Hendrum, helicopters and hash browns

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

It can be a long drive from where I live to where I don’t.

I drove by Hendrum twice.

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Hendrum has a population of 309 and is located along Highway 75 in the Red River Valley between Crookston and Moorhead. Hendrum has nine exits off the highway. A sign says, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now.”

A silver Mercury Montego bearing New Hampshire license plates passed me on that highway. So did a truck hauling for Fargo Cargo.

I was used to that. The traffic had been hurried on I-94, refusing to slow even after seeing a Batesville Casket Company truck.

What slowed traffic were glimpses of a helicopter with a helmeted and harnessed man working on a high-voltage power line. Working 150-feet above the ground takes the training wheels off a life. Helicopters, with a man seated on the skids or suspended by a cable from the aircraft, even slowed the hammer lane. State Patrol cars parked on roadsides to discourage gawking.

I had stopped at a chain restaurant for the sake of expediency.

Another diner showed too much interest in the menu, reading it as if it were written by his favorite author.

They have good food there, but not on the day I visited. I ordered breakfast. Egg, bacon and hash browns. There were many options. I should have chosen “none of the above.” The over-easy egg was over-concrete and the bacon looked like shoestrings. I told myself, “Don’t be a hero,” but I ate it anyway. The hash browns were good.

I prefer small-town cafes. The stories there are often shared. There is no crippling fear of intimacy in evidence. On my second trip past Hendrum, I had breakfast at such a cafe.

The waitress told me she had a big family reunion coming up. Her job was to bring her raisin/grape/broccoli salad and her children.

I read the local weekly newspaper. It was interesting, as is every newspaper. Most of it was local stuff so new to me that I felt as if I’d been living in a mud hut on some electricity-free and battery-free island. There was a new manager of the convenience store and a former pastor of two local Lutheran churches had returned to those churches after years of being away.

“This stuff tastes just like chicken,” claimed a man I took for a regular.

“What is it?” I asked.


We discussed the relative merits of assorted varieties of tomatoes. I favor the Brandywine. He believed the secrets of the universe were contained in a tomato that ripened before his neighbors’ tomatoes.

His friend talked about cicada killers. He claimed the wasps were the size of model airplanes, the kind made of balsa wood and powered by a propeller fueled by a tightly-wound rubber band.

The first guy said that he wanted to be cremated. I hoped that wasn’t his goal for the day. Another, who was named after someone in an obituary his mother had read, added that he wanted his ashes spread on top of Pike’s Peak. The initiator of the topic wanted his put into the ground where the tomatoes would grow and ripen faster than his neighbors’.

A woman told me that her grandson and his girlfriend were living together. They were only 19 years old and she couldn’t understand the rush.

I comforted her by saying, “Well, they’re not getting any younger.”

A gentleman, with teeth parted in the middle like David Letterman’s, pontificated about the government’s plans to tax the taxpayer out of existence, even though having no income would put the government out of business.

I thought about the fellow who saw a farmer walking a three-legged pig on a leash. He asked, “Why are you walking a pig?”

“Why, this is not your average pig,” the farmer replied. “One night our barn caught fire and before I woke up, the pig had called the fire department and herded all the other animals out of the barn. The next week, a burglar got into the house. This pig had him tied up and had called the police before I realized what was happening. Then last week, I fell into the pond and was drowning. This pig jumped in and pulled me out. This is no ordinary pig.”

“That is a remarkable pig. But tell me, how did it come to have only three legs?” asked the man.

“Are you kidding? You don’t eat a pig this good all at once.”


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.