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Posts Tagged ‘Minneapolis’

As a child of two parents who grew up connected to Lake Street, so was I. It was the elastic band that stretched to accommodate life in South Minneapolis and it seemed as if life couldn’t have existed without it.  For nineteen years my life Lake Street was a mainstay.

Even the events leading up to my life revolved around Lake Street. My Polish grandfather, my mother’s father, worked at Minneapolis Moline, a tractor factory that once consumed acres at the intersection of Lake and Minnehaha. The man who was to become my father worked at Sears on Lake and Chicago.

We lived two blocks from Lake Street. My grandmother, a half a block and an aunt and uncle just two blocks as well. My elementary school was one block off of Lake Street as was my high school.

My dad had his film developed at a camera shop on 27th Avenue and Lake. We’d wait nearly two weeks to see the results of snapshots taken with his Kodak Instamatic. In the same building there was a department store and a ballroom. Our bank was on this block. Woolworth’s was on the same block.

Across the street was the Town Talk Diner. It was the only sit-down restaurant for miles in any direction, though there was a drive-in on 21st and Lake. Kresge’s on 20th and Lake had a lunch counter.

27th and Lake – photo credit:  J. Johnson

But 27th and Lake, with all of it’s riches was a a world away, nine blocks away from our section of Lake Street. At the intersection of 36th Avenue and Lake were the smaller businesses that served us. The grocery store, the drug store, the bakery, the flower shop, the hardware store – all referred to as “the” because these businesses were, at the time, the sole providers.

Lake Street was also the last street south on which a business could get a liquor license. Mixed in with everything else were bars – neighborhood gathering spots which my surrounding family never frequented. They weren’t taboo, it’s just that my dad’s consumption was limited to a PBR on the back porch after he cut the grass.

A decade later most of what remained of my mid-70’s childhood were the ubiquitous bars. The addition of a second car and working mothers gave physical and financial access to larger, nicer and newer businesses further away and thus the decline of what were completely self-contained neighborhoods.

A long-time friend from my neighborhood captured these images in 1983 and recently sent me the scanned images.

Lake Street looks much the same today.

Poodle Club – 30th and Lake

Duffy’s – 26th Ave at 26th Street

36th and Lake looking southwest

36th and Lake looking east

Dan Za Bar – 38th and Lake

Fine Used Cars – 38th and Lake –  photo credits:  L. Pederson

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Ann Dahlstrom was sixty-five years old when we moved into the house next door to her.  I had not yet reached my first birthday.  Like ours, Ann’s house was built in 1923.  She was the original owner and thus had purchased her house at age 23.

My earliest memory of Ann was of her in her back garden adjacent to her empty garage.     Every now and then, perhaps every couple of weeks,  Ann would empty a small coffee can of waste which typically consisted of coffee grounds, orange peels and potato skins into a small pile in the center of her garden.

There she had a large spread of rhubarb and she would allow me to pick a stem or two, on which I’d sprinkle sugar.  Mostly I savored the combination of sugar and rhubarb juice as I never much cared to eat it raw.

In the summer months Ann would cut her lawn with a push mower – the kind with a cylinder of spiral blades and wooden handles attached to a wooden pole.  She would limp along, pushing the mostly rusted mower a few feet at a time, such that her lawn was always in the state of being mowed. If she got around to raking she would pull the clippings onto the compost pile.

Sometimes I’d talk with her when she uncoiled the garden house and allowed the thin trickle of water to pour onto the garden.  She would hold the old rubber hose at the neck, waist high and move the nozzle back and forth.  The thin trickle due to old plumbing.  Ann’s back yard was the only one on the block that didn’t have a tree in it.  She would tell me that she grew up with so many trees around her that she didn’t want one of her own.

Because of the way our houses were set, side by side, I could occasionally see Ann in her dining room, but only when she had the light on.  In the winter months I could see Ann inside her craftsman bungalow wearing a wool jacket – the one she always wore during the winter, along with a scarf over her head.  We’d heard that her furnace didn’t work very well.  Also during the winter months and because her refrigerator was in an unheated back porch she would unplug it to save electricity.

When I became old enough to take on outdoor chores I would shovel Ann’s sidewalks during the winter.  She never asked.  It was my parents who suggested that I do it.  Each time, when I’d be nearly finished, Ann would open the front door, thank me and pay me with a single apple or orange.

The inside of Ann’s house remained a mystery to me – and everyone for that matter except for her nephew Mark who would come and stay for a week each summer.  He was a couple years older than I.  Even though Mark and I would occasionally play together, I was never taken inside Ann’s house.  The layout was exactly like ours of course, as they were tract houses of a 1920’s streetcar suburb, but still the content of Ann’s house was never seen.

Ann was a retired school teacher and had taught at the elementary school that I eventually attended.  She never married.  She didn’t have any visitors save for her nephew Mark.   For groceries Ann would walk two and a half blocks to the small Red Owl grocery store on Lake Street pulling, never pushing, her wire basket that rolled on two small wheels.  It probably took her close to an hour to make that walk.

She died in 1986.  At that time I was able to go inside the house, which after eighty-six years of occupancy, was nearly the same as the day she moved in.  It was discovered that, in fact, her furnace didn’t work well because the duct work had never been cleaned.  It was originally a coal-burning furnace.

The only thing that I chose to buy from the estate sale following her death were three postcards that I discovered in the house.  In these three picture postcards from about 1920 I see Ann as a young woman. The resemblance remained, as had her smile.   The picture postcards were of her and a young man named William Poole.  His name was handwritten on the back.

For twenty-four years I have gazed into these photos and wondered about what had become of her relationship with Mr. Poole.  Surely she had had memories surrounding these photos as she’d kept them over sixty years.  What had she expected might come of her time spent with Mr. Poole?  I would never know the answer.

These days when I hear of tax increases and cuts in public services I always think of Ann Dahlstrom.  While Ann never had an active role in my youth she most certainly played a passive role in my upbringing.  She had been a teacher who lived in the neighborhood in which she taught.  She lived very modestly.  Grew some of her own food.  She maintained her home and yard as best she could and taught me that payment for work didn’t have to come in the form of monetary reimbursement.  Despite her thread-bare wool jacket, snagged black hosiery, old plumbing and nearly defunct furnace Ann always wore a smile.

When I think that my property tax or income tax might rise a bit from time to time, I think of how these small amounts of funds from me would aid in supporting someone like Ann.  Someone who had lived a fulfilling life with dreams and aspirations – of which I never knew nor never would.  I think about how having a neighbor such as Ann Dahlstrom in my life may have helped make me who I am today.  I think about the price tag for having such an influence in my life and I think that it is priceless.

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Tell me, who wouldn’t like the chance to re-create a portion of their time in high-school? No matter how popular – or not, one might have been, it’s the most quirky time for kids. Fitting in to a new body, both physically and emotionally as well as trying to fit in socially – somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Face it, that’s not easy.

For gay kids it’s even more difficult. It was for me. Things weren’t as difficult for me as some of the stories we’ve heard in the news lately. High school was actually a bit easier than elementary and junior high school where the teasing was never-ending.

In high school I never felt in harms way and there was never any physical aggression towards me, but I was the kid in high school that was called “faggot” as well as the kid who had the word FAG carved into his locker. I tried to ignore it. Pretending that the problem didn’t exist only made the isolation greater.

Last night’s episode of Glee made me realize that my time in high school was more like Kurt Hummel’s than I had remembered. Kurt is the gay kid at the fictional McKinley High in Lima, Ohio. Like Kurt, my high school crush was a guy on the football team. We palled around often, skipping class and taking off on his motorcycle for an hour or two.

Also like Kurt, I aspired to the pop-musical group known at the South Singers. Unlike most high school musical groups in the Twin Cities, the South Singers wore polyester slacks and open collared shirts – and let’s face it, that was really something to aspire to in the early 1980’s. And while the South Singers never really made it (legal issues with the director) the Tigerettes, our dance line always went the state championships.

And like Kurt said in last night’s episode, “…but most of all, I’m not challenged in the least here,” I too was bored in school. Completely and utterly bored. Classes were easy (except for Algebra 2). Nothing in high school challenged me academically, so I took part-time class at the Vocational Institute, where I found I was kind of bored too – but at least it was away from school itself.

Our school’s population was diverse enough that I could hang out on the periphery of certain groups. For example, I had a couple friends who went to Soviet summer camp on the Baltic sea. And another friend who played violin and spent her summer on the Trans-Siberian railroad. And like Kurt, another friend was a kid in a wheel chair who played on the handicapped hockey team. We were all misfits to a certain degree.

But unlike Kurt, I didn’t have the resources that gay kids have today. And unlike Kurt, I wasn’t “out” – no one in high school was then. Granted, what’s available for gay kids today isn’t perfect, but it’s much more than what was available for kids in 1982.

So last night when I saw Kurt visit the fictional all-boys school in Westerville, Ohio and see for the first time that there is a different reality that can be lived, I was jolted back into my high school years wishing that that was me.

I wished that I could have found something completely and utterly astonishingly different at such an early age. That I could have had a “Blaine” to hold my hand and run with me through the school’s commons. There were no songs on the radio that related to my situation. To have had the most handsome boy at school sing a song to me would have made me the proudest boy in the school.

But there were no role models at that time. The only thing that kept me going was knowing deep down inside of myself, that I was okay just the way I was and that sooner or later I’d meet people like myself. I don’t know how I knew that because nothing around me reinforced that belief. But somehow I knew it.

It took years and years to discover these people and I can only wonder what life would have been like if it had happened earlier. I’m okay though with how things turned out.

Life does get better. And maybe I started feeling that way just a little bit back then, when I was riding around on the back of the motorcycle that belonged to the most handsome boy at my high school.

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It’s been six months since I’ve put my house on the market.  It still hasn’t sold, but that’s okay.  This time has given me the space to make sense of how it was that I found myself in Columbus and what I’ve gained while being here.

It has also helped me understand why it is that I find myself ready to leave.  This is part one of a two part podcast that explains exactly what happened.

Follow this link to Vocalo where you can listen to Part I.  The second part will be posted on Thursday, so stop back then.

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