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You Don’t Have to Know Your History to Celebrate July Fourth -but it’s interesting

Flag Fireworks

Sparklers are typically the “gateway drug” to children’s fascination with fireworks. Diamond Sparklers in Ohio is the sole manufacturer of sparklers remaining in the United States. Every year we celebrate our nation’s birthday with both public and private fireworks celebrations that feature displays that primarily are manufactured in China.

When I was in elementary school I recall that often our lessen plans followed the calendar, which meant that we annually learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln around their birthdays, near Valentine’s day. The classroom bulletin boards would reflect this trifecta with profiles of the presidents stapled to white doilies onto the corrugated paper and surrounded by hearts. To an inattentive student like me this left me with the idea that George Washington (despite chopping down the cherry tree) maybe had a big heart and maybe Abe Lincoln (though honest) appearing pretty dour was a great lover?

My point being, we were not in school over July 4th and therefore Independence Day was never part of the school curriculum. Sure, I grew up knowing it was our nation’s birthday and fondly recall the Bicentennial in 1976. The Bicentennial coincided with a presidential election and the summer Olympiad. Everything from pancake mix to ketchup bottles were emblazoned with some sort of Red White and Blue label or commemorative design. Commercialism being as patriotic as a John Philip Sousa march!

The thing about being a kid is that time is a difficult concept. By the time I got out of elementary school, if you had asked me for a history of the United States, I may have told you that the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, George Washington got off and after planting a plantation at Mount Vernon invited some Indians (yep, didn’t start using the term Native American until I was in high school) over for some corn on the cob and turkey with mashed potatoes after the harvest. Everyone loved him, so he became our first president. This is likely no reflection on my teachers, more of my own mind that tended to wander and as noted earlier a lack of concept of time.

If any others have this warped sense of history, let me share with you that the Mayflower set sail in September of 1620, it was the autumn of 1621 that is denoted as the origin of Thanksgiving to celebrate the first  harvest. George Washington’s great grandfather was not born until ten years later and it was 1656 before he crossed the ocean and settled in Colonial Virginia, he had a son Lawrence, who had a son Augustine who sired George. This makes George third generation living in what would be known as the United States of America, on my mother’s side I myself am just second generation, my grandfather having arrived from Ireland ninety years ago this year. My daughter is currently deciphering a small leather bound calendar he carried as a journal that year. He has noted dancing as a popular activity and when he wrote letters to a particular young lady (not my grandmother) a family he dined with regularly and then hopeful thoughts that another young lady would be at dancing (my eventual grandmother). Not much of his crossing is documented and one gap is explained with his good fortune at having found his diary along the roadside. Police raids and other notations remind us that teenagers around the world aren’t always doing what they are supposed to be up to. So my own maternal side of the family arrived over 300 years after the Mayflower and more than 250 years after Washington’s descendants. To a child, that seems like around perhaps dinosaurs and Moses era which were close, right?

So July Fourth, a time for social gatherings, boating, picnics, parades and mattress sales commemorates what? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. July 2nd of that year Congress voted to declare our independence. It was not signed until August 2nd of that year. It was delivered to Great Britain in November of 1776. You may have noticed that none of these events occurred on the fourth day of the seventh month. Well politicians then, much like now, did not always agree on everything. As the result, it took a couple of days for the Continental Congress to approve the final wording. July 4th commemorates the day that the changes and edits were finally approved.

You may be imagining that this led immediately to annual celebrations, backyard badminton and pool parties. It wasn’t until 1870 that July 4th was commemorated as a National Holiday. You also might be thinking that George Washington was president when all of this occurred. George Washington was not elected president until February 4th of 1789. He was twice unanimously elected by the electoral college to serve four years. If you wonder what his wife Martha wore to the inauguration that took place in New York, you might be surprised to know she did not attend but stayed home to manage Mount Vernon. George was reluctant to accept this newly created position because of how the young nation was divided among partisan lines. A lot has changed, yet much remains the same.

Whether you fly the flag, light fireworks or simply take the day to relax, it’s important to remember that since its inception this country has been a nation of people that come from different places, different belief systems and differing opinions. Yet we all can contribute and it’s a relatively safe place to share ones opinion, even when you don’t agree with your neighbor or perhaps the actions of your government. When hosting an immigrant family for Thanksgiving a number of years ago, the father commented how much he enjoyed our table conversation, as even in a private home gathering with family in his homeland, one could not speak freely for fear of government retribution. He makes his home here now with his wife and son and when his parents come to visit their government holds all of their assets as an assurance they will return. A former employee who went through the naturalization process after graduating from college and whose parents remain as college professors in his native land told me “Despite other countries criticism of the United States, most parents around the world wish that their children could live here.”.

I heard a young man the other day comment “I’m an American but I’m not proud of it.” and I thought about all of the people who had made sacrifices, simply so he could say that. I thought about what might result if he were to publicly utter such a thought in another country. While no place on earth will ever be perfect, the vision of those who took a risk and came and the others who shouldered the work of trying to lay out a plan for how to incorporate and tolerate the desires of such a wide array of opinions is something worth celebrating.

So raise a Coke or grab a beer and celebrate our nations birthday! Make a new tradition with family and friends. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the United States remains in the growing pains of a young country. A tradition for many is a pound cake and Cool Whip  cake decorated with blueberries and strawberries to look like an American Flag. To the young, that’s ALWAYS been a part of July 4th. You can wait until July 5th to let them know that Cool Whip was not invented until 1966. Why spoil a good party?

Cousins July 4th

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My Dad Was the Best. Hope Yours Was Too!

Father’s Day is fast approaching, an annual celebration of the paternal and the sad anniversary of my own father passing. While memories of him cross my mind several times a day, at this time of year I find myself digging in my mind for some forgotten memory, thinking perhaps I have some tucked away like a forgotten sweater in a cedar chest, an old favorite that simply has not seen the light of day for many years.

I have used my father as the topic of previous blogs (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/dad-gone-a-quarter-century & https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/my-roots-lead-back-to-november-fifth) and his humor and life lessens dot the landscape of other musings in my posts as well. While my mind is percolating on him as a subject, I will share some more.

My dad (just like my best friend’s father, another amazing man) was an electrician by trade, as was my grandfather. Though he worked on many job sites through the years, some of the more memorable ones included the construction of the Thunderbird Hotel, The IDS Tower, The Registry Hotel and the story I’m about to embark on  from his work on the MSP Airport.

My dad started work early each morning, usually packing a lunch and carrying a thermos of coffee. As a union man he also had “coffee breaks” during the day and while working on the airport runways a silver truck would stop out to his work site that offered hot coffee, sandwiches and pastries for sale. I imagine his first break took place about 8 am. An affable man, my father built a rapport with the truck driver during his daily rounds. When dad became aware that his work at the airport was winding down and his company was preparing to assign him to a new job he hatched a plan.

When the silver truck headed out to my dad’s location, on what was scheduled to be his last day, there sat my dad at a card table (with two chairs) covered with a white table cloth, an electric frying pan had been used to prepare bacon and eggs, he pushed the button down on the toaster and invited the driver to join him for breakfast, right there on the airport runway. Juice was poured and there the two sat and enjoyed a final conversation, the table complete with a milk-glass vase with two red plastic roses (that had come free with a bottle of dish soap). It was a funny and kind gesture of his appreciation. “Memorable”, that is a word that aptly describes my father. I imagine the driver never forgot that special breakfast or the man who prepared it for him.

My dad loved animals and they loved him. Unfortunately, his allergies could make his being around them a less than pleasant experience for him. While growing up we had rabbits, I had a parakeet, we had tropical fish, my brother acquired the rat from his elementary classroom “Milk vs. Soda” nutrition lessen.  We also had the cutest dalmatian puppy who in reality was the worst dog I have ever known. At some point in the late ’70s (sometime after a divorce) my aunt was moving with her youngest from her house to an apartment, a pet-free destination. For many years the family had had a beautiful long haired calico cat that they all loved, named Mama. Despite his allergies (and the fact he was not that fond of cats) my dad was very fond of his high-school classmate and the mother of his nieces and nephews. That is how Mama came to live out her final years with my parents. Meanwhile my uncle moved on, got a new wife, got a new puppy and eventually got another divorce. The Whippet/Collie mix was not going to work with either of their new housing arrangements, so Tara came to live with my folks (and Mama) where she slept on the floor next to my father’s side of the bed. My father loved that dog but when my uncle retired, my dad insisted that Tara move with him to the cabin. My dad was accommodating, compassionate and fair. In both instances it was not that he “wanted” a new responsibility at his house but that he didn’t want to see someone he cared about suffer any more than they already were due to their present circumstances. He gracefully made these situations appear to be nothing and just used his ever-present handkerchief with greater frequency. I bet you’d already forgotten about his allergies, that’s exactly how he wanted it.

My dad wasn’t into gender stereotypes, he grocery shopped, did the laundry, gave his kids baths, read bedtime stories and even took on the role of “room mother” one year when I was in junior high. In many cases, if something needed to be done, he would just do it. He could work a full day, come home and make dinner and still remain engaged in what you were learning in school. When he went to bed we assumed he snored so loudly simply because he was tired, not because Sleep Apnea was just another medical malady stealing time from him. In other cases, if something needed to be done, it simply waited. Taxes were something he loathed doing and I think at some point he delayed filing for five years. Red Owl Grocery sacks filled with receipts and medical bills all waiting to be collated and submitted. He wasn’t avoiding paying taxes, he was delinquent in filing for money owed to him by the IRS. In retrospect I think he knew his time was precious and he would rather spend it occupied with people than with paper.

My dad was strict but you knew what was expected. I vividly remember arriving home five minutes late one summer evening and after listening to what my excuse was he simply said “I didn’t tell you that you couldn’t be early.” So I credit him with the fact that I am slightly early or prompt at nearly every appointment I have, as a general courtesy.

Growing up, my brothers and I didn’t get an allowance but Dad gave us our lunch money weekly and we were allowed to pack our own lunches and use the allotted money however we chose. That taught responsibility, decision making and flexibility. He also allowed me to pack a lunch for my brother and have him pay me a portion of his own lunch money.

My father had more interests than could be explored in a lifetime, he loved concepts, new ideas and possibilities. He was fascinated with black holes and could wrap his mind around things I never could. While his mind was sharp he was not impressed with phonies and would make time to chat with a loner or buy a guy a beer. I remember that he joked loudly to my mother as they were leaving one of her class reunions (perhaps her 20th) “Hurry Dorothy, we have to get the rental car back.” to mock some of the blowhards who had spent the evening trying to one-up each other.  He both literally and figuratively just didn’t have time for that.

Though this blog comes to an end and he is no longer among us, his story is far from over. I like to think that I have fostered in my own children some of his curiosity, his ability to learn something from everyone, his sense of fairness coupled with compassion and an ample dose of his humor. His greatest teachings were never in the form of lectures, they were in his actions, small gestures, mundane tasks that were eventually completed, behind the scenes maneuvers that brightened someones day, lightened someones load or simply made somebody laugh. His legacy lives on in that laughter.

 

 

 

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Lakers & Indians: A Gathering

Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is celebrating the commencement of a 76th graduating class this month. As a finale to a 75th year of celebrations there will be an All-Class Reunion taking place on June 17th with tours of the newly renovated school from 1:00 – 4:00 and a party with cake and refreshments taking place at the William’s Pub Peanut Bar in Uptown to follow from 4:00 to 7:00. Spread the word and gather your friends and classmates. The Southwest Foundation is sponsoring the event and as a nonprofit fundraising organization has a limited budget for such festivities and relies upon the good work of our parents and alumni to share information.

A successful kick-off was hosted last fall, marked with an Open House for the community and alumni and featured the induction of the first seven members into the Southwest Distinguished Alumni. If you are unable to attend the events this June, mark your calendar for September 8th, when our second induction of five Distinguished Alumni will take place in a Saturday afternoon ceremony (the day after Friday night’s Homecoming game). Numerous other events; dedication of the renovated gymnasium and recognition of basketball alumni, a wrestling reunion, performance of anniversary compositions (commissioned by the SW Foundation, created by alumni composers) at the Lake Harriet band shell and a Theater Alumni gathering, as well as the publication of the first Alumni Directory in 20 years (copies available in the SW library courtesy of the Foundation for use in organizing reunions). We are a small but dedicated group of parents, teachers and alumni who receive excellent support from the school’s administration, including current principal Dr. Smith.

High School is/was such an interesting part of one’s development, a place to create lifelong friends, a location to build a foundation for the future, a locale to challenge both oneself and even authority when warranted. It was a place of frustration, fun and fitting in. We made friends, made mistakes and many made bad hair choices.

When I started at Southwest, it was a dual high school and junior high that I attended from 7th  through 12th grades. It was a neighborhood school where one only saw school buses when there was a field trip. By the time I graduated it was the first Minneapolis high school to house an English as a Second Language program (ESL) and a good portion of my classmates are Hmong, Laotian and Iranian. Unfortunately, as a new program the integration of these populations was poorly executed, with little explanation of who these new students were, where they had come from or the challenges they had faced that brought them to Minneapolis in the first place. The ESL students participated in  classes that were mostly segregated and bathrooms, the lunchroom and Media Center were our primary shared spaces. Southwest now provides education to students from literally every corner of the earth, in addition to providing Special Education opportunities to a student population with an array of educational challenges.

Once a Hockey powerhouse led by coach Dave Peterson (who went on to coach Team USA) the Minneapolis Public Schools currently field just one boys hockey team from the entire district. Soccer became a club sport during my time at Southwest and now produces quality competitive Varsity and JV teams in that area. Nordic ski is another athletic program that has seen success and our athletes access to the “chain of lakes” coupled with dedicated coaching staffs has helped produce many successful Cross Country teams over the school’s history.

The Rouser remains the school song, though it seems that sometime after my departure the band continued to play it but the students were no longer taught the lyrics. We dusted it off and included the words on the Distinguished Alumni program and sang it with accompaniment of current band members last fall. Making the event more memorable, was a ’82 Cheerleader who led the audience, resplendent with her original-issue pom-poms! Title IX has provided more athletic opportunities to girls than simply cheering on their male classmates and thus the once coveted roles are limited and perhaps viewed as old-fashioned.

While the majority of the alumni attended the school when the mascot was the Indians (a carefully chosen symbol selected by the original student body to acknowledge those who had settled the shores of the neighboring lakes) the Lakers have been the mascot since the mid-eighties when social conscience deemed that the former mascot was offensive. Like the world, Southwest has evolved and things have changed. The common denominators seem to be the Convention Grill, the Edina theater and the beloved lakes which I hope will always foster good memories and budding youth romance.

Hopefully I have triggered some memories for you of your time at Southwest, the friends you made and even a realization of how much things have changed. I encourage you to reach out to your siblings, friends and others you know who attended Southwest and make them aware of this opportunity to share some memories and make some new ones!

“When from these halls we leave the, loyal we will be. True to the purple and white.” Hope to see you a week from Saturday!

RSVP to: ellen@southwestfoundation.org

SW Reunion

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Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends

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Despite truly meaning it, when we say “we should get together” somehow life gets in the way and the weeks turn into years and the years turn to decades and it just doesn’t happen naturally to fall into place. There has to be some effort. Social media has been both a blessing and a curse to relationships. Some feel there isn’t really a need to gather physically because they “know” what is going on with someone based on occasional posts and photographs. Others feeling that perhaps when their own life somehow measures up to the vacations, grandchildren and celebrations of others, then the time will be right and they will feel worthy. Perhaps when they drop some weight, have a better hairstyle or update their wardrobe, that will be a good time to get together. If we wait until our lives are perfect, it simply will never occur.

Facebook has allowed my generation to locate people from our past in addition to seeing what our own kids, family members and social circle did over the weekend or are having for dinner tonight. One can get lost looking at friend lists of other friends and trying to decipher if that thin red-head was once the chubby brunet cheerleader who was hilarious in your English class; same first name, married, living on the west coast. Could be her, maybe not. It’s like winning the lottery when you locate someone from your past and reconnect, catch up and find yourselves much the same. There are the other scenarios when Facebook suggests that you “might know” someone and “Yes, you do” and you have been avoiding them at all costs because they are toxic and don’t need to know you “might” meet at Bunny’s for Wing Night next week.

 

Facebook has replaced Hallmark as the way to send a birthday greeting and makes a better source than a local paper for birth announcements, engagements and marriages, as well as obituaries. The arc of life, all happening in real-time and available via phone or computer. Though one is never truly alone anymore, the constant connectivity seemingly causes people to interact less with those around them. Lack of eye contact when checking out with a cashier, tapping on a desired menu item while simultaneously talking on the phone with someone not present or being part of an entire table updating their statuses but not really “experiencing” the company of those present or engaging in the event they are attending.

Yesterday I experienced what is the best of what social media can do, gather people for real social interaction. The only thing that could have made the gathering more like the childhoods we’d all shared would have been convening in the rocket at Linden Hills Park or all arriving by bike and leaving them pedals down on their sides on a grassy spot outside the restaurant (Red Cow) we chose to meet at. My use of technology was having this single picture taken before we ordered, others used their phones as photo albums and one table-mate ignored an incoming call but showed her phone because she was filling someone in on her brother and it happened to be him calling. The two-year age gap meant a couple of the older girls couldn’t place the youngest one, so she pulled up a picture from thirty years ago and got “Oh, I know that girl.” to which she responded “That’s me.” Beyond that, everyone present was truly present!

An initial Facebook invitation to neighborhood girls swelled into an unmanageable number of invitees and then settled back into a table-sized gathering that allowed for multiple simultaneous conversations but conveniently allowed for shared laughter as well. To an outsider (or our waitress for that matter) I imagine we looked like a group of ladies who meet monthly for lunch. The reality being that with six of the eight having been 1980 graduates from nearby Minneapolis Southwest (Purple Indians) we had not all been under the same roof since the Carter administration. We used to bike over to each others house and ring the doorbell to see if someone could play or call their house and hope the line wasn’t busy when we wanted to extend an invitation. With a Facebook invite our friend who has lived in Hawaii for three decades received the same information in real time.

As I pulled up, I saw Laurie arriving. I parked down the street and walked up, giving her time to put our name in for a table. The weather being nice we stood outside as the remaining five arrived and a sixth slid in once we were seated. Laurie and I had played on the badminton team together and she had played volleyball in high school as well as in college. Badminton was a spring sport and we often found ourselves walking home together in weather thirty degrees warmer than the temps of our morning walk. Wet sidewalks and muddy ally-ways, our route included a couple of blocks that had formerly been the path of the streetcar line, a mode of transportation abandoned before our births and replaced with MTC buses that shuttled us to Southdale, our suburban mall or downtown which was a grittier urban destination for us to find everything from magazines at Shinders to department stores, restaurants and where all sorts of options for teenage girls to make bad choices were available. Laurie stood in her overalls and dreadlocks and lamented the fact that she had not seen me since she’d graduated and then she simply said it “We’re old!” and we laughed about it, me realizing only later that I had only been sixteen the last time we had seen each other. When a neighbor girl arrived that I had more recently encountered at funerals over the last several years she hugged me, commented that I’d lost weight and looked great and I glanced over at Laurie and laughed again, “Lost weight, gained weight. All depends when you saw me last.” and the two of them laughed harder having seen each other a few years earlier and a few pounds lighter. Same struggles, different decade.

The majority of us had attended Lake Harriet Elementary school, most starting kindergarten in 1967, I started in 1968 and Doreen, the youngest attendee being a 1969 kindergartner who looked exactly like the little girl Buffy from the show Family Affair (with ringlet pigtails) when she started school. Though the school was physically gone by the time we entered high school, one of our lunch friends currently resides in the home she was raised in, located across the street from the massive brick structure my own grandmother had attended. Her renovated childhood home located diagonally from my block, the other two corners being where responsible sixth-graders stood as school safety patrols and lowered their flags to grant me safe passage on a daily basis.

There we were; infants of the sixties, school kids of the seventies and all having graduated on the cusp of the eighties. High school graduates before most of us had heard the word “aerobic” and at a time when Ayds was a dietary candy to be taken with a hot beverage, a half hour before meals and AIDS was not yet coined as the name for a sexually transmitted plague. We were a new generation of women with Title IX rights. In addition to Typing (later useful for keyboarding), Clothing (sewing) and Foods (cooking) classes we could take Metals, Woods and Electricity classes, once considered the trades classes for boys. Thirty-five years later all of these basic skills classes that provided one with the capacity to sew on a button and press a shirt before a job interview or prepare a nutritional meal on a budget, even classes that taught one how to simply follow directions to complete a basic task in an office or factory setting are gone. A multi-million-dollar renovation and addition to our 75 year-old Alma mater has added dance studios, put a greater emphasis on the arts and offers computer coding, now considered the skill that one might learn while a high school student that could lead to employment beyond graduation. Most of us did not touch a computer before we graduated, ditto for the majority of our teachers.

Teachers; we reminisced about the ones we loved, the ones we feared and the ones that reminded us that we were in fact skipping class when they encountered us in the hallway. There were the ones whose children were our classmates, the ones who coached us, the ones that encouraged us, the ones who prepared us for college, believed in us and were well suited to their careers. There were the ones who seemed miserable, hated their jobs, likely hated us and took pleasure in tormenting our classmates who really didn’t want to be there in the first place. My childhood neighbor shared an amusing anecdote about being a server at a country club and being invited to a coworkers home for drinks after work, only to realize that her coworkers “boyfriend” was actually a despised teacher.

We were a  mixed-bag of women, many of us the youngest (read “least supervised”) of our families. Some of us were involved in student activities, while others cut class frequently, hung out with older kids, pushed the envelope and took part in risky behavior. None of it mattered, then or now to us, we were kids with friendships forged in youth that treated each other kindly. One girl mentioned that she quit ordering yearbooks because of the unkind remarks other classmates wrote in them. When another asked for an example she tossed out “Titless Wonder” as one of the more repeatable torments, when asked who said that I realized he was the same guy that thought it appropriate to opine on my breast size (too big apparently) like some perverse male Goldilocks looking for “just right”. Neither of us realizing his Napoleon complex, his insecurity that he lost four inches whenever  he took off his Hockey Skates. I’m sad to say that he likely continues to take out his “shortcomings” as a Minneapolis Police Officer.

We discussed relationships; long marriages, divorces, remarriages, children, grandchildren, even Godchildren. We discussed death; former classmates, siblings, parents and God forbid those who had endured the loss of children. We inquired about our friends siblings and learned that not only relationships of choice sometimes end but even those of blood are sometimes severed when maintaining the bond is no longer healthy and amputation of a limb  of the family tree is the best option.  We talked about work, travel, moving, pets, concerts, camping and the ache that comes when children grow up, gain their independence, lead their own exciting lives and leave us with an empty space that we might lack the collagen to have close quickly and naturally and the choices we have about how to manually fill those open spaces. Nothing we said was shocking or judged or remotely evaluated. It simply was. We learned of those battling illness, those who we lost due to lifestyle choices, those who regained their footing after epic challenges, the wild youth who embraced sobriety as adults. We championed the triumphs of our peers and used each other to connect the dots and locate where some of our other lost childhood friends had landed. We confused names, described physical attributes and referenced addresses based on the family names of others who lived nearby. When I mentioned Kennesaw Drug and then said “It became Butler Drug” one of the women nodded “Where I got caught shoplifting.” I laughed recalling that my own dalmatian had entered the store one hot summer day and exited with an 8-pak of Snickers that had been on display in baskets along the lower shelves in the candy aisle. Kids and canines of the neighborhood all had some experience linked to the store. I remember my brother’s friend getting caught for stealing Hot Wheels it’s where shampoos and cosmetics we learned about from Teen magazine could be procured or you could sample perfumes. There was a pharmacy in the back and their delivery car was a Volkswagen beetle with a cartoon image of pharmacist “Herbie” on the side, it was across from the Tom Thumb “superette” where you could purchase milk in returnable jugs or purchase cigarettes with a note from your parents. Hell, it was an era where you pretty much could do anything with a note from your parents. One of the attendees took her little sister to Canada (while in high school) on a Greyhound bus and was reminded to “bring a note from your parents next time.” Hell, we could do nearly anything, including leave the country without a note from our parents.

Long before a TV show made a zip code synonymous with Beverly Hills, we were the women of Minneapolis 55410, we walked the same lake paths that Mary Tyler Moore immortalized during the opening credits of her TV show. We attended Story Hour in the iconic Carnegie-era Linden Hills Library, resplendent with leaded glass windows, built-in  benches and story-book tiled fireplace. We played SWAC sports at Linden Hills or Pershing Park and went to the Tastee Treet for cones afterwards  or the DQ (which we could see from our table) which closed in just the past couple of months, close enough to the high school to grab lunch at during the allotted half an hour, IF you were willing to eat while walking.

For over two hours, there was no lull in conversation, not even when the food came. We were noisy! We spoke loudly, we interrupted, interjected but mostly we laughed. We misheard, asked for clarifications, jumped conversations. We heard about wedding plans, impending grandchildren and retirement ideas. We agreed to not wait so long to get together again.

We were girls of the transistor radio era, we had listened to American Top 40 together while swatting mosquitoes. Later we tanned at Lake Harriet or skated to those same songs at the Roller Gardens in St. Louis Park, a suburb which provided many of my friends with their boyfriends. Sometimes they were older boys whose tastes in alcohol, music and muscle cars made them an appealing option.

We started our school careers as girls who wore dresses and being Minnesotans we wore pants under them to and from school during the coldest months. Our teachers were the edgy women  who marshaled in the revolutionary pantsuit which in the 1970’s did not consist of a jacket and pants at all but rather a dress that came with coordinating pants of the same fabric. Basically, these fashion monstrosities were the grown women rebelling by wearing pants under their dresses, just like the girls did on the the playground. We were exposed to lots of rebellion during our youth, with older siblings returning from Vietnam; boys grew their hair out, marijuana smoke wafted in public venues, music lyrics grew more graphic and the girls of Linden Hills mimicked the culture of our youth. Some of us followed the rules and some of us rebelled against rules, teachers, parents and laws.

We sat and talked about nearly everything but politics. A refreshing change of pace from a year of divisiveness. Some joked about their therapy. One is a full-time seminary student, having raised her kids and having finally found time for herself. While talking about the pro’s and cons of getting another dog, another joked that she hated to be cliche but she (a lesbian) owns two cats. While a divorcee with two adult children talked about her and her partner of three years going out for a birthday celebration another woman inquired “did you know in high school?” and before she could respond I jumped in “I don’t think that was really considered an option then.” to which she agreed. They talked about the other girls we grew up with whom they thought were likely lesbians as well. I marveled a bit that the last time I’d encountered these women the word “partner” had the singular connotation of being the person you were paired with for badminton or tennis.

We are no longer the little girls who went to school together, were antagonized by the same boys, who hung out at the same parks and venues.  We are all grown up and became the women we wanted to become. Not the ones that others had supposed us to be or shamed us into pretending we were. We’re the women who not only don’t wear pants under our dresses, we’re the women who don’t have to wear dresses if we don’t choose to, the women who could choose not to comb our hair if we don’t want to. We grew into the best versions of those sassy, silly, sneaky and snarky little girls and regardless of how different we are, we all have each others backs and appreciate each other for our shared beginnings. We have moved, we have traveled but we have in our DNA the water of Lake Harriet, the appreciation of the Indians who settled on the shores of Lake Calhoun and whom the original students of Southwest selected as their mascot and an abiding thankfulness that our parents opted to raise us in Minneapolis 55410. Hope to see you ladies all again soon (Golden Friends)!

 

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childhood, Uncategorized

The Letters

Recently I came upon some letters while looking for the right sized box to mail a package to my son at college in. The letters were not written to me, most of them were addressed to my mother. Quite a few of them were “Aerogrammes” received from Ireland in the early ’70s after my grandparents had suddenly passed away within hours of each other. There are also some from South Africa where her cousin has lived for most of his life. I must have tucked it in the basement cabinet after my mother died, with the intention of looking at them “some day”. My mother passed when my eldest was in her first week of middle-school and my senior in college was still an elementary student. “Some day” ended up being last week.

The box not only contained letters to my mother from friends, there was a copy of my father’s autopsy and a thank you letter regarding him being an organ and tissue donor. There was a letter on camp Ihduhapi letterhead postmarked from the summer of ’43 that my father had written to his parents. A letter that pretty much was a template for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. Here I am at Camp Granada.”  a song that was not released until twenty years later. There was a very formal letter from my grandfather, clearly in grief over the death of his own father that thanked my mother for her kind words to him in a previous letter. There was also a telegram telling her that her grandmother had passed and instructing her to share the news with family. I discovered a war bond book with carefully placed stamps from my mother’s youth.

The biggest gem in the box was physically the smallest. A tiny leather bound journal, a calendar from 1924, with space for a couple of lines to be recorded each day. A Belfast Ireland address is in the front cover, and also a Minneapolis address. I passed the treasure along to my daughter, who intends to write out the contents of it. It appears to chronicle the year my Grandfather immigrated, with details of dancing and “police raids” and a notation that reads “lost this book for a while – Found on road”. My grandfather lived in over thirty homes in his less than 70-year lifespan. How this small book survived the multiple moves around the US and back and forth across the ocean is somewhat miraculous.

Taking the time to look at these items caused me to do some reflection. How will a great grand-child “know” their deceased family members from this era some day, down the road? So little it actually recorded in a manner that will be preserved. Social media has taken on the role of a journal to document the highlights of life and Tweets, posts, text messages and rare emails are the efficient method of sharing our thoughts with others.

I feel like there is something different and introspective that occurs when a person takes the time to write a letter or compose a journal entry. There is a sense of permanence and thoughtfulness that is used when choosing the words or attempting to convey a sentiment. A person is required to stop, think and actually feel the emotions that a situation, event or person evokes in them. Without that catalyst, are people unintentionally less thoughtful as the result of those muscles not being flexed?

In my garage is a box that contains correspondence from friends and letters written on graph paper by my brother, that closed with stick figure drawings and “fill in the blank” lines for me to solve with a phrase reminiscent of our childhood. There are also letters from my husband chronicling our seven-month courtship. Reading them takes me back to that time where it seemed positively illogical that we get married but also captured the struggle it was for us to be apart. Receiving mail once meant more than bills and advertisements and the occasional greeting card.

I’m thankful for this box of insights from the past and I also appreciate that my children learned to read and write cursive. If the letters I have written and received last another generation or two, I wonder if they will simply look like scraps of paper with scribbles on them or if anyone will be able to decipher the messages we had taken the time to share.

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Uncategorized

Middle School Behavior – Bad Choices & the Adults Who Support Them

So far not much information has been revealed about the middle school boy who confessed to throwing an object at the presidential motorcade. What information has been provided is that he implicated four others (when I was a kid the terminology would have been “squealed on”). The thrown object being described as a “block of wood”, a “wooden block” and a “2×4”. One had me picturing a scrap from a project, another made me think of the abc/123 wooden cubes my kids had and the final description has me visualizing an entire board. I’ve attached a photograph of the evidence to clarify.

While I’ve only read about the incident via multiple online news and social media sources, I have to say that I am fascinated by how some adults are reacting to the incident. Who are these people who affirm this sort of behavior and what would their knee-jerk reaction be to a middle school kid who was shot by a Secret Service agent as he raised his arm to throw an unknown object? Yet there in my Twitter Feed were responses such as; “too bad the car didn’t flip.”, “For once spare the rod, spoil the child.” and “then a hero comes along.”. It’s as though people don’t realize that around the world children are used to execute the plans of adults. Or perhaps they do realize that and are okay with children being used in this way, as long it supports their political views. I feel like these people may be among the same group who badmouth law enforcement and graphically describe what they would do if confronted by an officer and live to regret it when their own children are in that situation and react as their adult role models taught them to. Those situations don’t typically end well. It’s quite possible the children involved in the motorcade incident were only acting upon what they thought would please their parents. While political conversations and current issues were frequent discussion topics in my home growing up, I can think of no situation where my parents would have condoned any sort of verbal or physical attack to either express ourselves or advance our agenda. I’ve never felt hampered by being taught to be respectful of everyone, despite having differences of opinion.

I am curious if this fella will receive the same notoriety as Ahmed Mohamed, the boy whose teacher alerted the principal when the clock he had built in a pencil case beeped during class. Despite signs along our highways encouraging citizens to be vigilant if they see something they find suspicious, the English teacher and principal whose jobs involve educating and protecting students, were vilified for their caution. While the clock ultimately was innocuous, were it to have actually been an object that posed a threat they likely would have been heroes for acting or perceived co-conspirators for allowing it to be present. We live in a strange age, where it’s popular to attack authority for doing what is in their job description and  throw caution to the wind and embrace the stranger whose intentions are unknown. Ultimately Ahmed received an educational scholarship, a tweet from the POTUS and visit to the White House. At one time he had a 15-million dollar lawsuit going. The sort of lawsuit that might make future school administrators less cautious and put lives at risk. My guess is this current motorcade incident garners an eventual POTUS Tweet but no White House visit during this administration.

I’m wondering if Dr. Phil is trying to get these kids and their parents booked and if they are competing with late night talk shows doing the same. We have embraced and rewarded bad behavior and made celebrities out of people simply for being rude or contrary, while at the same time we’ve challenged and demonized  others for simply asking questions. I am stupefied by how the basic standard of what being an adult is has changed and I’m concerned for what that means not only for these children but all of the other kids witnessing this decline in basic decorum.

It’s likely attorneys will line up for exposure and perhaps try to spin the impulsive actions of a middle-schooler into some sort of political commentary. Was the boy an environmentalist making a statement about the logging industry or a politically active kid making a donation to be used in the construction of a border wall? Perhaps we will find out the source of the wood was 84 Lumber, a business nobody in the Midwest knew about until they took out a Superbowl ad, which was movie-quality but told nothing about the company or the products they sell. Maybe the whole thing is some marketing scam.

Call me cynical but I tend to question the motivation behind what everyone does and on whose behalf they are actually doing it. Was this just a kid acting on a dare or impulse or is he a patsy being used to see how the Secret Service would respond to an unruly group of children? Simply a test run with a sinister motive for a future attack is a possibility that will be examined. Some might assume I’m paranoid but security can’t be too cautious in a week when Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half brother of the leader of North Korea died in a Malaysian airport attack. The scenario sounds like something out of an American crime drama series that has proverbially “jumped the shark”. The plot twist being an innocent vacationer from Vietnam being duped by thinking she was participating in a prank with his buddies when she sprayed him with a poison mist.

For those finding this wood tossing behavior acceptable, what if it were a kid throwing an object at their vehicle as they drove by? Would they be okay with a child doing the same thing to a police squad, a firetruck or an ambulance? What if it were someone throwing something at their elderly parent’s car or their own child’s school bus? If there is some new rule book about when antisocial behavior is acceptable or even endorsed I am totally out of the loop on that. Are the people in favor of self expression through violence willing to accept it when it’s directed towards themselves?

If this motorcade situation had happened when I was in middle school, chances are it would have been a group of four socially confident boys goading a socially awkward outsider into doing something stupid for their amusement. The boy acting out would do whatever the kids he admired wanted because of the naive anticipation of some implied acceptance. I’m not suggesting the child should not be held accountable, simply pointing out that it’s possible he’s more of a victim here than some mastermind architect of an attack on the president of the United States. My husband, a greater cynic than myself thinks perhaps it is simpler than that “It could be just a little asshole looking to get fame.”.

I long for the good old days when poison mist was found only in James Bond films, most adults didn’t endorse the actions of “little assholes” and kids seeking attention tried out for the school talent show. I wonder if we’ll ever know if his parents are horrified by his action or proud of him.

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childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

When Your Waste Management is Garbage

Bloomington Minnesota, the city that I call home took over managing the coordination of residential trash and recycling collection last year. For some in the community there was passion over who got to take away their empty yogurt containers and used tissues. There were the folks who hated to give any more power to their government and those who were concerned over the wear and tear on our roads caused by multiple providers covering the same routes and the inherent risk that goes with increased traffic. I was in a third group. I’m the fiscal conservative who had used three different services during our fifteen years in the community. I had most recently selected the newest and most affordable option, that allowed me to downsize my trash container after my kids had moved out and was the first service that could accommodate my desire to have recycling picked up on a weekly basis (my previous providers were on a biweekly cycle).

As a household that entertains often, we frequently called upon our guests to take a bag of recycling when they departed or utilized our neighbor’s bin when possible. I also had arranged with my last two providers to drop off waste and recycling bins for our annual block party and pick them up the following morning, free of charge. I enjoyed negotiating the deals and knew that the hauler’s incentive to provide good service resulted from the very real possibility that I could change services to a competitor were their performance not satisfactory. When local politicians insisted that “nothing would change” and offered reassurances that the price would be what I’d been paying and the service available equal as well, it sounded like an empty promise that someone makes when trying to sell you on something inferior.

As with most political offerings, some were pleased with the decision to standardize collection, while others were frustrated and angry that their service provider was being dictated to them. I took more of a “wait and see” approach, hopeful that the plan would work, yet skeptical that the promises made would be promises kept.

As a little kid I remember loving to see the Garbage Man come. At that time Minneapolis permitted residents to contract with haulers of their own choosing. My family had the Wellers. You knew a Weller truck because they could hardly stand to watch a stuffed animal go to a landfill, they were prominently displayed on their trucks, my earliest exposure to animal rescue. Their trucks looked like the cross between a gypsy caravan and a carnival game-of-chance booth. The Wellers were our haulers because at least one of the Weller men was a veteran my father knew through his membership at James Ballantine VFW post 246. A man fit to serve our country was certainly worthy of collecting our refuse.

My childhood was an era where  garbage haulers typically had a driver and two collectors who appeared choreographed like circus performers, swinging onto and off of the stuck, swooping up cans and gracefully dumping their contents into the rear of the truck. There were no automated arms that lifted and dumped the bins under the direction of a driver in a climate-controlled cab. These men worked. It was a physical labor. Cans were not uniform, though most were  galvanized steel, with lids kids often used as a shield during snowball fights or play military maneuvers. Those cans were noisy and easily dented. Ours were plain, my best friend’s family had cans that had been painted with various Peanuts cartoon characters by one of her sisters. Sometime during the 1970’s plastic cans became the vogue. The plastic barrels were much larger, not as heavy, more durable and less noisy, though lacking in charm.

Garbage was different back in the day. My brothers were in elementary school when they took charge of the “burner”. Most homes had a can that was allocated as a burn barrel, perforated to allow air in, often perched on a pair of cinder blocks. The burner was where cereal boxes, paper plates and Dixie cups were disposed of. Eventually the ashes from the burn barrel had to be disposed of and the Wellers would pull off a work glove and let the ashes fall through their fingers, feeling for any embers before dumping it into the truck. Their thick-skinned, nearly leather hands being somewhat immune to the heat, occasionally you’d see a Weller truck or one of their competitors with the back end smoldering. I don’t recall exactly when burn barrels went away or when giving kids matches was deemed a bad idea but perhaps it coincided with when trash cans grew larger.

Recycling for me as a child was carrying an 8-pack of soda bottles back to the store or returning a milk jug to get a deposit back. Newspapers were bundled and tied with twine and saved for youth events called “paper drives” or “paper sales” that schools or organizations sponsored to raise money. I was in college before I heard of people saving aluminum cans and recycling them for money. That whole process changed to a system where we now are required to collect the newspaper, plastic, glass and aluminum. Then we pay a service to take it from us, so they may be compensated for what we bought, collected, stored and wheeled out to the curb. It’s sort of like if we paid Goodwill, ARC or DAV to take our donations of clothing and household goods which they later sell. Difficult to determine which is more environmentally friendly; having trucks roll up and down the streets and transport the goods to facilities that had to be built and process the waste or letting a kid take it out back and incinerate it.

Our new trash collection for the city of Bloomington began on October 3rd. As predicted, the rate that I currently pay is substantially more than the rate I had negotiated with my last provider. I am sad to acknowledge that my service is in fact not the same quality that I previously had. My recycling is full on a weekly basis and in theory they pick it up biweekly, just like the plan I had dropped last go-round. I say “in theory” because in addition to paying more, I also do more work with our new provider. Today I had to call them (yet again) to tell them they had not picked up my recycling yesterday morning and they assured me it would be picked up by the end of the day tomorrow (they did manage to get it this afternoon). I have no real recourse, as they know they have my business whether they do a good job or not. My leverage and freedom to choose has been eliminated, as apparently so has their incentive to take pride in their work.

While I’m all in favor of measures that improve the environment, increase recycling and reduce what goes into landfills, there are times I grow a little nostalgic. I miss workers in a family business who don’t take my business for granted. I long for the simplicity of reuse efforts like attaching a giant purple bear to the grill of a garbage truck. Finally, there is a little piece of me that admired the bravery of men hanging onto the back of a slightly smoldering truck.

Despite the many changes in the industry over the years since my own childhood, there seems to be one thing that remains the same. Kids are fascinated and enamored with the big trucks that take our trash away and the men (and women too) who work on them.

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