Uncategorized

My Dad Was the Best. Hope Yours Was Too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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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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childhood, Uncategorized

The Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

When Your Waste Management is Garbage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Uncategorized

Feeling Stupid After Wisdom Teeth Extraction

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Teeth are sort of a big deal in my family. My mother had all of hers pulled when she was just 29. The fact she had been a preemie likely was the primary contributing factor as to how her teeth formed. Despite having  received extensive dental care and aggressive treatments by high school (in an attempt to retain her natural teeth) gum disease and decay resulted in the ultimate decision to pull them all. If I ever have nightmares, typically they involve my teeth being broken or falling out. I have awoken many a night over my lifetime to run my tongue over my teeth and am always relieved when my tongue finds no hole.

The only time I have had any of my teeth pulled was when my wisdom teeth were extracted as a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore. A Facebook post earlier this year by my nephew Charlie brought the experience rushing back to me. I asked his permission to use his x-ray, showing his pierced septum.  He’s opted with his wisdom teeth to not have them all removed at the same time. While everyone’s wisdom teeth experience is different, I think mine was unique in that I spent two nights in the hospital to do it. When I gave birth to my son and had a rambunctious two-year-old at home, I got just one night of hospitalization.

I’ll preface my story by saying that I am the youngest of three and the only daughter in my family. That may be a contributing factor as to why I spent two nights in the Pediatric ward of a hospital in order to have four teeth extracted. Another factor may be that when my eldest brother had his wisdom teeth removed, my mother took him on the city  bus. He had the last appointment of the day and the anesthesia was still wearing off when he was brought to her in the waiting area. She had to work him into his letter jacket while he cried from the after-affects of being put under. A high school kid, taller than his mother, being led to the bus stop for a return trip home was not a scenario my mother would have enjoyed repeating. I imagine perhaps that my father provided transport home in the blue Plymouth station wagon as a courtesy to my other brother when his time came. For whatever reason, when it was my turn it was determined that I would have my four impacted teeth removed at Fairview Southdale hospital.

I was checked into the hospital the evening before the surgery, in order to be prepped and ready early the next day. I shared a room with a girl that was having her extraction done by the same surgeon the following morning prior to my own procedure. She was a model, who had a shoot scheduled two days later. I’ve always been a bit curious how that turned out.

Prior to being taken to pre-op I  was told that my surgery was scheduled for six AM and that once the anesthetic had warn off enough in recovery, I would be brought up to the same room and could have as much to drink as I desired, fluids having been withheld since the previous evening. The procedure ahead of mine must have gone more quickly than anticipated, as I remember waking up to the annoying sound of crying and trying to focus on the clock on the far wall that appeared to be bouncing like a basketball. The clock indicated it was about five minutes prior to the six o’clock hour. I was terribly thirsty and confused and I remember thinking that I needed to get it together, as I was going into surgery in five minutes and also, the annoying crying I heard, that was actually me. I then realized my mouth was so dry because it was stuffed with gauze and little foam tubes. I was being suffocated (so I thought) with a plastic mask. I wasn’t having it, I yanked the mask off and started digging the packing out of my mouth. A nurse sat knitting in a chair a few feet from the left side of my gurney. I remember very intentionally wanting to hit her knitting with the bloody gauze. She rose and tried to calm me, attempting to keep me still. I then realized that my one arm was on a board and still had an IV in it. Then I was drawn to a commotion to my right, a boy, perhaps eight years old who was crying for his mother. I’m pretty sure he’d had his tonsils removed. His crying annoyed me and I looked over at him and drooled blood out the side of my mouth, completely  on purpose, in hopes of shutting him up. It’s bizarre how clearly I remember the details of this event from 1979, perhaps because the behaviors resulting from the sedation were entirely counter to my normally good-natured and nurturing personality. I was irritable, downright mean and despite the clock continuing to bounce I lied that I was ready to return to my room because I was so incredibly thirsty.

With social media so prevalent, it’s not uncommon now to see posts regarding patients coming to after outpatient procedures or Youtube videos of oddly emotional passengers on their way home from appointments. From my era, we just have our stories and mine doesn’t end with the trip back up to Pediatrics. When it came time for my own kids to have their teeth removed, I made sure to schedule them at a time when they could recover leisurely at home. The office had a lovely waiting room but the waiting patients never saw anyone who had already had their teeth pulled depart after their procedure. A rear exit was used and patients were brought down in wheelchairs. My daughter’s extraction took place between Christmas and New Years. Just as the oral surgeon indicated, the swelling and discomfort was the worst on the third day following surgery. My daughter and I were convinced that my son would be hilarious after surgery but the only unique behavior he exhibited was a general annoyance at us asking if he felt okay. He had hardly any swelling and was disgusted by the quantity and strength of the medications he was sent home with.

I had several friends visit me after school that day. The surgeon also came up later and brought me a cup filled with liquid and my teeth (and the skin around them) in it. When I requested to keep my teeth I had assumed I would get them in a small brown envelope like the one my brother had brought his long rooted teeth home in. I was a little disgusted.

I rested off and on, watched TV, ate a liquid diet of hospital offerings and dosed in and out of sedated slumber. I awoke confused and disoriented in a darkened room with illumination coming from the hallway through a partially opened door at my far right. To my left was a large window and a midnight blue sky speckled with stars. I had no recollection of where I was or how I got there. My eyes adjusted to the limited light and at the end of my bed was a figure. I realized it was a nurse and cradled in her arms was a baby. The nurse asked how I felt. What? How do I feel? How would you feel if you were fifteen, never had a boyfriend, had only kissed a boy through an obligatory activity such as Spin the Bottle or some other such “game” and suddenly you’re in the hospital with a newborn baby? I was panicked! I asked “Do my parents know I’m here?” She responded that it was too early for them to be here but they would come later to take me home. By “me” I assumed she meant “us” unless I’d put this baby up for adoption or something. I was pretty sure I was grounded for life. Then I suddenly felt a beautiful aching in my jaw. Wisdom teeth!!! I’d had my wisdom teeth pulled, there was still a metallic blood taste in my mouth. I’ve never experienced anything like this again in my life, a moment where something that seemed so insurmountably wrong resolved itself with that sort of instant clarity. While it was a “situation” that simply wasn’t, the relief that rushed over me was very real!

Later that day my parents did come and pick me up. In the days to follow, I swelled like a chipmunk and then bruised as though I’d been in a fist fight. Yet I felt relieved to have dodged teen parenthood. In retrospect it’s a hilarious story but at fifteen I was too embarrassed to even share the amusing anecdote. There is no good way to say “Mom and Dad, I thought I had a baby. Funny, right?” In an ironic twist, the next door neighbor brought her newborn over to visit during my recuperation. Looking at this picture nearly 38 years later reminds me of what I briefly thought life was going to look like for me. While the nurse took a tiny restless patient on her rounds to offer comfort, I doubt she realized she almost gave a teenage patient cardiac arrest!

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My Roots Lead Back to November Fifth

Taking off his work boots at the end of the day

My Dad taking off his work boots at the end of the day

If you look at some calendars on November 5th you will see the notation “Guy Fawkes Day” what you won’t see is “Charles A. Roses’ Birthday”. If it falls on a Tuesday (after the first Monday) the calendar may read “Election Day”. For most the date doesn’t mean much at all. Were it not for one of these November 5th events, you would be reading something else right now, I simply wouldn’t exist. This November 5th is my father’s 85th birthday, though he’s been gone over half of my life (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/dad-gone-a-quarter-century) I feel compelled to do what I do on a regular basis, tell some stories about my dad. One might think that I would eventually run out of tales about my father after so much time has passed but I imagine that if I live to be eighty-five myself I will still be able to gather recollections from the recesses of my mind that highlight his humor, brilliance, general cleverness, patriotism  and huge heart. It wouldn’t take long either to come up with some epic examples of his stubbornness. chuck-rose

Chuck with his older brother Dick

Chuck with his older brother Dick

Growing up I sat to the right of my father at the kitchen table, during holidays in the dining room I was seated immediately to his left. It was during dinner, often while he cut my meat when I was little, that I would stare at his hands. My father’s fingers were twice as wide as my own adult fingers and his nails were large squares. The back of his hand had a fair amount of dark hair and occasionally I would ask him about the scar on the back of his one hand, a white crescent that was visible through the hair. Even though I knew the story, I liked to hear it because it reminded me that he was once a kid. The scar came from when he was in the garage as a child and the latch on the exterior of the doors fell into place, locking him in. After yelling for help and assuming he could not be heard he wound up and punched the glass out of one of the windows. This resulted in somebody hearing him and a permanent scar on the back of his hand. Every time I heard the story I felt sad for the scared little boy, admired his bravery and sort of wondered if maybe his brother hadn’t played a role in the situation.

My father was a bit of a prodigy on the piano as a child and though he didn’t play often while I was growing up it was delightful when he stood at the piano and banged out a jazz piece. My husband recalls him at the wedding where we met stepping over to a piano and hammering out a tune. It was like riding a bicycle for him, it just flowed naturally and never left him. His mother’s cousin who was born just a few years before my father and graduated high school with his brother shared with me recently that her family would occasionally be awoken in the morning to my father playing a tune. Sometimes upon completion of his paper route he would let himself in (in an era when people in Minneapolis didn’t lock their doors at night) and offer up an early morning recital. He was also a gifted drummer who would occasionally intentionally break a drum head during band in high school. “Why?” you might ask. The band director would then offer up the keys to his car and allow him and a classmate to drive to a music store to pick up a new one. I was sad when the Uptown Bar closed, as it was just down the street on Hennepin Avenue from where my parents (and grandparents) attended school at West High. The proximity meant that my father would stop in after school sometimes and play warm-ups with the jazz musicians that were passing through town in the 1940’s. It was there or The Rainbow that we would go together for a beer after meeting in Uptown for a haircut while I was in college.

On trip with parents before Korea

He instilled an appreciation of music in all of his children, even when our tastes did not always align. Music played most evenings while we ate dinner and when my brother Bob was a senior in high school, that meant his favorite Rod Stewart Album nearly every night. While other homes had stereo, we had Quadraphonics. We listened to 45’s, LPs and old 78 rpm records. When a favored orchestra performance was broadcast live on  a local radio station he would often record it on his reel to reel and replay it later. With no air-conditioning in the the house and his music playing loudly in the summertime there would be the occasional quizzical look of a passerby who overheard the station break from months earlier predicting below zero temps or several inches of snow. When the Minnesota Orchestra opened a new concert venue in the early 1970’s he purchased a pair of season tickets to Orchestra Hall and I loved the nights I got to dress up and attend with him and then go out after the show for a late dinner. It was pretty heady stuff for an elementary student on a school night. He not only enjoyed listening to music, he loved to dance to it and since my mother didn’t much enjoy dancing I relished in the opportunity to join him, whether in a ballroom or neighbor’s living room. The only real luxury item I ever recall my father purchasing for himself was a pair of red patent leather shoes with a red suede accent, they were beautiful.

At the cabin 1959

At the cabin 1959

Other than his time in the Army during the Korean War (he didn’t talk about it much but enough to let me know not to refer to it as a “conflict”) and a stint in Milwaukee while he went to engineering school, worked at a camera store and started his family, the major portion of his life was spent in Minneapolis. His ancestors were among the early tradesman that built Minneapolis and as a foreman of the electricians on the IDS building (downtown) he himself participated in the changing skyline of the city he called home. His sons had memberships at the YMCA he had gone to as a kid. He took pleasure in his children enjoying the lakes he’d sailed in his youth and the independence he had experienced via streetcar was accessible to us via bus. While certainly Minneapolis has changed much since my father’s youth, it was not an entirely innocent place. He had gangsters for neighbors and once witnessed a shootout on the way to the store for his mother, a tale that got him in trouble for lying until she read about it in the Minneapolis Star the next day. News traveled differently in those days and during WWII much of it came from the newsreels shown prior to movies at the local theater or via the radio. He typically attended the movies each Saturday and as a flexible gymnast found humor in tumbling down the stairs from the balcony. He had a lot of freedom as a kid, taking the streetcar all the way out to lake Minnetonka to visit his grandmother and he also had a lot of responsibility, including going to some of his grandmother’s rental properties to stoke the buildings furnace on his way to school in the morning.

Dad sailing as a kid

Dad sailing as a kid

My father was what years later would be described as an “early adopter”, he was the first one in his family to purchase a TV set, a new invention that he was enthralled with. During my growing up years he paid little attention to the situation comedies or dramas that filled the airwaves but opted to watch when National Geographic or Jacques Cousteau had a “special” which is a somewhat colloquial term for not “regularly scheduled programming”. On the occasions later in life when he was home recovering after a hospitalization he would tease my mother regarding her soap operas. “Is that the same phone conversation she was having after my surgery three years ago?” he would inquire. We were the first people I knew that owned  a calculator, a Texas Instruments gadget that was an inch thick and I would later describe to my own children as an invention that could “add, subtract, multiply AND divide!”. It was a $100.00 investment in a new technology. We likely owned the first microwave on the block as well. It was a huge heavy model that simply had a single knob for the timer. He loved inventions, studied how things worked and were he to have had better health and a longer life would likely have his name on a number of patents that he was working on.

Christmas breakfast

Christmas breakfast a Rose family tradition

My father did not like to feel taken advantage of and many of my favorite stories are of times he stood his ground. It’s a quality of his that I am often reminded of when dealing with issues of fairness. I never feel alone when I stand my ground, it often feels like he is right there with me backing me up or chuckling at my determination. A favorite example of this was after a purchase of a refrigerator from Sears. It was delivered to our house on Pleasant Avenue while he was at work and my mother was home. He arrived home to realize that the refrigerator was a lesser model than the one he had ordered and paid for. He called Sears to explain their error and wanted the situation rectified. When they told him it would be a couple of days, that simply was not good enough for him. He asked “Well how long will it keep the food fresh without electricity?” They told him not to unplug it. He claimed he did not have enough extension cords to keep it plugged in, as he had moved it to the back alley for convenient pick-up. Sears had the correct model to our home that evening, at which time my father unplugged the refrigerator and removed the perishable items. He could justify his white lie by having been lied to first. They shouldn’t have told him they could not get the refrigerator to him that night when quite obviously they could and ultimately did.

Playing charades at a Job Daughters event (Electrician)

Playing charades at a Job’s Daughters event (Electrician)

I am fortunate to have friends from my youth who will occasionally mention to my kids that their grandfather was a really nice guy. Typically they’ll say how funny he was but often they reflect on how kind he was and that unlike many of their friends parents he actually took interest in them. My oldest brother remembers him as strict, acknowledging that with me he was considerably more lenient. He had high expectations and he was not a man I wanted to disappoint. He was generous with his time and knowledge and showed a lot of compassion. I remember when our neighbor with young kids got laid off work that I babysat, so my parents could take them to dinner. I recall that when my cousin arrived from New Orleans with a paper sack of possessions and pregnant that my father took her in. After his own father died, his stepmother became someone else he watched over, much like he’d done with his favorite aunt years earlier. Smart, good, kind, funny and compassionate, tempered with stubborn and of strong opinion isn’t a bad legacy to leave.

rose-family-1963

Rose Family 1963

My father never really had any birthday wishes that he shared with us and typically would tell us that he had everything he needed. He did however like to tease that his birthday was a big event. If he saw a delivery truck anytime after mid-October he would suggest “we should get home, November 5th is right around the corner and they may need a signature for delivery.” Living in the flight pattern of the MSP airport he would often look up in the fall and claim “If it’s something big, they may be airlifting it in.” He would joke about November 5th when we passed the Cadillac dealership as well. When I was little I remembered my mother’s birthday was in the month of March but “November fifth” was etched in my memory as my father’s birth date from a very young age. It’s a day I will always fondly celebrate. If you knew Chuck or simply resonate with a father who packed a lot of wisdom and some excellent parenting into a truncated life, I encourage you to raise a glass on Saturday and toast to him as well!

My parents with their best friends Jan & Bill Newland

My parents with their best friends Jan & Bill Newland

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The RNC Saved My Life

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Some people read the title of this blog and instantly formed an opinion, had an immediate reaction, knew they disagreed and never got this far. Others may still be reading but believe the title is hyperbole and wish to challenge me on my rhetoric. Still there are those who are curious, have no preconceived notions about what the contents of this blog will be, accept me at my word and are looking forward to the information I will offer as explanation.

Forty years ago things were both different in this country and much the same. 1976 was a leap year with a summer Olympiad. We were celebrating our nations bicentennial, patriotism abounded but both major political parties were divided. Our Commander-in-Chief was a politician who nobody had elected to the office, an affable man whose frequent clumsy missteps  were immortalized by a single-season cast member on a new show called Saturday Night Live. I imagine Chevy Chase (as family patriarch Clark Griswold from the Vacation movie franchise) is more recognizable to the Millennials than President Gerald Ford.

The summer of ’76 was a hot one! I finished seventh grade that June. I became a teenager that July. I don’t recall every birthday gift I ever received but that year I know I got a metallic blue Raleigh Grand Prix, 10-speed bike. A new bicycle was the equivalent of a car in junior high. In an era before cell phones, laptops, gaming systems and the like, a bike was by far the most valuable thing a child owned. A bike was freedom, transportation and recreation all rolled into one.

The day after I turned 13 began the first of the two political conventions to nominate the candidates for the presidential election that November. The Democrats held their convention first that year and day two of it coincided with what would be the hottest day of the year in Minneapolis. I lived in the Linden Hills neighborhood in a house that was built at the turn of that century. We had lived in the house for twelve years and during that miserably hot summer had hired a painter to repaint every room on the second floor and hang a delicate floral wallpaper in the hallway and down the stairs. This update made the old house look fresh and lovely. The home had rich dark woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows, leaded glass built-in cabinetry, high ceilings and hardwood floors. It also had just one bathroom and during that sultry summer of ’76 there was only one air conditioner, a window unit that was in my parent’s bedroom. My father’s allergies coupled with his occasional need to work nights were the reasons behind this extravagance. My brothers had a box fan in their room and I had an Emerson brand oscillating fan that was more hazardous than it was cooling. Staying up late and watching TV in the living room was an option on only the hottest nights. That is how I ended up watching the first convention ever presided over by a woman and the eventual nomination of a former Georgia Governor and peanut farmer, who added a senator from my state to his ticket.

A week after my birthday, and days after the DNC, the Olympics began in Montreal. The ’76 summer games are likely best remembered for a petite Romanian gymnast named Nadia Comaneci who won numerous gold medals (with seven perfect tens) and Bruce Jenner who earned the gold in the decathlon for the United States.

Nadia     Bruce-Jenner

Two weeks after the Olympic torch was extinguished it was time for the RNC. It was a contentious year, the last time that the delegate count did not determine the candidate prior to the convention. It was the first time I heard Ronald Reagan give a speech and though his was a concession speech, he was a much better orator than President Ford who won the nomination.

1976 RNC

Thursday August 19th was the final day of the convention. My father was at work when mid-morning my mother noticed that there was a strong odor like “airplane glue” in my parent’s bedroom. She unplugged the air conditioner that was in the window above the cedar chest my father had given her while they were dating. Even after dinner the acrid aroma lingered. My parents opted to sleep downstairs on the “hide-a-bed” to avoid the heat of the top floor and the lingering scent. I brought my sleeping bag downstairs to watch the final night of the RNC.  I stayed up through the speeches, the cheering, the adults in the funny hats and the grand finale, the balloon drop. Freshly 13, I am not certain how much I grasped of the political proposals but I loved the spectacle! I dozed off in contentment knowing I had exciting plans for the following day.*

I’m unclear how much time had passed when I awoke, sweaty and a bit disoriented on the living room floor. I heard my mother’s shouts from the second floor and knew if she kept yelling she would wake my father who had to get up in just a few hours. Once I cleared my sleepy head I heard that what she was yelling was “fire” and then I instructed my mom to come downstairs. I woke my dad and calmly asked “should I call the fire department?” Our phone had glow in the dark stickers on them with the seven digit number for both police and fire. 911 was years away from being the norm. My father called and then calmly went to the basement to retrieve some clothing from the dirty laundry and then grabbed the car keys to pull his car from the lawn alongside the house onto the street. He then unreeled the garden hose and shot a stream of water at the small flames licking out of his bedroom window. My mother and I stood on the sidewalk in front of our home, I could see my shiny new bike in silhouette through the open front door and instantly regretted not having wheeled it out with me. Minutes ticked by, which was super annoying because the fire house was on the next block. By the time the trucks rolled up the flames were leaping out the window and licking toward the roofline. More time passed and the firefighters grew frustrated as they could not get water pressure in the hoses. Once they got water flowing they dragged a hose into the house and I watched them run up the steps bracing themselves with their sooty gear against the newly wallpapered staircase. My brother’s room faced the street and we could see nothing through the windows, my parents room was next on the hallway and when the firefighters got into the room they shoved the burning AC unit out the window directly onto the ground where my father’s car had been parked. Next, the cedar chest with all of the sweaters my grandmother had knit for us splintered explosively as it was jettisoned but we were relieved to see the handmade treasures strewn on the lawn, seemingly unharmed. That relief was brief as flaming molten pieces of my parent’s life were tossed out on top of the woolen goods. Further down the hallway and on the opposite side of the house an ax was taken to my window, a questionable choice from my perspective, as the window was already wide open.

Despite it being 2 am I had not seen so many neighbors gathered in front of our home since my parents coordinated a block party. Apparently sirens are as good as a free keg of beer for bringing people together. It was hot, humid, smokey and smelly  and over pretty quickly, despite it feeling like slow motion. The fire itself had been extinguished, having only gutted my parents room. I remember walking up the stairs that night to see the damage. My bike was pristine and unharmed in the front hall, the new wallpaper smudged with glove-prints and there to the left of the top of the stairs a lamp was on in my parents room, only the wire framing of the shade remained, tall thin lotion bottles were short and wide now. Upon further inspection in the daylight we noted the phone handpiece was melted into the cradle, my father’s polyester leisure suit had dripped off the hanger and was a plastic chip on the floor.

A tiny ember in the air conditioner had  glowed enough throughout the day that it ignited something else in the unit and smoldered for hours before bursting into flames and destroying and damaging memories and artifacts, treasures and the mundane.

The chief is the one that told my parents that were I to have been sleeping upstairs it is likely that I would have succumb to the smoke while I slept. That is how the RNC saved my life.

*Because I survived that night I was able to go to Valley Fair the next day with my aunt and cousin, an amusement park that opened that summer and remains a big family attraction in Shakopee Minnesota to this very day.

 

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