A couple weeks ago I had my first visit with Dan Sorenson, the author of Snapshots of an Iowa Farm Boy. I may have mentioned I expected to be there for 10 or 15 minutes, but Dan keeps time by not watching the clock, so it was two hours later that I left. After viewing his collection of restored Case Tractors.
What's Time to a Pig?"
He pointed me to a chair to sit in that I later discovered had been his grandfather's. "When we moved it here from St Paul we set it down and it fell apart!" Since reassembled, he also recovered it, and I discovered it was a pretty comfortable sit, a kind of a recliner because the seat would slide forward, the back slide down, with support from a lumbar and head rest.
Our conversation started with a quick recognition of the book that brought me to see him, and he quickly turned to his first book, You Thought Like a Man. He pulled it off a shelf and apologized for having only two copies left, and now it's out of print. The title, he said, came from an experience he had at age 10.
He was pulling a disc behind a tractor and came to a swampy mudhole that needed to be crossed, but he knew he could not drive right through it. So he unhooked the disc, hooked a log chain to it and the other end to his tractor, drove the tractor to the other side, then pulled the disc through separately. When he got home he said his dad complimented him by saying, "You thought like a man."
"I was always proud of that," he said. "What higher compliment could I ever receive? And I've never forgotten it."
Dan has an incredible memory. I remarked on the detail in his book, and how many of my classmates tell me they don't recall some of the things described in this blog. That prompted him to speak of the ladies aid church suppers he described in his book. He remembers them like they happened yesterday, how the older women lined up along the walls of the church basement waiting for someone to take them home, the men out having their smoke, the orderliness that comes from years of practice. And I think he expects the rest of us would have the same memory.
Their home is a log cabin in the small village of Edgewater on Big Chetac Lake, a vacation area that hosts a couple resorts, the Chit Chat bar and grill, the Edgewater Store, and a handful of homes. Dan and Shirley live on the abandoned railroad right of way for the Blueberry Line, opened in 1893 and discontinued in use somewhere around 2000. The railroad ran from Rice Lake to Menomonie and is featured in this Youtube.
Because it's a railway, the Sorenson 10-acre property is long and narrow, 300 feet wide and I forget how long, but 10 acres at 300 feet wide tells you it's a matter of miles. As Dan walked me out to my car he was eager to show me a copse of trees where the local depot once stood, the framework for the old windmill the fan for which was sold and carried away some time ago, and the bed of the rail line itself, which he faithfully mows. "You can feel the railroad ties as you bounce along on your mower."
The couple is quite comfortable in retirement after years as teacher/counselor and baseball coach in his case. He clearly loved the coaching, and lays claim to having had two of his players reach the big leagues. Though he didn't mention the name, he did say that one of them will probably make it to the Hall of Fame. "But I had some losers, too," he laughed. "A murderer and a few other troublemakers. We still get the Pioneer Press (the St Paul paper) up here, and for years Shirley and I would go through the police report to check on our former students."
I understood that. Lonna still goes through that section of the local paper to check on her former students from her Behavior Disorder class. The closest I ever got to recognition in this way was going through a red light in Mason City, duly reported in the Globe-Gazette and gifted to me by Mildred Hendrickson. A memorable detail, I guess. And those who climbed the water tower back then never got caught and thus listed. I guess.
Perhaps this weekend, Labor Day, I'll have a chance to visit with Dan again. He's a dandy.