Showing posts with label minnesota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label minnesota. Show all posts

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Independence Day Belongs To Small Towns

I moved away from my hometown more than twenty years ago. I live in a leafy suburb that has nothing but houses and a store scattered here and there. As I write this on July 4, I am sitting inside my house, listening to the air conditioner kick in. Independence Day is just another day. It could be a generic Monday, or a Wednesday. 

In celebration of the holiday my suburb features live orchestral music on July 10. July 10. Why not July 23? Or August 17? They do things differently here in Minnesota. They also outlaw fireworks, so only the outlaws set them off, generally at two o'clock in the morning outside my window. I'm still perplexed by the irrational fear of fountains and Roman candles -- but then, Minnesotans seem to be afraid of a lot of things. Maybe it's because my big brother sold fireworks from a home-constructed stand for years that pyrotechnics are simply everyday life for me. My little brother and his friends blew all their savings buying bottle rockets and spinners they'd nail to the wall; then beg Mom and Dad for "just five dollars" so they could buy more. Sure, one might have to dodge a wayward rocket shot from a pop bottle occasionally, but so what? No fires ever ensued. Life isn't necessarily risk-free.

The Fourth of July was always my favorite holiday back home. My town did it up right. It didn't matter if the holiday fell in the middle of the week and I'd need to get up for work the next day. Everyday life stopped for the Fourth. The highlight was the parade, a procession that went for miles and miles -- my high school marching band, lines of farm implements, floats upon floats populated with waving riders. Clowns on stilts throwing handfuls of candy to the little kids. Polka bands. Military vets. THE FLAG, which every parade-goer reverently stood for. And every single cheesy display one's imagination could conjure. In fact, the cheesier the better. My family would laugh and mingle, my sister and I parked on the curb, within reaching distance of our kids so they wouldn't wander too close to the action. Snapping action photos with actual cameras. Getting sweat-drenched and sunburned, and not caring. Then, once we were certain the parade was over, peering down the long street to ensure no one else was actually coming, gathering up our kids and our blankets and our lawn chairs and trudging in the hot sun back to our cars wedged in a supermarket parking lot (By the way, business owners were completely, patriotically on board with people claiming their parking spots. They, too, were off attending the parade.)

We'd head back to Mom and Dad's and plop down on tufted chairs in their COOL living room, a couple of the guys stretching out on the carpet. Mom would be in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on her potato salad and arranging her relish tray. Once everyone arrived back at the meeting spot, we'd eat and eat and eat. And drink tons of iced tea. 

As the sun set, we'd gather on the front steps and await my brothers' home-crafted fireworks show. They'd take turns running out to the middle of the street, touching a punk to the latest pyrotechnic. And we'd alternately marvel and continue our gossip session, careful to ensure our kids didn't wander into the dark street.

Then we'd finally head home and flop into bed, red-burned and exhausted.

THAT was the Fourth of July. 

As I glance out my window today, my street is deserted. Everyone is either at the mall or still sleeping. Hard to know. I don't know any of my neighbors. We're not real cohesive here. "Minnesota Nice" is a nice catchphrase that native Minnesotans utter to obviate their true, insular nature. 

But I have my memories of REAL Independence Days. 

Memories will suffice.



Friday, July 6, 2012

Small Town Living

Our experiment in small-town living didn't last long.

Don't get me wrong; we loved the town, but hated the commute.

I don't know exactly what possessed us to buy a house in Rockford, which was 25 miles from my workplace, and even further from my husband's.  On a winding two-lane blacktop.  I think it was the lure of the quiet.

We looked at the house, and it was fine.  It needed work!  But overall it was a nice simple house.

But it wasn't the house.  It was the ambience.  The Crow River was but a few footsteps outside our front door.  And leading to the Crow was a huge, mostly deserted city park.  We'd walk across a couple of quiet street corners, and up the hill to the park and down the graveled trail to the river.  I don't know if we ever crossed paths with one single person on those walks.

The Crow was a pretty, meandering river, most of the time.  But during the spring that we lived in Rockford, it became angry and effusive. It overtook the second major throughway out of town, and we'd walk up to the edge of it and marvel at its insistence.

Rockford had 3,484 inhabitants when we lived there.  That's a nice, small town.  It didn't offer a whole lot in terms of amenities.  It had an A and W Root Beer store.  Remember those?  It had a couple of convenience stores on the outskirts.  It had a mostly empty shopping mall, in which some brave soul decided to open a book store while we lived there in town.  Sadly, the guy had only a few books and no customers.  We walked in one day, and perused the shelves, and pretended to be really interested in his offerings, but alas, we walked out without making a purchase.  I always felt really bad for that guy.  His book store didn't last long.

The little mall did have what I guess one would call a "general store".  Sort of like a Ben Franklin, only locally owned.  I love stores like that!  One can find the neatest curios in those stores; nothing that could be found anywhere else.  One-of-a-kinds.  I bought all manner of knick knacks there.

Just down the street from us was Virgin's Furniture (and, oddly, video rental store).  Again, Virgin's had unique furniture pieces that could not be found elsewhere.  I bought my mauve gliding rocker at Virgin's (pronounced Vir-GEENS; embarrassingly not, "VIR-gins", like we mistakenly thought).  We also bought other furniture pieces there, and we, sadly, only still have a couple of those.  We'd also rent our Friday night VHS movies at the store.  And then we'd drive over to the locally-owned convenience store and buy Subway sandwiches at the counter way in the back.

Every Tuesday night, we'd visit the local library, which was tiny!  It was just a hop and a skip from our house.  I kinda liked that it was tiny.  Too many choices can leave one feeling confused and frustrated.  At Rockford's library, we took what we could find, and returning our checkouts was a breeze.  No hassle.  A short walk down the street, and voila!

One late Friday night, we took a tentative walk through the Rockford cemetery, which, again, was but two blocks from our home.  It was mystical; eerie.

In daylight, I took endless pictures of the town's landmarks.   There was a small-town bar, which reminded me so much of my Uncle Howard's place from long ago.  I think this one was called the Red Vest.  We went there once.  Ordered a beer; bellied up to the bar; and that was the first and last time we ever saw the inside of the place.

We walked our dog, Henry, down underneath the stone bridge to the river, sat down on a log, and proceeded to be attacked by killer bees.  Neither of us (not to mention Henry) had ever been stung by a bee in all our years of living, but we found out that evening that we could live through it!  The vicious bee attack didn't kill us!

A glorious wonder of nature existed there; south, and across the railroad tracks and up about three miles; it was called Lake Rebecca.  One of the prettiest lakes I've seen in all my life.  And it was just there; alone; seemingly isolated, undiscovered.  Not really, though.  It was popular; in fact, hugely popular.  It was just that we had never chanced to ride our bicycles there at a time when picnic-ers and mommies with floatation-equipped babies happened to drop by.

And speaking of husband seemingly had the good bike.  I had the crappy one.  We'd bought our bikes at a garage sale, and apparently I drew the short straw.  He'd be riding so far ahead of me that I would lose him if he happened to finesse a curve in the road.  He made me think I was a weakling; a shirker.  Those rides to Lake Rebecca would have been so much more enjoyable to me if I'd had something that would have actually propelled me forward.  I actually had to stop at times; alight from the evil two-wheeler and walk around a bit until I re-found my breath.

One of the neat things about living in a small town is that one can walk the streets and explore.  There were always interesting new things for us to discover.

We could likewise drive the country roads and experience a bit of forgotten Americana.

We were somewhat curious about a bar along the main street in town; one that apparently attracted bikers from far and wide.  Some Saturdays, there would be Harleys parked extremely neatly, one by one, in a polite formation, along the block in front of that place.  Again, we walked in one time.  I ordered a Diet Coke.  I think I also used the pay phone.  And then we left.  We just really wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

We switched our banking to the Bank of Rockford.  That seemed only reasonable.  We wanted to attain that small town spirit, after all.  The Bank of Rockford was but two blocks down a deserted street from our home.

Everything was close.  Really close.  We loved it, but we came to detest it.

We loved the atmosphere.  Hated the small-town-mindedness.  The obtrusiveness, and yet the possessiveness.   The only shop keeper who ever made us feel welcome was the Pakistani owner of the convenience store.  I guess he knew what it felt like to be an outsider, too.

My husband had never experienced a small town.  I had.  I knew what existed below the surface. 

For FAWM 2008, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek song called, Leaving Rockford.  Here are the lyrics:

I’m leavin’ Rockford
It’s the bane of my existence
This might sound harsh
But I think there’s somethin’ missin’

You can say ain’t it quaint
There’s only one traffic light
And you don’t have to be afraid
To be out on the street at night

But let me tell you there’s some serious
Passive aggression goin’ on
Sure they smile to your face
Don’t turn your back
They’ll strike you down

I’m leavin’ Rockford
It’s been nothin’ but a heartache
Don’t wanna end up diving
Head-first in Rebecca Lake

You can say oh I wish
I could trade my life with yours
It’s so tidy and maintained
And you’ve got pretty little stores

But let me tell you there are stories
Here even I don’t want to know
My neighbor’s holdin’ secret
Meetings in his gazebo

I’m leavin’ Rockford
With what’s left of my resilience
I’ll get on my knees
When I pass the city limits

If you read an ad for a nice
Two-bedroom number
And you think it sounds really
Sweet and unencumbered
Please buy it, I need the money
To move on

©   2008   Michelle Anderson

I also wrote another song about Rockford, although I purposely obscured the details.  It's called "Rundown Town":

Things never change
In this rundown town
Except it gets more
Run down

People disappear
And they never come back
And the store windows
Are black

They say why you don’t you go
I say hell if I know
Is it any better someplace else

The devil that you know
Might not give a real good show
But I’ve determined life
Is just like that

I walk down the streets
Of this rundown town
I can close my eyes
And know the way

From time to time somebody goes
Leaves little curios behind
I pick them up  
And haul them away

They say why don’t you go
I say hell if I know
It don’t feel like this is my day  

The cracks are getting deeper
And my bones startin’ to moan
But I’ve determined life
Is just that way

©  Michelle Anderson  08-19-11

So, I have kind of a love-hate relationship with the town, obviously.  But I wouldn't, for the world, change the fact that we lived there, we loved it; we sometimes hated it.

And I will never regret it or forget it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Lakewalk along Lake Superior, Tofte, MN ~ May 19, 2012

I woke up on my fifty-seventh birthday to the sunrise over Lake Superior. 

We were spending our free weekend at Bluefin Bay.   Free, because I was the-e-e grand prize winner of the "Tell Us Your Bluefin Bay Story" video contest.  Here is what got us our fabulous weekend at a lakeside condo:

It was 5:30 a.m., so Josie and I tiptoed out to the kitchen, and I put on a pot of coffee and gave J her breakfast.  

Then we settled in on the patio, me with a hot mug, and I whispered to Josie, "Happy Birthday!"  She perked up and became all squirmy, because she was remembering her birthday on the eleventh of May, during which we said, "Happy Birthday!" a lot, so she knew that meant something good. 

This was our view from the patio:

We'd been to Bluefin Bay many times, but I had never before seen so many monarch butterflies.  In fact, I don't remember seeing any.  This time, they were everywhere, and there were couples; or at least it seemed like couples, because they were zipping along in twos.  I wonder if seeing butterflies on your birthday is a good omen.

When my husband got up, we decided to take Josie to Temperance River State Park, which was about 4 miles down the road.  We were the only ones there....heaven.  We managed to hoist ourselves (and Josie) up along several trails and what seemed like miles of stone steps, until we got to the iron bridge that crossed the Temperance River.  From there, we gazed down upon the waterfalls.  And that's when I realized, heights are not my friends.  It was time to go.  

My camera battery chose just that moment in time to die, but I did find a pine cone, so I kept it.

 Temperance River pine cone

Funny how I always take pictures to remember the good times, but that pine cone will always remind me of hiking with my husband and Josie at Temperance River.

Once back from the park, my husband settled in to do some reading (napping), and since I wasn't in the mood to sleep, I played awhile with rearranging the word blocks on the fireplace mantle.  Yes, I have yet to grow up completely, apparently.

Random Boredness

Then it was time to drive to Grand Marais for lunch and "birthday shopping".  The temperature gauge in the car read fifty-seven degrees.  I would have snapped a picture of that, but as I said.....

The only clear radio station we could get was the North Shore public radio station, which we like anyway (90.7 on the dial), because it plays all manner of weird music that we've mostly never heard before.  But, on the way to Grand Marais, the first song we heard was Hank Williams and Long Gone Lonesome Blues.  For some reason, that made me happy.  I do not know why.

Highway 61 (revisited) is a nice scenic route, but, frankly, if you've traveled it eight zillion times, and you just want to get somewhere, it can be a bit annoying at times.  There are several "slowdowns" along one's way, little so-called "towns" that are not much more than a souvenir shop and an outbuilding of some sort; or pull-offs to roadside state parks.  We were getting a little annoyed by "Valerie", who we were following, because she over-compensated for the posted speed limits.  If the sign said, 40 mph, Valerie would slow to 25.  I wouldn't have known it was Valerie, of course, had her license plate not told me.  Soon enough, however, Valerie slowed down and pulled off onto one of the state park resting areas.  I said to my husband, "Valerie is a bit too adherent to the rules, isn't she?  Oh, never mind; she's from Ontario, and then I chuckled.  North Dakota people like me are just like that ~ real stringent rule-followers. 

As for shopping, well, I am a horrible shopper.  I'm one of those people whose gaze is captured by shiny objects.  I do not comparison shop.  Hence, to go with my theme of little tiny things (like little tiny pine cones), I picked out:

 Little tiny Minnesota loon (and baby loon)

Little tiny Lily of the Valley "cafe soap"!  (the birth flower of May)

And now I am happy......with my pine cone, my loons, and my tiny bar of Lily of the Valley soap.  Ta-DA!

Once back from lunch, my husband needed to do more "reading", so I took out my digital camera (that one still worked!) and walked around and just snapped random pictures, most of which I knew would not turn out, but I did it simply for fun.

Later that night, we pulled out the sofa bed in the living room, and my husband started a fire in the fireplace.  We opened the windows on the lake, watched a movie with Josie curled up with us on the blankets, had some snacks.

It was a lovely birthday.  The loveliest birthday I can remember having.  Butterflies, tiny gifts, my husband, snuggling, Josie, Hank Williams on the radio, pine cones, and the waves.  

And I'm writing this, two days after, because I don't want to forget it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

God Bless The Folks In The Red River Valley

Red River is proud to be from the upper Midwest, where people take care of their own. I haven't seen anyone interviewed on the news, whining about how the government needs to come and rescue them. Instead, they're too busy fighting to save their homes and their neighbors' homes.

RED RIVER VALLEY - As the Red River of the North rose toward record levels and evacuations mounted, the mayor of Fargo, N.D., vowed Thursday that exhausted residents and volunteers would continue to fortify the area and "go down swinging if we go down."

Forecasters increased the river's crest projection, saying that by Saturday afternoon, the Red could reach 43 feet, an all-time record in Fargo-Moorhead and 3 feet higher than the historic 1997 flood.

To make matters worse, the river is expected to remain above 40 feet for several days, threatening to overwhelm the protections put in place by thousands of weary residents, city workers and volunteers working in gray, subfreezing weather.

"At elevation 42, that creates a lot of challenges and serious problems," said Dave Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard and the state's emergency operations director. "Our intent is to ensure we have mustered every resource that we physically can to support this community."

Said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker: "We do not want to give up yet. We want to go down swinging if we go down.

"I want to make sure we commit every resource and every volunteer to do what we can do," he said. "Then, if we fail, we'll fully understand what's happened."

The people of North Dakota and Minnesota don't grab a lot of headlines. Upper Midwesterners are used to taking care of themselves and each other. Instead of standing around, wringing their hands, they're in there fighting.

Too bad the good guys get very little recognition.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Hate Winter

We've been pretty lucky so far. A week ago today, the temp was in the seventies. But alas, the weather changes rather quickly here in southeastern Minnesota.

After enjoying a nice week last week, the big change strolled in on Friday. The weather got windy and co-l-l-l-der. Then Saturday, wow! Every time I ventured out of my car while doing errands, I started muttering under my breath, as the stiff north wind tried its best to hurl me across interstate 494, when all I wanted to do was make my way from my car into the cozy confines of Target to look for a 3.6-volt battery (did you know that those are impossible to come by?)

Sunday, I only ventured outside my house to buy vittles at Cub Foods. Then I nestled in to relax (sleep) the rest of the day.

Of course, by Monday I was back at work. As a smoker, I get to "enjoy nature" on a daily basis. Luckily, we have one evergreen tree in the smoking area to shelter us from winter's icy blast. So, there we are, huddled together behind the pine tree, rubbing our hands together (well, one hand, really, since we use the other hand to smoke). That wasn't too awfully bad, in the larger scheme of things.

But TODAY, we couldn't even rub one hand together, because we were holding umbrellas to protect us from the ICE PELLETS that were raining down upon us. This in addition to the arctic "breeze". As I left work today, I looked like a ninety-year-old lady, shuffling across the parking lot, trying to remain upright as I stepped gingerly upon the glare ice. Ahhhh, winter.

If only winter was like they show in picture books. Like this:

Winter At Fox Forest

Tonight we are supposed to get a "dusting of snow". The thing about the weather service is, they lie.

So, tomorrow morning, we'll probably have 3 - 4 inches of snow - on top of the ice, mind you, which will make for an exciting ride to work.

Did I say that I hate winter?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Lake

I couldn't tell you how many times I've been to Lake Superior. But it's a LOT.

I started going there with my mom and dad and my little sister and, at times, various nephews, and later, with my own kids.

It sort of got to be a joke with my kids. "Oh, we're going to Duluth again. Yay."

I remember 1978, my dad driving the Lincoln (ANOTHER big boat, if there ever was one). I think there were way too many people along on that trip than would normally fit in one car, even a Lincoln. There was my mom, of course, and there was me, and my then-husband, and my soon-to-be two-year-old, Chris, and my nephew, Tim. And my sister, Lissa. We got bored on the long drive (and it WAS a long drive from Bismarck, North Dakota - over 600 miles). So, Lissa and I started to sing along with the radio, lounge-lizard style, singing "After The Lovin'", by Engelbert Humperdinck, and "Midnight Blue", by Melissa Manchester.

We could always crack each other up, because we had the same sense of humor. My mom was asleep in the back, and everyone else was just gazing out the window or something. My dad was driving, and here's the two of us, in the front seat, acting like idiots, and my dad is doing his best to ignore us. Ahh, good times.

But anyway, we finally got to Duluth, and all I wanted to do was sit on a bench on the waterfront, and just BE. I could have sat there for hours, but they all got hungry, so we had to go eat at a place I think was called "The Lemon Drop" or "The Lemon Tree" or something like that. The place had great fresh-caught walleye, so we always ate there every time we landed in Duluth.

I have a picture of my dad and my nephew, Tim, and my son, Chris, gathered around a water fountain on our way to Duluth, and my dad was getting such a kick out of Chris trying to get a drink. I love that picture.

So, henceforth, we made a lot of trips to Duluth.

Basically, the places we went for vacation were either The Black Hills of South Dakota or Duluth, Minnesota, with a meandering to Yellowstone National Park one year.

I have lots of pictures of Duluth, Minnesota. Probably too many. But I just never could get that lake out of my psyche. About 50% of my pictures are of Duluth.

We'd always go to the maritime museum when we were there. They had lots of old pictures. And every dang time I went to Duluth, I got this song stuck in my mind:  

It never failed.

In recent years, we've vacationed on Lake Superior many, many times. Not at Duluth, mind you, but still on the Big Lake. Somehow, it just keeps drawing me back. There's something about That Lake.

We were going to drive up to see the Tall Sailing Ships. That's something I've never seen before. Alas, plans changed.

But just between you and me, sailing ships be damned. All I want is just want to be on that waterfront again.