I’ve got a sad task in this column today. I scrapped what I was writing yesterday when we received word this morning that a much-loved WaKeeney icon has left us. Mike Dreiling, our own “Mr. WaKeeney” passed away Monday night. It was a day we always knew would come, but somehow, I just wasn’t prepared, and I kept hearing the Beatles sing “I heard the news today, oh, boy”. And when I heard the news, a whole bunch of thoughts and memories came flooding back, along with a few tears.
When I was little, on our weekly visits into town, there was no place I was more excited about visiting than the hardware store. One reason was because I never failed to convince my Dad that I NEEDED some peanuts from the red and chrome 5-cent machine located on the counter. They were always the good kind of Spanish peanuts, slightly oily and very salty, with the red skins that slipped off and fell to the bottom of those little, tiny, brown paper sacks Mike would always give me. I’m not sure if it was the nuts or the cute little sacks that made me insist on peanuts at every visit.
When I was really small and scrawny (yes, there was such a time) Mike would have to help me up to reach the machine, where I carefully deposited my nickel and turned the handle. I had to hold that mini-sack exactly under the spout so as not to lose any of the precious peanuts it dispensed, and sometimes, I just wasn’t tall enough, but I could always count on Mike to help me out. Then, and only then, could I walk around the store, peanuts in hand, and look at all the stuff on the shelves.
I was never impatient to leave when we visited Mike’s store. Oh, I liked Mr. Jeffries when he was the proprietor, but it was really Mike I wanted to see. He always talked to me like I was an adult, never, ever like I was a pesky kid, which was most likely the case.
I liked to look at the pocket knives on display, always wishing and hoping that one of them would go home with me, but that never happened. Knives were not for girls, my Dad would scoff, but Mike never treated me like just a girl. He would patiently answer all of my questions about the various tools and gadgets to be found on the shelves. I especially loved the ropes of all sizes and materials that magically sprouted from a hole in the floor. Some of those ropes became leads for my 4-H steers, and some became leads for my horse, and some were just used by Dad for unknown but always interesting farm things. I knew that we could always count on Mike to give us just what we needed. He always knew things that fascinated me and he showed me how to tie knots and which rope was used for every task. Continue reading