Giving Yourself Away: A Story of Friendship

This is not the type of writing  I normally do here. But this was a story I thought needed to be told, and asked my friends Kathy and Mary to sit down with me a month or so ago and tell it. A modified version of this article appears in this week’s Grant County Review.


Kathy Madsen knows how to celebrate a birthday.

On her birthday next week, Kathy will tie a bright red ribbon around her name and throw it into a five-state pool to match up with someone who needs a kidney.

That’s some party favor, let me tell you.

Last spring, Kathy was on her back porch in her pajamas drinking coffee when her friend Vangie called. Vern and Vangie Heupel’s daughter Mary, living in Sioux Falls, had just been released from the hospital after and ICU stay due to kidney failure.

Kathy reassured her friend that she would do everything she could, thinking that she might drop off a box of chocolates or offer to mow the lawn. But before she knew what she was saying, she heard herself tell Vangie, “I’ll test for you. If I can give Mary a kidney, I want to give.”

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On Being Found

When my friends strayed off the nature center trail to explore the thicket, I made up an excuse to stay back. All that brush, it would surely set off my allergies. I took a few steps, edged up to a branch and rubbed my eyes to prove it.

I take pills for that, you know. I’d better stay here.

A health condition bought more social clout than childish fear. But the truth? I was afraid of the wood ticks.

I’d already been to the nurse’s office once that Spring, gripping the arms of a cold steel chair while she coaxed out the tick with a little squirt of oil and a sharp pair of tweezers.

Everyone knew the woods were crawling with them. Besides, there were rules about leaving the path.

I’ve forgotten how long I stood there, drawing shapes in the dirt with my feet and listening for my friends to come back. Maybe it was just minutes. Perhaps a full hour.

Little girl legs exposed between my shorts and sneakers were ripe for the sting of mosquitoes as I slapped back the gnawing realization that my friends were not coming back. When they discovered the clearing on the other side of the brush, they forgot I’d stayed behind.

I was no longer part of a third grade field trip.

I don’t remember the panic of being lost. And I don’t remember if I set off in search of my friends or froze on the trail waiting for someone to come for me.

I do remember the humiliation of being found.


There’s a Reason They’re Called Chickens

I have chickens* penned in my front yard. Right next to the apple tree. Between strays and intentional pets, now vandalistic landscaping, we’re running a regular petting zoo and small arboretum.

This morning, one flew the coop. It’s a 4×4 makeshift pen, but it doesn’t work with the idiom. After an hour of trying to outsmart an eight-week-old chicken, I’ve learned a few things I feel ready to share. (more…)

An Apple Tree

Practical jokes dot the countryside of my life’s landscape.

In my college house, it was not uncommon to find rubber bats hanging in the shower or fake mice in the cereal box in the morning. A batch of cookies was always suspect, the probability of finding one filled with hair quite high. We woke a friend one morning to the national anthem belching (literally) from a tape player under her bed, then ran laughing all the way to campus while she chased us down the street in her pajamas.  (more…)

The Old Neighborhood

I was driving north on Lyndale Avenue. I crossed Interstate 494 running through the southern Twin Cities metro area and all of sudden I wasn’t sure I knew where I was anymore.

That’s not unusual for me, I know.

But this was my old neighborhood, and it didn’t look the same as I remembered. (more…)