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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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A May Zing!

For someone who does not like math, I am oddly obsessive about numbers. I find myself in the second week of May 2016, thinking about last May, thinking about May thirty years ago and even thinking about May sixty years ago, years before I was even born. Math has patterns and so does life. While I’m not “good” at math, I am good at finding the patterns in life that others often miss.

In May of 1986 I was 22. On May 23rd of that year I graduated from St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud Minnesota. I was at an age directly between the ages that my own children are right now. Last year in May, my daughter who is now 23 graduated from Bemidji State University. Next weekend I will go help my 21 year old son move home from Carthage College for the summer, it’s the end of his junior year.

SCSU Grad with Sue

I have such vivid memories of those final weeks of college, not the kind of memories that exist because they were posted to a social media account but actual clear  recollections. I also have photographs, again not something that was documented with my phone but with a real camera. Back in the day our phones were attached to the wall and the idea of them having a camera was pretty  preposterous. I did however receive a phone as a graduation present from my brothers. It was a very modern model that had an answering machine that recorded messages for you if you were not physically present to answer it. It was 1986 and none of my friends owned an answering machine. My parents also gifted me with a piece of technology. I had majored in Mass Communications (with a Television emphasis) so my folks gave me a video camera a month before commencement, so I could document aspects of my final days on campus.

The Wall 86

Somewhere in my possession is a collection of nearly obsolete VHS cassette tapes recorded with my graduation gift. I must say there are some epic gems; my girlfriends and I returning home from an evening at the bars, morning recordings recapping events of the prior night, comedy sketches of mock interviews and my personal favorite. The  one I need to track down consists of a series of interviews with me and two of my friends that I’d worked with as Resident Assistants (RA’s) the year before. The vignettes are taken after dinner in the dining hall and recorded in front of the thirteen-story residence hall they worked in and that I’d called home for three years. It’s a video time capsule of the price of gas, the cost of a delivered pizza, cover charges at various watering holes we frequented more often than the library (or laundry room). I recollect my favorite parts, despite not having viewed them for many years. We were asking each other what our plans were following graduation. My girlfriends thought they might move to Mexico and my response was “I’m going as far as the Nova will take me. I’ll be settling somewhere in the Monticello region.” Those not familiar with Minnesota geography, St. Cloud and Monticello are about 25 miles apart. Those not familiar with my Nova, lets just say it was a really used car!

Most people don’t have VCR’s in their homes anymore, though most remember video (and eventually DVD) rentals. What some may have forgotten (or never known) is that in the mid to late ‘eighties most people didn’t own a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) to play tapes on, they actually rented the machine when they rented movies. It’s a technology that had a twenty-five year arc. Nobody saw that coming. Most folks with a TV now have the capacity to watch whatever whenever and the ability to access movies by simply using a remote control. As someone who can be easily distracted, I am glad I graduated when I did without these additional tech temptations.

I was not media-free, it was after all my major.  It was just different then. One had to plan. I watched Luke marry Laura on General Hospital with every other freshman girl in Holes Hall.  The next  year I witnessed the M*A*S*H finale in a packed dorm room. The last two years I was in college most RA’s would not plan activities on Thursday nights. Nobody wanted to compete with the new hit series The Cosby Show. There was no rewind, on-demand or purchasing of the series for personal viewing. You either skipped class, used the bathroom during commercials or had to have a friend tell you about it. There was no Google, no internet. Granted, most of us had parents who grew up in homes that had no television, we were the first generation who grew up on After School Specials. Much has changed and I actually miss dozing off during a late evening show and waking to a televised waving flag and National Anthem as the station “signed-off” for the night and a “test pattern” took over the screen until Sunrise Semester or some early news show came on. Now we can watch TV on our phone, catch news in a continuous cycle and be in constant contact with people we really don’t know and perhaps don’t even like.

There is no way looking forward thirty years to ever predict what will occur, what new inventions will exist, what will become passe. My friends did not move to Mexico, though they did spend a summer working together at a camp in Malibu. The three of us did take a Mexican spring break together a few years out of college.  I made it the 70 miles back to my folks house with the Nova, then shattered my elbow the following month and moved to my new job in Missouri without the Nova, eventually buying a Ford Escort. Basically, I broke down before the Nova did. Luke Spencer made his final departure from General Hospital last July and if you aren’t aware of what is going on with the affable gentleman who brought us Dr. Huxtable then you are actually lucky. I’ll simply say it’s been widely suggested that despite being affable he is no gentleman.

While it seems there is much to gain looking forward, I would suggest that there is great potential to benefit from looking back. I imagine that my college graduation and the thirty years since would not have occurred were it not for an event that took place in May 1956, thirty years prior to me receiving my diploma. In retrospect, I don’t think I even realized in May of 1986 that in thirty years (and four days) of marriage my parents had raised three children and watched them all graduate from St. Cloud State. Their anniversary was not to be the focal point for them that week. They wanted it to be all about me, their baby girl graduating from college. Thirty years after graduating from college and I still have a lot to learn!

Mom, Dad, Cake

 

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The Heart(s) of a Mother and Other Trinkets

Mom Locket

The picture of a heart shaped charm that says “Mom” on it is not simply some random online photo I Googled. That’s a locket, one my children lovingly selected for me, for Mother’s Day in the late ’90s. I dug for it in a jewelry box, as I don’t wear it anymore. It is one of many heart shaped treasures that my husband allowed my children to select for me as gifts. As the worn edges indicate, I did wear the locket for many years, the children proudly noticed each time I wore a gift from them. This particular one made things pretty clear. In the same way an engagement ring shows you are betrothed, there is no mistaking who a piece of the owner’s heart belongs to when “Mom” is clearly displayed in her cleavage.

Locket Kids

Lockets are a special form of jewelry. Not that the heart shaped necklace with the gemstone flower wasn’t lovely, it’s just there was no place to carry pictures of my daughter and son in it. I often wore my Grandmother’s childhood locket when I was a little girl. Her locket it not heart shaped, it’s round and gold with her childhood monogram on it in a fine cursive script. Though it was only intended to hold two pictures (her parents) at some point she had removed the isinglass to insert a picture of my grandfather over the picture of her own father.  On the left hand side of the locket was my Great Grandmother whose stern countenance was reminiscent of Margaret Hamilton in her role as Almira Gulch in the Wizard of Oz. If that character name doesn’t ring a bell, she is the neighbor lady on the bicycle who takes Toto and becomes the Wicked Witch of the West when Dorothy gets to Munchkin Land. I didn’t want to suggest my Great Grandma resembled the witch, as the black and white photo definitely bore greater resemblance to the character in Kansas. My Grandpa’s picture is quite worn, as I removed it frequently to look at the real treasure in the locket. My Great Grandfather, Ace Porter Abell was a distinguished looking gentleman. I chose his moniker as my son’s middle name.

Locket Neona   Locket Ace

I assume my grandmother’s childhood locket was likely a birthday gift, probably dating to about 90 years before my heart shaped locket was gifted to me. My grandma was named Neona, she died of breast cancer two and a half years before I was born. She was only 58. I have her locket, her cocktail ring and paintings done by her mother Nida. I share her first initial and her love of the color purple. It makes me wonder where my own locket will end up someday.

I have only one of my own Mom’s Mother’s Day gifts. Typically on Mother’s Day my father would take me over to the local flower nursery (Sunny Side Gardens, which is still located near 44th and France, the neighboring Taystee Treet of my youth is not) to painstakingly select annuals. I would choose Pansies, Petunias and Marigolds for the large pot near the front steps of our house. I feel like the large pot had come with the house and that perhaps there had been one for each side of the steps at some point. I imagine it may have been terracotta underneath the many layers of green paint. It may have been the paint job that allowed the pot to stay intact through the below zero temperatures of our harsh Minnesota winters. Red was my mother’s favorite color, so often a Geranium was in the center of the pot. I’m fond of Geraniums only for sentimental reasons and have never purchased one for my own home. I find their stems have sort of an awkward and unattractive arthritic bend to them. I also don’t buy Marigolds, as I can’t stand their scent. I planted them as a labor of love, knowing my Mom would appreciate them. Despite being gone for at least an hour and spending another hour creating the potted arrangement, it seems my mother never noticed our clandestine activities. Every year, after we summoned her to come out front, she would walk across the porch and spot my handiwork. She was surprised every time!

My mother didn’t have a jewelry box of treasures from Mother’s Days gone by, she had memories of a little girl who desperately needed a bath, with dirt embedded under her fingernails and a huge smile over having pulled it off. There was the one exception, the year she got her “Mother’s ring”. There was an era where rings with the birthstones of ones children was a staple, like Pandora bracelets seem to be now. I remember being at the jewelry counter at Montgomery Wards. No that is not a typo. The real question should be what order had Sears screwed up so badly that year that we were not patronizing their “fine jewelry” counter? I remember the various sample rings that she tried on before deciding on a delicate setting with openwork. I watched how the employee completed the official looking paperwork; size, setting, stones, order of stones. It was in triplicate at least. My eldest brother’s September birthday dictated the sapphire stone, my other brother’s March arrival was acknowledged with a pale aquamarine and my July birthday contributed the ruby. I remember the debate over whether the stones should be placed in birth order or arranged by what was most aesthetically pleasing. We were represented on the ring in the order that we spent our life in the back of the station wagon. I, as the youngest was always in the center where it was easiest for my brothers to extend their arms to save my life if there was a sudden stop. It took several weeks for the ring to be made to specifications. I remember the night we went to Montgomery Wards to pick it up. The ring box was opened and there gleaming before us was an entirely different setting than my mother had chosen. Not delicate, no open work. After much rustling of paper (the copy my parents had been given, the one the store retained and the one that accompanied the completed order) the flustered employee confirmed that other than the correct birth stones, the ring was in fact the wrong one. It was however a more expensive setting and Wards was willing to let my mother take it home without paying more for it. The pendulum took a mighty swing for the Rose family back to being Sears customers.

My mother went home with the ring that day. She wore it both proudly and sporadically throughout the rest of her life. She would have worn it everyday, were it not for the fact that she would get a rash under it when worn too long, something that a bit of openwork might have prevented.

Mothers Ring

I wear this ring now on occasion. The sapphire is my daughter’s birthstone, the aquamarine is my sons. Their stones rest nicely on each side of my ruby.

 

I am posting my Mother’s Day Blog a little early. I’m putting in some hours at a local garden center and look forward to selling kids flowers to “surprise” their mothers with. I’ll be working alongside my adult daughter.

 

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Write On

Write on

It seems that we are at a turning point in communications in the United States that requires attention. I’m really unsure how it came to be that schools quit teaching cursive writing or made it a low priority but this trend needs an immediate reversal. I’m not simply waxing nostalgia for simpler days, I am genuinely concerned over creating a greater divide between the classes in our nation.

While my own children were taught cursive in school, they would be the first to admit that it is not their first method of communication and that their own penmanship lacks the consistency in flow compared to that of previous generations. That being said, they are able to decipher the written word. Only a few years younger than my own kids, a teenage nephew relies upon his brother to translate the messages in cards from their grandmother.

I’ve heard some defend the change by simply saying “there isn’t enough time for it” which I view as a cop-out. There was time for it in the days when gathering information for a report required going to the library and using a card catalog to locate sources and then digging into books to glean the information before either writing or typing the assignment. There were no Post-it notes to mark your places and no spell check to ensure accuracy, that required further research in another large book.  All of that took time and most of it is no longer necessary with information access a few clicks away via computer. There was time for it when someone had to go to the well before school began so there was water in the classroom and assignments were done by candlelight at home after chores were completed. It’s simply about making it a priority and not giving into whining if it doesn’t come easy. Make time for it.

I recall standing at the chalkboard and practicing letters awkwardly while classmates like Susan and Sabrina seemed to have a natural ability to make the identical shape over and over with little effort. I remember the manila paper with solid blue lines that had a dotted line midway between as sort of a visual set of training wheels serving as a guide. Before the days of participation medals there was penmanship and it was pretty clear who the winners and losers were. Not being good at it was not a reason to quit, it served as motivation to practice more. Cursive writing is a discipline and schools need more of it, not less.

Handwriting is an even playing field for those who are not musically inclined or athletically gifted. It is an equal-opportunity activity requiring no expensive equipment. To take it out of the classroom will mean that sooner than later some parents will make it a priority and have their children take lessens in it. Depending on an area of study, it seems likely that colleges will offer it, so students can access manuscripts and understand other documents. It strikes me as ludicrous to pay college tuition for this basic knowledge and it also is the sort of information that is much more easily grasped when a person is younger. Why would we deny youth such an accessible tool and potentially have it become yet another divisive symbol of rich/poor and have/have-nots?

The activity itself is scientifically recognized to increase brain activity and develops fine motor skills. Failure to provide this stimulation altars the way the brain functions. Neuroscientists recognize that the relationship between the hand and the brain is different when writing a letter than when simply selecting one from a keyboard. There is value in the creativity and communication form and recent tests have shown a person is able to generate more ideas when physically writing as opposed to keyboarding answers to the same questions. To ignore this we are actively allowing the decline of idea generation to our youth.

It seems obvious that an adult needs a signature to enter into a legally binding contract. How does one develop a signature without the skill of cursive writing? Signatures were once like snowflakes, or a visual form of DNA, something unique to the owner. My best friend and one of my sister in-laws share a similar chubby and cheerful penmanship. My mother had a formal and very elegant handwriting. Other than the last name being the same, my brothers signatures share little resemblance. The long line off the end of my E in Rose was intended to mimic the way my father signed his name. It seems odd that our youth might one day look at the Declaration of Independence and utter “That looks fancy.” but have no capacity to grasp that the words which drew their attention formed the name John Hancock. I think that would be a shame.

While it’s hard to ignore the importance of being able to read as a means of understanding historical documents for academic purposes, there is also value in being able to read cursive writing for other reasons. Those wishing to have insights to their ancestors can access a great deal of information through review of census data, much of which is handwritten. Closer to home are family bibles (often documenting births, marriages, deaths and other details), baby books, notations in photo albums and correspondence are all interesting, important but unfortunately lost without someone able to read them. I recently shared with my daughter some postcards my great-grandfather had sent to his children in the early 1900s and autograph books with messages from the children’s classmates, some in cursive by those as young as five. My mother was a letter writer and saver, somewhere among my things are all of the letters which I sent from summer camp and during my college years. It would be a shame if my future grandchildren would be unable to read them some day or need to go to a translator to have them transcribed. Failure to teach cursive and provide what should be considered a basic skill is cutting off easy historical access for future generations.

In an era when technology has permitted greater access to information and broader communication to many, it seems short-sighted to look at cursive writing as some outdated or unnecessary form of communicating. It’s affordable and with nothing but benefits to those who are able to produce it and understand it, it should remain accessible!

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Thirty Shades of Blog – A GRAND FINALE (the musical) – Day 30 in a Month of Writing

Topless

“In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife…” (Read more: RENT – Seasons Of Love Lyrics | MetroLyrics )

In the summer of 1997 I had what might be the best weekend of professional live theater that I may ever experience. I took my four-year-old daughter to see The Lion King, which debuted in Minneapolis before opening on Broadway. She and I were both mesmerized. Regardless of the number of times I see it, it still makes the hairs on my arms stand up. The following day my sister in-law surprised me and took me to see the show Rent with tickets from my husband. The shows were so different from each other but both were such excellent productions. The Lion King will always rank among my favorites, perhaps because it was Betsy’s first real Disney video and she still has the Simba and Nala that her brand new baby brother had given her at the hospital the day he was born. My son Eddie is likely the only young man whose love of shopping makes it convincing that he came into the world having already been to a mall.

The song Seasons of Love talks about the ways a person measures time. For me, the month of September has been measured in; blog postings, titles, edits, spelling errors and graphic selections. Thirty days of trying to think of a new topic to not only engage me in the act of writing but to hopefully engage others in the act of reading. Making the commitment to write daily came about via a simple posting and I believe most of the other authors who committed to the challenge intended to use it as a way to make progress on a single novel, to use it as a way to discipline their art. I simply am not the sort to be refined enough for that. If you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it seems logical not to judge a blog by the picture attached or the hastily chosen title. Though I have to admit to experimenting with both to try to draw readers. I had considered giving this posting the title “The Contents of My Underwear Drawer a Month of Revealing Personal Things” but could not think of an appropriate picture to go with it. I opted instead for the gratuitous topless photo of me, hoping it might go viral.

Though the exercise took a month, the effort really took me a lifetime. I’ve lived over half a century, it should not be a challenge for me to write for thirty days, yet at times it was. Each day there was the act of choosing what I wanted to commit to exploring. As of this writing, the most read of my works came on the second day of the month when I wrote about my oldest brother on his birthday. I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut, at one point I felt a bit like Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote, it just seems that I know a lot of dead people. I am pleased to have had people from four countries read one or more of my posts. I have had 227 unique visitors to my blog, resulting in 385 actual views of my material or slightly more than 350 views if you deduct my friend Kristi, who I believe has been the most loyal (and encouraging) of my followers.

I appreciate the kind words left about my writing by friends, family and strangers. I have shared family history, views on various topics, political opinions, parenting observations and anecdotes about where I grew up, about my friends and recounting events of my childhood. I’ve offered a glimpse at how my mind works and my unusual capacity to store details of trivial events. It has been an unusual experience to share so much personal information in such a brief time. Much like my annual long-winded Christmas letter I did it less to entertain and more to capture the essence of a period of time and preserve it for my children and others who may take interest in my musings at a time where I am perhaps no longer able to share it.

I believe it is a habit for me now and though it may not be a daily obligation, I think I will continue to write more consistently and welcome ideas for topics. For those of you with a gift or a passion, I encourage you to do something for thirty consecutive days; draw, paint, take photographs, get out an instrument you have been neglecting and play it, dance, walk or initiate a call to a friend you have not spoken to. Imagine what a month you could have rekindling relationships with thirty people. Maybe send thirty letters or simply a greeting card daily for a month. Whatever challenge you give yourself, I can assure you that rather than feeling burdensome there is something rather invigorating and rewarding in establishing a goal and achieving it. How do you want to measure your October?

*Please “share” this or any of my blogs by selecting the “share” on your Facebook page, including it on a Linkedin post or “re-tweeting” (with or without an introduction) – I would love to reach 250 visitors for the month of September. Thanks to those of you who have shared past posts.

 

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Day 16: A Stroll Down the Even Side of Memory Lane (Vincent Avenue South)

Library

I will begin on the corner. Despite not sharing a Vincent Avenue South address because the front door faced West 43rd Street, the Linden Hills library was definitely part of my block. The stately Carnegie library era brick building served as a second home to me and was among the most influential of my neighbors. From the lower level children’s room (with colorful storybook tiles at the hearth of the fireplace) to the left of the base of the stairs to the French doors to the right that led to Story Hour which I consider to be my first formal education. I spent many childhood days imagining the grand manse as my house. I learned a lot at that library.

The house next door had an entrance off the driveway to a basement beauty salon. Cleaning combs there and dusting an impressive collection of Avon bottles (housed in a lit cabinet with glass shelves) was among my first jobs. After my father passed away, I do not believe my mother ever paid for another haircut while living on that street. The house next to that was situated at the highest point on either side of the street and had an impressive set of stairs and a steep driveway. My best friend grew up in that house along with her five sisters. We played in the yard, the front porch and the basement. The living room was where we would lay for hours in December and play I-Spy with the Christmas tree which did not have a square inch that was not covered in beads, garlands, ornaments or actual toys. The kitchen is where some of the best food I have ever eaten was prepared.

Next to my best friend’s home is the home where my parent’s best friends raised their children. The sold sign is in the yard as I write this. They are a family who I have been fortunate to have known members from five generations of. Beside them lived a family with two sons who were older than my own brothers. Currently there is a young family with red-headed children residing there. The next home was directly across the street from the one I grew up in. When I was little it was owned by the Loveland family. The Lovelands had six children; Lisa, Patty, Roger Jr. the twins Betty and Bruce and the baby Shelly when they lived on Vincent. I recall that one of the twins fell out of the tree house in their backyard. Despite having a house filled with children, the mother volunteered for church and Scouting and was the woman who hosted rummage sales most frequently. The neighborhood had a big potluck send-off when they moved “Up North” in the early seventies. They bought a resort (Loveland’s resort on Moonlight Bay) and had two more daughters. Later a Minneapolis police K-9 officer, his wife and two children lived there and I would babysit for them. Several families lived in that house after the Lovelands, I have retained none of their names, despite the fact the Lovelands moved away nearly forty-five years ago.

The next home was meticulously cared for. The father was a fire fighter who modeled for a local department store’s catalogs. They had two sons and two daughters who were older than my brothers. I loved seeing their teenage daughters dressed for formals when I was little. The charming little house next door belonged to the Richard’s. They had one son, Chucky, who fell in age between my two brothers. My brother Steve recalls that is where he went for lunch in elementary school while my mother and brother Robert went to England to visit my grandparents. He loved the home-cooked lunches she made. As I recall, Betty Richards became the first widow on the block. When my mother was widowed, the two of them grew close, even working part-time at a little diner on the next block. When another neighbor could not get Betty to answer the door for their regularly scheduled Scrabble game she came and got my mother who is the one that found Betty, who had gone to be with Ralph.

The next house seemed to be the largest on the block or perhaps that is because it was nestled between two more petite domiciles. Jeff, Margaret, Liz, Tricia, Martha, Kris and Catherine were the seven children, in that order. Most were athletic and their mother still resides there. A couple of summers ago while walking down the street with my daughter we noticed a cat and I said “That probably belongs to the Longs.” The first time I ever saw kittens was in a box in their entryway closet, so little their eyes had not yet opened.

Last summer I took my son to a moving sale at the next home. I wanted him to see the size of the kitchen that my friend’s mother created meals in three times daily for years. I own rugs bigger than the dimensions and there were two doorways that took up wall space as well; the entry and a corner door leading to the basement. When I went by this past week the house was gone and the foundation for a new home had been laid. My friend Laura was the youngest and only girl of the five children raised there. I spent many afternoons watching programs with her and her mother such as Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin and summer evenings watching Mary Hartman and Fernwood Tonight. I smoked my first cigarette on a school bus in their backyard, the bus had been painted green and converted for hunting and fishing trips. I’m pleased to have some table linens that Mrs. Berquist had done handiwork on. She passed away recently after a short bout with cancer.

As a child the house beyond Laura’s is where the Hill family lived, three girls and their little brother. Laura and the youngest daughter Bonnie have always remained friends and I saw her and her mother for the first time in decades while attending Mrs. Berquist’s funeral. When the Hills moved out, the Bones moved in. Mrs. Bone and Mrs. Berquist became good friends over the next forty-three years and Mrs. Bone gave a lovely tribute to her dear friend at her funeral. The Bone home is now on the market.

Three houses remain at the end of the block. One I believe was a rental and looked more like a cabin one might see at a summer camp. Unlike the rest of the block where many neighbors remained consistent for fifty years, I never knew any of the occupants there. The next home was the dwelling place of three boys that were all within a year of me and my siblings, the parents had another entire family of children who were already adults and no longer lived at home. I remember the mother as being worn, her three youngest each a bit of a handful.

Finally we have arrived at the house on the corner. I always believed a grown brother and sister lived there. Their garage was accessed from behind the house, around the corner and as a result I never recall seeing the woman. The brother used the bus and always walked down his side of the street briskly, often carrying what appeared to be a gym bag. He was neither friendly or unfriendly, just consistent in his quick pace and focused on his destination. For years he had a small black and white bulldog that resembled him and he walked it with the same sense of purpose.

It was a great place to grow up. At one point during my youth, there were over forty children living across the street from me, some went on to be business owners, served in the military, one became a politician. Many had children of their own but in smaller numbers than the heyday of the 1960’s when they were children, growing up on a kid-filled street where we were all free to roam.

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Day 11 in a Month of Writing: Thirteen Years Ago Today

Thomas Burnett

There are two things I recall about the weekend preceding September 11th, 2001. The first thing I remember was attending my niece Lauren’s second birthday party. Lauren is the youngest of the six grandchildren, having been born barely more than a week after my eldest brother Bob’s forty-third birthday. She looked as identical to her father as any girl possibly could; healthy cheeks, enormous blue eyes, dark curly hair and long lashes. She was adorable as she entertained her paternal aunts, uncles, cousins and grandma. The party was prior to her actual birthday which would be happening that Monday, the 10th. Her fifteenth birthday was yesterday and she is even more beautiful today than she was as a toddler. Her birthday was simply a family celebration as it took place, upon reflection it marks a sort of an end of innocence. The second thing I remember from that weekend was a conversation with Robyn Renfroe. She and her husband Rich had stopped over to our house in St. Paul and we got on the topic of defining moments. We talked about how people from our generation always remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. Since I was an infant on that historic day and have no such recollections I recalled Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s assassinations. I tend to think of man setting foot on the moon as the defining historical moment of my childhood. I mentioned that my mother remembered the end of World War II and how there was an overwhelming sense of goodwill and that the church bells of Minneapolis were all ringing in jubilation. Many of the college students I had been working with over the previous few years thought of the Space Shuttle explosion as being the monumental event of their youth.  A younger coworker had orchestrated a sick day that day to watch The Jett’s (a local family band) appearing on an afternoon program,Twin Cities Live, which was preempted due to the disaster. Then our discussion turned to whether there would be those sort of defining moments for the generation that included my own two children. The very real answer to this rather ethereal musing came less than  48-hours later.

The morning of September 11th started a little unusually for me by design. I dropped the kids at daycare, where after breakfast they would take the bus to school where my son and daughter were in first and third grade respectively. Rather than hop immediately on the freeway and head into Minneapolis for my job near the University of Minnesota campus, I returned home. Our house was on the market and at six o’clock that evening an inspection was taking place. I went home to make some final adjustments; straighten beds. put out clean towels, undo any minor damage the kids had unwittingly done simply by being kids. I got on the road about the time I normally would be arriving at work. My usual morning drive-time show must have ended because the vibe felt more serious. The person was talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center and my initial reaction was that it was a War of the Worlds dramatization and that the radio station was being irresponsible to broadcast something like this, as people might actually believe it. I changed stations and realized what was being reported was in fact an actual live-time news event. I glanced at the drivers of the other vehicles commuting along the freeway, everyone looked somber, confused and ashen.

When I arrived at work I called my husband. I then got on my computer and eventually went into the Great Room on the main floor of the student apartment complex I worked at and turned on the television. The broadcasters were as horrified as the members of their audience and had little more information than the speculation we were all doing. The same sickening footage showed repeatedly and then more horrifying footage of dust covered survivors trying desperately to get somewhere where they could breath and make contact with loved ones. At first it was reported as a small plane, an accident and then a second plane hit and it was determined that these were commercial flights, then the Pentagon and yet another flight that we would later learn the brave passengers had attempted to regain control of went down in a field, creating much less damage than whatever the intended point of impact had been. Not much work got done that day, a few staff members wandered in to talk, to look for some reassurance. Classes were canceled, students were incredibly quiet. Everyone simply seemed numb because nobody knew who had done this, what it meant or what might happen next.

For the only time ever while having our children in childcare, my husband and I both arrived to pick them up. This had been planned because we were unable to go home due to the scheduled inspection. My husband and I speculated during the day whether our loan would go through or the loan of our buyer, would banks fail, fuel prices skyrocket and the job market collapse? A lot had gone on in the ten hours since we had last been together!

We went to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, not knowing what the children had actually been told during the day and wanting to remain age-appropriate and reassuring to them we began by simply asking about their day. Betsy explained that her class had been told that planes hit a building but nobody got hurt. This would almost have amused me, were it not so sad and inaccurate. We explained that it was not possible for planes to fall out of the sky like that without people being injured or dying. She said her teacher had a brother who worked at the Pentagon where one of the planes crashed and she had been crying. I forgave the inaccuracies and misinformation, as I am uncertain how one can appropriately process and share that sort of information with children while not grasping it as an adult. I remember that our president was in an elementary school, reading to children when he was notified of the ongoing tragedy. We drew on the back of our Chinese New Year place mat a map of the United States and explained where New York was and then where Minnesota was and the other locations where lives were lost. We talked about all the police, firefighters and doctors that were helping people and generous people giving food and water to strangers. We talked about our countries military, their bravery, equipment and training and their availability to help and protect. My children knew their father was an Army Ranger and many of our family friends (some that they affectionately refer to as “uncle”) were members of his Scout Platoon Unit during his years as an Army Reservist. During the ensuing years some of those men would serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With our fill of Chinese food came a fullness of information, we encouraged the kids to not be fearful and to ask questions if thoughts or ideas came up that they wanted to discuss.

When we arrived home that evening we discovered that in their backpacks was a letter from their principal with instructions regarding how to discuss the day’s events with children. It suggested that we not provide much detail or information to them and not to bring up the military. I wadded it up and tossed it in the trash. Six weeks later they began school in the Bloomington school district. As years passed and the children got into middle school they began learning about Thomas Burnett, who is recognized for having helped coordinate the attempt to regain control of the plane that went down in the field. His wife Deena, during phone conversations on that fated flight made him aware of the other planes that had crashed. Mr. Burnett was raised in Bloomington, Minnesota. A local post office here is named in his honor. His parents participated for years in an assembly for the middle school children that had volunteered at various local nonprofits on what was deemed the Thomas Burnett Day of Service.

This September 11th, with my youngest being a sophomore in college, marks the first one where none of the current kindergarten through high school students were in school on that tragic day. It truly is a piece of history that most students have no recollection of and they will have to be taught about it. These are kids who have grown up with our military being at war just being part of life and who don’t remember the joys of seeing people depart or arrive at airport gates. The aftermath of 911 is simply part of their lives with no real concept of how things have changed.

If I could encourage you to complete one gesture as a tribute to all those who were lost and all that our country lost on that day, I would ask that you to talk to a person age 5-18 about September 11th 2001. Choose a person who was lost that day; a firefighter, a priest, a waiter, a parent and share their story in age-appropriate terms with a child. Tell them what happened on that day and why it matters.

 

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