The following memory is from:

On October 26, Barb Plotnik and I met at Mealy’s restaurant in Faribault. The Olympia is gone, or we would have met there. Barb already had our day planned. She would be the leader, as she has always been, even when we were two and our moms found her feeding me ashes from their fireplace. My book, “At Home in the Big Woods” is what brought us together again. Barb came to my book signing in Faribault last August and we have been corresponding by email ever since.

The event in August reconnected me with other classmates also. Thanks to those of you who attended. Carolyn and Marcia, the reassuring looks on your faces really helped me get through that speech. Thanks to those of you who ordered my book by mail. Your responses have made all that writing worthwhile. The book continues to sell well, which surprises me a little and pleases me more.

Special thanks to Steve Miller for one of the most insightful comments I received. Thanks to Jim Hanson for helping to promote my book, to Ollie Larson for sending me our classmate directory and to Susan Briese, who put me in touch with Jim.

After my talk in August, I thought about returning to Faribault again to confront some demons from the past. I never expected to follow through on that thought, but there I was with my old friend intending to drive around town and let the memories come as they would.

As we drove past familiar houses on the East Side, where we grew up, names popped into our brains as though they were just waiting for the opportunity--Ray Freund (who still doesn’t look a day over 60) Johnnie Chappuie, Roy Welsandt, Susan Briese, Sam Pederson (remember when my family visited your resort near Fergus Falls?), Susie Gagnon (you are in a photo from one of my early birthday parties), Dick Broberg, Anne Esterline (loved your emails from Morocco), Ann Kieffer, Marty Duncan (I’m reading your book).

We found that my house is green now instead of blue, but otherwise looks the same. Barb’s once beautiful house with French doors leading to long open porch looked unkempt. A wooden fence encloses the porch. We used to shoot mud balls off the porch.

Washington, our old grade school, is in a different place now. The old building no longer exists. One day every summer, the street in front of the school used to be blocked off for the East Side picnic. We remembered hunting for pennies in a pile of sawdust in the street. We talked about our teachers--Miss Mademan, Miss Bengston, Mr. Wilhelmson and Miss Mandel. Suddenly “Miss Holbeck,” the name of our kindergarten teacher, which I’ve been trying to recall for years, popped out of my mouth.

Before crossing the Viaduct to downtown, we visited Teepee Tonka Park, the sight of homecoming bonfires and snake dances. I wonder if the walls of the steps leading under the Viaduct are still scrawled with names and sexual invitations.

We found that downtown businesses were either boarded up or selling novelties instead of food, clothing and pharmaceuticals. Och’s department store no longer exists. Neither does Kresge’s or J.C. Penney’s. Remember how the clerk at Penney’s put our money in a container then sent it by pulley to a cashier in the balcony? Dandelet’s Jewelry still has a presence as does Burkhartzmeyer’s shoes.

After reminiscing over coffee, we drove through other parts of town. The rock in the Tourist Park that we used to try so hard to climb only came up to our waists. More names came to mind--Ted Estabrook, Karl and Dorcus Reinke, Jack Weaver, Anne Klemer, Lynn Mikelson, Marian Schroeder, Buck Roach (who reminded me that we were born on the same day in the same hospital), Marian Krupp (who reminded me of our bike trip to Marnie Johnson’s cabin on French Lake), Janna Thompson (I’m enjoying your book), and our old piano teacher, Mrs. Zielke (sp?) (at recitals, I always wished I was as talented as Ahne Grow). Our high school has changed so much that I didn’t even recognize it.

The baseball stadium has shrunk considerably, hasn’t it? Because her dad used to be an umpire there, Barb was able to go to all the Faribault Lakers’ games. Sometimes she invited me. The best parts for me were the hotdogs and the cute batboy, our own Pete Deem.

Throughout the day, I found myself looking at Barb as though she were a long lost relative. I saw her looking at me in the same way. It occurred to me that, as the class of 61, we possess one of the most important characteristics of a family--years of shared experiences.

The intensity of the day stayed with me on my drive home to the Big Woods. It felt good to kill off some of my demons and to connect the life I have now with the one that made me who I am.

Let’s keep in touch.


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