Sam Cook column: Just a few words before parting

A stranger eases the pain of letting go.

Sam Cook
Sam Cook

I stood in a raw northwest wind on a recent January morning at Duluth’s Materials Recovery Center – the place we once called the landfill. Our little Toyota RAV4 was stuffed with boxes and bags destined for the big red bin labeled “No. 2 – Mixed Waste.”

Our daughter, son-in-law and their baby are coming home from Scotland to live with us for a while. We needed to make room for them. Phyllis had done the hard part – sorting through 30 years of possessions we once thought too valuable to discard. Now their time had come.

Two Materials Recovery Center attendants – a man and a woman in heavy coveralls and stocking caps – were there at the top of the hill to direct me. I pulled up next to them for instructions.

“What do you have?” the woman asked.

Well, I told her, just lots of miscellaneous papers and a couple boxes of books.


“What kind of books?” she asked.

“Well, some books I wrote,” I told her.

The woman looked at me for a second without saying anything.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

I told her.

“I thought so,” she said. “You rescued my mom and me a long time ago at Hartley Park after we’d been skiing and were locked out of our car. You let us sit in your warm car until we could get into ours.”

It’s a small world, and we all know it. Any Minnesotan would have done the same for her and her mom all those years ago.

“I don’t remember that night,” I told her, “but I’m glad I was able to help you out.”


And somehow, on that windswept knoll at the Materials Recovery Center, a small human connection had been made. I had come carrying a weight of sadness and a measure of guilt about tossing out those unsold books I’d written. I probably should have taken them around to schools or something. But now it was crunch time, and we needed the space at home.

And then I had a thought.

“Hey – would you like me to sign a book for you?” I asked the woman in coveralls. “I’ve got plenty.”

“That would be great,” she said.

Standing there at my tailgate, I popped open a box and pulled out a fresh copy of “Moving Waters,” a 1990s collection of essays and photos from northern river travels. I asked the woman what her first name was and signed the book to her. As I was signing it, she mentioned something about her dad enjoying the outdoors.

“You think he needs a book, too?” I asked.

He did.

So I asked for his name and wrote a little something on the title page of a second book. I handed both to the woman.


Then I headed for “No. 2 – Mixed Waste,” and did what I had to do.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at .

Related Topics: SAM COOK
Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at
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