For years now I’ve kept a “Visitors Log,” a notebook where I write a few lines about what occurs when anyone comes over: family and friends, delivery drivers and septic pumpers, even close-to-the-house anglers, critters in my basement and uncommon birds at my feeder. Some of our most memorable fall into the category of “accidental visitors,” a spontaneity that COVID-19 took away from all of us, at least for awhile.
Here are some of my favorites from the past five years.
Lost pizza boy: One bitter March afternoon a sedan bumps down our long snowy driveway. My husband goes out to talk to the teen through his rolled down window: “Wrong house.” The kid waves and turns his car around for his ascent up the driveway. Soon he backs down. He can’t make it up the icy stretches.
He calls the pizza joint; he’s on his own. He calls his parents; Dad will get here after work. Bruce coaxes the coat-less kid into our house. He makes him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sets out a glass of milk. They chat for over an hour. The kid’s on spring break from college, so he’s back home in Eau Claire to pick up some hours. Turns out he went to high school with Bruce’s daughter. Finally Dad shows up in his pick-up truck and tows his son up the drive.
When I get home, Bruce tells me the story: our accidental guest’s red hair and freckles, how he shivered in just a T-shirt. Then the punchline, one we don’t yet know Bruce will recount for many years to come: “He didn’t even offer me the pizza.”
My brother’s neighbor’s brother: One Monday in late August our Chippewa Herald, which comes via U.S. mail, is delivered to Lorna’s mother’s house up on Highway OO. Lorna has been my brother’s neighbor on 112th Street in Chippewa Falls since the 1980s. If you drew a straight line through the village of Lake Hallie, across the lake, you’d connect that 112th Street with the one Bruce and I live on about four miles away. Her out-of-town brother doesn’t know this when he sets off from his mother’s place. He tells me how eventually GPS got him to my door. He hands over our lost paper and takes a longing look toward the lake. “The last time I was on this property I was a kid,” he says, “your house was a bait shop. I used to fish right over there.”
Gun delivery guy: We’re having a new furnace put in by Bud from Hovland’s. For one hour of the workday, neither Bruce nor I can be home. During that time, a guy shows up to drop something off. Bud tells him, “The husband just left, and the wife should be home soon.” Good enough. He leaves the package in our basement. The next day the same dude shows up at our door and tells Bruce, “I thought Dave and Barbie lived here. I left a gun in your basement.” Bruce invites him in, and they go down to find the package tucked under our bookshelf. We’d never even noticed it.
Bruce jokes to the man with the misplaced gun: “Now if only Hovland’s would bill our neighbors.”
Weather balloon boys: One Memorial Day weekend morning I watch a pink object bobbing on the surface of Lake Hallie. Is it a kid’s tackle box or a collapsed innertube or some sort of bag? I keep an eye on it because eventually the thing may float past our dock, and I will go out with my net and nab it. I am perpetually looking for a suitcase full of money. “It could happen,” I tell Bruce, each time I pull some slimy gem from the lake.
An hour later two teenage boys knock on our door and explain they tracked their weather balloon to this area. I step outside and lead them to the lake. I point. “Is that it?”
One asks if they can launch their inflatable raft from our dock. The more outgoing kid, Holden, says, “We were afraid to drive down here when we saw your ‘private’ sign.”
I can’t stop looking at the huge scar across his throat, like a nightcrawler of raised flesh. I say, “You could just use my kayak to fish it out.” I take them down to our dock.
While Holden paddles out to retrieve the weather balloon, his buddy Isaac tells me this is their 11th-grade science project. “Do you know where Woodbury is?” he asks. “We live there.” He says the last time they shot up their weather balloon, it landed in some stubbled field. When they knocked at a nearby farmhouse, a guy came to the door with a shotgun and asked them, “What the hell do you want?”
I take their picture with the reclaimed weather balloon and promise to email the photo. “That’ll be great for our assignment. My address is Isaac Armand.” he says. “Armand is my middle name.”
Holden says to Isaac, “I never knew that. Armand, huh?” They drove 60 minutes into Wisconsin to discover this tidbit and a bigger lesson: not all rural strangers are armed.
Wrong day dinner guests: One early spring Friday evening a couple walks toward our house with a bottle of wine and a bowlful of salad. John and Sharon. I greet them outside. It takes only a few moments for me to realize they’re here for dinner, then a few more for Sharon to realize her husband confused my husband’s invitation: next Tuesday for grilled brats. Sharon scolds John about his mix-up as I sweet-talk them inside for a drink. Only one, both agree a bit awkwardly, because they’re leaving.
I clear a spot at the counter and tell them they’re the kind of friends we wouldn’t need to clean our house for anyway. “I was at my dad’s all day,” I say. “He’s still hanging on.”
Last week John’s brother died suddenly. He tells us the details. We have another drink. Soon we’re laughing and sharing family stories.
I dig out tuna salad and start to make sandwiches. “Don’t even —” Sharon protests. I wave her way with my spatula. She grabs her bowl from the fridge. I put out plates.
Sharon tells us that when their kids were little they called these “tuna toasties,” perhaps every good Catholic’s Friday night comfort food. Each family has a different recipe: some variation of canned fish, mayo, spices, and often secret ingredients — mine are lime and cilantro pesto.
John bites into my tuna melt. His face shows how much he likes it. Finally he says in Sharon’s direction, “Maybe I just wished I could come here tonight.”