The night they painted the sky

Memory. It’s a funny thing.

Take remembering epic events in your life, for example.

There’s hardly a person who was alive in November 1963, who doesn’t remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot.

I wouldn’t be born for about another three weeks, so I don’t remember the JFK shooting.

But I do know where I was on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. I also remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers crashed two airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and many others working in the buildings.

I like to kid my boys that my memory is good – but short. That’s really not the case. I can remember some of the craziest things from my childhood, as well as life as it passed into my 20s, 30s and 40s.

I can remember where I was on many events that changed the course of history – including where I watched fireworks on the Fourth of July in 1984.

Fireworks are cool, that’s for sure. But you don’t always want to see fireworks, especially where I grew up in the Twin Cities because of the ginormous (another one of my boys’ words) crowds that would gather for fireworks celebrations. Sometimes the pure thought of it made you want to stay at home.

Back in the mid-1980s, I was working at Perkins Restaurant in Burnsville. The restaurant sits up on a big hill off of Interstate 35W and looks down upon Bloomington and the other southern suburbs. It had become a custom to climb up on the roof of the restaurant on the Fourth of July and watch dozens of fireworks shows from that perch high above the Twin Cities.

But not in 1984.

I was going to go see fireworks in person. My job relied on it. The orders came down from the top –by boss Jack Jonassen – I wasn’t going to mess that up because I was well on my way to what ended up being a 13-year career with the company.

Watch fireworks or get fired. A simple directive, you might say? It was far from simple. Far from simple.

You see, I was an assistant kitchen manager and was king of the cook’s line. All shift long, waitresses, hostesses and managers would pass by my window to the world. Every now and then, the cutest little busgirl you ever laid eyes upon would pass on by, too.

I took a real liking to that young girl. Was it love at first sight? I don’t know. I worked at Perkins and loved things like ham and cheese omlettes, French dips and that blueberry compote I served over a hot stack of pancakes. Love? I don’t know. I sure liked her, though :).

We would flirt back and forth something crazy. There was some crazy chemistry in the air. But this 20-year-old cook wasn’t about to ask a 17-year-old busgirl out on a date. No siree!

But that crazy chemistry was starting to drive the whole restaurant staff crazy – including my boss Jack.

That’s how the order came down to go see fireworks. No fireworks, no jobs on July 5 for Jeff and Kathy Jo.

So I sat on Highway 13 in Shakopee that night watching fireworks. So did Kathy. Officially, I guess it was our first date.

Twenty-eight years later that girl still makes me smile when she walks on by. She’ll always be that little busgirl with that goofy smile to me. Thank goodness for that night they painted the sky!

Jeff Hage is the editor of the Princeton Union-Eagle. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected]