When we filtered in for coffee at the Mule Barn truck stop, we were surprised to see Jim Albertson already there, already drinking coffee and looking as though he lost his last friend.

It’s so unlike him, because Jim’s job as principal of our local high school and middle school has been fun for him.

He’s always taken an offbeat, creative approach to his job, and it is sometimes hilarious.

So naturally, when someone’s obviously in pain, we did the kindest thing and sat down, surrounding him with coffee and questions.

“Yo, Jim,” said Doc. “You look a little down this morning.”

Yes, that was a question and we all knew it.

“Tonight,” Jim said, “is high school graduation.”

We nodded.

“Off to see the world,” Steve said.

“The admiral can’t make it. Sick — in the hospital,” Jim moaned. “You know the admiral.”

We did. He grew up here before he went to sea. He lives in the capital city.

“He was supposed to give the commencement speech tonight. I have no one to replace him.”

He looked around. “Any of you want to fill in for him?”

No one. Vigorously no one.

“Not even you, Doc?”

“Not a chance. I just fix them, I don’t speak at them.”

And as the front door of the Mule Barn opened, allowing in one aging but active cowboy, camp cook and teller of tales, Steve grinned.

“Here’s your answer right here, Jim,” he said.

We all looked around as Windy Wilson smiled and came over to join us.

“Windy,” Doc said, “ol’ Jim here is looking for a speaker at graduation tonight. You’ve talked to young folks a lot, I know.”

“Sure have. It’s a grown-up’s boundin’ delegation to pass along tips on living to those among us who are less contubationally experienced.”

Jim looked over at Windy. “You think you could have a speech ready by six o’clock tonight, Windy?”

Windy grinned. “Heck, Jim. I’m ready right now!”

We hadn’t figured on attending graduation, but now none of us would miss it.


SLIM RANDLES is a journalist and author of numerous books, available from; get two at 40 percent off. “Home Country” is his radio program in 17 states.

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