Rob Taylor: Broaching the subject of thermometers
April 8, 2008
Tired of the Denver TV news? I am. The opening 10-minute blitz of murders, rapes, political corruption and gang activities are a daily kick in the teeth, a wicked rite of passage for those determined to catch weather and sports.
I don’t have the stomach for it. Horror is simply not my genre.
Crime happened in the land of my upbringing too, but it was mostly small potatoes.
The three-headed sleeping aid ” weather, cattle and grain futures ” dominated newscasts. Still, viewers hung in there for a daily dose of the Midwest’s greatest asset: ordinary people and their stories. Stories like this …
In Smalltown, USA, the real news is discussed over coffee at the grain elevator before daylight. Small towns like Regan, N.D. A speck on the map, years removed from its heyday, hanging on for dear life, not unlike a handful of forgotten towns surrounding the Rocky Mountains. A post office. A church. A bar. The necessities.
Inhabitants of those parts are resourceful, able to squeeze a decade’s worth of mileage from a single headline ” like the tale of the unclothed snowmobiler who once raced through town in subzero temperatures. Investigative reporters with New York Times aspirations couldn’t help themselves. One reporter shoved a microphone in the face of a big city doctor, who described the health risks of exposing male body extremities to the elements, calculating the wind chill of a snowmobiler in the buff doing 40 miles an hour. He didn’t even smirk.
But not all the local “dirt” is risque. Recently, the 40 remaining residents’ story repertoire has been rejuvenated with tales of Annette Olson, gopher-chaser, wrestler and Miss North Dakota 2007. Annette put her Smalltown, USA, on the map in more ways than one.
Her brother, Chris, has a few war stories about her that have escaped the mainstream media’s crosshairs. He survived her darkest science experiment, which occurred in a one-room schoolhouse 10 years before she bore the crown.
Armed with only a jump rope, stopwatch and a thermometer, Annette’s mind explored the possibilities. Under the guise of recording classmates’ body temperatures before and after skipping rope for two minutes, she seized the moment. The future Miss USA contestant shared the same progressive spirit as Teddy Roosevelt, who once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
“Hey, check out the thermometer box,” she said, handing it to her brother after taking his temperature.
“Yeah. So what.”
“Did you see the fine print?” she asked, pointing. “Here, let me read it for you. ‘The thermometer can be used orally or, oh, look. There’s another way to get someone’s temperature.”
Her words created the desired effect. As a farm kid, Chris had witnessed neighbors recording livestock fevers from “down under.” The images raced through his head, mixing with the poison in his sister’s voice. He froze.
“Chris,” she added with a chuckle, “It’s used, if you know what I mean!”
The shriek that escaped his 10-year-old body at that moment has only been equaled in nature’s dark recesses ” by prowling mountain lions and moonstruck wolves. He howled all the way to the drinking fountain, where he rinsed his mouth for the next 15 minutes.
As time passed, he found healing at a Lutheran church. During the confirmation years, he fixated on Proverbs 17:17, which says, “A brother is born for adversity.” He was sadly disappointed, however, when the men of the cloth could not point him to a single meaningful scripture about why sisters are born.
Forgiveness eventually triumphed over his bitterness, and he was one of his sister’s biggest supporters during her Miss America run.
Locals regard Chris as a “good sport” who has been blessed with the family singing voice. After college, he hopes to work for the Forest Service. Colorado would be nice, he says. Maybe even Grand County.
He would be an asset to the community and any church choir. If, by chance, fate leads him our way and you are lucky enough to hear him sing the classic hymn, “Bringing Up the Rear,” for God’s sake, don’t interpret the song as an open invitation to broach the subject of thermometers.
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