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By Staff | Aug 4, 2017

My wife and I recently felt the need to spend some time where it’s still and watery. This is why we decided to weekend in Stillwater, Minnesota.

We never take the fastest routes to our vacation destinations. As is our wont, we’ll meander wherever our car takes us, which, in this case, included Wabasha.

Wabasha is a picturesque little town that has the good fortune of being located on the shores of the Mississippi River. One of its main claims to fame is that it was the setting for the 1993 film “Grumpy Old Men.” None of the movie was actually shot in the town, although the screenplay was inspired by two owly old coots who lived in Wabasha.

Nowhere is the pride in “Grumpy Old Men” more apparent than at Slippery’s Tavern, which is situated on the banks of the Mississippi. A small TV next to the hostess stand plays “Grumpy Old Men” on an endless loop. Out by the entrance is a hand-painted plywood sign that features two guys who look suspiciously similar to Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

After lunching at Slippery’s – we stopped at their gift shop. While my wife did her best to stimulate the local economy, I chatted with Valerie, the gift shop’s proprietor.

“We’ve had people come to Wabasha from all over the world because of the movie,” Valerie said. “One man told me that his family’s Christmas Day tradition is to watch both ‘Grumpy’ movies back to back.”

Valerie recommended that we visit the nearby National Eagle Center, so we did.

The National Eagle Center is an educational facility that features actual eagles.

It’s one thing to see an eagle soaring gracefully across the heavens as it searches for a Smart Car to pluck from the highway and carry off to its hatchlings. It’s entirely another to experience these majestic birds up close and in person.

Eagles, I quickly noticed, have large and wickedly sharp beaks that appear totally capable of removing a finger. This is a good thing to bear in mind when you’re standing an arm’s length from a humungous raptor. Anyone who attempts to hand-feed an eagle may soon acquire the nickname “Stumpy.”

One of the bald (no, they aren’t Rogaine-deprived) eagles on display was a female named Angel. She was rescued as an injured fledgling near Grantsburg, Wisconsin in 2000. I couldn’t help but notice that Angel kept staring wistfully out the window at the Mississippi and the Wisconsin shore. Maybe she was longing to go hunting or perhaps she was thinking about the Badger State’s low income tax rates. One can never tell what’s on the minds of such magnificent creatures.

We motored east from Wabasha and soon stumbled across a tiny village that we obviously own, even though we hadn’t even known that it existed.

Nelson, Wisconsin is just a wide spot on Highway 35. The little settlement features a couple of bars, two liquor stores and an eatery named J & J BBQ – my wife’s and my initials.

“If that doesn’t mean we own this town, I don’t know what would!” I exclaimed to my wife. After she patiently explained that this isn’t how real estate law works, we continued our mosey along the Great River Road.

Wondrous surprises await the eye when you aren’t scurrying in a hurry. For instance, somewhere near Pepin, we espied a picket fence that appeared to be made of snow skis. Intrigued, we made a U-turn and looked again. Yep – a long stretch of colorful skis stood at attention along a fence line. I don’t know if this was a message about the owner’s attitude toward skiing or if it was about the scarcity of fence-building materials.

We strolled into Stockholm Pie and General Store, which was obviously a former general store. Either that, or someone expended an inordinate amount of effort to duplicate the creaky hardwood floors and the timeworn storefront.

As we sat at one of the red checkerboard-clothed tables, I grumped to my wife, “I’m still upset that we don’t own that town. They should at least be sending us royalties!”

“Here,” she replied, “This apple pie should ease the pain.”

She was right; it did.

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

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