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AMEND CORNER: Taking the long road

It has been a bit longer than usual since my last words of questionable wisdom graced this space in the Tribune, which might have made you wonder if I had died or something, especially since I am a few years past my “best used by” date.

But I’m still here, and, to quote former University of Wyoming head coach Paul Roach, “At my age, I’m happy to be anywhere,” which is more than I heard him say during the UW P.E class for which he was listed as the instructor I took back in 1963. He opened the class by telling us to go play volleyball, then left for a recruiting trip, leaving somebody to take roll to make sure we were earning a half-credit hour for the course. We obeyed his directions twice a week for 16 weeks and as good American boys who hate to lose, exercised both our bodies and competitive spirit.

The recruiting trip apparently went well, too, since a couple of years later, the Cowboys went to the Sun Bowl and beat Florida State.

Ah, those were the good old days, if only because none of us had yet heard of Donald Trump and the rest of the recent primary season cast.

Well, I wasn’t exactly on a recruiting trip since the June 7 issue, but I have been out of town. Our Minnesota grandchildren were between school and summer activities, providing an opportune time to visit, and the surgeon who worked on my back three years ago wanted to admire his handiwork.

We’ve made this trip many times, but this time we decided to avoid the insanity of air travel or the monotony of Interstate 70 and do something different.

Sometime in my childhood, my fascination with maps showed me that U.S. Highway 20 reaches from the coast of Oregon all the way to Boston, and it occurred to me that making that trip someday would be cool. Since then, many of those old numbered federal highways have been absorbed into the Interstate system, but along U.S. 20, only a few short stretches have suffered that fate, so my plan has survived along with the highway. Over the years, though, the plan was never executed, so it morphed into a fantasy.

As we approached this trip, though, my wife thought outside the box and suggested that maybe I didn’t have to do it all at once. Instead, we could drive a stretch of the real road now, and if the opportunity arose somewhere down the metaphorical road called life, we could add more segments.

I couldn’t argue with her logic, so when the time came, we hit U.S. Highway 20 at Emblem and headed east. We stayed on U.S. Highway 20 through downtown Casper and followed it to Glenrock before it merged into Interstate 25. At Orrin Junction, we turned toward Lusk and traveled through country I hadn’t seen since 1951, when I rode down that same highway to Chicago in the back of a 1939 Chevy to visit my mother’s family.

Driving through the numerous cozy little towns that dot the hills and flatlands of Nebraska and Iowa was interesting and offered some little surprises. In the ranching town of Cody, Nebraska (population 154) for example, we stopped at a grocery store Karen had read about on the internet. Cody hadn’t had a grocery store for a decade when, in 2012, the school staff was discussing how to bring more kids to the school. They challenged their students to think about how to bring more people to town, and the idea of a grocery store took root. A community group raised funds, but students were the ones who developed the plan. The result was a grocery store, built with straw bales to keep costs down. More than that, though, the project created an educational opportunity for the school’s students, because they are the managers and staff of the store. The day we stopped, one young, very polite, teenage girl was minding the store by herself. It’s a great story, and you can learn all about it and even get some health tips from students on the store’s website at www.circlecmarket.com.

Being small-town people ourselves, Karen and I couldn’t leave the store without spending some money, which we did, even though we didn’t need the items. U.S. Highway 20 took a little longer to reach our destination, but the store was one of the things that made it worth the extra hours.

We decided to end our U.S. Highway 20 ride at Dubuque, Iowa, where the Mississippi River ends Iowa, before turning north to Rochester, where we spent nine days with our grandchildren.

During our visit, they took us to church, an eagle center on the Mississippi, a downtown bazaar and a Minneapolis museum celebrating the era when the river provided the power for numerous flour mills. We visited two old mansions built by men who began the Mayo Clinic and took a boat ride on the Mississippi. In between, we enjoyed watching their antics with a croquet set, observed a gymnastics practice, listened to their laughter, shared talks and laughed at jokes.

They looked so sad when we were leaving, it was hard to say goodbye.

And for what it’s worth, the surgeon at Mayo says his repair work is in good shape.

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