72 skidoo

Curt Swarm
Curt Swarm

Except when I was 13 and got a Winchester single shot, .22 rifle, this may have been my best birthday ever. It started out on July 28 with presents from Ginnie: cologne, an UNTUCKit shirt, Willie Geist coffee mug, three Lands' End shirts, Iowa State socks, an Iowa State face mask (sign of the times), and chocolate covered almonds. Ginnie spoils me. Instead of cake, she made a coconut cream pie, my oh my, I'm a lucky guy! For a birthday dinner, Ginnie scored reservations on Martini's outdoor patio overlooking the Mississippi River and the Great River Bridge in Burlington.

Not wanting to work on my birthday, I searched my brain for something fun to do. On a whim, and since our dinner reservations in Burlington were for 5:30 p.m. (seniors like to eat early, you know), we decided to bop over into Illinois and see if we could hustle another newspaper into carrying my Empty Nest column. I had heard about “The Quill” that serves Henderson and Hancock Counties from Stronghurst, Illinois, and La Harpe, Illinois. Off we went. I like to drop in on newspaper offices unannounced, and take Ginnie with me. I introduce her as my wife and editor, show some samples of my writing, and a list of the newspapers that carry my column. The fact that it's free is a plus. Since I started taking Ginnie (lady luck), our success rate has been 100%. Knowing that my writing has had a second look before it comes to them is a clincher. Ginnie has that “eagle eye” look about her.

The drive was magnificent. I've never seen the crops looking as good as they do this year. With mild temperatures and abundant rainfall, walls of living, breathing corn lined the highways. Rolling hills boasted sweet smelling hay and pastures dotted with cattle standing belly deep in ponds. Weed-free soybeans were in competition with the corn for greenness: dark green for beans, light for corn, like a flashing green billboard advertising a cornucopia of abundance.

At The Quill office in Stronghurst we met Dessa Rodeffer, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. She welcomed us and my column with open arms. In fact, she was putting together the weekly newspaper right then and would include my column. It doesn't get any better than that.

In high spirits, we were off to Burlington and dinner, marveling at the unplanned birthday surprise. Tuesday is goodnewsday.

Martini's outdoor patio, overlooking the Mississippi River and Great River Bridge was everything we had expected and then some. At 5:30 p.m. we were the first ones there, so we had a great waiter, Joe, all to ourselves. He recommended the porterhouse steak for two and we bit (literally!). Looking up, there was an early evening moon smiling down on us. The soft breeze off the river was all Iowa.

But the birthday wasn't over. For the weekend, we invited my family for a backyard barbecue — tomahawk ribeyes — along with veggies from our garden. If you don't know what a tomahawk ribeye is, it's a roast-size ribeye with the foot long rib bone still attached. They're sort of a special occasion novelty. (Cook slowly.) My son-in-law ate a whole one. If you think that's a lot of beef, you're right. (But that's what my cholesterol medication is for.) More presents and Gator rides for the grandchildren were in order. My week long birthday was drawing to a close.

Ginnie's birthday is Aug. 28, mine on July 28 (so I won't forget). She's expecting an encore. We'll see. Ginnie'll be 69, looking fine, and she's all mine.

Curt Swarm is an author, columnist, metal sculpture and photographer from Mount Pleasant. you can reach him at (319) 217-0526, email at or visit his website at