You can always tell the relation by the DNA

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I was browsing through the hammer section of the hardware store.

A woman behind me said, “Could I ask you a question?”

She obviously recognized me as a rising star in the percussive tool arena. Unfortunately, my ability to answer a question posed in a hardware store is limited to telling someone what year it is.

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The woman, someone I knew well, asked, “Did you hear that what-d’you-call-him died?”

We use DNA often. No, not deoxyribonucleic acid. This DNA stands for Death News Alert. We pass along sad news to others. On this day, the woman was a messenger.

“Who?” I asked.

“Oh, you knew him. He was from the area. He had a bunch of relatives around Geneva and Ellendale. He married one of the Petersen girls from Clarks Grove.”

“Clarks Grove?”

“Yes, all the Petersens were from Clarks Grove. Big family. Lots of girls. All the girls were pretty in sort of a bewildered way. They went to the Baptist Church in Clarks Grove. The family was Danish. All the Danes used to live in Clarks Grove.”

“All of them?”

“All except those who still lived in Denmark and some that lived in Tyler. He married twice.”

“Who married twice?”

“Are you listening? The father of the Petersen girls. His first wife ran off with the Fuller Brush man.”

“He likely swept her off her feet.”

“Maybe so. All the Petersen girls looked alike. One was the Radish Queen one year.”

“I don’t remember there being a Radish Queen competition in the area.”

“I thought it was a vegetable. Or maybe it was the Dairy Queen.”

“That’s a restaurant.”

“Dairy Princess. That’s what she was. Her father milked Guernseys. He was on the creamery board. That was before he was hit by the train. He had his truck floored in neutral and couldn’t get off the tracks in time. He didn’t get hurt, but it ripped the bumper off his truck. The accident happened at night, and it scared him so much that he stopped driving after dark. It left him strung up like a banjo, and he had to resign from the creamery board. He never put that bumper back on the truck. He said that a blind man on a galloping horse would never see it. It turned out that the railroad engineer was one of his first wife’s second cousins, but I don’t believe there was anything intentional in the collision. One of his girls, the third one I think, married the dead guy.”

“Why would anyone marry a dead guy?”

“He wasn’t dead when she married him. He just died. I told you that. Now that I think about it, she might have been the second oldest daughter. One of them was the class valedictorian at Albert Lea High School. Smart as a whip, that girl. She was probably too smart to get married, so she wasn’t the one that wedded the dead guy. All the girls moved to the coasts. They knew that whoever stayed in the area would have to take care of their parents in their dotage. The one married to the dead guy lived in Davenport, Iowa.”

“That’s not on the coast.”

“Sure it is. It’s right along the Mississippi River. I recall that the Petersen girl that married the dead guy was allergic to yellow cats and had prom hair. She wore a little too much lipstick, if you ask me. I wish I could remember her name. Her husband grew up in Hartland.”

“I probably knew him.”

“I’m sure you did. His father farmed. Wouldn’t have a tractor that wasn’t an Allis-Chalmers. The deceased played football at the high school in New Richland. He went to church at West Freeborn. He drove his father’s car into St. Olaf Lake one winter. He thought the ice was thicker than it was. I remember that he bought his first car with the money he made from trapping gophers. That old Ford had only three tires and one of them was the spare. He worked at the Red Owl store in Albert Lea after he got out of high school. He was fired after he hit a co-worker in the nose with a TV dinner. It was turkey. He was a custodian at a college for many years. He had a boiler license and sometimes drove a bus for tours and things. He was about 6 feet tall, wore thick glasses, and had nice blonde hair until it all fell out. He could talk for an hour on any subject. Two hours if he knew anything about it.”

“Who was it that died?”

“Oh, you know, old what’s-his-name. I know you knew him. I just wish I were better at remembering things.”

Hartland resident Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday and Sunday.