As often as five times a week, Bob Palmehn of Edina looks up from his newspaper and finds his favorite surprise. Eight-year-old Owen Luterbach, who lives two doors down (that's 87 boy steps from back yard to back yard), has come to shoot the breeze.
"I'll be on the deck, and I'll spot him," says Palmehn, 77.
The conversation then usually goes something like this:
"Owen, would you like a root beer and some pretzels?"
Well, you know how Owen answers that question. Then:
"Have you talked to your mom? Is it too close to supper?"
It's never too close to supper, says Teresa Luterbach, Owen's mom. Owen, her third child, has been Bob's buddy since he was 3.
Bob has three grown children and seven grandkids. Owen is kind of like his eighth, he says. "But I also treat him like a friend."
Owen's birthday is April 19, the day of Bob and wife Kathy's anniversary. (They've been married 54 years.)
In the summer they take walks, make paper airplanes, spy cardinals and blue jays with Bob's binoculars, pick peonies and violets for Teresa, or use Bob's dandelion puller.
"He actually got a dandelion out by the root," Bob says with pride. "That was quite a moment."
Owen shares photographs from family trips to the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. Bob tells Owen what life was like before television. In the fall, they blow leaves. Sometimes Kathy comes out with a plate of cookies, but mostly she leaves the guys alone.
"We enjoy spirited conversations," says Bob, a trim man with a full head of wavy white hair. "We imagine just about anything."
Sometimes Owen-of-the-big-green-eyes shares a joke.
"What did the skeleton say when he walked into a bar?"
"What?" Bob asks, acting as if he's never heard this one.
"Give me a beer and a mop."
Get it? A beer and a mop!
Five o'clock. Time for Owen to go home. Maybe. Bob and Owen have been known to play a certain trick on Owen's family.
"Sometimes," Bob says, "we cover the clock."