In spite of his casual dress and soft southern accent, Windrow intimidated me when I first joined the news desk. He was whip-smart, often funny, sometimes gruff. He was also an experienced editor and a commanding presence in the newsroom.
That’s why I snapped to attention when I saw his name on my phone’s display. “Give me everything you have on sea monkeys,” Windrow drawled. The internet didn’t exist yet, so I scurried to the archives in the basement and found two clips (TWO clips on Sea Monkeys!), which I left with pride on his desk.
Minutes later, a message blinked in bright-green letters on my ATEX terminal. Only Windrow wasn’t thanking me: “What we have here is a failure to communicate. Snow monkeys. White. Furry. Live in Japan.”
He could have written me off right then as an idiot who couldn’t tell brine shrimp from macaques — but he didn’t. Instead, Windrow patiently read my halting drafts of a dozen small writing assignments. He corrected my split infinitives, my malapropisms, the occasional factual error.
I never got over the intimidation (because the more I worked with him, the more I respected his command of the craft). I never got to be part of his inner circle, either — he already had lots of friends and a devoted staff. But I did grow to like him and admire him greatly.
Windrow taught me a lot about writing, and storytelling in particular. He was a prodigious teller of tales, drawing from his youth in Tennessee, his Navy days, his early jobs and teaching gigs. (He was also a restless soul who once hopped a Polish freighter to Rotterdam, then spent a year crisscrossing Europe.)
Back in the U.S., Windrow used his GI Bill to complete a Masters in Journalism at the University of Missouri and took work at the San Antonio Light in Texas. I’m fuzzy on how he ended up in Minnesota, but I’m sure that too was a colorful story.
And that’s how I would describe Windrow: colorful. Hilarious. Boisterous, sometimes, and wise. Kind, giving, complicated but authentic. Larger than life.
Larger than life … yes. But not immortal.
I checked Windrow’s Facebook page last night when I learned of his passing, planning to express my condolences and belated thanks. But instead I found a gift: one last story of his, inspired by the exploits of Minnesota’s world-famous skyscraper-climbing raccoon.
He posted it publicly, so I hope it’s OK to pass it on here.
A few winters ago my sisters and I were going through the stuff in my Cromwell Square condo’s attic, deciding what to toss and what to keep.
We found a packet of love letters my father sent my mother in the late ’40s. Paul was home from the war in Europe and farming with my grandfather. Bo was a student at a women’s college in Georgia.
Every letter started out “went coon hunting last night.” Sometimes he was eating breakfast in his hunting clothes as he penned the letter, having spent the entire night pursuing the wily Procyon lotor (as the scientists call him).
He would mention who accompanied him, certain hounds that distinguished themselves, how many coons they bagged, what dark parts of Hatchie Bottom he ventured into.
I would not consider this a particularly effective way to woo the fair sex. Nevertheless during their engagement, she went coon hunting with him.
“I was standing in freezing water up to me knees,” she told me. “Shining the light on the coon, way up in the top of the tree. The dogs were howling and frothing at the mouth. The coon sailed out of the tree, landed on me, knocked the flashlight out of my hands and I went down into the water. Then all the dogs jumped on top of us,” (her and the coon).
Bo Kinney hunted the raccoon no more, but she married Paul anyway.
Many people fancy raccoons, probably because of their appearance: the cute masked faces; inky black, inquisitive eyes; paws that resemble little hands; long ringed tails.
This panda resemblance does not guarantee a genial nature. My Great Uncle Frank once gave me a young coon for a pet that I named Zip. The first thing Zip did was bite me.
A Minnesota raccoon found fame recently. The coon, probably looking for pigeon eggs, started climbing the 25-story UBS Plaza building in downtown St. Paul. Once it passed 100 feet and reached the 20th floor, crowds appeared in the streets.
I quote the New York Times:
Gawkers flooded the streets below UBS Plaza. Some brought binoculars. A girl clutched a raccoon stuffed animal. A marquee on Minnesota Public Radio’s building across the street flashed the breaking news: St. Paul’s downtown raccoon reaches new heights.
The saga was online in no time, trending on Twitter. “The internet went bananas,” CNN reported.
I learned early on in the news business that people love small animals, and like to pull for the little guy.
The St. Paul raccoon embodied this story. Eventually she topped the 25th floor where animal control folks lured her into a cage baited with cat food. (She was very hungry after her Mount Everest moment.) They released her unharmed into the wild.
I liked coon hunting when I was young, but never shared my father’s zeal.
I liked sitting by the fire out in the woods at night listening to the men tell stories, but my enthusiasm waned when we were slogging through icy slews, standing under huge cypress trees shining lights up into the treetops. You spot the coons by their bright eyes. Some coons are so smart they put their paws over their eyes (or so I was told).
Paul said when he got too old to coon hunt he would fox hunt. It’s easier on you, he explained to me. You sit by the fire and listen to the dogs run the fox. You never catch one. That sounded great to me.
Paul brought me home after midnight once half frozen and drenched to the bone on a school night. I was about 12. My mother sat up waiting for us and had a fire going to warm me.
It was the only time I ever heard her speak sharply to him.
May you live on in your friends’ memories and stories, Windrow. And may angels sing you to your rest.
what a wonderful tribute to this man who made such an impact on you
Thank you, Beth. I really did think he would live forever …
Wow, ATEX terminals. Now that is a blast from the past. This is a lovely tribute, and what an incredible writer he was. You were so blessed to get to learn from him!
You’re an ATEX veteran too, Fiona?! How wonderful (and also terrible). Thank you for reading his last story; he really was a gifted writer and storyteller. And you’re right also that I was privileged to work with and learn from him. It’s heartbreaking that no more young writers will have the chance …
Thanks for telling Windrow’s story! May he live on in many hearts.
Thank you, Jim! He is indeed living on in many hearts — and in many stories, as well, as his friends take turns remembering his antics.
What a great story! I hear not just the saga but the love and respect for the storyteller. Thanks for sharing. Windrow sounds well worth knowing!
Thank you so much for your kind comment, Patti … and for reading! Windrow was an extraordinary writer, and writers love nothing more than to be read. So … thank you.
What a lovely tribute.
Thank you for reading it, J.P.
Thanks, Heidi for bringing Windrow alive to the rest of us.
It’s my privilege, Tom. Thank you for reading.
Thank you, J.M.
What a fabulous tale and tribute. That St Paul raccoon had me with my heart in my mouth. What a lovely story for Windrow to sign off with. His writing legacy and skills live on 😊
His writing legacy and skills do indeed live on, through the hundreds of students and young professionals he taught over the years. And I agree with you wholeheartedly about his last story — it was so very *him,* from the effortless writing to the southern setting and humor. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.
That’s a great story and a fond way to remember your friend who had such an impact on your life. Such people only come along every now and then, and leave a great impression. I’m happy that you knew him and gained each other’s respect.
What a lovely comment … thank you! I don’t know that i ever gained Windrow’s respect, but he sure won mine. Thanks so much for stopping by, Mr. Draco.
Oh gee, that’s rough learning about the loss on the internet. I’m sorry to hear that Heidi. Windrow sounded like an interesting fellow. It’s great to have found a mentor in him that you admired and respected so much.
I must admit, I didn’t thoroughly read his telling exploits into hunting down the local racoons but I’m sure he’d be happy to know he made such a big impression on you. I didn’t know you worked at a paper. Pretty cool gig back before the internet. The sea monkey story cracked me up. Aren’t see monkeys those things you could order in the ad’s of comic books? LOL, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”. I can’t wait to use that line on Jim 😀 Take care dear xk
Thank you so much for your kind words and your gentle humor. You are such a sweetheart and you always brighten my day when you stop by!
I’m glad these stories about Windrow brought a smile (and a new line) your way too. Like everyone on this planet he was full of complications and contradictions, but he did make us laugh. I can’t think of a better way to remember him than to pass on these stories and make others laugh, too.
Cool tale, added my favorite
What an incredible man and a beautifully written tribute. Thank you for sharing hun. ❤
And thank YOU for reading, dear Kate! xx
A heartfelt tribute!
Thank you so much.
I wrote a comment and somehow lost it. Should a second comment show up you’ll know why. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor. I’m glad he made such an impact on your life. How cool that you worked in a newsroom! Oh my gosh that sounds fascinating and fun.
Arms around you. xo
This was the only comment that appeared, Alys — so I’m very grateful you took the time to resend it. Thank you for your kind words. And I’ll tell you sometime about working in a newsroom! It really was fascinating and fun. Also humbling, exhilarating and rewarding! I still miss it sometimes. Thank you for the hug. Arms around you, too. xo
I would love to hear! I’ve always enjoyed movies with newsroom scenes (especially when Meryl Streep is in charge 😉 ) Life’s been so busy lately. I would love a good catch up and hope to find that sliver of time to make it happen. In the meantime, I hope you are doing well.
Hoping to find “a sliver of time” describes things over here too, Alys. (HOW IS IT AUGUST ALREADY??!) But we both do the best we can. Been thinking about you an extra-lot because of the horrible wildfires, though. Hope you and yours are far from danger …
Beautifully expressed. And bittersweet, for all the reasons you know. 😦
Thank you, dear Pam. May he rest in peace now.
My condolences on the loss of your mentor. He lives on through his power of storytelling and through the many insights you and others gained from him.
Thank you very much for your kind comment. He does indeed live on through his storytelling — and especially through his many students. I appreciate your stopping by!
An excellent story and quite a tribute to your mentor. I feel for your loss.
Thank you, Otto. I do appreciate your kind words.
I have just nominated you for the “Awesome Impact Award”
Oh my gosh, Racheal. CONGRATULATIONS on your second award! What a great testament to both your writing and the positive community you’ve fostered through your blog. I’m really honored that you nominated me too! And I hope you won’t be offended if I don’t pass along the award … only because I personally know many of the bloggers in my circle and am aware of how busy their lives are. But please don’t let that detract in any way from your honor — or from my thanks. xx