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, Uncategorized

Spoiler Alert! The Behind the Scenes of My Blog

desk

It’s the first week of a new year and though it may not look like it, I cleaned my desk. Gone are the little scraps with notes on them, some even I could not decipher the significance of. I’ve discussed before both my disdain and obsession with numbers. Here I am on the 4th day of a new year, it is 0 (yep, not a typo, ZERO) degrees here in Bloomington Minnesota and you are reading my 100th blog post.

I started my blog as part of an online class in Social Media Strategy in January of 2014. I’d been out of work for a year and was looking for something to freshen up my resume and supplement my degrees in Communications. My first post was an assignment that involved creating a blog for a fictional business, the Big Round Tomato Company. After creating the page it made sense to me to maintain it on a somewhat sporadic basis. If this is your first visit, I’d love to know how you found me and if you have read my work before I appreciate you returning for more of my musings. I’ve enjoyed the process of blogging, unlike cooking you can’t burn it and dissimilar to gardening I can’t kill it even if I ignore it or give it too much of something.

While a great deal of my writing has been documenting memorable episodes from childhood and my experiences growing up in South Minneapolis, I have also delved into current issues, politics, parenting and relationships. I’m inspired to write by things that annoy and amuse me. I like to document the rituals of celebrations and holiday traditions. I’ve written about the anecdotes of marriage and reminisced about the deceased. Much of my work ties together things that to most people might seem unrelated but I find some sort of connection between. I also enjoy contrasting my parents lives with my own and those of my children. In my most recent New Year’s post I even predicted the future. https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/another-perspective-on-new-years

As an extrovert it might seem that blogging is too solitary of an activity for me to spend much time on. I have always been a storyteller and over the years people have encouraged me to retell favorite stories. Once at a wedding reception I met a bar tender who told me he’d made great tips over the years by retelling a particularly amusing story about my black lab and that though funny, until meeting me he had assumed it was an urban legend. A college friend used to request that I tell stories as she fell asleep after a night out. I would ask her what she wanted me to tell her about. A story about “when you were little” or “about your brothers” would be all of the prompting I required and we would lay awake and laugh over the escapades. I don’t think that my life was necessarily any funnier, tragic or entertaining than anyone else, I just oddly remember it in greater detail. My cousin will listen to stories from our teen years together and shake his head, acknowledging that he has no recollection of the events but also with the wisdom gained with age, he is thankful that we lived through it! With comments, “likes” and feedback, I have found the interaction with some of my readers fascinating. More on that later.

My writing space may not look that inspiring but I could likely write a blog about nearly any item pictured. There is my college diploma, a tile under my pen cup that I made in junior high art, a Mother’s Day project from my college senior that he made in kindergarten. My mouse-pad holds a picture of my kids with their cousins during a long ago visit at their grandparents. The photograph behind my laptop is of the door to my freshman dorm room, covered with inappropriate messages pieced together like a ransom note from magazine clippings. That frame traveled with me as I worked for over twenty years with college students on five campuses in three states. My permit to carry certification from 2007 hangs beneath my kids art from days gone by. Pins that once festooned my jean jacket a lifetime ago and Winnie the Pooh and Wizard of Oz memorabilia are all part of my life experience. Then there is the tape, scissors, pens and markers of a typical desk and organized folders of job search related  materials.

While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter garner more immediate social interaction, I have had some peculiar and rewarding contacts as a result of my WordPress account. After a rant on old country music and some childhood recollections about the juke box at Indian Creek Tavern (in a tiny unincorporated community in Wisconsin) I received a spelling correction on the name of a bartender from over forty years ago. Months after a posting about my parent’s best friends (after their passing) I got a message from their daughter’s long ago boyfriend who I’d last seen in the early 1970’s, when I was in elementary school and he was in his early twenties. I’ve had childhood friends who have told me that I brought them back to a simpler time and place. Strangers have told me that while they don’t agree with me on a topic, they like the approach I have taken. My favorite comments are when readers tell me that my observations have made them laugh.

As a little girl who grew up across the street from Linden Hills Library and devoured the contents of the children’s room before moving upstairs to biographies, autobiographies and paperbacks I kept hidden from my parents, I could not have imagined that people would someday have access to my writings. At the time my biggest fear was that someone would actually see what I had written in my diary that documented my unrequited crushes and  my suspicion that a nuclear holocaust would have me departing this planet a virgin. Good news, that didn’t happen. At least not the virgin part, those diaries got sold by an estate sale company when my mother moved out of my childhood home in the early nineties. I was busy with a one-year old and took what I could of my youth to our two bedroom apartment. Oddly, I guess that means if I had remained a virgin then my elementary school journal and high school diary wouldn’t be in the public domain.

As someone who obtained a college degree with only a manual typewriter, the idea I would ever master the use of a computer was inconceivable. Computers were the realm of the brainiac kids I went to Lake Harriet elementary and Southwest High School with, the ones I’d assumed would end up at NASA, which as a child of my era was the coolest employer for the brightest minds. I was fairly certain I’d get by fine with my Smith Corona and wasn’t cut out for computers. This can be verified by Martin Fritz who in 1988 was given the task of teaching Stevens Point grad Kim Moistner and I how to use our office computers as Hall Directors at UW-Stout. That might actually be decent material for a future blog!

The fact that my words are being seen by people I do not know and many of them in places I will never go is exciting. That I can share about what a Minnesota childhood was like with people who will never visit here is almost overwhelming. I’m sharing the picture of my space so you know I’m not in a snow bank on the frozen tundra but using my 2017 technology from my very 1950’s basement. While this is my one-hundredth post, there are also 27 “drafts”.  Some drafts were ideas that were fleeting, others are thoughts I’ll get to someday and nearly all of them are incomplete because I got distracted by life.

100 blog posts. Thirty of them generated in one month as part of a writing exercise. On Facebook I often respond to Six Word Short Story, an assignment that requires telling an entire story about a typically vague or unusual photograph using exactly six words. Sometimes that is more challenging than an entire blog because of the need to be succinct. I write like I talk, a lot. Growing up my brothers often teased me that I was a “veritable font of useless information” but now they actually encourage my writing and appreciate the little details I weave into my remembrances that are as familiar to them as they are to me. Last year for Christmas my brother gave me a subscription to Writer’s Digest and this year his wife gave me two books which they enjoyed that they hope will inspire me. I feel a bit like Justitia, blindfolded while holding the scales, one with reading to do and the other with writing to do. Both tasks difficult while wearing a blindfold but you get the picture. Just hoping to maintain some balance.

I will close this 100th post by acknowledging the countries where people have read my blog. As a child of the Cold War the fact that someone in Russia has read my writing is a mind blower.  I’ve had readers from places that did not exist on the globe I daydreamed about in my school classroom. Regardless of where you call home, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and encourage you to repost the link, share my words, follow me and I’d love it if you would comment about how you found me. I welcome the opportunity to share my ideas and bring laughter to even more locations throughout the world.

Thanks!

WordPress shows over 2000 readers from the following locations have read this blog: United States, Germany, Japan, Italy, Thailand, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Australia, Canada, Mexico, India, Malaysia, UK, Russia, Qatar, Singapore, Czech Republic, Norway, Brazil, New Zealand, Belarus, Antigua Barbuda, Hong Kong SAR China, Ireland, Austria, Netherlands, South Korea, Philippines, South Africa, Panama, France, Columbia, Jordan, Spain, Turkey and Romania

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Uncategorized

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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Day 2 of a Month of Writing: Brother Bob’s Birthday

Bob & Me in '63

Bob & Me in ’63

For years he was my oldest brother Robert. Bob was my grandpa, Bob was my uncle and Rob was my cousin (who was born on Robert’s 5th Birthday). Teammates and coaches started calling him Bob in high school, it stuck and eventually only members of my parents generation called him by his given name.

I’ve known him my whole life, I made my debut one summer while he was on hiatus from elementary school. His birthday marks the start of a new year for me more aptly than Baby New Year himself. When September second lands on a Monday Bob’s birthday is a national holiday. More than just an age changer, his birthday marks the end of summer and march toward fall, a new school year. On his eighteenth birthday  (when the drinking age in Minnesota was eighteen) his birthday was the day he moved to college. A lot of new freedoms for one of the youngest in the freshman class. He settled into campus life with his roommate, high school classmate and football teammate whose name also was Bob. Why  complicate things? I was at home starting my final year of elementary school.

An even bigger milestone was the year his birthday landed on the first day of ninth grade, the birthday he nearly died. A few days earlier during football practice Robert had taken a blow to the gut which left him particularly sore. A visit to the doctor reassured my mother he would be fine but on his birthday morning he was in agony and my brother Steve raced to the basement to retrieve my mother from the laundry, who then began tracking down my dad at his job site.  The house phone which kept her tethered by a cord, no cell phones, someone in a trailer on a construction site running off to locate Chuck Rose the electrician whose hysterical wife was on the phone. Dad raced up in the family station wagon. I remember Robert,  in excruciating pain, seated and easing down the staircase on his butt, one painful step at a time. He was placed in the back seat, a white handkerchief tied to the antenna which (along with the blaring of his horn) was to alert other traffic that my dad was not stopping until Robert was at the hospital. Not until I was a parent myself and experienced having a really sick child did I realize how terrified they must have been. The doctors explained to my parents a couple of possible scenarios, some with less than favorable potential outcomes and whisked him into exploratory surgery. Once they had him open it was discovered he had appendicitis and gangrene had begun setting in. Further delay would have been terminal. I remember wanting to know what color “gain green” was, I was seven, about the age Robert was when I arrived.  Today is his daughters first day of ninth grade, he saw her off at the bus this morning.

Bob is the least talkative of us three Rose kids but definitely likes things the loudest. A stereo aficionado, he gave me a love of The Who, my first CD player, my last turntable and picked out the JVC boombox I got for high school graduation from my parents. That monster saw me through college dorm rooms and apartments in three states and burned out eventually playing lullabies to his eldest (Rose) niece and nephew.  His delight in loud noise carries over to the cinema as well. If there are explosions, over the top dialogue and ridiculous characters, Bob will typically love it. It was Bob (and his wife Michelle) who encouraged my brother Steve and I to both watch Breaking Bad. I’m not going to say all of his recommendations are spot on but I did enjoy the exploits of Walt and Jesse.

Bob was the perfectionist of the three of us as well, he could burn through a bottle of 409 and a roll of paper towels simply  cleaning up the whitewalls and polishing the chrome of a Schwinn. The attention to detail has carried over into his affection for cars, most specifically a small fleet of ’86 Mustangs, some convertibles, some squad cars.

As a kid, an age gap like the one between Bob and I keeps you interested in different activities and with little in common. Though I delighted in watching him run track and play football, marveled at his artistic skills and enjoyed his Rod Stewart selection for nightly dinner music, it wasn’t until I headed off to St. Cloud State and we were both adults that Bob and I became friends. I have great memories of his visits to St. Cloud, times shared at the cabin, attending a Who concert with him and our cousin Rick.

During a rough financial time for my folks, it was Bob that financed my college, under the condition that I not tell Dad where I got the money and hurt his pride. I kept my promise and eventually repaid the interest-free loan in small installments over the years. He not once ever asked for it. That’s how he is, sort of strong and silent but with a good sense of humor, a big kid who likes his toys. I texted him a birthday greeting this morning and he called back (doesn’t like to text) and his wife will likely tell him I wrote a story about him. Happy Birthday brother Bob, wishing you many more!

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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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What I Love

Spamalot

Spamalot

I am fortunate to have a lot of people in my life that I love. I have family and I have friends that know me well and they love me anyway. For this I am incredibly fortunate but for Valentines Day I want to talk about not who I love, which will be covered thoroughly by others throughout the day. My first fact before getting out of bed today was “54% of Americans will celebrate Valentines Day, down from 60% last year” spending however on the day will increase from $130 to $133 but clearly that is all business numbers and the economy and has little to do with love at all. It falls on a Friday this year and we lost 6% of the population.

I’m gonna make it simple and comment on ten things that I love and suggest that if you are just not feeling it this Valentines Day that you make a list too. There may be some overlap with your November list of what you are thankful for or it may be filled with entirely unique appreciations.

1. This first one is what inspired my list for the day. I love when I open the storm door in the morning and my newspaper is reachable without stepping out of the kitchen.

2. I love being seated in restaurants near other peoples kids. I love little voices, I’m fine with curious faces peeking over the booth and I am even sympathetic to crying babies.

3. I am fine with pets on the furniture (which you know when you leave our house covered in dog fir) but I especially love watching TV in the presence of a sleeping dog. They are so peaceful and trusting and need to get their rest before going to bed for the night. I love when they snore and when you can tell they are dreaming.

4. Free Stuff. This can be samples at the grocery store, in the mail, at big box stores on the weekends, stickers, buttons and even dog treats at the State Fair, mini vials of perfume and a personal favorite is at the Droolin’ Moose. The Droolin’ Moose is a local Twin Cities candy store that sells high quality confections in disposable cups. They are great as presents, care packages, hostess gifts or for movie nights. In the store they have self serve samples in front of each display. Their marketing dispels the myth that nobody is going to buy the cow if they are getting the milk for free. I most definitely have purchased chocolates based on their generous sample policies!

5. Phone calls from my kids. We text, exchange a Facebook message on occasion but sometimes hearing their voice and detecting their enthusiasm does the heart good.

6. I absolutely love finding the perfect present for someone and tucking it away. On the flip side I can’t stand shopping under pressure and settling on a gift.

7. I love when music transports me to another place and time. There is music that reminds me of each of my parents and there are songs that remind me of my senior year in high school or college spring break. Music can make me instantly happy or evoke a deep sadness. While some people dance like nobody is watching, when I am alone in the car I like to sing like nobody is listening.

8. Shopping sales racks with or for my son. While sales on towels and housewares are fine there is a deeper satisfaction when Eddie and I can score a designer shirt for 90% off the original price and use a coupon to boot. He has a passion for fashion and I am his enabler.

9. Family movies. From our Disney VHS collection of their youth to going to Saving Mr. Banks the week after Christmas, I love the time spent with Jeff and the kids in our own TV room or a theater watching a movie together.  Though our tastes vary and we sometimes are better attending movies in pairs there is a specialness that exists when we are all together and a fondness I have when in our daily banter we toss in a familiar quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or a Monty Python favorite.

10. I love the opportunity to share stories, thoughts and memories. I have been a story teller my whole life and for some reason retain details and trivial pieces of information. My brothers used to describe me as a “veritable font of useless information”. As they have aged they have developed a greater appreciation for this trait. In college after an evening out and while trying to fall asleep  my friend requested that I tell a story. When I asked her what about she said “one about your dad growing up or something with you and your brothers at the cabin.” It was like I was a juke box and she knew some of the familiar buttons to push.

So on this Valentines Day either call your mom, relax with a pet, listen to some music you love, play peek-a-boo with the kid in the booth next to you or go to a movie with someone you love. Hunt down a bargain, pick out a gift or get something free.  Make a memory!

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