always, there’s been a porch at day’s end where I might sit with an iced tea in my hand, feel the breeze, breathe in the wood smoke and the scent of pine, and set my eyes on the horizon, watching the burning sun give it up to the night.

It’s all in how you look at a thing. Elie Wiesel, may that man rest in ever-lovin’ peace, said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. You don’t feel anything, you don’t lose anything. Blessed, then, in my mind, are those who feel loss, who miss people and get lonely now and then and have rough patches. Because all that means you’re alive and feelin’ something, and you know how to love, and you learn to let go, and what remains are fine memories, and the road ahead, where you’ll find, in a good life, the Next Thing.

With a nod to my friend Mr. Keillor and the wonderful adventures ahead in the next story of his life, here’s a recipe he shared with me once upon a day, and I share it with you. Because I like you a whole lot.
Mr. Keillor’s Mother Grace’s Meatloaf Recipe
1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
3 slices of bread, diced
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs beaten
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp sage

Bake in a loaf pan for 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. You can put ketchup on the top if you wish. The Betty Crocker recipe calls for one pound of ground beef, 1/4 pound lean ground pork, and 1/4 pound ground veal. And Worcestershire sauce, which usually my mother skips. Maybe nowadays she uses it, though. In recent years her children have accompanied her on trips to luxurious places —- the Ritz Hotel in London, the Sherry Netherland in New York —- and perhaps Worcestershire is now on her list. For the street dance, however, we’ll do with the basics. Dance bands, hot coffee, ground beef. The sun goes down on October 6 and a crowd of Minnesotans dances to zydeco and rockabilly in the street. It’s different, all right.


  1. Mrs. Sundberg
    August 17, 2016

    Thank you, Ellen. I read “War and Peace” long ago, long enough to think I ought to read it again. Between you and me, it’s okay to pick up a book and begin and get to a point where you feel a bit harried by it and simply decide, “I’m not going to finish this book.” You might still attend the book club and nod a lot and hear what others have to say. Life is far too short, and not every book is for every person. I’ve been known to close a book half way through and leave it on a park bench. Someone will pick it up, and that someone might LOVE it.

  2. Ellen
    August 17, 2016

    Yes, I completely agree, Mrs. Sundberg, grief is the cost of love. I really enjoy your stories about everyday things with pieces of wisdom mixed in. Why I’m here to tell you, I enjoy your stories a whole lot more than War and Peace which I’m trying to finish for a book club. I’m on about page 200. Only 1400 more pages to go.

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