Memorable Dates: the Good, the Bad, the Romantic

Temples and Trees

By Eric Chandler

I was at the outer edge of the empire along the shore of the Yellow Sea. I had an awful head cold, but I still went to the party. And there she was: the young U.S. Air Force captain with brown hair that I kept crossing paths with. Like me, she was stationed at Kunsan Air Base on the west side of the Korean peninsula. I drank enough liquid courage at the party to ask her out. I suggested a road trip the next day. She agreed.

Shelley at the Main Buddha Hall, Naesosa Temple in Korea, 1994. | ERIC CHANDLER

I decided on Byeonson-bando National Park, located on a mountainous peninsula just across the bay, south of the air base. In the boldest (or stupidest) first date move ever, I invited her to sit in the black ’86 GMC S-15 pickup that Uncle Sam let me bring across the Pacific. It had a cracked exhaust manifold that made it bang and smell like a diesel. We drove south under a late-fall overcast and I tried to keep snot from running down my face.

We drove through the scenic mountains and stumbled onto the Naesosa Temple. On the way to the entrance, we walked past a dangsan tree; a sacred tree, often seen as a village guardian. This yelkova serrata (or Japanese elm) was over 500 years old. It was known as the Dangsan Grandfather. We passed the gate and walked along the path, lined on both sides by mature fir trees, like a dark, green tunnel. The firs ended after a quarter mile and cherry trees then lined the path. Snow started spitting out of the sky. We were almost the only people there. We passed through the inner gate and saw the massive Dangsan Grandmother. This yelkova tree was 1,000 years old. We passed some more buildings and shrines until we found the Main Buddha Hall of the temple. Shelley, who I barely knew, climbed the steps and I took her picture. Steep mountains and snow surrounded us.

The original temple was built in 633 A.D. It was burned by the invading Japanese in the late 1500s and rebuilt in 1633. The Main Buddha Hall was made entirely with wood. No nails. The Dangsan Grandmother and Grandfather trees stood guard over the Temple as the centuries swept by.

I found an Asian Philosophy text that said, “The holy trees almost always stand in pairs, as evidenced in the tree of grandmother (halmang dangsan) and grandfather (halbae dangsan). These two trees symbolically emphasize harmony and balance between the masculine and feminine principles, Yang and Yin, rather than suggest the idea of a center.”

Twenty-two years after that first date, I sometimes find myself outside with that same brown-haired lady, surrounded by hills in the falling snow. I like to imagine any harmony and balance we have coming from those Naesosa Temple trees. But mostly, from Grandmother. She had to be patient 500 years longer than Grandfather. Almost as patient as Shelley is with me.


Parents’ First Date

By Maren Webb

People tell you that your life will change; “enjoy sleep while you can,” they say. They encourage you to take care of yourself and your marriage. And to get out on a date once in a while.

Mom and baby reunited post-date and no worse for wear, ­thanks to babysitters Grandma and Grandpa. | MAREN WEBB

Yes, this is the advice that you get before having children. And from what I can tell so far, it’s good advice. So, my spouse and I decided that as parents of a two-month-old, it was time for us to go on our first date as parents. We went to brunch at the Vanilla Bean restaurant in Two Harbors. 

We’ve all seen this scenario on TV and in the movies; the parents go out to eat, but the whole time they are fixated on whether the kids are okay at home and struggling to not call the babysitter. In our case, it probably helped that the babysitters were Grandma and Grandpa and we were less than 10 minutes away. While our date was phone call and (mostly) worry free, our phones were on and our daughter definitely came up in conversation more than once. But, I think that’s how it is meant to be. Life changed the moment we became parents, for the better. Just as date night changed when we went from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife.

Our lives will never be the same now that we have a beautiful daughter to think about and whom we’ll enjoy new experiences. Date night may become less common, but we’re learning from friends on how to make it happen; great ideas like having at-home dates after the kids go to bed and having a babysitter on retainer one night a week. I expect that in the future we’ll also be marking our calendars with the local YMCA’s Parents Night Out dates and calling up the grandparents to babysit.

While date night may never look the same, I couldn’t be more thankful for the reason why. 


A Short Courtship

By Kim Casey

Norman and Ida were married for 35 years. | KIM CASEY

My grandfather Norman was never one to dwell on the past. When his marriage to Evelyn ended, he left the small mining town of Wawa and moved to Thunder Bay. His daughter Heather followed shortly after and hadn’t been living with him long, when she met Denis. Their attraction immediate and strong, they got married after a very short courtship. Norman didn’t think his only daughter had had enough life experience to deal with the demands of being a wife, so he didn’t attend the wedding.

However, as doubtful as he had been of the young couple’s hasty union, he didn’t hesitate to support Heather when she became pregnant. When she went into labor, Norman rushed to the hospital. An hour later, I was born. My grandfather couldn’t have been more proud.

Just when he thought life couldn’t get any better, in walked Denis’ mother. This was the first time he had met Ida. Intrigued by the robust widow, Norman asked my grandmother on a date. The standard practice of a romantic dinner and a movie was of no interest to the self-taught charmer; he took her bowling because he wanted a chance to admire her curves without appearing obvious. But Ida must not have minded, because they married three months later, and remained husband and wife until their deaths.


My Bad Date
By Gord Ellis

In 1982, I was in my first year of University, in London, Ontario. There were many young women around and some were friendlier than others. One afternoon, after an incredibly boring economics class, an attractive, nicely dressed brunette classmate approached me.

“I’ve been watching you,” she said. “Would you like to go for dinner?”

“Uhhhhh…” I stammered, very much the red faced, northern bumpkin.

“Meet me at dorm X (this detail is lost) tonight at 6 pm.,” she said firmly, but with a smile, before she walked away. I can’t even remember if I asked for her name.

Gord Ellis in his 20s, circa 1982. | GORD ELLIS

I met the mystery woman at the allotted time and we walked to the restaurant. What I recall about the evening has been distilled into a handful of vivid memories. She stated early on she was looking for a marrying type. Apparently I fit some—not all—of her physical criteria. But she also wanted to know where I was from (she had no clue where Thunder Bay was), what my parents did, how much my family was worth, and what I was taking in school. It felt more like a job interview. She must have picked up fairly quickly that my family was not quite rich enough for her tastes, and that I was a bad financial bet. The interrogation heat went down and she began to focus on drinking…a lot.

At the end of the night, I went and paid the substantial bill. When I returned, a tipsy Miss Manners was stuffing the cutlery in her purse.

“What are you doing?” I whispered, both embarrassed and shocked.

“I need better cutlery in my dorm room,” she slurred, nonchalantly.  “And they work it into the price anyway…”

Awkward does not quite cover the walk back to her dorm.

There was no second date.


Romance with Mice

By Joe Friedrichs

My Valentine’s Day in 2013 was like a Charles Bukowski poem, mixed with scenes from a Stanley Kubrick film.

It all went down in a central Minnesota town on the shorelines of a lake. Staying at a hotel that, in part, dubbed itself ‘The Castle,’ I knew we were doomed from the moment we entered the dilapidated structure. My wife Maggie and I noticed the castle looked more like an old barn than the Swedish monument we were hoping for. A man, who appeared as though he’d dropped straight out of The Adams Family and could be named nothing short of ‘Lurch,’ greeted us behind a tiny desk in the lobby.

Joe & Maggie Friedrichs.
| JOE FRIEDRICHS

“The plumbing is not working in the room next to yours,” he said. “But you should be fine.”

It was indeed the strangest and most unsettling greeting I’ve ever heard upon checking into a place of lodging.

Meanwhile, it was Valentine’s Day and romance was supposed to be the theme. Not long after entering our assigned room, Maggie and I both felt cheap and dirty. The linens on the bed were old and stale. The room was bare, other than a small wooden chair and a lonely nightstand that looked more like a deflated basketball resting on top of a huge golf tee.

After accepting our fate in The Castle, the sun slowly started to set on the far side of the lake. I calmly sat in the chair and opened a copy of the John Fante book Ask the Dust. Maggie went to turn on the water for a bath in the room’s clawfoot tub. In doing so, a brown sludge oozed from the spout. It wasn’t quite milk-shake thick; more like a Dr. Pepper colored liquid with random globs of pudding tossed in. It was getting awkward. We said very little for the next hour.

Despite the rough start to our Valentine’s Day getaway, it wasn’t until we heard the gang of mice that we knew it was time to flee. We could laugh about the sludge water. After all, we didn’t come to soak in a tub. And ultimately, it was possible to sleep under the strange sheets decorating the bed. But when the walls surrounding us came to life with the pitter-patter and relentless scratching of what must have been dozens of mice, something had to give.

We are okay with mice. Spending time in a cabin during a Minnesota winter often means seeing the occasional mouse. But The Castle was infested. It sounded like an army of mice lived in the walls.

So at approximately 10:45 p.m., we checked out. The staff refunded some of our money, but we still paid more than $100 for our few hours spent at The Castle.

We drove away in the cold night and sought shelter elsewhere. The highways and prairies were dark as we rolled along. Just before midnight, a Super 8 hotel manager agreed to rent us a room for $90.

We sat down on the bed. The room was magically silent.

It was Valentine’s Day, 2013.


You Can’t Take it with You When You Go

By Amy Schmidt

The hostess seated Andy and I at a dimly lit booth in the back of the restaurant. The booths were high, and once seated, the outside world seemed to disappear. We were two souls, lost in the exhilarating blur of being 20 and in love.

The waitress burst abruptly into our tiny universe to take our drink order. We ordered club sodas with lime and bitters because they made us feel sophisticated and because they were as free as a glass of water. Alone again, we talked in hushed tones about the approaching winter break, his plans for Christmas and mine. Maybe we’d sneak out of family obligations to go for a walk in the woods north of town.

Amy and Andy have had nine years of wedded bliss. | AMY SCHMIDT

Our drinks came and he excused himself to the bathroom. I glanced around the room, noting the inhabitants of other tables. Clearly not as happy as us, they ate their food with bored and dissatisfied expressions.

As he slipped back into his seat, our food arrived. We thanked the waitress and reached for our silverware. With a flourish meant to make me laugh, Andy snapped open his cloth napkin and laid it over his lap. If the expression on his face changed momentarily, a small flash of panic, I was too busy relishing in his perfection to notice.

Over our meal, we talked candidly about social issues and the meaning of life. He had so many profound things to say. I was swept away in the sea of his thoughts and remained content, bobbing up and down like a drunk sailor. We had dessert and shared a cup of coffee, because it was romantic to sip from the same mug and because one cup was cheaper than two.

Once the waitress brought us the bill, we paid and stood to leave. Weaving our way through the maze of tables, I noticed we were receiving strange glances and smirked smiles. Envy, I thought to myself, they can tell how happy we are and they’re envious.

Andy reached for my hand as we approached the hostess, standing sentinel near the exit. I nodded to her, hoping she’d notice us and see how in love we were. Instead, she reached forward to snatch the cloth napkin that was hanging like a cape from the zipper of Andy’s pants.

“I think we’ll keep the napkin, sir,” she said.


Unexpected Benefits of Fishing Tournaments

By Elle Andra-Warner

It all started back in 1988 when a Thunder Bay real estate company sponsored a two-day fishing tournament at Lac des Mille Lac (a two-hour drive west of Thunder Bay) for the local chapter of the charity Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario (SBHAO). At the time, I was the Ontario chair of SBHAO and a single parent, newly-separated, with three children (ages 15, 12 and six). Tournament organizers had invited me to attend and bring greetings from the provincial board at the wind-up presentations.

Elle and Glenn took their wedding photos at the Thunder Bay Centennial Botanical Conservatory in 1990. | ELLE ANDRA-WARNER

The tournament had plenty of entrants, lots of activities (including free helicopter rides), and a large media boat to take invited guests and families of the local SBHAO members fishing. So on Saturday afternoon, when it was our group’s turn on the boat, I joined two other mothers, a couple of volunteers and five children (including two of mine) to go fishing. The boat was captained by volunteer Glenn Warner, a tall, easy-going guy with a wonderful smile.

With life jackets on securely, we all piled in—the kids were super excited about going fishing on a cool boat. It was a fun time with lots of chatter and laughter. No one caught a fish, but the kids had a great time. And we all enjoyed chatting with Glenn.

The tournament wound up the next day, with the handout of prizes, presentations and a variety showcase on a stage with chairs in front. At some point, Glenn sat down beside me for a short while to watch. We chatted as new friends do, and I learned, among other things, that he was a divorced dad; though neither of us gave any indication of a ‘romantic’ interest in the other.

Later, when my group was leaving to drive back to Thunder Bay, Glenn came over to our van to see us off. At the end of the conversation, he casually asked if he could call me some time to get a coffee. I gave him my phone number.

And call he did. We went for coffee, married two years later, and after almost 27 years, are still together. Who knew that fishing tournaments and volunteering for charity could have such unexpected benefits?



By Kim Casey