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By Staff | Nov 5, 2009

Our youngest son has had a variety of nicknames over the years.

When he was a teenager and had developed the habit of nagging us for a new car he was Annoying Boy. When he began taking classes at the university he became College Boy, but that was soon changed to the more accurate Laundry Boy.

His academic career enabled him to live in different places, so he was Hawaii Boy for a while and later became Vegas Boy.

He finished college recently and got the handle B.S. (Bachelor of Science) Boy. But the job market was tight and it appeared he might move back home, so my wife and I feared he might turn into Boomerang Boy.

We are pleased to report that our youngest has landed a job in his chosen field and is now Employed Boy of Illinois.

My wife and I decided to visit Employed Boy to see how he’s doing. It’s a long haul to Illinois, so we opted to save money by camping.

Some years ago my wife introduced me to a camping technique that involves a credit card. You simply go to a hotel, let them look at your credit and presto! They’ll let you sleep in one of their rooms! No money changes hands; the cash in your wallet stays put.

We were super-prepared for this trip, taking along anything in the house that wasn’t nailed down. Pillows were a top priority.

This is because most hotels have pillows the size of Chiclets. Keeping your head atop a hotel pillow is a delicate balancing act, a task not easily accomplished while asleep.

My wife and I run a tight ship. When leaving a hotel, we pack up and move out with brisk military efficiency.

So what did we do after our first night in a hotel? We left behind our big pillows! Good thing we no longer have small children.

You run across some curious things when you travel. For instance, while motoring through Beloit, Wisc., we caught the distinct aroma of potato chips. It turns out there is a Frito-Lay potato chip factory in Beloit, not far from a Hormel canning plant. One produces chips, the other beans; between the two of them, you could produce one truly colossal picnic.

Strange place names evoke strange questions. Do people stare at you in Ogle County? Will they kick you out of Normal if you’re peculiar? And I don’t even want to know what they do in Loves Park.

At some point we crossed the Kishwaukee River. I think Kishwaukee is a really cool name, one I could say all day. Kishwaukee, Kishwaukee, Kishwaukee.

We eventually found Employed Boy, who was both healthy and happy. This pleased us greatly.

Employed Boy is a field engineer at a firm that’s constructing a large wind farm. It’s good and important work he’s doing, installing a system of dynamos that will help power America’s future.

It’s also quite manly, involving gigantic lifting cranes and humungous earth-moving equipment and chunks of steel that weigh nearly as much as Kirstie Alley.

We also got to meet our son’s roommates, who are working on the same project and live with him in an old farmhouse. The leader of the household seems to be a guy named Whitey, who – you guessed it! – is totally bald.

Whitey is a battle-hardened veteran of the construction industry. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and is quite adept at “busting the chops” of younger guys, especially those of our son. Knowing that Whitey is doing this for us gratified us immensely.

But Whitey also has a softer side. He is a skilled cook and spoke at length about the finer points of baking bread. We promised to send him my mother’s overnight buns recipe.

On our way home we stopped to spend a couple of hours with our friends Dan and Audrey Brown. Dan is my former and only creative writing teacher.

The Browns live in Portage (pronounced port-AAZH), Wisc. Dan just retired from teaching, which means he can now focus on his hobby of brewing beer. I want to be Dan when I grow up.

Dan’s brewing talents have advanced to the point where he begins the process with a bucketful of grain. The next logical step would be to sow a patch of barley in his backyard, but he said that such a thing might not fly with his neighbors. People can be so persnickety.

Our visit ended all too soon and we pointed the car back toward Dakota. We will certainly see the Browns again, mainly because I need to try the beer Dan has dubbed “Skull Cracker.”

We’re not sure how long our son will be in Illinois, but I think it’s about time he got a new nickname. I’m voting for Kishwaukee Boy.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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