While Harper and I were giving an evening presentation at Door County Community Center in Wisconsin last Tuesday night, it started snowing. The next morning, there was 15 inches of snow on the ground.
I tuned in to the local AM radio station and learned Door County has an army of 35 snow plows. Only one of them was assigned to Sturgeon Bay, where Harper and I were staying. “We’ll pass through all the major streets once today,” an official said during an interview with the radio host. “But if anyone especially needs a street plowed, call me at home.”
School was cancelled on Wednesday, and so were the three presentations we were scheduled to give that day. Harper and I were stuck in our hotel room. Ever seen the movie The Shining? Maybe if Jack Nicholson had brought a dog with him he wouldn’t have had such a rough time. Harper and I played endless rounds of fetch with his squeak toy, tinkered with the Voiceover feature on my new talking iPhone, listened to audio books, enjoyed warm baths in the Jacuzzi (well, I did, not Harper–though he was interested) and wandered outside now and then so Harper could pee – and play – in the snow.
A voice from behind the front desk called out a friendly hello during one of our lonely walks through the lobby. It was the hotel bookkeeper. “I live just down the street, so I could walk here,” she said. A cook had made it in, too, so the hotel restaurant would be open for lunch.
My friend Jenny is director of Women and Children’s Services at Ministry Door County Medical Center, and she’s the one who got the ball rolling for Harper and me to come “up north” to make all these presentations. Her husband Dennis owns a truck, so later that evening they plowed through the snow to rescue Harper and me and drive us to the only tavern open in the storm. Neighborhood Pub boasts a wall full of TV screens and was offering a Lenten Special Fish Fry that night. Leinenkugel makes a draft Pub Ale especially for Neighborhood Pub, and it paired well with the perch. By the time we left the pub, it was packed.
Jenny’s cell phone rang on the ride back to my hotel. A man named Ralph Bronner had come from Milwaukee to hear me speak that night. He’d booked a room at my hotel, and he was disappointed my event had been cancelled. Was I willing to meet him personally? I turned to Jenny’s husband Dennis. “As long as you guys come along,” I said. They agreed.
Ralph’s caretaker, a woman from Poland, had muscled their car through drifting snow to get to Door County. We joined Ralph and some of his friends in his room, and over a bottle of wine he regaled me with stories of his father.
If you came of age in the 60s and 70s, you must remember bathing with Dr. Bronner’s all-natural peppermint soap. Shampooing with it. Brushing your teeth with it, too. Even more fun than the soap’s peppermint tingle was reading all the quirky philosophical all-one-God beliefs Ralph Bronner’s father wrote on the label. That’s right: Ralph’s father was the Dr. Bronner who invented the formula for the famous soap.
From what I could gather, Dr. Bronner was more interested in his soap than his kids. Ralph grew up in 15 different orphanages and foster homes. Dr. Bronner was committed to an insane asylum in Milwaukee but escaped in 1947 and fled to California to start his soap company. “They didn’t think he was crazy there,” Ralph told me. Ralph and his brother eventually joined the soap company, and now it is run by Dr. Bronner’s grandsons. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is still available in health food stores all over America, and the Bronner family is scrupulous about being an environmentally-friendly business. It gives employees generous bonuses and donates 70% of profits to charity. Over the years the Bronners have donated to arts programs in Door County. That’s how Ralph heard about my presentation, and that’s why he made the trip from Milwaukee to hear me speak.
We didn’t stay long in Ralph’s room. They needed to head out for dinner at, where else? Neighborhood Pub! Harper led me back to my room then for one last soak in the Jacuzzi. My trip to Door County may not have turned out the way I’d expected, but it sure was interesting. And here’s some good news: Jenny is going to try to work it out so Harper and I can return in the Fall to make up for the presentations that were cancelled. If Ralph Bronner makes the trip again, I’ll see to it that he gets a front row seat.