In honor of my parents' road trip to Washington this week, I'm pulling this old column from the vaults. It first appeared in the Post-Bulletin in May 2006.
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Back in March, the P-B ran a story about a retiree who left his wife at a Wal-Mart when he drove away in the couple’s motorhome. Hours later, he realized she wasn’t sleeping in the back, after all. Outrageous, right?
It was 1996, and my parents were driving across Minnesota in their Pace Arrow RV. A couple hours into their trip, my dad pulls over to check on his Harley, which is strapped on the back. My mom decides she could use some fresh air, too — so, unbeknownst to my dad, she hops out her side of the rig. She reaches the back of the motorhome just in time to see her husband jog up the other side — and pull away.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she thinks as she watches the RV fade on the horizon. “He’s got to realize I’m gone; I was sitting right next to him when we stopped!’”
But, of course, he doesn’t. My father, the career cop, assumes my mother has headed to the bedroom for a nap.
Back on the road, my mom’s assessing the situation. It’s about 9 p.m. on a moonless September night. Best as she can tell, she’s somewhere between Perham and New York Mills on Highway 10. This is, by the way, the definition of the middle of nowhere. She has no cell phone. No purse. No one to turn to to say, “What just happened?!”
So she starts walking. Certain my father’s returning for her any minute, she keeps potential rescuers (and “crazy people”) at bay by pretending to be out for a power walk — swinging her arms wildly whenever cars pass by.
About two hours into her hike, she’s passed a potato plant (no phone), a farmhouse (big dog), and spent a good hour walking the median (skunks in the ditch). At long last, she takes a ride with a truck driver who drops her at the first open gas station, about 20 miles down the road.
“You won’t believe my story,” she says to the clerk as she walks in.
Meanwhile, just north of St. Cloud, my dad and his brother, who he’s been following, pull their RVs off to the side of road. My dad decides it’s time to wake his wife.
Except, as you and I know, she’s not there.
This is where all hell breaks loose. When he doesn’t find her in the bedroom, my dad checks the bathroom. He looks under the table. He tries the bedroom again. As he tells it, “Honest to God, I was looking in cupboards.”
He calls 911. Admits he’s lost his wife. They’ve no one available to look for her, but they do have reports of a woman wandering the median on Hwy 10.
Commandeering his brother’s Ford Escort, my dad drives 90 miles per hour back up Highway 10 in search of his wife. (The poor car would rattle until the day they sold it.)
At about this time, my phone rang. “Have you heard from your dad?” my mom says. “I’m in Wadena and I can’t get his cell.”
"Aren't you with him?" I ask.
The story unfolds. I call an uncle, another cop, who promises to reach my father.
As it closes in on midnight and he speeds up Highway 10, my dad gets a call. “Is that motorhome so big you could lose your wife in it?” my uncle asks.
The rescue was swift. But the teasing and ribbing went on for years. In fact, it’s reached epic proportions. My parents were on vacation a few years back when a new acquaintance started telling a story. “Did you hear about that guy who left his wife on the side of the road in northern Minnesota…?”