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Me, Myself & BobA True Story about God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables
By Phil Vischer
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Phil Vischer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMuscatine and Me
Evelyn Schauland was a fancy woman.
I always liked stories that start with a really great line, like "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," or "They call me Ishmael." So I wrestled around a bit and came up with "Evelyn Schauland was a fancy woman." Not bad, eh? I mean, maybe it isn't "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," but it's got some rhythm. And the best part is, it's true.
But first, let me go back to the very beginning. I was born in Muscatine, Iowa, a town of about 25,000 people on the banks of the Mississippi River. If you're like most folks, you've probably never heard of Muscatine, Iowa. If you aren't from the Midwest, you may not even be sure which one is Iowa and which one is Ohio. We get that a lot. For the record, Iowa is the one with all the corn, right across the Mississippi from Illinois. (And that's a silent s in Illinois. Same with Des Moines. Which is in Iowa. But not the same with Des Plaines, which is in Illinois. It has noisy s's. Don't ask me why, because I don't know. I'm pretty sure we can blame the French, though.) As for Muscatine-well, if you look at a map of Iowa, you'll notice that the eastern edge, the one on the Mississippi, looks sort of like a face. A man's face, to be exact, with a big ol' nose in the middle and a little beard hanging off at the bottom. And if you look at it that way, Muscatine is very easy to find because, well, it's the nostril. I was born in Iowa's nostril.
You might expect growing up in a state's nostril to be an olfactorily intriguing experience, and, in that regard, Muscatine did not disappoint. My childhood memories of Muscatine are dominated by two very strong and not entirely pleasant odors. The first emanated from the Kent Feed plant on the south side of Muscatine, not far from the church we attended. I don't know much about the Kent Feed Company, but I do know that any product whose name implies that its primary purpose is to be eaten should not emit such a foul odor during its manufacture.
The second strong odor resided in the middle of Muscatine, near the house of my grade school years, and arose from a large Heinz ketchup factory. Now, you may be thinking, "Ketchup! Yum!" And having a ketchup factory in the middle of town was kind of fun, in particular during harvesttime every year when all the roads leading to the plant were covered with smashed tomatoes. (Insert VeggieTales joke here.) But before you get too jealous, spread some ketchup-Heinz or otherwise-around your kitchen table, let it get nice and warm, and then smell it. It smells terrible. Ketchup is made with vinegar, and that is exactly how the middle of Muscatine smelled when the wind blew past the ketchup plant on a warm day.
If you're paying attention (and I hope you are, because otherwise none of this will make sense when you reach the end), you've probably noticed that Muscatine was not exactly a sleepy little farm community. It was an industrial town. Besides the Kent Feed plant and the Heinz factory, the Muscatine of my youth also hosted the world headquarters of HON Industries, a large office furniture manufacturer, and Bandag, the world's largest retreader of truck tires. As much as I've always liked really cool office furniture (don't ask me why-it's a strange, lifelong fascination), my family connection was with Bandag, the world's largest retreader of truck tires. My grandfather, you see, was the executive vice president of sales and marketing at Bandag, having helped grow the company from almost nothing to an international concern with dealerships in more than a hundred countries. My father was Bandag's vice president of advertising, reporting to his father for the entire fourteen years he worked for the company. This, in hindsight, may not have been the best choice.
But I digress.
Evelyn Schauland was a fancy woman. Yes. That's where I started, and here we are back again. Her dyed blond hair was always freshly styled in one of those amazing 1970s configurations that seemed more architectural than biological. Her pantsuits were immaculate and colorful. As mayor of Muscatine through much of my childhood, she was as close to royalty as we got, and she looked the part.
Which only made it more embarrassing when my father dumped her into the Mississippi River.
Okay, not exactly into the river itself, but rather into the mud along the western banks (which, from the point of view of a pantsuit, may actually be worse). And it really wasn't his fault, you see, because she was in a hot air balloon. The Bandag hot air balloon, to be exact. It was a publicity stunt-my dad taking the mayor up in the Bandag hot air balloon. And I'm sure it would have been a huge success if it weren't for the unexpected wind that grabbed the balloon-and the fancy mayor-and sent them swiftly out toward the big river. Fortunately, the quick-thinking pilot was able to set the balloon down before the wind could carry them out over the river and on to Illinois, where, undoubtedly, the fancy mayor would have been captured and held for ransom. Given that interstate hostage situations seldom make good press, especially when your company logo is emblazoned all over the interloping vehicle, we believe the best decision was made. Nonetheless, the balloon came down in Mississippi mud, and the mayoral pantsuit was soiled.
This was rather embarrassing for my father. But none of that was on my young mind at the time. None of that was responsible for the nagging ache in my gut. No, what I couldn't stop thinking about was the fact that the entire incident took place on Sunday morning. When my father should have been in church. In all my life I had never known either of my parents to miss church for anything short of hospitalization, and yet here was my father skipping church for a publicity stunt with the mayor. An event with no redeeming spiritual significance whatsoever.
I feared for his soul.
Excerpted from Me, Myself & Bob by Phil Vischer Copyright © 2007 by Phil Vischer. Excerpted by permission.
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