Column: ‘Master of Mule Lake’ was a wizard of widsom (and hindsight)

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 4, 2002

That’s what I called him &045; the Master of Mule Lake. I grew up on a farm along Mule Lake. I lived in a mixed neighborhood &045; there were both young and old Norwegians. The Master was a full-blooded Norwegian, the first of his family born in the United States. He was a master farmer. He seemed to know everything. He grew the best corn. He knew just when to sell grain to make the most money. His cows gave the most milk.

As a teenager, I was amazed by the Master’s vast knowledge. That was not an easy thing for me to admit, as I was typically amazed by how little my elders knew. I was at the age where I thought I knew everything and anyone much older than me was on a slippery slope leading to galloping senility. But the Master was a wizard. He knew everything. He would buy eggs from me. I raised araucana chickens and they laid blue, green or pink-shelled eggs. The Master enjoyed having the colored eggs over easy in the morning, along with bacon, half a grapefruit, a bowl of oatmeal with raisins in it and some egg coffee. Egg coffee is coffee made with an egg in it &045; the egg to take the bitterness out. Being a non-coffee drinker, the egg didn’t help me as I’ve always found coffee to taste just as it sounds.

The Master paid me 50 cents a dozen as long as I delivered them. I would drive my 1957 Ford Fairlane &045; Fix Or Repair Daily &045; to the Master’s farm. One day, I made the mistake of shutting the Ford off. That was never a wise decision. The Ford did not like to start. The Master and I had shook and howdied. I collected my dollar from the Master for the two dozen eggs, gave him my good-byes and headed to my car. The Master wasn’t big on small talk, so my visits were usually all business.

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I got into the old Ford and turned the key. Nothing. Not a sound came from the tired engine. I banged my head against the steering wheel &045; engine repair for the masochist. The Master of Mule Lake had gone inside his old two-story farmhouse to put the eggs away and had come back outside when he noticed my predicament. He walked to my Ford.

&uot;Do you have a screwdriver?&uot; he asked.

I didn’t know if I had a screwdriver. What I knew I had was a headache. I searched the glove compartment. It was slightly larger than the trunk in most cars today. I found a screwdriver. It was stuffed under a game of Monopoly and in between a catcher’s mitt and mesh bag of shriveled oranges. I handed it to the Master.

&uot;Open the hood,&uot; he ordered.

I jumped out and opened the hood just as I was told. &uot;Now get behind the wheel and when I say, ‘Try it,’ turn the key.&uot; I obeyed. I heard the Master tapping something with the screwdriver. I couldn’t see what he was doing as the raised hood blocked my vision.

&uot;Try it now,&uot; said the Master.

I turned the key and the motor roared into life. The Master charged me a dollar for his services. I may have broken even for the day, but I was in awe of his mechanical prowess.

&uot;How did you know what to do? How do you know all the stuff you know? My Dad says you are the smartest man he has ever met.&uot;

&uot;I’ll tell you how I came to know so much,&uot; said the Master. &uot;Years ago, I was young, stupid and broke. I had a dollar to my name and bills without end. I went to church one Sunday morning and when the collection plate was passed, I put that dollar into it. It was all the money I had in the world.

I couldn’t believe that I had done such a thing. I walked home after church and an angel appeared in the sky above me. Well, sir, that angel told me that because I had been so generous in giving my last dollar that he would grant me a wish. I could either have wisdom or all the money I would ever need. I took wisdom right away.&uot;

&uot;Wow!&uot; I said. &uot;So that’s how come you have all that knowledge. What a story. Could you do me a favor? You are so smart &045; could you say something really wise?&uot;

The Master of Mule Lake fixed with the look of a man deep in thought and said, &uot;I should have taken the money.&uot;

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.