This series of blog posts is all about my sentimental summer journey—as you may have noticed. Home and family. Two or so more of these and then I move on to Bamako, Mali and dance and, if I can figure out how to get there, Timbuktu. But for now, back to Summer 2010.
I’m on my way to my cousin Audrey’s on dad’s side of the family—Audrey’s mom, Helen, was the youngest sister, born in Minnesota, a few years after the family journey from Norway. Audrey my childhood hero, a teenager when I was only a scrawny 7 year- old. She loved riding horseback and took me with her although I was pretty disappointing as a horsewoman—I really only liked to read about horses, not actually hang around with them. Mom got pretty black Queenie for me when I was seven or eight but I just never connected with her. Audrey took me bareback riding on her pinto or on Queenie. Apparently I liked to run around the warm summer farm in my faded little hand-sewn dresses without underpants because I have one of those snapshot memories of Audrey refusing to take me riding until I put some pants on!
Aunt Helen seemed very glamorous to me as a kid. When I stayed with her I got to read the True Romance magazines of which she had many and eat store-bought breads. While my mother’s breads and cinnamon rolls were suburb still…they were homemade. And while Helen could bake with the best she did keep those Bismarcks around that, for me, had that city-aura attached to them!
Audrey was beautiful. Robert and I thought she was the most beautiful and the most fun person we knew. When at age 17, she married Otis, we were devastated. Felt like an old guy (after all he was all of six or so years older than Audrey) had robbed us of our best friend.
Audrey and Otis have led eventful lives. I have stayed with them many times from early days when Otis worked in the wood and the kids were little and Audrey baked chocolate cakes all dark and moist with strange ingredients like tomato soup and mayonnaise. I think I was supposed to help with the kids but really I just wanted to hang around with my idol. There were years of moving back and forth to Montana, Washington and Alaska with Helen and Lloyd and Delores (also my cousin and Audrey’s big sister) when Audrey was a kid and then years of lumberjacking, ranching, gold-mining, farming in Alaska, Wyoming but mostly Minnesota after she was married.
Audrey and Otis bought the farm at Gemmell where Randy, David, Linda and Terri grew up. Otis had a perfect lawn bordered with the offspring of Mom’s white, burgundy and rose-pink peonies and a glorious raspberry patch. He wrote two books about his Alaska adventures and built all manner of wooden crafts when he retired. Audrey worked with developmentally disabled adults in Northome nursing home’s ICF-MR program before ailments from those camp cooking, horseback riding years forced her to retire.
Physically the farm got to be too much for the two of them and they were forced to move out of their beloved north woods where wolves howled nearby, bears with cubs trailing behind crossed Highway 71 every now and then within sight of the house, and it was easy for Otis to get up to his fishing spot on the Bigfork River and Audrey to go drink coffee with Violet. They wound up in the pleasant little Canadian border town of Roseau where Terri, the youngest, and most settled child lives.
I spent a lot of time with Audrey and Otis over the years, once living in a tiny bedroom in their Gemmell house with my worldly possessions, mostly books, a giant old computer and border collie Max crowded in about me. This was a lost time between my San Francisco, Minneapolis and San Diego lives—all taking place during the ten years between my Albuquerque lives! It was a favorite time; I wrote and wrote and lived on bread and raspberry jam and Otis’ pancakes or, best of all, those deep-fried golden flaky breakfast walleye. Eventually I had to go back to real work and move on but it truly was great while it lasted.
August 2010: That was then. This is now. Driving north from Sioux Falls, hugging the Minnesota-Dakota (south and north) border but staying on the Minnesota side. It is pretty much all corn all of the time with soybeans for variety. Nice, neat stereotypical farms. Like farms are intended to be. This is not MY Minnesota of woods and lakes but I am happy just to be here. It is truly a good thing to be a Minnesotan I believe.
Roseau is a fairly typical small town known primarily as the birthplace of the snowmobile and Polaris industries. You can take a tour of the plant responsible for many of the world’s truly obnoxious additions to forest trails, winter or summer, if you so choose. Or you can just appreciate the fact that Polaris may be almost-singlehandedly responsible for the economic well-being of this area and appreciate the process if not necessarily the product.
According to the official City of Roseau website this is called an environmental transitional area where the north woods of poplar and spruce meets the prairies of the Red River Valley and the tamarack bogs which stretch north into Canada.
Audrey lives in a retirement apartment complex; Otis nearby in a nursing home. Years of hard physical work have taken a toll on their bodies and Otis has some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia that is slowly taking him into another fog-filled kind of world. However Terri and her family are always about and the other kids visit when they can.
It’s good to be here. We spend happy hours times talking about the pleasures of aging, about the dastardly deeds of Republicans and about our kids and my brother and her sister.
A treat that I always hope for on my trips up here is the walleye dinner out at Terri’s. Huge platters of the world’s greatest fish (I may have already said that once or twice in this blog!) and a chance to see the babies and horses that have arrived or grown since my last visit. What a lovely bunch they are. Teri’s kids are well and happy and prospering and daughter, Niki, has her own two babies, Landon and Clara. MANY pictures of Clara are included here because she is a sort of magic child, looking like baby Viking princesses must have looked. Clara does have a healthy dose of Scandinavian blood and her grandma and mom are north-country blondes so she’s obviously following in their footsteps. Terri and husband, Brian, are serious horse people so three sleek steeds in shades of black, red and cream occupy the green pastures surrounding their comfortable ranch home.
And a lovely time was had by all—especially me. Tomorrow I will turn south into the woods and lakes leading to Grand Rapids. And brother Robert and sister-in-law, Marsha.