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A Mother-Poet Version of Paul Bunyan

February 17, 2004

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The kids left Friday for their grandparents' in Owatonna and Mr. Sundberg was in Seattle, so I had some time to work on our taxes before painting the basement floor which I did while the show was on. I imagine people see something undeniably odd about a basement as clean as I like to keep mine. I paint the floor a lovely medium gray every other year, and I vacuum it every other week with the old vacuum cleaner, the one whose bag blows off and flies across the room if you don't secure the plastic cover with duct tape.

So it was Valentine's Day and the sun was setting and there I was in the basement on my knees in faded old Levis and work boots and a flannel shirt someone said makes me look like a mother-poet version of Paul Bunyan. It took nearly the whole show for me to cover that floor with gray, but I did it. All the way from "Carolina Moon" to Mr. Keillor's rendition of the King's "I'm All Shook Up." (This was where I got a little carried away and ended up with paint in my hair and all over my forearms.) Then there was Doc Watson with his sweet "Hush, little baby, now don't you cry," bringing tears which stayed pretty much through -- I think it was Pat Donohue singing -- "I can hear her heartbeat for a thousand miles" and I thought of Mr. Sundberg out in Seattle and how on Valentine's Day it seems one should be within reach of one's beloved.

"Amazing Grace" wrapped up the show just as I finished the floor, and I understood something then, standing there on the steps gazing down at the smooth gray concrete. Doesn't matter much the weight of your load, it's how you carry it. I could have hired someone to do it, or sent subliminal messages to Mr. Sundberg. But it just felt so good, all along, that feeling of hard work and weariness and finally finishing and thinking, well, that's done.

After a long shower I thought some sourdough bread and an apple and a slab of Swiss cheese would be good and wouldn't you know there in the fruit drawer was a handmade card from Mr. Sundberg resting on the Granny Smiths.
On the front was a photograph he'd taken of a sunset and inside he had written in "You are my horizon." (I thought for a minute it said "horicon" like the "Horicon Marsh" in Wisconsin, and wondered if my husband had taken too much antacid again.) He wrote, "I love you, Sweetness" and signed his name. The writing was a kind of calligraphy, and he had cut pictures of roses from a magazine and pasted them inside the cover. It made me happy, not because he had given me a card but because he worked so hard on it. Kind of like the whole basement floor thing. The journey, not the destination. Then the phone rang, and it was him, and he said he was thinking of me and I told him I missed him, and that I'd listened to the show and it was not bad.

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