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Things got done; just not what was expected

"It's got to be here somewhere.''

The checkbook wasn't in the breast pocket or pants pocket. It must be in the car — in the middle cubbyhole where discarded candy wrappers, old bank statements and pens that no longer write are kept. It wasn't there.

Some people keep their vehicles neat and tidy, a metallic extension of themselves. The Oldsmobile holds unread magazines, yellowing newspapers, $1.99 burger wrappers and discarded coffee cups.

It did not contain the checkbook.

The clerk took my embarrassment well and shook her head when it was suggested that the meat, pasta and bread could be returned to their original locations.

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"You'll be through this way tomorrow,'' she said. "You can pay tomorrow. Just consider it an advantage of shopping locally.''

It wasn't so much a senior moment as it was the latest example of creeping discombobulation. A mini-vacation was needed to clear a cluttered mind. The first stop was the coffee shop, where the boys at table share local news. The waitress and co-owner of Omar's greeted me warmly.

"Your belly button is showing,'' she said.

Dressing in the dark so as not to wake Kathy carries risk. The tucked-in and buttoned shirt seemed more comfortable.

"At least you were zipped up,'' Dave said.

They asked what I was up to on my day off. Nothing was planned, which meant it was going to be a good day. Unfortunately, an empty day oftentimes quickly fills up. Kathy had a project that work made it possible to avoid for several weeks. Her workplace had rewarded her with a yet-to-be-assembled mountain bike. It had arrived in a long, narrow box that contained skimpy directions written in several languages, none of which appeared to be commonly used English. She had started assembly on her own. The back wheel was affixed, all that remained were simple things — gears, handle bar, pedals and tweaks that anyone with an allen wrench set supposedly could handle.

Kathy left for work with instructions to finish the put-together before she returned. One does not move in haste with such things. To build momentum, I flipped on the TV, where the weatherman warned that a killing frost was a near certainty. To confirm, I called a nearby friend. She said that it looked like the growing season would end that night. An early killing frost would take the top of yields off their corn and beans. The loss might cost thousands of dollars.

"It's not going to happen,'' I confidently predicted. "It'll cloud up tonight. You don't have anything to worry about.''

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"I hope you're right,'' she said.

Just in case I could be wrong, I covered the best tomato and summer squash plants with the Vikings blanket, picked the last cherry tomatoes and peppers and brought the hanging plant that had survived a summer's worth of abuse inside. The activity spun the clock quickly, and the bike went untouched. Kathy didn't mind, given that I had rescued what remained in the garden.

The smell of death — green beans and cornstalks that died too young — hung in the early-morning air. An early frost makes a farmer — even a former one — nervous. It could have been the field's aroma or the deep blue sky most common on cold winter days, whatever it was provided gumption to clear space in the shed for the cars, find the snow shovel and lament heating fuel's high cost. The train of thought left me derailed on the recliner, watching a paid infomercial about a remarkable product that promised to cure baldness and make a person feel years younger.

Kathy was unhappy when she found me and asked why the bike was unfinished.

"I'm thinking that the bike might look really nice all shiny and new underneath the Christmas tree,'' I said. "You could consider it a Christmas gift from me to you.''

All things considered, Kathy said, the holidays are a long way off.

The two-day vacation went too fast to get everything done.

I cleaned the trash from the Oldsmobile, lectured Kathy about doing the same for her car and welcomed fall's arrival. Leaves will soon turn, and combines will go about their work. Yields will not be as good as they otherwise would have been, but we are rural people and will be thankful for another harvest season.

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