You can go home again… just can’t live there because it’s all fallen down…


The NESET woods in Koochiching County, Minnesota

There is a trip to be made when I come home to northern Minnesota. It is about who I was and am, made to remind myself how important this place is to me. It is HOME.

What we lack in sophistication, we make up for in our love of butter and tolerance of mosquitoes

Today’s journey: Grand Rapids on 2 and 46 to Northome, 71 out to the Old Place, then Blackduck (where I was born) for a hot pork sandwich for lunch, back to Helen and Barb’s for cake and coffee, retracing 71 to Northome and to the Forest Hill Cemetery, and finally home to Grand Rapids. Now drinking Baileys and checking in on MSNBC and the Wiener.

Grand Rapids is a pleasant little town on the banks of the Mississippi, which flows to Grand Rapids from its headwaters in Itasca State Park a hundred miles of so away, and on south to the Gulf of Mexico. We drive west and then south through a pine forest to Northome, the non-descript village, 7 miles from where I grew up. We go west again on Highway 71 to the Dead End sign that marks the gravel road down to the end of the road—formerly known as the Neset’s.

Without waxing TOO sentimental, let me say that it was great growing up here because my brother and I were much loved children and, while we were country poor, we had of simple meat-and-potatoes-and-apple-pie kind of food, a comfortable if very basic little house, friends/neighbors, special occasions—the stuff on which good lives are built for kids. Had my mother written her story there would have been disappointment about not being able to achieve a more traditionally prosperous farm life for her kids and about the sort of lumber-camp values of the northwoods, but also a good measure of pleasure over the natural environment, her reasonably good children and a husband who, while not exactly a go-getter, was dear and gentle and did love his family.

Always up here, a mixture of pleasure in the past and great loneliness for it as well

The ‘old place’ as everyone in the family calls it…sinking into the ground. Hey, the voices of the family and the smells of the roasts and pies and the sounds of the animals and the anticipation of the approaching rain or snow or hailstorm are all there. OKAY, so I am getting quite sentimental…always happens.

Another light Minnesota lunch…

Lunch in Blackduck. Another small town of absolutely no distinction except that I was born there. We had hot pork sandwiches in honor of mom and pop because they always ordered them on the very rare occasion of ‘eating out.’

Helen, one of mom and dad’s very best friends and an amazing lady

Barb…also a pretty amazing and special friend

Helen and Barb Weeks. Dear dear old family friends. We’ve known each other since we were born. Back in the day—when people went visiting. Meaning you collected the kids and went to your friends where the men talked and talked and the kids played and the women sat in the kitchen while the hostess stuck a cake in the oven and laid out sandwich meat and homemade bread and jam and sweet pickles and butter and Kool Aid and coffee.

We often went to Louie and Helen’s. Louie may have been my dad’s best buddy. He was a natural-born humorist and often dad was his straight man. Now Louie is gone but Helen is as sharp and funny as ever (at 89) and daughter Barb who takes after her mom—sharp, funny and maybe a little sarcastic about life in general—lives next door and is her mom’s best friend in many ways. We enjoyed some talk of the old days, current ailments, evil Republicans, and the antics of the three dogs while we ate banana cake and drank coffee.

Back down 71 to Northome and the Forest Hill Cemetery. Hi Mom, Hi Dad, Hi Uncle Ike, Aunt Sally. Grandma Asborg, Grandpa Torgus. It’s all green, mosquito-rich, and fake-flower filled.  It’s somehow reassuring to come here. My sons must dig a handful of my ashes down between my mom and my dad.

Grandma, lived to 96


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