Uncategorized

Lakers & Indians: A Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSVP to: ellen@southwestfoundation.org

SW Reunion

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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

Another Perspective On New Years

Today is the first day of a New Year. A blank slate full of hopeful possibilities for people who choose to be optimistic. For others it is emblematic of the start of some dreary foreboding anxiety-inducing era. It’s the same year for everyone and though our individual experiences will vary, it is how we choose to meet the situations and challenges of life that determines if 2017 will be the best year of ones life or the worst year in history. A year from now it will have been both. Not all of that is choice but much of it is. While we can’t control all of lives circumstances, how we choose to frame those situations determines our perception of them, not just at the time they occur but for the rest of our lives. The same event can be a trauma for one person, while having a positive impact for someone else. This year in particular seems to have people strongly divided regarding the future, our quality of life and mankind in general. Some are excited, while others are terrified. In reflecting on my own life, it seems to me this is a recurring theme and hopefully others can learn from my observations.

Looking back there was the year that I arrived in a foreign land where I knew nobody and could not speak the language. It was pretty intimidating but people helped me out and I knew that even though I was a stranger that they cared about me. Some of the basic rituals of their daily routines were upsetting to me and often it felt that nobody understood me. Some would say I was depressed because I slept a lot and when I wasn’t sleeping I was often crying. I wasn’t depressed though, I was a newborn infant and the experience is one commonality I have with more people on this planet than any other. I’d say the year I was born was a good year. Though from a historic standpoint, the year I was born is remembered by most Americans as the year that made phrases such as “grassy knoll” and “School Book Depository” synonymous with the assassination of JFK, an historic event that people identify with in the way others recall the Challenger Disaster or September 11th. I’m not old enough to remember where I was when JFK was assassinated but as with other major historic events, it is one where people not only remember where they were, they recall who they were with, how they heard, perhaps what they wore and how they felt. It’s this type of event that shocks the system and briefly one imagines things will never feel “normal” again. A single event in a year can make a huge impact. JFK’s death left a permanent void in the Kennedy family. My birth filled a hole in the Rose family; they had a baby girl, their family was complete. I imagine that my parents questioned the type of world they were raising their three children in. 1963 goes down as a good year for me.

The first year that I was really cognizant of in a meaningful way was 1968. Many Americans will recall the year because of the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that spring and Bobby Kennedy early that summer. The year was rife with racial tensions and Americans rioted in major cities, in the nation’s capitol and in Chicago during the DNC. It’s memorable to me because I started kindergarten at Lake Harriet elementary in Minneapolis that fall. The summer Olympics took place in Mexico that October, with George Foreman winning the heavy weight gold medal in boxing with a TKO in the second round against a Soviet. American gold and bronze medal winners in the 200 meter took to the medal podium shoeless in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists in silent protest against racial discrimination and were banned from Olympic competition by the IOC for life. My kindergarten class held a mock election that November in which  native son Hubert Humphrey won Mrs. Ostrum’s kindergarten class election by a landslide. However Richard Nixon exceeded the necessary 270 electoral votes by garnering 301 to Humphreys’s 191, with George Wallace bringing in a third-party 46 votes. I remember the election day clearly, as it fell on my father’s birthday and we had company that evening, which was highly unusual on a school night.While the nation was divided, that December brought us the iconic Earthrise photo which so clearly depicts that we actually are all in this together. The picture was taken  Christmas Eve from the Apollo 8. That same day brought us the most watched television broadcast in history (at that time). The astronauts took turns reading the creation story from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon. Tension, division, chaos and hopefulness were major components of 1968. For me it was a positive year of new beginnings.

I have written about 1976 before (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/the-rnc-saved-my-life) it was another Olympic year and Presidential election (Jimmy Carter). Additionally, it was the year I became a teenager and got my ten-speed bike. It was also the year I didn’t die in a house fire because I’d slept downstairs in order to watch the final night of a political convention, instead of succumbing to smoke-inhalation upstairs while a fire slowly burned. Regardless of what else happened that year, not dying a tragic death mere days after becoming a teenager makes me appreciate 1976 as a good year.

1977 thru 1981 were spent in high school. Some people hated high school, I happened to enjoy most aspects of it. I made some good decisions, some bad choices and like many teenagers spent too much energy on superfluous matters and may have benefited from focusing more on other things. It’s a cruel period where you care more about how you look than any other time in your life but go through acne, braces, body transformation and often regrettable hair choices. While I didn’t obsess, I do recall some of the really superficial things that I thought at the time mattered, that in retrospect were pretty trivial. On the national and international level the Iranian Hostage crisis lasted 444 days from the day before my father’s birthday my junior year and not ending until the day that Ronald Reagan took office midway through my senior year. Months later Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. Two months after that Pope John Paul II was also the victim of an assassination attempt. The week of Southwest High School’s commencement my community was hit by a tornado. While some lamented the horrible luck, others were thankful that only property was damaged and nobody was killed. Whether you’re Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II or some high school kid who might have been killed the week of graduation, sometimes being brought to the brink of a horrible situation or surviving a tragedy makes one appreciate the things they have more than they would be able to had they not had the life-altering experience. I’m certain there were many new parents that year who  likely questioned what sort of world they were bringing a child into. I have to say that 1981 goes down as the year I graduated from high school, the year I left for college, a year of fond memories.

In reflecting on my life I can think of no year that was perfect. I can’t even think of a year that went as I assumed it would from the outset. Whether it be a car accident, an illness, the death of a friend, loss of a family member, an injury or some other life changing situation, there hasn’t been a year where some sort of  unanticipated crisis hasn’t surprised me. By contrast, life has been full of surprising situations and opportunities. In 1988 I could not have envisioned that I would meet a man and marry him seven months later. At the onset of 1992 it would have seemed unimaginable that nine months later I’d be a mother. The year I married my husband is the year I buried my father. During the months  prior to giving birth to my daughter I drove my husband to the ER when chest wall spasms had us convinced he was having a heart attack. I rushed to retrieve him from work when he called to say he’d gone blind in one eye from what turned out to be an oculur migraine. Temporary inconveniences that made us thankful, helped us prioritize, kept things in perspective. While I’ve experienced bad things in my life, misfortunes and setbacks, I don’t believe they ruined a year. There is much to be learned by challenges and misfortunes. While we try to avoid bad situations, rare is the individual who makes it through life without them. Though it’s not hard to identify our own, it’s good to remember that we aren’t always privy to the very real difficulties that others endure.

As we enter a new year we are not certain that we will be present to usher in the next one. It’s not macabre, it’s simply how life works. It seems wasteful to spend too much time planning for a bad year or dwelling on how awful the past year was. What age has taught me is that there will always be world events that disturb, disgust, upset and even scare us. As an RA at St. Cloud State in 1983 I recall having to console a floor member after the TV movie The Day After was shown. While it won two Emmy Awards and holds the record for most viewed TV movie of all time, the fictional story of nuclear war left viewers overwrought with anxiety about something that simply did not occur. There was a lot of energy expended over fear of something that felt so real but didn’t exist. It struck me as wasteful.

As 2017 begins, perhaps it’s healthy to exhale and recognize that much of what will happen this year you won’t have much say or control over. Don’t let that make you feel helpless. With that knowledge go into the world with the objective of not fixing every real or perceived wrong but with the simple goal of being an asset. Donate a pint of blood, volunteer in an area you are passionate about. My neighbor sews pillow cases that are distributed to sick kids who are hospitalized. There are opportunities to foster animals. Programs exist for helping both adults and kids learn to read. If you have a hobby or interest there is likely an organization that would allow you to share of your talent or passion. Maybe your contribution is eliminating some of your own excesses and donating items. You can think globally and act locally. Don’t be paralyzed by your fears of the unknowns of the future, whether that means tomorrow or the next four years. Despite our differences, our commonality is that none of us truly knows what the future holds for us or others. What our attitude is, that is something we can control. It’s your choice if you want to begin the new year cynical, mean-spirited or judgemental. It’s not beneficial, unless you’re wanting to make your year miserable and to be “right” when next December 31st you can say “I knew 2017 was going to be a horrible year.” Having watched people this past year who faced seemingly unbearable challenges but who had fantastic energy, inspiring courage and positive attitudes through their battles (some to the very end of their time here) I see it as wasteful to exert so much negative energy. Negative energy is like any other pollutant, too much becomes toxic.

Though I’m not psychic, I’m going to make a prediction about the coming year. I foresee that locally, nationally and internationally there will be man-made problems, natural disasters and injustices. I predict that some people will do selfless acts to benefit their fellow-man. I imagine some individuals held in high regard will disappoint us. I’m guessing that educators, doctors, scientists and inventors will find new ways to make life better for people from all walks of life. If this all sounds somehow familiar, that is because like 1963, 1968, 1976, 1981, 1988 and 1992 (and all years prior, in between and since) I believe despite mankind’s frailty and inhumanity that ultimately  2017 will be a good year!

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Six Degrees (Below Zero) of Separation

Prince b&wTracy McMillanLouie

Tiny TimDylanJudy Garland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What Makes a Best Friend the Best Friend

Mel

When it comes to best friends I like to think I’m old school. We were best friends decades before BFF became a thing. I know lots of women who have a best friend that was a college roommate or sorority sister, another mother from ECFE class or from the next cubical at their first real job. No matter where they were acquired, I am happy for anyone who has one.

Mine moved in across the street the year before I started kindergarten. She had four older sisters, I had two older brothers. She got a baby sister before that first year was over and I remained the youngest in my family. The nice thing about having a best friend for basically your whole life is that you never have to fill them in, give them the back story. They know your cousins and you know their list of old boyfriends.

I watched girls in high school, college and even beyond fight with their friends and be mean, sometimes severing their relationships entirely. My best friend and I never went through that. We may have been lucky that she went to the Catholic school on the next block from our houses from first through eighth grade and I was always at the public school. Ninth grade through senior year we were both at Southwest in Minneapolis (where I had been since seventh grade) so we never experienced that petty junior high drama that can impact relationships at a young age. We also pursued different interests; she played basketball, was a cheerleader and played tennis and I did dance line and played badminton. So we were never in direct competition with each other. Though our after school activities would have us departing at different times we had a mile long walk to school together for four years through all kinds of weather. There were times the two of us would ride together on one bike to school which occasionally had comical results.

Over the years we have each made friends through school, work or  our neighbors that have been added to our circle and this has only broadened our friendship and multiplied both the wisdom and the laughter. Laughter has been with us throughout. We have stories that would perhaps not be funny to someone else but can leave us in tears. Stories from bus trips down town, hockey tournaments in Grand Rapids and the parking lot at the old Met. As adults we got “in trouble” in a restaurant after watching  a half of a bag of croutons (purchased from the manager) be presented as a birthday gift and we could not stop laughing. That Christmas I gave a full bag as a gift. That’s what best friends do!

A favorite destination for us over the years was my family cabin, a log building on a lake with no running water. We loved being in the water, laying out on the raft or rowing a boat down to the public landing. We went with my folks, as we got older they would leave us for a week, later still we would go on our own and bring friends. We knew the woods, met folks from the other end of the lake and as we got older we knew most of the bars in the surrounding towns. It was a place to go to before someone got married and eventually it was a place to go with the girls when a marriage was ending. When you are best friends you stand up for each other at weddings, more than once if necessary.

We met each others kids at the hospital, shared parenting advice and hand-me-down clothes. We rented side by side cabins as families one summer and during those awkward elementary/middle school years took all the kids to a Mexican resort for spring break. Our kids are all more mature now than we will ever be but for the most part they admire our everlasting relationship.

We rely on each other for what the other is strongest at. I did the eulogies at her parents funerals, she came over and rehung every fixture on my main floor after my husband’s business trip to Italy was extended by a week.  We had completed a home improvement project just prior to hosting my mother in-laws birthday.  She and I were able to laugh with her squatted on a vanity, holding a medicine cabinet in place with her shoulder and drilling in a way that my husband and I never would have been able to. Instead of bickering about how high to hang a towel rack we would just do it then take a break for a beer outside.

We have stayed best friends despite both of us having moved out of state at times. Through the raising of our children there were long stretches when it was hard to find time for each other unless it was stolen moments during a rummage sale or home improvement project.  Now we have reached that point in life where our parents are gone and our own children are fairly independent. We have had the good fortune of our oldest children attending school at Bemidji State University just a year apart, resulting in the opportunity for a couple of road trips.

Today is my best friends fifty-first birthday, we have lived through portions of six decades together and because of some amusing circumstances we saw each other three times during the past week. The great part of having a lifelong best friend is that the relationship is cumulative, when we laugh it is not simply at what is provoking the laughter at that moment, it is multiplied by all of the funny times and situations we have endured together.  Happy Birthday  and in the immortal words of the St. Thomas the Apostle 8th grade boys “Thanks for the memories, the good times with Mel, gee weren’t they swell!”

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Why Boys High School Hockey is “My Sport”

Brad Shelstad (Goalie) with coach Peterson

Brad Shelstad (Goalie) with coach Peterson

Here I sit on the second Sunday of March. Clocks have “sprung” forward and another Minnesota State High School League Boys State High School Hockey Tournament is in the record books. There are the victors and there are those who lost, some whose favorite memory of the season may ultimately be a glorious upset in section finals that allowed them to be embarrassed in a larger venue like the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Any shame or embarrassment will fade, like the red rings around their eyes that match the ribbons holding the second place medals around their necks. As they age there will come a time when the thrill of the trip will mean more than the scores. It’s athleticism at its purest form, performance for the sake of competition not a pay check. Often it is with a group of kids they have grown up on ice with and I love it for that and many other reasons.

My grandfather and his brothers played hockey but in the era prior to the storied tournament. They were West High guys out of Minneapolis and legend has it the “Rose boys were scrappers” (there were seven of them). My father remembered the end of my grandfathers playing days, long after high school and as a father with two boys of his own, he arrived home fairly banged up sometime in the late 1930’s and it was grandma who made the pronouncement that his hockey career had ended. He still flooded the yard on Girard Avenue to create a rink for his own boys and the neighbor kids to skate on. Though my dad and uncle grew up skating neither of them participated in any formalized hockey and I’m not sure if that was based on personal choice or by design of my grandma.

My brothers were regular rink rats at Linden Hills park, occasionally Pershing or as interlopers at Weber park in Edina. My one brother played organized hockey up to a certain level and then traded in his breezers for a telephoto lens where he captured his classmates on ice. There was a time when the televised hockey tournament had profiles of each high school and community they represented and my brother produced the one that aired when he was a senior. Both of my brothers got in some quality bar league play in college.

So other than growing up in Minnesota during the North Stars era and skating in parks and on lakes like most of my peers you might wonder why I have such a devotion to Boys High School Hockey. For me it is more fun than the Super Bowl or the World Series, I like it better than any college athletics and it is simply without compare to any youth sporting event. It’s in my blood and as much as I have great memories of attending tournament games while in high school I have an affinity for watching it on TV. This year marked the 25th tournament I have watched with my husband. He was an early member of his schools hockey program and has great memories of coming to watch the tournament in St. Paul during the first few years at the St. Paul Civic Center.

For me it began the winter of 1970. I was a six year-old first grader. The Southwest Indians had made it to the State tourney. During the era of living within walking distance of your High School this meant that most of the kids at Lake Harriet elementary school knew somebody on the team; siblings, friends siblings, cousins or neighbors. We wore purple as if the outcome of the games depended on it!

I’m unclear if this is how other schools handle tournament play or if it was unique to ours but instead of having class we sat in the hallway with our classmates (who had not been pulled from school that day to attend) and watched hockey on the large (by standards of the day) TV that perched atop a rolling cart. We ate popcorn out of grease spotted brown paper lunch sacks that we naively believed were “nickel bags” because of the fee the PTA charged for them. A TV at both ends of the hallway on the first and second floor. Most of the teachers had taught players and despite being in the middle of a city it was my first glimpse at what it must be like for the small towns that earn their way to the tourney.

The final game against Edina, a wealthy neighboring suburb in walking distance from Southwest High School was a Saturday night game. Southwest won the game in sudden death overtime 1-0 bringing to an end Edina’s 25 game winning streak. It was late but I was able to stay up for it. South Minneapolis was euphoric! Coach Peterson would go on to coach two Olympic teams but I like to think that as with many players who went on to college and even professional careers on the ice that the high school hockey tournament victory was a pinnacle event. In an ironic twist the goalie who shutout Edina did not make the “all tournament team”.

Ten years later, as a high school junior the Indians were fourth in the state. It’s probably best that we didn’t know then that the Indians would become the Lakers, that the tournament would become two tiered (which after over twenty years I have come to accept and actually enjoy seeing more play) or that eventually no Minneapolis public school would field their own team.

All these years have passed but I am still thrilled by the introductions; the ones who acknowledge a parent or grandparents when they skate out, the ones that wink, the others who look too nervous to enjoy the moment. There are a lot fewer cheerleaders lining the staircases during the games, a nod to the fact that there are a lot more options for high school girls than simply cheering for the boys. Many of the girls play hockey now and their tournament is televised as well.

Though neither my son or daughter have played hockey they have been raised with the tradition of watching the tournament. They know that every March they can find their dad and I yelling at the TV set. They know that I have grown soft and despite the glorious shutout of 1970 I am happiest when the game is close and doesn’t end with a zero on the scoreboard.

I love an upset, I truly enjoy an underdog victory but the reality is that even if a school has sent a team many times I know that these are kids and it is as important and exciting to them as it was for the first team their school ever sent. Edina won the tournament this year, as they did last year and many other seasons. Next year will mark the 45th anniversary of that 1970 Southwest victory. Those players are now in their early sixties. The victories are monumental, the losses seem devastating and bragging rights last for a lifetime. The legacy, tradition, teamwork and fan enthusiasm are truly unparalleled. I love the hockey tournament because it reminds me each year how to be a kid again.

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