Wednesday, June 24, 2009

deja vu

'a compelling sense of familiarity'

Last Saturday when I was traveling the back roads in NE Iowa on my way to the BioBlitz, I needed to make a pit stop before arriving at basecamp. My directions included a right turn at the Sattre General Store, so I thought this might be a good place to stop.

There it was up ahead, a yellow building with a neatly hand-painted sign, "Sattre General Store". It reminded me of an outpost, a stagecoach stop, from earlier days. I pulled up in front and hopped out. Do I lock my car, or not? This was truly the middle of nowhere, so I decided not to act too much like a city-slicker. I had lived in NE Iowa 25 years ago and understood that these 'outposts' dotted the countryside throughout Winneshiek County. Little burgs, with a handful of houses, a store or body shop, popped up around many a sharp bend in the road.

It was hot and bright out front. When I pushed open the heavy front door, I was greeted with a dark, dusty coolness. I entered, then pushed the door closed with a quick bump of my hip. No one was around, but the place was packed full to the ceiling, literally, with knick-knacks, antiques, canned goods (beans, ,Spam and SpaghettiO's?), t-shirts, hunting jackets, rubber farm boots, and cases of Spring Grove soda pop. There was a deli case and a separate cooler full of all flavors/forms of cheese. I remembered the hand-written sign on the front door, "Fresh, squeaky cheese curds". I also remembered the landscape outside that door, dotted with Holstein dairy cattle grazing the green, sloping pastures and big white dairy barns perched on the hilltops. Squeaky, huh? I understood.

I called out a greeting, but no answer. I stood for a moment in the silence, listening for footsteps, but still heard no one. And then a strange feeling came over me. deja vu...I had been here before. I had stood in this very spot. It was like I was recalling a dream the morning after...the smells, the wooden floor worn by the passage of feet over the years, the fullness of the shelves, the cool darkness...It was a long time ago, but I had discovered this place while out on one of my Sunday morning drives searching for that perfect trout stream around the Decorah area,

As my brain was idling in a state of recall, a voice redirected my attention. A woman approached me from a pitchblack doorway behind the counter, all smiles and sunshine. This was Rayella Rude, proprietor of Sattre General and Antiques, closely followed by her husband Dwayne.

Rayella Rude was in her selling mode. She tried to sell me t-shirts. She tried to sell me a sandwich. She tried to sell me knick-knacks. She really pushed the cheese curds - 2 lbs. of fresh, sqeaky cheese curds! I offered that I was going to the BioBlitz, so the cheese curds might spoil in the heat before I got them back to Ames. When I mentioned the BioBlitz, she shifted gears. She started pushing antiques. The McCoy pots with "plants and animals", the china dinner platters with "floweres and birds", the old cake carrier with "old-fashioned roses". "These botanical things would be great memorabilia of the BioBlitz! Wouldn't this little frog on the lily pad be darling to have as a keepsake?"

I spotted the stack of Spring Grove soda pop, so I offered to purchase a couple 6-packs to take back home. There is a little bottling company just a few miles north, across the border in Spring Grove, Minnesota. I picked out root beer, lemon sour ("That sells the best. It flies out the door. Hard to keep it in stock"), and my favorite, strawberry (That is another story for another time). I paid for my purchase. "No credit card, but a check or cash would be fine." She never batted an eye at accepting my out-of-town check. Never asked for an I.D.or a phone number. That was great customer service!

As I was backing out the door carrying my soda pop, she followed, telling me that both her mother and mother-in-law died several years back and left their only children- Rayella and Dwayne- farmsteads packed full to the ceiling. Said they just "boxed up everything, brought it down the road and put it all in the shed out back." Most people would envision the shed as being something to store the lawnmower and some garden tools, but I saw the shed out back. She meant a machine shed! And she claimed it was packed full to the rafters!

"Every other week or so we open a couple of boxes, and find a nice surprise. I guess if we wait long enough things will come back into fashion. All Mom's things are considered collectibles now. We just put them on the shelf and antique dealers come from all over and buy up everything. It's the funniest thing to see them come in here and start hauling it out. Business has been good. Are you sure you don't want any of those cheese curds? They're fresh."

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