D. E. Larsen, DVM
Our son was getting married in 2001. Nothing special; it was just one of those rites of passage. The unusual thing, the wedding was in Nebraska.
“This is going to work great for us,” Sandy said as she read the card she had just received. “We can go to Nebraska a week early, rent a car, and drive to Wisconsin for Ruth and Maurice’s seventieth wedding anniversary.”
“How much of a drive is it from Lincoln to Marshfield?” I asked. “Maybe we should just fly to Marshfield.”
“I would guess it is about eight hours,” Sandy said. “But you have to fly to Madison and then drive from there. By the time you spend all the time in the airports, you probably don’t save much time by flying.”
“I’m okay with it,” I said. “We can probably look around the area while we are there. You will probably get a lot of the visiting other than the anniversary.”
“I think Dick and Charlie are going,” Sandy said. “I guess I better get on the phone and see about reservations.”
“Maybe you should check with one of the Behrens before you make reservations,” I said. “They maybe have a block of rooms reserved.”
And so Sandy made plans. We would get a round-trip ticket to Lincoln, Nebraska. Once there, we would rent a car and drive to Marshfield. We booked an early morning flight out of Portland and had a plane change in Denver. We were lucky that there was no layover in Denver, and we would be in Lincoln before noon local time.
Danny Behrens had reserved a block of rooms at a large motel. The motel would provide the family a hospitality room so everyone could relax and visit.
“This looks like a doable trip,” I said. “The only thing that worries me is getting off the plane and then driving eight hours.”
“We have made long trips,” Sandy said. “And we will be able to rest up after the drive. We will have a full week before we have to get back to the wedding. And Ruth and John are the only of Dad’s siblings still around, and they are old enough, and this will be my last chance to see them.”
“The drive shouldn’t be bad,” I said. “It looks like we will be a freeway all the way except the last few miles.”
“And in early September, we should have good weather,” Sandy said.
“I hate to bring that up, but I guess you remember the snowstorm we had in September when we moved to Colorado,” I said.
“We won’t talk about that, and I need to go shopping,” Sandy said. “I need a new dress for the wedding and a few things for Wisconsin.”
The airport Ramada Inn made us a deal we couldn’t refuse. We stayed overnight, and they parked our car for the long week we were gone. Since our flight was so early, they had breakfast in a sack for us to eat on the shuttle bus to the airport.
Checking our bags and checking in for the flight was no problem. We were seated on the plane and heading down the runway in no time. When I flew in the Army, I usually had a drink or two to relax for the takeoff. I hated the takeoffs and landings. The only thing that had changed from those years, there were no drinks now.
I could nap a bit on the flight, and the plane change in Denver was simple. Before we knew it, we got off the plane in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Lincoln’s airport was small. We stopped for a quick lunch, a hamburger, and fries. Then finding the rental cars was no problem. We had reserved a midsized car.
“I can upgrade your car to a full-sized sedan if you would like,” the gal at the desk said. “If you are driving to Wisconsin, it might be a little more comfortable for you.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” I said.
We threw our bags into the large trunk and started down the road. It was just after noon.
“We should have daylight all the way,” I said. “That will be a good thing. I hate trying to find my way around a new city in the dark.”
We took I-70 toward Des Moines, Iowa, then turned north on I-35. There was not a lot of scenery to look at, but I was not prepared for the corn.
There was corn for as far as one could see in every direction, and this went on for miles and miles. During the entire trip through Iowa, we drove through massive cornfields.
“If they harvest this corn for grain, what do they do with all the stalks?” I asked, more to myself than to Sandy.
“I have no idea,” Sandy said.
“I mean, at home, we would fill a silo with ten acres of corn,” I said. “Here they whole sections of corn, one section after another. That is a tremendous amount of plant material to dispose of. How do they do that?”
The speed limit on the freeway was sixty-five miles per hour. Since I was driving a rented car, I drove the speed limit.
All the way through Iowa, I was the slowest car on the road. Cars and trucks zoomed past me like I was standing still.
We were close to the Minnesota state line when we stopped for a bite to eat at a small community. I don’t remember the name, but tractors parked in front of the little restaurant we chose.
When the waitress brought our food, I figured she would know what they did with all the corn stalks.
“Can you tell me what happens to all the corn stalks when they harvest the corn?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” the gal answered. “I’m not a farm girl, and I have only been here for a few months.”
She probably figured it was a dumb question.
When we crossed into Minnesota, not much changed. The highway surface was not well maintained on the interstate, but the traffic did not slow because of it. I continued to be the slowest car on the road.
We were on I-90, and when we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, some traffic left the freeway, and some entered, but the main flow of traffic was unchanged.
I did not change my speed. I still drove sixty-five to sixty-seven miles per hour. The thing that did change was now, in Wisconsin, I was passing everyone. The entire line of cars was in the right-hand lane, and I was slowly passing them.
“Maybe they know something I don’t,” I said to Sandy.
“I think you should pull into the right lane and go with the traffic flow,” Sandy said.
That is what I did. I pulled into the line of cars in the right lane, and the traffic was going sixty-four to sixty-five miles per hour.
Not long later, a young man in a car came by in the left lane. He was not going much faster than I had been driving, but he slowly passed the string of cars.
It was about ten minutes later when we passed the young man. He was pulled over by a state trooper and got a ticket and a lecture.
“I think they are serious about the speed limit in this state,” I said.
We arrived in Marshfield in the evening and found the motel with no problem. The bed felt good, and we slept until almost nine.
We had a good visit in Marshfield. We visited with Ruth and Maurice in their assisted living apartment. Sandy and her brothers could see the farm they had lived at in their early years. Sandy was five when they moved to Oregon.
Sandy’s Uncle John took the group to dinner at a nearby lake. During the evening, John and his son, Mark, were discussing some guy in the neighborhood.
“He isn’t a man you can trust,” John said to Mark. “He doesn’t even drive the speed limit.”
I don’t think I had ever heard that about any person before.
The anniversary reception was excellent, and everyone was happy we had come. I was definitely the outsider, trying to learn everyone’s name and where they fit in the family, but I had a good time.
Ruth lived another dozen years following the anniversary, making it to the age of one hundred. Maurice passed away a few years following the anniversary.
Maurice came over to me in the middle of the celebration. He sat down beside me.
“I think they just plow those stalks back into the ground,” he said.
I don’t know if Sandy had told him I was curious or if he had overheard me talking about it to someone else.
Our drive back to Lincoln was leisurely, and our time there was enjoyable. All the kids arrived, along with my brother, Gary, and his wife, Kathy.
The wedding was held at Boss Hog’s place of The Dukes of Hazzard fame.
Going home, we all were on the same plane from Lincoln to Denver. The plane was overbooked, and Gary and Kathy took a bump. Our daughter, Dee, and her husband parted ways with us in Denver.
We arrived in Portland and retrieved our car. The date was September ninth, 2001. My brother and his wife thought about taking another bump on the tenth but went ahead and came home.
And then 9/11 happened.
Photo by Dave Larsen.