We mark time in very personal way in a small town.
In a bigger city, there are so many anonymous moving parts, it’s not possible to have the same kind of connections. Here, we mark time in eras, by the inevitable changing of the guard. So, when Dorene Rueb went to sleep last Monday and didn’t wake up again, it was a touchstone moment in Ashley, N.D.
Fifty years. That’s how long Dorene was an institution at Ashley Super Valu. Although she was in retirement, sometimes I’d still see her helping out in the bakery, and things just always seemed a little more right in the world.
She was short and round, like all the best German women are, with a cherubic face that exuded kindness. Her husband, Adolf, was a classmate of my father’s. They’re both gone now.
Dylan and I talked about Adolf yesterday. “I don’t think he ever knew my name,” he laughed, “He just called me ‘Little Tony.’”
Dylan worked there for a while, like a good many students have over the years. The students fill out a core roster that has been surprisingly consistent. There have been losses, sure, but familiar faces are the norm.
Among the regulars are Wally Heupel and DeuWayne Arnold. Some months ago, I was in the dairy section watching as DeuWayne arranged paper products above the coolers, storage always at a premium in the store. Wally was on the other side, watching with some disgust as, in the process, DeuWayne pushed an inch too much and sent a row of bathroom tissue tumbling down at Wally’s feet.
My first instinct was to instigate a brawl.
“Hey, Wally, did you see what DeuWayne did?”
“Yeah, I saw,” Wally grumbled as he gazed at the carnage.
“Hey, what’s the big idea, DeuWayne,” I said, “throwing bathroom tissue at Wally?”
No answer. He just pushed his glasses back onto his nose and squinted up at the stack. I walked away with one parting comment. “Violence is never the answer, DeuWayne.”
I crack myself up. Blessed are the peacemakers.
My office has been across the street for 19 years, so the store has been my pantry for a very long time.
Sometimes, I pick up a bag of pastries for the office. They always ask how many are in the white bag. You’re on the honor system.
Honor is overrated. I’ll throw four in there and when they ask, I always say, “one.” I’m trying to live a life of crime, but they never let me get away with it.
When I came to visit my grandfather before I moved back, he would always pull a ring of that famous sausage in the red casing out of his refrigerator and unwrap the white paper. He’d cut up pieces for us that were way too small in my opinion.
“Where did you get this sausage?” I remembered asking him once. “Rueb!” was the answer.
The baloney recipe remains, but the construction of the fry sausage has gotten more adventuresome, with the introduction of things like sauerkraut, which makes perfect sense. And jalapenos, which do not, in the sense of ethnic cross- pollination. But it sure is good. I used some in my Thanksgiving dressing. It was a big hit.
I love coming in on Tuesday mornings when baloney is steaming on the meat counter. Is there a better breakfast? I don’t think so. My family members often put in an order when we are about to gather for some event. “Hey, Sausage Boy…” the email begins.
Adolf and Dorene’s son, Kirk, is keeping the tradition alive as one of the sausage-makers. Kirk and Byron were adopted. I sometimes think about what it must have been like for them to contemplate their good fortune. To emerge from uncertainty, into a world filled with so much love and joy.
A friend of mine once said that, after he lost his mother—his father had passed first—“I felt like an orphan.” The natural order of things leaves us all orphans, doesn’t it?
I saw Dorene just a few days before she slipped away. We exchanged pleasantries in the first aisle of the store. I’m sure I was smiling, because I always did when I saw her. She was that kind of person.
I’ll hold that last image of Dorene in my mind. I miss her already.
© Tony Bender, 2017
Tony Bender is the former Editor of the Adams County Record and current President of Redhead Publishing in Ashley, ND. He has been a featured columnist around the state and earned multiple awards for his writing.