childhood, Uncategorized

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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Blogging, childhood, sports, Uncategorized

Super Bowl – You Betcha

I hate to say it but were it not for living in a cold climate, I might not even follow pro-football. Yet, as someone who has lived the majority of my life in Minnesota (and a couple of years in Wisconsin) it’s a pastime whose bulk of the season takes place during our coldest, darkest, snow-covered weekends. While I most enjoy watching players doing their jobs in locales where they can see their breath, it does feel like a mini-vacation when a game is played somewhere sunny and warm and tailgating doesn’t require snow-pants and I imagine the fans smell of sunscreen.

Attached you will see the picture of my Superbowl. That’s right, that’s the vessel that typically holds the Tostitos, yesterday it was the bite-sized, sometimes it’s Scoops. If I plan in advance, occasionally it holds ripple chips, a sturdy transport for my homemade onion dip that is best made a day prior to consumption.

I have been a lifelong Vikings’ fan but with one peculiarity among most of my peers. I have a healthy respect for the Green Bay Packers, as I love the loyalty of their fans and have many friends who bleed green and gold. I also admire them for playing outside, the way the Vikings did when I first started watching them.

I’ll be honest, that I remember football being confusing as a kid, I recall watching games on black and white televisions where it was necessary to know if you were cheering for the light jerseys or the dark jerseys. Yet, I began watching football in an era when many fell in love with the Vikings!

The year I started kindergarten is the year the Vikings won their first division title. The following year, they won the title and their first ever play-off game and went on to their first ever Superbowl game which they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23 – 7. By the time I was in third grade the Vikings had won four consecutive division championships, meaning they’d held the title for half of my lifetime! What’s not to love?

The Vikings went on to lose two more Superbowls while I was attending elementary school. Followed by their fourth loss while I was in the eighth grade. It was an era of winters where I proudly wore my purple winter hat with the gold and white pom-pom on it and the Vikings logo patch sewn on up front. I wore it on my walk to school, I wore it when shoveling snow and I wore it while ice skating with friends at Linden Hills Park and on the rink at Lake Harriet. I even wore it in Wisconsin when I snowmobiled. I came to realize over the years that no amount of Vikings-apparel-wearing impacted the outcome of their seasons. My purchase of the Wild Card sweatshirt while working at Winona State during the ’87 season (probably the result of some euphoric pro-sports high after the Twins World Series victory) did not garner a victorious outcome. My most recent sweatshirt purchase for a party when the Vikings played the Saints for a 2009 NFC championship loss didn’t create good karma either. You may recall that last game mentioned as the era where the Saints did not behave like Saints but were incentivized to injure players with a bounty. Some thought it was wonderful they beat the Vikings because New Orleans was still recovering from hurricane Katrina and others thought that rewarding cheating and being poor role models blemished their eventual Superbowl Victory. Choosing to be an optimist, I look at each Vikings apparel purchase not as a means to ensure a win but rather as a wardrobe item that makes getting dressed for several Sundays each year an effortless task.

The Vikings have been having a bit of a dry patch, a spell only four years shy of the length of the Cold War. I’ve looked forward to having a couple of beers and watching the Viking’s play in a Superbowl game. I was thirteen the last they made a Superbowl appearance. Gerald Ford was packing up and preparing to move out of the White House. Fran Tarkenton was nearing the end of his second reign as the team quarterback and was less than a decade from being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

This season began as another hopeful one, undefeated in the first five games it seemed like this was “our year” but any true Vikings’ fan knows that it is when a season appears to be going our way, heck even when a game seems to be going our way, the Vikings are able to lose a great lead in the waning minutes like no other. This is especially true when the stakes are high! If there is an opportunity to clutch defeat from what appears to be an obvious victory, the Vikings are notorious for it. Perhaps it builds character, puts the whole thing in perspective of “it’s only a game.”. The Vikings have allowed us to raise our children humble and learn not to take things for granted. The Vikings have taught us how to love family, even when the members disappoint us and we’d like to give up on them. Sometimes in life, if you want to bathe yourself in Gatorade you are going to need to pour it on yourself because even though you gave your best, you simply were outplayed, outsmarted or outscored.

With my own children in their twenties, they see pro-football as a tradition of Dad napping on the couch, Mom yelling at the TV and our family dog looking for a handout. As young kids they went along with the annual ritual of the season, lured in by Velveeta-based concoctions and midday pizzas. Once my son became a pescatarian the Hormel Chili-based temptation no longer worked. Instead of viewing regular season games, they would watch the Superbowl for the food, the commercials and halftime show, tolerating the intermittent interruptions of football game. Teams to cheer for were selected by jersey color, a disliked team member to cheer against or varied pop culture reasons such as being married to a hot super model. What do you expect? It’s been four decades since their “home team” has even been in a Superbowl.

Crockpot.jpg

Yesterday my daughter and her roommate came by after work to participate in the American tradition of the Superbowl. The disappointments did not come (for us) from the plays on the field but rather from a lack of Clydesdales and puppies and too many previously seen commercials. The bright spots included both the Justin Timberlake and Melissa McCarthy ads, the Honda CRV celebrities yearbook commercial and the series of amusingly awkward T-Mobile promotions.

The main attraction was actually gathering around the crockpots, a midwestern custom akin to gathering around a campfire. This act is less about warmth and survival and more about salty and savory concoctions that could be made any day of the year but cardiologists recommend against it. Totino’s pizza rolls in the oven at halftime and even the most cynical sports fan has something to celebrate!

The halftime show did not disappoint. It was an energetic spectacular. As a Minnesotan I am keenly aware of our most recent Superbowl legacy. In 1992 we hosted and the halftime show remains an epic embarassment. If you have time and don’t recall the winter wonderland themed showcase that seemed better suited to a 1970’s variety show than a major sporting event, I encourage you to look it up. The opportunity to regain our dignity is upon us, as we are on deck to host the 2018 Superbowl. While it seems inevitable that we will have some sort of tribute to Prince, I’ll be anxious to see who is selected to perform. How amazing might it be to have the Vikings compete with home field advantage? Shoot, I hope that didn’t jinx them.

While the game yesterday was unlike any former Superbowl with a huge comeback and firstever brief overtime, I’m going to say that the final outcome was that my daughter and her roommate were the winners. Sure, maybe it wasn’t the Lombardi trophy they took but they did not leave empty handed. The crockpots were emptied and we sent them home with Rotel-dip, Hormel dip, Italian meatballs in marinara, an unopened bag of Scoops. We Vikings fans may not have a Superbowl title but we have our traditions none the less!

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Uncategorized

Memories of a Distracted Child

I have been told by many throughout my life that I have a fabulous memory. Though it’s not particularly common, I have vivid recollections from about 13 months of age on. Many years ago I read an article claiming that memory is triggered by a specific event.  Based upon my earliest memories, I am convinced that my families move from the rented double bungalow on Pleasant to the house my parents bought on Vincent Avenue South was the catalyst for those first memories. While most do not recall life in diapers, in my earliest memory that’s all I was wearing.

walker.jpg

Mine was more aqua blue than this.

Though there are photographs (and slides) of me from just weeks earlier, celebrating my first birthday at our home on Pleasant, try as I might, I recall nothing of that house. I just remember the things from the photo’s that made the trip to the “new” (built in 1905) house, like the yellow high chair I was seated in. My first memory was in a different metal contraption and I was in the large yard behind the house when the next door neighbor lady came through a gate in the hedges that divided their yard from ours. My mother was in the yard with me, the two women spoke. I  would later refer to the woman as Grandma McGovern. I sat in the little metal walker, it was August in Minnesota and it was sticky. Hot rusty metal, a near naked baby in direct sunlight. My mother was likely smoking a cigarette (as she had through all three pregnancies) and to further embellish the story why don’t we pretend this little vehicle was coated in lead paint. In retrospect it is ironic that over 90% of the women in my neighborhood were stay-at-home-mothers and yet by today’s standards, daily life was the sort of thing that currently warrants calls to protective services.

high chair

You might wonder what got me thinking about childhood memories, unless of course you know me, then you know it doesn’t take much. Personality tests define me as the type of person who makes connections between disparate ideas, items, topics. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to recognize the triggers. Yesterday the trigger was a school teacher. I’m working part time for a few weeks at a neighborhood garden center. Yesterday it was rainy and there were few customers. In the afternoon a school teacher stopped in to pick up some starter plants donated by our greenhouse. They are to be used for a family Earth Night tomorrow. The woman also grabbed some colorful rubber tubs and potting soil and commented “the kids should have fun digging in the dirt with these!” and I could not have agreed more. Once the transaction was completed I was mentally back at Lake Harriet Elementary School (the original one, not the one that assumed the name years after the destruction of the stately Linden Hills structure that I and my grandmother had attended) and recalling planting Johnny Jump Ups in Styrofoam cups. The school was located on a block that ended in a point where Upton Avenue and Sheridan Ave met. At the point of the block was a grassy area with a flag pole. In the spring when our flowers were strong enough and the weather was appropriately warm, we made a procession in a single file line along the curb (there was no sidewalk) and planted our flowers at the base of the flag pole. We could see them all summer long from the business district at the intersection. It was science, community beautification and patriotism all wrapped up in one activity that got wiggly kids outside on a nice spring day.

purple tub.jpg

Johnny Jump Ups

My father was an easily distracted child as well. Rather than trying to quell it in me, he encouraged it. Every spring he let me select a Punch & Grow for my classroom. It was a container with soil that had been seeded, with a clear lid that you punched holes in and watered. I spent a great deal of time when I should have been learning my multiplication tables keeping an eye on the little plot of outdoors that I had gifted to my classroom. Another spring tradition was him giving me a bird seed bell for my class. Annually a custodian would come up to hang it outside a classroom window. I enjoyed giving my dad updates at the dinner table regarding visitors to the bell that day. I’ll never know what lessens I missed while witnessing the migration of my feathered friends.

Birdseed

I feel like my vivid memories from my childhood are what prepared me to parent the children I had. Just as my father’s distractions had prepared him to be my dad. When my son was being tested and it was discovered he was dyslexic it was also noted that he applied Chapstick several times in a brief period of time. It was suggested that further testing might be required to understand his distractions. I asked if his behavior was impacting his classmates and was told that it was not, just that he might not be focused. So, I had a talk with him. I explained that when the teacher was at the board and talking, that most of his classmates focused on what she was writing and the content of what she was saying. That was how they learned. I told him that I suspected that while he was looking at the teacher he was noticing that the pattern in her skirt had the same colors as our couch at home and then perhaps he noticed a bird outside the classroom window. He nodded in understanding and said “yesterday it was a cardinal”.

Cardinal

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Uncategorized

Six Degrees (Below Zero) of Separation

Prince b&wTracy McMillanLouie

Tiny TimDylanJudy Garland

When an event occurs half way around the world, my husband and I frequently joke what is the “Minnesota Connection”? We typically only need to tune in at 10:00 pm to our local television stations to find out, they unabashedly report with this angle on a regular basis. It’s a scoop if the cousin of a passenger on a downed flight can be interviewed. A former babysitter, hairdresser or Tupperware Lady to the stars comes with it’s own cachet in Minnesota.

The winters here may be brutally cold but our affections for those who lived here, loved here, died here or simply passed through here are warm.

Last weeks passing of Prince, our native son of funk (who not only was born and raised here, but never left) continues to cast a purple shadow over our airwaves. Just when you think that any story that could be told has been shared, a local radio station will take a call from a former McDonald’s employee who served Prince at the drive-thru once. Saturday night (I guess that makes it all right) the best man from our wedding shared his remembrance of being a young dad in Chanhassen Minnesota over twenty years ago. After being awoken one too many times by his eldest son (crying over being unable to locate his pacifier) he drove to the 24-hour grocery store and bought the entire display of glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, and ran into Prince. His wife shared more typical memories of being an ’80s club kid. She’d gone to Washburn High School, I’d gone to Southwest High School and Prince had graduated five years ahead of me from Central High School. We were all Minneapolis kids, went to the same beaches, took the same buses, roamed the same streets.

As speculation continues over the cause of Prince’s death, I question what criteria makes a person’s HIPPA rights go away. Some have suggested that pain relievers for hip and ankle discomfort had contributed to his plane making an emergency landing in Moline Illinois the week prior to his death. Rumors abound that rather than being treated for the flu, that he had been administered an Opioid antidote. Prince was notoriously private when not on stage and while I understand the curiosity of his fans, I question the necessity and legality of such disclosures. Just like with Michael Jackson and Elvis before him, I am saddened that a contributing factor was potentially a product intended to improve quality of life, not end it. I am not a doctor, I’m not a lawyer. I’m simply a fan who wants to remind people that all celebrities, all icons, are simply people too, with vulnerabilities despite their immense talents and contributions.

As a kid it was actress Judy Garland who I recall being my first known Minnesota celebrity. The Wizard of Oz remains my favorite movie to this day. Born Frances Gumm in Grand Rapids Minnesota, she left long before she became a household name. She was nominated twice for an Academy Award but only ever received a juvenile version. She was the first person I was aware of who died as the result of drug use. Her death was described as an accidental Barbiturate overdose. I was just shy of my sixth birthday.

The year after Garland’s death not only was my state on the map but the very city I lived in. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a situation comedy about a single woman living in Minneapolis who worked at a local television station. The show ran until I was a teenager and likely had some impact on my decision to be a Mass Communication TV/Radio major in college. Wholesome, though edgier than other shows of the era, the best part of the show for me was the opening credits with fictional Mary Richards driving around familiar parts of my city and ultimately tossing her  knit beret in the air. It was not a raspberry beret, Mary was fashionable but not a second-hand store sort of character.

In the last week I’ve seen many references regarding Bob Dylan being a native Minnesotan, most with the the tagline “but he left”. Grief can make people bitter but it’s true that where Bob Dylan rejected his roots, Prince embraced his. Prince’s many talents and pop culture contributions do nothing to take away from the talents of Robert Zimmerman, the impact was just different. Prince hit notes Dylan would never dream of trying to and most of his lyrics wouldn’t make your parents blush and question if you knew what that song was even about. Prince might have referenced used clothing in a song but Dylan looked like he might have acquired his wardrobe from the dumpster behind a second-hand store. Prince impacted youth fashion unlike any other male of the era. As I noted in my blog-post on the day he died; he was wearing fancy gloves in the late ’70s, much earlier than Michael Jackson who is often credited with the trend. I had friends whose parents were the same age as Bob Dylan, Prince was our contemporary. Dylan is bad hair and good harmonica, his essence can be captured in black and white. Prince was at his best in full color, he was was both audio and visual!

Minnesota is a percolator for talent and creativity of all types. We produce writers for TV and movies, musicians, photographers, artists, comedians and authors. Realistically there are reasons people take their skills elsewhere, for some it’s a logistical situation. We as Minnesotans love to claim those who were born here, we embrace those who stay and accept those who choose either Minnesota as their home or Minnesotans as their significant others:

Lizz Winstead the co-creator of The Daily Show graduated a couple of years ahead of me at Southwest. She is back in town annually for a New Year’s Eve stand-up gig. She was a sorority girl and young comic at the University of Minnesota when Prince was only known locally. Both she and Prince can credit First Avenue with memorable moments in their early careers. Gene Winstead, her brother, is my mayor.

Tracy McMillan who graduated a year behind me from Southwest wrote for United States of Tara, Mad Men and other projects you would recognize. Oprah has interviewed her. She’s written a memoir and more recently published her first work of fiction. For two years she had the most read Huffington Post piece Why You’re Not Married…Yet.  She was a youthful patron of First Avenue as well.

The Coen brothers were raised in the neighboring suburb of St. Louis Park. Like Prince, they are also Oscar winners.

Pete Docter of Pixar grew up on the next block right here in Bloomington, where I reside. His parents still live in the house where they raised him and his sisters and come to our annual block party. You recognize his name from Toy Story, Up and more recently his Academy Award for Inside Out. His entire family was inducted into the Bloomington Kennedy High School Hall of Fame a few years ago. He returned to Minnesota (as did his sisters) to receive the recognition before a school play.

Comedian Louie Anderson (who portrays Christine Baskets on the outstanding FX series Baskets) grew up across the river in St. Paul. He was back in town just last week to perform.

Tiny Tim opted to make Minnesota his home with his wife Miss Sue later in life. My peers recall the unusual looking and oddly voiced performer for his ukulele backed song Tiptoe Through the Tulips. I recollect his appearances on shows like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and his 1969 marriage to Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson (it was viewed by 40 million people). He died nearly twenty years ago and his remains are located in the mausoleum at Lakewood Cemetery. If you’re ever in Minnesota, you can locate him under his given name of Herbert Khaury. The historic cemetery is adjacent to Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, between the Linden Hills neighborhood I grew up in and Uptown. I have a number of my own relatives buried in the sprawling urban cemetery, going all the way back to 1888, which doesn’t have the same musical ring to it that 1999 seems to.

I know many people have made pilgrimages to Minnesota this last week and many more will come. It’s a beautiful place, with lovely lakes, fantastic museums, amazing theaters, good restaurants, fun bars, losing sports franchises and a good sense of humor about itself. Come tiptoe through the tulips, in the purple rain and you might think you’re somewhere over the rainbow! Maybe it’s not just our news stations that find the “Minnesota Connections” wherever they can.

 

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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 6 in a Month of Writing: Champagne and Butterflies

Steve Rose, Nancy Rose Pribyl, Nancy (Newland) Durand & Rob Newland

Steve Rose, Nancy Rose Pribyl, Nancy (Newland) Durand & Rob Newland

Yesterday I attended a celebration of life for the couple who were my parents best friends while I was growing up. It was not a funeral or even a memorial for that matter. She had passed more recently, never really being her full self again after her husband’s passing. Their daughter hosted a Friday evening cocktail party where champagne and canapes were served. Delicate finger foods; shrimp, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, baked dips, small kabobs and finger sandwiches. It was as tasty as it was lovely to look at, with lemon bars and more champagne.

The guest list included my siblings and I who had become neighbors with their family fifty years ago last month. I recognized some of the hostesses high school classmates from over forty years ago and then there were the “new neighbors”, people who had moved onto “our block” in the twenty years since my mother sold my childhood home. A group of the hostesses coworkers, some who had worked with her mother as well arrived to round out the festivities. There was a beautiful selection of photographs on display of them throughout their lives; with their own children in the 1950’s, their grandchildren in the 1980’s and more recent ones including great-grandchildren.

It was a perfect tribute to a couple who much like my own parents loved and exasperated each other. My first taste of champagne was in their home, likely at a New Year’s Eve Party or perhaps a birthday celebration. New Year’s eves were frequently spent at their home, where Engelbert Humperdinck and Andy Williams music entertained their dear neighbors from their previous neighborhood, family and us. It was there as well that I first experienced the salty and crunchy combination of the bacon and water chestnut on a toothpick combination that I enjoyed again last evening. At midnight fabulous barbecued ribs would be pulled from the oven, slathered in the homemade sauce with Liquid Smoke, lime juice and brown sugar. There were hats and noisemakers and I may or may not have witnessed a shotgun being cycled from the back stoop. Those early years of spending my New Year’s Eves with my parents at Jan and Bill Newland’s house may be part of the inspiration of why my husband and I will be hosting our own 22nd annual New Year’s Eve party the final night of December this year.

There was more to the relationship than celebrations and parties. Jan was a huge confidante to my mother and vice versa. Over the years as my fathers health declined the Newlands were supportive friends. I can picture my mother on one side of the aqua and white speckled kitchenette table and Jan on the other in the Newland’s kitchen and the same arrangement around our yellow table with the red vinyl covered chairs on our side of Vincent Avenue South. Bill was a big and strong man who was unafraid of work, he helped re-roof the Model-T shed at the back of our lot that served as bike and mower storage, flooded each spring and was where old metal objects went to rust. He was at the family cabin when that was re-roofed as well, I believe that was a “Two-case” job, as such weekend work was measured not by physical size or hourly labor but rather by how much beer the crew consumed completing it.

Trips to our cabin are favorite memories with the Newlands. Nancy would bring teenage friends along and sleep in tents. Jan could not swim but would wear a life jacket and bathing cap when she went in the lake. It was at our cabin where she delighted in butterflies taking off and returning to the same spot over and over. She loved butterflies and had over-sized ones on her garage. After my own mother died, it was a butterfly pin I took from her jewelry box for Jan to have. When the invitation to the event last evening arrived, it was a butterfly that was on the front of the card. Jan and Bill have indeed moved on from their cocoon on Vincent Avenue and are reunited and fluttering about with beautiful new wings.

The joy in the relationship was not only in knowing Jan and Bill and their children Nancy and Rob but also in knowing their parents; Grandpa and Grandma Newland and Jan’s mother Wilma Carbury. “The Grandma’s” (as we referred to them) were different in stature but both were very strong-willed women of Iowa stock who resettled in the Horn Towers of Minneapolis, shortly after they were built in the early 1970’s. With all of my own grandparents gone prior to my tenth birthday, these women were the exposure I had to women of that era. They attended our wedding in 1989. I just gave the wedding photographer’s proof of it to their great grandson. Nancy had two children, Wes and Jana. I babysat for them in my late teens and early twenties and they were part of my bridal party. Nancy did our wedding flowers, as she did for my siblings and several of our extended family. When my father died, Wes wrote a paper the following year identifying my dad Chuck as his hero. He was nine at the time and recently told me that his memory of my dad is of him always smiling.

My folks and the Newlands raised their families in the era of one-car families and most of their entertainment while raising kids took place at each others homes. I remember more than once the curtains in the Newlands kitchen catching fire during fondue nights. Winter weekends the socializing often was at our place, because we had the fireplace. On rare occasion the grown-ups would venture out to a movie.  Airport (1970) being one that I recall, as it had our International Airport in Bloomington featured prominently in it. The airport having been a frequent job-site for my father during that era. Once us kids were older there was the venturing out of the two couples for dinner and drinks at a local VFW or American Legion.

The last time I saw Jan and Bill was two summers ago when I took my daughter back to Linden Hills, the community nestled among the city lakes. We went for coffee and a stroll down memory lane, the street I called home from shortly after my first birthday until I got married at 25. Despite having my own apartments and living in other states, Vincent Avenue was always where I landed between new jobs and destinations. We passed my family home where her own first birthday party had been the final family celebration. She remembered her Godmother’s home prominently perched on the hill, a place she had visited as a kid. Right next door to my best friend’s home was the Newland’s abode. Unannounced we ambled up the driveway and as luck would have it, there were Jan and Bill at a table on the patio outside the kitchen door. Gracious as always they were so happy to see us, we stayed and chatted. Bill offered my daughter some agates he had collected over the years. They talked about how they missed my parents and other friends who had gone too soon. We spent some time reminiscing and then Betsy and I meandered down the rest of the street where I provided a brief synopses of the occupants of each home while I was growing up. Later, after Bill had passed I sent Jan a card telling her what a special person he had been in our families life.

More recently, Jan initiated a call to me regarding a potential place she wanted to move. Her son Rob and her were still sharing the home on Vincent and it was time to begin parting with the accumulation of a lifetime and move to a condo with no upkeep. She seemed both sad and eager about the future move and she reiterated that it was lonely as your circle of friends (and spouse) are no longer part of your daily life.

I had heard through her grandson that a condo in the neighboring suburb of Edina had been procured and they were preparing to move when Jan fell ill and it was determined she had cancer. She spent just two nights in her new place prior to visiting her doctor to discuss protocol and was admitted to the hospital, where she died a few days later.

While we were gathered last night, enjoying good food and company it was easy to envision that somewhere Jan and Bill, their former neighbors Bob and Berle and my parents were all gathered and doing the same. If you listen closely, I bet you can hear What’s New Pussycat? being sung by Engelbert.

 

 

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Siblings: the most expensive gift your parents give you

Siblings

When I was pregnant with my oldest I was teaching for a class of two-year-old kids. In September of that year they were all the youngest in their families. Grace had three old brothers (“by the Grace of God we finally got a girl” I was told was the source of her name) and would remain the baby of the family for the rest of her life. Through pregnancies and adoptions, most of the members of the Blue Bear class were no longer the youngest by the time we parted ways that May.

One of the moms had believed that she really just wanted one child and thought that asking her pediatrician (himself an “only”) would provide her with the reasoning to satisfy friends and relatives who were insisting that her seemingly contented son somehow “needed” a sibling. Standing before me after class that day, visibly pregnant, she told me how he had responded “it was a privilege to have the undivided attention of my parents growing up, always knowing I was very special to them. I was taken to concerts and plays and traveled extensively in a way that would have been more difficult if I had brothers and sisters. Financially, I was able to choose the schools I wanted to attend.” Thinking she had all she needed to justify what others had been telling her was a selfish choice he continued. “It was great up until my father passed away during my final year of undergrad and my mother while I was attending medical school.” He went on to explain that while there was no squabbling over decisions or inheritances, there was also nobody to spend his holidays with, nobody to regale his future spouse with memories of his antics as a child. There was nobody who really shared any of his memories or to help him confirm a year that something had happened or even have an inside joke with. He confessed that it was wonderful to be an only child but one does not remain a child and in his case he found it particularly lonely being an “only adult”.

I have two older brothers, one by seven years and the other is four years my senior. I have many memories of our childhood growing up during the ’60s and ’70s in Linden Hills, a little neighborhood in Minneapolis Minnesota. Today I am thinking of my brother Steve. It is March first and he is turning 55, I turned 50 back in July.

Steve got to be the youngest for four years, a distinction he was none too keen to simply hand over when I arrived. In early family snap shots my mother holds me, my father looks on adoringly, my oldest brother smiles appropriately and Steve is either looking at me with a disapproving scowl or some more intentional facial distortion. My understanding is that he was a bit of a mischievous ham until I arrived. My father had no sisters, my mother had no sisters and through no fault of my own my birth was sort of a big deal.

Four years is the sort of age gap where you don’t really share secrets, your activities don’t overlap and your peer groups are separate. I was young enough to be an annoyance and close enough in age to bicker. I remember that he could upset me with teasing in ways that nobody else could and he had a special way of keeping a knuckle extended when he would punch me in the upper arm that really hurt. He loved Hardy Boys Mysteries, had excellent skills with a pocket knife and took Judo at the YMCA as a kid. Though we fought some as kids I would say that looking back I was really more of an attention craving aggravation to him at the time and it was our mothers “nerves” that made our typical childhood antics seem like some infraction that was somehow greater than the sibling rivalries that existed in most every house on the 4200 block of Vincent Ave South.

I remember that when he would clean his room I would find treasures at the foot of my bed (a place that could be safely reached from the doorway without actually entering the room). I fondly recall that when a new Tom Thumb Superette opened on the next block he took me there with his own money and let me choose a bottle of pop and then proceeded on to the new Queen Bee’s Bakery where he let me select a cookie. Sure we might still have had childhood arguments after that but it was an early glimpse of what our relationship would look like when we were older.

By the time Steve was in high school, with our oldest brother away at college and me in junior high it was evident that Steve was the responsible one of us three Rose kids. He worked at a Christian boys camp during the summers, had a high school sweetheart who would eventually become his wife and maintained a 4.0 GPA in an era when there was no grade inflation to exceed that. To some it might seem like he was the classic middle child who did not want to make waves. It was during those years that after returning from dates on the weekend he would ask my folks if he could take me somewhere. We would go ice skating in the moonlight at Lake of the Isles, he’d take me for crepes and hot chocolate at Perkin’s Restaurant or after making me promise not to tell he’d take me driving on an ice rink or spinning out in area parking lots.

He was a gifted photographer who worked on the yearbook and despite his status as class valedictorian and NHS president arranged for the following epic photo to be in the yearbook. He and a classmate met for an early morning photo shoot which required driving over the boulevard and sidewalk and up the front lawn of the school where they parked their cars on the cement landing between sets of stairs at the schools main entrance and with the use of a camera on a tripod and a timer took an awesome shot of themselves posed with their cars.

The autumn of my 9th grade year Steve left to join our oldest brother Bob at St. Cloud State University. I looked forward to him coming home. In a strange coincidence my school choir tours first stop on a trip to Winnipeg was at SCSU. My brothers attended the concert, along with perhaps a half a dozen music majors who were likely doing it for extra credit. Four years later Steve graduated and then I began college at SCSU. He first moved to Michigan and then to Texas, getting married during the spring of my sophomore year. It was during those years that Steve and I exchanged letters. His first letter to me at college was filled with advice of little known places on campus that were available for study, methods for keeping up on laundry and other useful suggestions for surviving freshman year. Steve’s letters were hand written in precise uniform print, on graph paper. Most letters ended with a stick figure scene accompanied by fill in the blank spaces for a quote I was to send the solution to in my next letter. For years his wife thought we cheated but they were phrases from comedians, movies, story albums we’d listened to as kids. These were the inside jokes that the pediatrician had wanted to share with an adult sibling.

By the time Steve and I both had children he had been back in Minneapolis for a number of years. I have a daughter and son in college and he has two teen boys. For each others birthdays we try to arrange for a meal out together. A few years ago he drove me around to see the homes our relatives lived in around Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs. Some were houses we’d spent time at as children and others were places dating to the late 1800’s that he’d found by going through old census documents. Those were the places our parents and our grandparents shared memories and likely some inside jokes with their own siblings.

As much as I respect the choice of people to have just one child, I feel fortunate that despite the board game cheating, bruises, frustration, angry words and hot tears of childhood (that come with sharing your parents with other offspring)I was not an only child. With our parents gone I will say as well that I am most appreciative that I am not an “only adult”.

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