The Professional Guest: Pine Island


Pine Island road 2I was invited up to Pine Island for the weekend after New Year’s. My friend, Michelle has a winter home on the waterway on Pine Island. For those of you who don’t remember, Michelle is the woman who sold me my home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, 15 years ago. My friend, Carole saw the listing and contacted me. I then contacted my sister in law, Holly Firehammer who is a realtor. She said, “Sheryl, I think you’re going to want to see it.” And she drove me there. I walked in the door and we made an offer that night. All I needed to see was that fireplace.

And on another note, I work in advertising and marketing. Let me tell you, if I had a last name like Firehammer, I would never change it. Thornberg Design is okay. Firehammer Design would be waaaay better. It just conjurs up all my Nordic roots and I have visions of Thor, the good looking, massive blonde-haired man fighting off the bad guys with a single blow of his hammer. At least I have the “Thor” part in my name.

Audrey front.jpgI met the next door neighbor, Audrey. Audrey was a solid Norwegian mother, raised on a farm, spoke straight from her heart, and regularly made “klub” for her five grown children. She was also a woman who had suffered great loss in her life. Her husband was gone, her oldest got Scarlet Fever as a baby and was severely disabled. Her next oldest was killed in a hunting accident. Every year on the anniversary of his death, I could find her in her house, tear-stained cheeks, listening to sad country music. The next day, she was done grieving, up, dressed, hair and makeup done and ready to seize the day. I learned a lot about how to grieve in a healthy manner from her.

I was raising my son. Garrett, and we were now in the Eden Prairie School system. We had to schedule a bus to come pick him up…was he going to pick him up in the circle or was he going to pick him up at our front door? When you have a special needs kid, you can kind of call the shots. I wanted him to learn how to get out the door and down to the street by himself, so we chose the street pickup. The bus driver’s name was Merle. He would use the loudspeaker system to announce his arrival. “How’s Garrett today?” he would bark from his loudspeaker. And Garrett would smile from ear to ear and reply, “How’s Merle today?” At one point, we attended a school board meeting for voting in the best bus driver. Merle was up for the award. I elbowed Garrett and said, “When they mention Merle, I want you to stand up and shout, “How’s Merle today?” And he did! Merle stopped the meeting, looked around and knew it was GARRETT who had asked that question. He shouted back, “How’s Garrett today?” It was a wonderful moment for me.

DSC00300Audrey told me later that she would cry every single morning as she watched Garrett walk down the driveway with his cane.  She understood disability, she understood my struggle, she was my biggest cheerleader. And when Garrett came to live next door, I think it brought back memories of both of her own sons.

So she did what any mother would do. She baked Garrett banana bread. It got to be so that when Garrett heard the doorbell ring, he’d open the door, and when he heard it was Audrey, he’d just hold out his arms. Audrey laughed and laughed about this. She told her family, “Whenever I go over to Garrett’s house, and he hears my voice, he just holds open his arms.

I lost Garrett just about a year before I lost Audrey. Garrett moved away to live with his dad. Then Audrey died, then my mom and dad died. They all left within the span of two years. I had gone from a caregiver to someone who did not have a person to care-give for.  It was a tough year for me. I had been a mother. That was my identity. And I had been a caregiver for my elderly family and friends. Now I was not only not a mother, anymore, I wasn’t a caregiver either. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I started to get lonesome for my son and talked about moving near him in Phoenix. And then I heard from his dad, from my brothers, and everyone else: “If you move near him, They will have to move.” Apparently, I am such a bad person, Garrett’s father will have to up and move his entire family to get away from me.

“What?” What are you talking about?

I not only do not understand this, but I’m mad at my brothers who did not defend me.

And then I went back to my childhood days… Days of not having a dad to protect me. In fact, I don’t remember a single day when a Thornberg man came to my defense. I think Candace mentioned the same thing. She said, “Well, that’s the Thornberg way of helping each other.”

My prayer for my son and for my nephews and nieces is this: Can we just raise our kids to be good brothers and sisters…Ones who back up their sisters.

And then, this happened. It was November and I was absolutey amazed to get a Christmas card and a check from my brother Dave this winter! I was shocked! It came just in time for me to purchase a new car. This same brother had come to my rescue back in the 80s. I love his kids. Brad, Cathy and Tyler. They’re on my love list.  Dave and Barb took me in. Barb took me shopping! I didn’t have any clothes! I think she spent $200 and got me my entire school wardrobe. I checked into school because God told me to, my dad told me to, and my big brother Dave told me to…. oh, and yes, my brother Dan told me to as well.”

Besides meeting the best friends I’ve ever known in my life: Rhonda, Miriam, Kathy, Alide, Debbie, Phyllis, Bill, Dave, and countless others, I learned about the Old Covenant, the New Covenant, paste up and strip up with Sue Renich, listening to her husband Dave Renich and Dick Easterday paging each other on the system, “Dr. Easterday, please pick up line one,” “Dr. Renich, please pick up line two.”

One time, we lined Dave Renich’s office with plastic, put goldfish in it and waited for him to come in.  Kevin Finley, you might appreciate this.

Those two weren’t doctors! They were printers. And this is why I love printers  today.


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