Merle Haggard died last week. I got teary-eyed when my daughter, Erin, called to tell me.
I was suddenly back in the Great Hall at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota, happy to be sitting next to Mom and Dad listening to Merle Haggard preform onstage.
I would have called Mom right away, but she’s gone. I called Dad that night. We reminisced. We cried.
Later I remembered another Mom and Dad moment. I was 21-years-old, living in California, and had some homesick blues. I flew home to West Fargo for a visit. Mom and Dad planned a little road trip to cheer me up. We’d cross the Red River into Minnesota. There were tourist attractions in Park Rapids. We’d go there and spend the night.
It seemed a little odd, but okay, I had no objections. It was just nice to be together.
Dad got behind the wheel and we headed east. We hadn’t come to any tourist spots yet when he took a detour down a gravel dirt road. They do that kind of thing a lot. Going for a drive, one of their favorite things to do, always includes gravel roads.
Dad pulled the car over and came to a stop in front of a bright red barn. A man standing next to it seemed eager to greet us.
It turns out they knew each other. They’d met at a craft fair in Fargo where Mom had a booth full of her decorated grapevine wreaths. This gentleman had his leatherwork in a booth next to hers. Wow, what a coincidence!
The barn doors were open and Mom encouraged me to go inside and check out his goods. Turns out he made handbags. I love handbags!
He tanned the leather first, then he designed the bags. He had a technique of weaving a patchwork design into a bag without any seams. I’d never seen anything like it. (Think Bottega Veneta.)
Mom came over and said, “What do you think?”
“I think they’re beautiful!” I said. “He’s clearly a master.”
“Which one do you like?” Mom said.
“Oh my gosh, they’re all beautiful!” I said.
“But if you had to choose,” she said.
She can do that sometimes—press on about which one you liked best, what tasted best, who looked the best. Sometimes it would hurt my head to come up with one answer. I thought this was one of those conversations.
“Really, which do you like best?” she said.
“Well, maybe this one,” I said and pointed to a crossbody bag with a comfortable two-inch wide strap. It was slim and in the shape of a horseshoe. It had a flap that covered the top opening. His weaving technique was showcased on the front of the flap.
“Let me see it on you,” she said. I slipped it on. I opened the flap and imagined putting my wallet inside.
“Donald,” Mom called over to Dad. “Come see this bag on Brenda.”
Dad walked over and said, “Oh, it’s nice.”
So there, we all agreed. I took it off and hung it back on the rack.
Then my father said, “Well, why don’t we take that one home with us?”
I turned and looked at my mother’s face. What? Why would he say that? She was smiling.
My father pulled money from his wallet—I didn’t see how much. These bags were art. I knew they weren’t cheap. This was an extravagance and we weren’t extravagant people.
“We wanted you to have something nice, Honey,” Mom explained.
The man wrapped my bag in layers of tissue paper and handed it to me. I got back into the car and held it on my lap. I felt like a five-year-old bringing home a puppy.
If my eyes didn’t well up with tears that crisp afternoon, they are right now as I’m telling you this.
I can imagine all the steps involved in concocting this plan. They probably stayed up late in their blue recliners with coffee cups in their hands figuring out how to surprise their lonely daughter with this thing of beauty.
What a team they were. They pulled it off seamlessly.