Thursday, February 2, 2017

Writer’s Workshop: Surprises

Baby Surprise Jacket (photo: Saz/Flickr, from

Mary has been knitting most of the 39+ years we’ve been together, and is a devotee of Elizabeth Zimmermann, who designed, among other things, the Baby Surprise jacket. The first time she made it, she told me what it was, and I asked, “So, what’s the surprise? It ends up being a hat?”

Years ago, I did some training at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Marshfield is just about smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, and it’s a quiet little city. I was there the first week of December, including the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which for us Catholics is a holy day of obligation. I found the church in town, went to Mass, then picked up a copy of the Marshfield News-Herald so I’d have something to read while I ate dinner.

Anyway, I got home from that trip, and a couple of days later Mary received a book she had ordered from Schoolhouse Press, Ms. Zimmermann’s publishing company. When she opened the box, she pulled out the packing material, which just happened to be wads of the Marshfield News-Herald from the day I had bought the paper. No, it wasn’t my copy, but it surprised both of us. Guess we didn’t realize that she lived in that area.

Ms. Zimmermann died a few years back, and her daughter, Meg Swansen, now runs the business. One day, Mary had a question about something in one of her knitting books, so she called Schoolhouse Press. She was chatting with the person who answered her call, and asked who she was speaking with, and was surprised to learn it was Meg Swansen herself.

Buddy Guy. (Photo: Larry Philpot,

One Friday night when I was in college, a few friends of mine and I went to see Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at Ratso’s in Chicago. Ended up spending a fortune, which was a not-so-pleasant surprise, but the show was good. Buddy played the first twenty minutes or so, then Junior came out. At the time, Junior was drinking pretty heavily and had a tendency to go off on these rambling stories, and during one story, I ran to the men’s room.

I was standing at the urinal, and someone comes running in and stands at the other urinal. I look, and it’s Buddy Guy. Surprise! I said, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be on stage?” He laughed, “Yeah, well you know Junior.” We finished our business and chatted for a couple of minutes, then he said, “Sounds like he’s almost done. I gotta get back. See ya.”

from The Sound of One Hand Typing

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