Dan and the Serendipity of his Broken-down Mower

I am not mechanical to put it generously.  I usually just give up when anything mechanical/technology doesn’t work immediately.  Our new once-working, now not-working printer is a case in point.  But today it’s about our lawnmower.

Last year, we had our mower service at the local Eliot Small Engine Repair for $144.88.  With a short grass cutting season in 2020, I used the mower maybe seven, eight times.  As recommended, I ran the mower to remove all the gas from the engine and then stored it in our shed for the winter.

Gassed up for the first cutting of the spring, our mower works just fine cutting the grass in our backyard this May.  You see we only cut a portion of your yard since we have a meadow of daisies and black-eyed Susans by our driveway that I don’t mowing until August when the flowers go to seed.

Just before Memorial Day, I start up the mower again, make a couple of passes on the backyard, and then it chugs a couple of times and stops stone cold.  Today, I wait, pull the starter cord again and again, and nothing.

As you might imagine, I am at a loss what to do.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I know that since today we are playing pickleball with our friend Fran, a mechanical wizard, I can bring the mower to him for a look-see.

And this is where good fortune smiles for the first time.  Fran is great.  He gets right to it, taking off the engine cover, blowing out all the dust, cleaning the air filter, and diagnosing that I likely have a dirty carburetor.  Now I know what I’m dealing with.

Even so, our backyard with foot high grass still needs a mowing badly.  With no mower, I text our neighbor Laurie to see if I can borrow theirs.  Soon, her hubby Shawn cleans up their mower, fills it with gas, and brings their self-propelling motor over.  Good fortune numero dos. 

After mowing our backyard, I am still left with a mower that won’t work.  I call Eliot Small Engine to learn that if I can take out the carburetor (yeah right, like that’s going to happen!), they can clean it for me.  If not, I’ll have to put my mower in the queue which means it’ll be six weeks before they can get to it.

Not wanting to wait that long, into our laptop, I type in “lawn mower repair.”  I find that Spectrum Small Engine Repair is just up the road in Wells.  I call, they say they can look at it, and it’ll take maybe a week, maybe less.  Good fortune #3. 

Told that I’ll see mowers in the front yard, I arrive with mowers strewn everywhere on this residential third acre lot.  I park, eventually find Nick, who couldn’t be more agreeable and accommodating. 

I have my third delightful human interaction, none of which I would have had without my beautiful broken-down mower.

Dan’s Wednesday Quote of the Week # 29 – Not your responsibility

You are not responsible for saving anyone.  You are not responsible for convincing  them to improve.  It’s not your work to exist for people and give your life to them.  It’s your only obligation to realize that you are the love of your destiny and accept the love you deserve.

Sent to us by our friend Rose and possibly a paraphrase of Sir Anthony Hopkins (yes, the actor)

Dan and A Love Letter to Himself – KGUA #51

For the June 7, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour hosted by Mark Gross and Peggy Berryhill in Gualala, California, we are asked to freewrite A LOVE LETTER TO YOURSELF.

Dear 2021 Dan,

Let’s start really superficially.  Damn, you look good for 73.  Still got your hair, albeit gray on gray.  That’s something since your Dad and brother Richard lost theirs long ago.  Your contacts make you like two/three years younger.  You did rock the nerd look with those horn-rimmed glasses in high school.

You came through the pandemic without getting Covid-19 when 33 million in the United States did.  Lucky or prudent?  Who knows?  I’m guessing a little of both.

Sweet choice in spouses, Danny Boy.  Who could have guessed you’d still be having the time of your life with Hannah Banana when you fell hard for her as a nineteen-year-old at the College of Wooster in Ohio.  At the time, your mother said, “Don’t be a fool and lose her.”

Three cheers for having the guts to transfer in your senior year from the cocoon of college in Ohio to head to the Wild West of Arizona State.  And then have the adventurous spirit to move further west to Anaheim, California for your first teaching job.  As a super shy teenager, I didn’t know you had it in you. Your adventurous spirit lives on.

Let’s be clear, you’ve been quite lucky.  Your parents, being reasonably athletic, modestly smart, semi-amiable in your own inoffensive way.  And, you are bright enough to know you didn’t do this on your own.

Stay humble, my friend.

Dan, the Elder

Dan and Hannah and Their Friend Milt

It was just three years ago that a neighbor called and said Milt needs a fourth for pickleball at his private court.  Soon, Milt, who didn’t know me from Adam, welcomed me to his place with open arms. 

The next day they needed another player so Hannah came along.  Taken with Hannah’s spunk and power, Milt had us back again and again.  To his credit, Milt in his 80s wanted to learn the game not just whack the ball as hard as he could.  Still quite the athlete (Milt was once a scratch golfer), he worked on his soft game and his serve. 

You see, Milt and his wife Carolyn live in northern Virginia.  Each summer around Memorial Day they come to their place in Maine, which happens to be just five miles from our home in York.

To welcome them back this first Friday in June, 2021, I dial Milt’s number.  No answer.  No surprise as Milt has been working remotely ever since the pandemic grabbed the country and world by the throat.  I try Carolyn’s number and she also does not pick up.  Still not out of the ordinary.  Carolyn has a full life here in Maine, too.

I then text their son Rick, to see if they are even in Maine.  In minutes, Rick replies, Hi Dan, Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Milt passed away last week.  Family in mourning.  Thanks and give my best to Hannah.

Stunned does not do justice to this news.  Disbelieving!  Incredulous!  I could empty the thesaurus describing how much I was blown away.  When Hannah and I last saw Milt this past September on the pickleball court, he looked great, full of pep, and talkative as ever. 

Many was the time that Carolyn came to watch us all play.  From her courtside vantage point, she kept score, complemented good shots, and sassily commented on what Milt should have done better.  In time, Carolyn learned that Hannah cut hair in people’s homes.  Soon Hannah became their barber and hair stylist.

Milt always said, Come and play anytime you want, and we did.  And despite his many business interests, Milt was often able to get away for an hour to play with us.  Upbeat, complementary to others, and sometimes tough on himself, he was always a joy to be around. 

The last time we saw him, we parked just twenty feet from his driveway so we wouldn’t block any cars coming and going.  He gently admonished me, What are you doing parking on the side road.  You’re friends of mine, park up front by the house.  And so we did.

Rest in peace, my friend. 

Click here for the obituary of this amazing, generous man. 


Top – Milt Peterson

Middle – Our friend Fran with Hannah at Milt’s pickleball court

Bottom – Our friends Alan (red) and Genny (yellow) at the court with Hannah serving, Milt in the distance

Eureka! Dan’s California Memory for the Los Angeles Times is Published (Part 2 of 2)

Holey Moley! As I do each day, I read the highlights from the Los Angeles Times daily online newsletter, Essential California. All of a sudden as I scroll to the bottom, I see my 100 words with my name spelled correctly!

Los Angeles Times
Essential California Newsletter

June 9, 2021

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC Los Angeles: Cloudy, 75. San Diego: Cloudy, 71. San Francisco: Cloudy, 62. San Jose: Clear skies, 67. Fresno: Sunny, 78. Sacramento: Clear skies, 74.


Today’s California memory comes from Dan Rothermel:

As a Jersey boy and 1970 graduate in education at Arizona State University, I interviewed for teaching jobs in California. At my interview for the Anaheim City Schools, innocently I asked the administrator if there was smog in Anaheim. Looking me straight in the eye, he said, “No.” Wanting to move to Southern California, I took the job. Once there, I had nothing but low-lying smog day after day for the first six weeks until the first Santa Ana winds blew through. When I saw the same administrator later, he smiled and said, “I never thought you’d really believe me.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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Dan’s California Memory – Anaheim 1970 for the Los Angeles Times (Part 1 of 2)

Dan’s California Memory – Anaheim 1970

The Los Angeles Times has a daily online newsletter, Essential California, that deals with the news of the day pertinent to the Golden State.  Thank you, Scott Mercer, for giving me that heads-up. The newsletter concludes with a memory from a reader that is no more than 100 words.  Here’s the California memory I submitted to Los Angeles Times on May 28, 2021.

As a Jersey boy and 1970 graduate in education at Arizona State University, I interviewed for teaching jobs in California.  At my interview for the Anaheim City Schools, innocently I asked the administrator if there was smog in Anaheim.  Looking me straight in the eye, he said, No. 

Wanting to move to southern California, I took the job.  Once there, I had nothing but low-lying smog day after day for the first six weeks until the first Santa Ana winds blew through.  When I saw the same administrator later, he smiled and said, I never thought you’d really believe me.

Words – exactly 100

I will publish Part 2 of 2 when I get word that the LA Times published my 100 word memory.

Dan and Hannah Hike Locally at the Little Harbor Trail in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

A week ago in mid-April, Hannah and I biked to the main beach in Ogunquit in tee-shirts and shorts on a 70F day.  This morning we woke to this scene out our front door.

Let me say, you have got to be committed to hike in Maine in April.  You may think April is springtime and tulips in New England. Often not. As T. S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, April is the cruelest month. Amen to that!

With the temperature near freezing, we are not going to be imprisoned in our home.  (Whoa sparky, that seems like a little self-pitying, tad inflammatory verb!) Dressed in winter coats, winter gloves, and a winter ski cap with umbrellas at the ready, we drive ten miles from home to Portsmouth, NH.

Parking at the far end of the historical South Street cemetery with gravestones from the 18th and 19th centuries, we walk a paved road for a half of mile to the trailhead of the 1.5 mile Little Harbor Loop Trail.  The Creek Farm Reservation of coastal woodlands and freshwater wetlands of 35 acres welcomes us down a rain-soaked driveway to where the trail begins at Sagamore Creek.

Parking by the South Street Cemetery in Portsmouth, NH
The trail begins on a paved driveway towards the Sagamore Creek

Pools of rain on the trail do not deter us as we soon head out to the sand bar at low tide.  We see parents with preschoolers who are damned sure that they are not spending one more day inside, no matter the weather.

Barely 32 degree Fahrenheit

The historical Wentworth Mansion in the distance with people on the sand bar mid-distance

Extending our hike/walk down to the shoreline at the Wentworth House, we look out to the tidal Piscataqua River thankful we never bought a boat of any kind.  Neither of us is a sailor or a mariner of any sort.  In early 17th century, we would have been ones who stayed in England and wished the Puritans bon voyage.

The Wentworth House
That must have been a helluva ship that needed that anchor.

And don’t get me started on fishing?  I have never found the love of the sea that my dad had; he would cast in the surf at Montauk on Long Island for stripers and blues or sit in a boat forever at my brother Richard’s Arnold Lake hoping to hook some small mouth bass.  You see, I like catching fish, I just don’t like sitting in a boat holding a fishing pole for hours on end.

The trail from the Wentworth House back to the trailhead begins here.

The trail continues through the woods of pines and hardwood oaks.  The trail to the view turns out to be muddier than we wish to negotiate.  We make a 180 and turn back towards the trailhead.

It was as messy as it looks this April morning.

With side trail and sand bar distractions, our hike takes just over an hour.  After a long winter, April hikes are joys no matter the weather or the conditions.  And there are no mosquitos or ticks.  Win/win/win.

Dan’s Wednesday Quote of the Week – #27

Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.

Richard Bach, b. 1936

When our friend Mary Ross sent me this quote, I was taken back to 2002 at the memorial service for Hannah’s brother Doug. On that Saturday in early February I was one of eleven who spoke from the pulpit of the Park Presbyterian Church in Newark, New York. I quoted this very line from Richard Bach to celebrate Doug’s life well-lived.

You and I, our missions are not done.

After Mary reminded me of this quote, I reread Illusions (it’s short, an easy read). Two other quotes struck me.

There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.

You seek problems because you need their gifts.

Dan and Thinking of Him – KGUA #50

For the May 24, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour hosted by Mark Gross and Peggy Berryhill in Gualala, California, we are asked to freewrite based on this quote – “I’m UNMASKED. I’m OUTSIDE. I’m THINKING of you!”

Thinking of Him

He was a magnet.  Throughout his life he was the one others gravitated towards.  I was in his orbit, even inner circle-ish, and had a front row seat to a lifetime friendship.

In sixth grade, we were the shooting guards on the Knicks, a Radburn (New Jersey) Rec team.  Ball hogs to the max, and not very accurate shooters to boot, we shot twenty times a game and hoped to hit five.

In eighth grade, he was the first of our group with a girlfriend.  As we all watched West Side Story in the theater, his girlfriend cried on his chest as he comforted her.  He was the Man and we were still Wannabes.

We played together on the high school tennis team.  He had no business making the team, but through perseverance and a confidence he always seemed to have, he became a valuable doubles player as a part of our starting seven.

While I taught during the day, he was living the dream as a travel writer who focused on skiing and traveled the world to snowy venues.

And then leukemia found it’s way into his blood system, just about the time he and I were mapping a retirement of golfing together on courses near his home in New Jersey or mine in Maine.

I’m 73.  He died at 61.  I longed for more, but so appreciate the many years I had with my lifelong friend, Mitch Kaplan.

His wife Penny sent me these pictures of Mitch.

Good guy