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Michael Perry: A story doesn't need a literary flourish to be worth telling

Michael Perry: A story doesn't need a literary flourish to be worth telling

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Last week my dad called with good news about his neighbor Royal. Royal is not his real name, but that is the name we will use today. Royal is one of those folks whose last name you’d recognize if you were from where I’m from. Big family, been around the township for generations.

Royal’s daughter and I went to school together from kindergarten through graduation. Royal served on the school board and I remember him sitting behind me when I delivered the graduation speech, very likely rolling his eyes and thinking about his corn. Over the years Royal raised, harvested, and trucked enough corn to make Iowa jealous. He and his wife Kate (or so we’ll call her today) even painted their LP tank to look like a giant corn cob. I always loved seeing that big cob, because it was comical and good-humored and it meant I was getting close to home.

Some years back Kate and Royal moved in just around the corner from my folks’ farm and — accompanied by their loyal Australian shepherd dog Scoutie — became regulars at our informal Sunday evening get-togethers. Royal usually sits at the far end of the table, his ever-present ball cap emblazoned with the military outfit he served with as a younger man.

Kate died over a year ago, and Royal’s in his 80s now. Most mornings he loads up Scoutie and goes to a little café in town and has pancakes for breakfast. As dad told it to me, last week when Royal approached the register to pay his check the cashier waved him off, explaining that someone had already picked up his tab. Royal turned and saw two men he didn’t recognize. “Thank you for your service,” they said.

Royal thanked them, climbed into his pickup truck and headed over to the gas station, where he topped off the tank. When he returned to his truck after paying, he found a crumpled dollar bill on the ground beside the driver’s side door. He picked it up and looked around, but there was no one in sight. So he went back into the gas station, and bought a dollar scratch-off.

Back in the truck, he did his scratching. And won five bucks. So again he went into the gas station, this time buying a five-dollar scratch-off. Then he drove home, waiting to scratch the ticket until he was back in the house.

Whereupon he won fifty bucks.

That’s all. That’s the story. Not a life-changer, but what a sweet little run of luck. From free pancakes to half a C-note, all in the space of a morning.

I asked Dad to needle Royal a little, let him know I’d read an article once about how so many of these megamillion winner folk go off the deep end. Blow it all or die young.

Tell Royal I said not to let it go to his head, I told Dad. And I was smiling when I said it because I’ve known Royal enough to pretty much guess exactly what he’d say in reply: “Well it’s too late for me to die young.”

On occasion I am told I am getting too big for my literary britches. That I oughta dial it down. Simplify. I’m not so sure, because words are a tasty hoot and no one’s getting hurt. But you bet sometimes it’s best to simply tell the story, and so there you have Royal’s story as it was told to me.

Good luck.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at


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