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.