“Florian and Myrtle Krebsbach left for Minneapolis and the Clinic because Myrtle was pretty sure she had cancer,” wrote Garrison Keillor.
Florian got on Interstate 94 in Avon and headed south, later deciding to stop at a truck stop, where they both had a couple of cups of coffee. Florian left to use the men’s room, and while he was gone, Myrtle went to the ladies room.
Without thinking, while Myrtle was in the restroom, Florian walked outside, got behind the wheel of their ’66 Chevy, checked the mirror, and headed for the freeway.
He had driven 25 miles before he missed her. He immediately turned around, but discovered he wasn’t on the Interstate anymore. He was lost.
Four hours later Florian pulled back into the truck stop. Myrtle was gone. The waitress said, “You mean the lady in the blue coat?”
He wasn’t sure how to describe her except as real mad, probably.
“Oh, she left here hours ago. Her son came to get her,” the waitress said.
A similar incident happened to us. Our story, however, happened in West Virginia, not Minnesota, many years after Keillor wrote his essay.
Brenda and I had left our home in Staunton, Virginia around 5 a.m. to get a jump on our day. We were heading back to Ohio to visit both of our families.
We had pulled into the Westbound I-64 Welcome Center high above White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, to rest for a few moments. We sat in the green metal chairs, and closed our eyes.
After about 20 minutes, we decided to resume our trip to Ohio. “Do you mind if I rest a little while longer in the back seat while you drive?” Brenda asked.
“That will be fine. I will be right back,” I said, as I made a quick stop at the restroom.
Once back on the road, I started thinking about the rest of the trip, not paying any attention to the silence in the backseat. I drove for another 15 miles before I glanced into the back seat to check on Brenda.
She wasn’t there!
I couldn’t believe it. My mind started racing.
Had she fallen out of our car into the parking lot, perhaps run over by one of the numerous semi-trucks pulling in and out of the rest area? Had she gotten into the wrong car, maybe was halfway back to Virginia by now?
I couldn’t try to call Brenda, because this happened before the advent of cell phones.
Turning around wasn’t as easy as I had thought. There were no exits within miles on the mountainous interstate. There were no crossover lanes to be found.
I began to panic. Finally, I saw a crossover and sped into the gravel opening.
Knowing the West Virginia State Police didn’t heavily patrol that isolated area of the Interstate, I drove 80 to 90 miles per hour until I finally saw the sign that read, “Wild and Wonderful West Virginia Welcome Center — 2 miles.”
In a desperate hurry, I sped across a crossover the wrong way, and pulled into the Welcome Center parking lot.
I let out a sigh of relief when I saw Brenda sitting alone outside on a bench, napping slightly.
“Brenda, are you ready to go?” I asked, shaking her gently.
“Sure. Are you OK?” she asked. “You were in the bathroom a long time.”
I nodded, smiled and said, “I’m fine. Yes, I’m fine.”
“Thanks for letting me doze,” Brenda said. “What did you do while I was napping?”
“Oh, I just read a short story Garrison Keillor had written about a man forgetting and leaving his wife at a truck stop,” I said.
Brenda looked at me long and hard before speaking. “That’s funny. I just had a very similar dream,” Brenda said. “I hope that never happens to us.”
Seeing no trace of a smile on Brenda’s lips, I said, “I’m sure it won’t.”
Back in the car, I turned the radio on. “And that’s all the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,” the man with the deep voice said.
“He is quite a storyteller, isn’t he?” I said, before turning off the radio and changing the subject.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner and a former Clinton County Sheriff.