Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Corner drugstore

There may be a CVS or Walgreen's pharmacy on your corner. Or in your town.

But that is not the corner drugstore I refer to here.

I'm afraid the corner drugstore of my memory is just that: a memory. And something this present generation will know nothing about.

When I was growing up, there were drugstores on many street corners. All were individually owned, most often by the pharmacist himself.

Some drugstores recollected from my past include Lacher Drug on Grand and Fairview, Towey's on Snelling and Selby, and King Pharmacy on Cleveland and St. Clair. I tried to get a photo of one of them to post by calling the Grand Gazette and looking at the Minnesota Historical Society online database. No luck.

But all of those corner drugstores, and most others, had soda fountains. You could get a sandwich, an ice cream cone, a cup of coffee, a sweet roll or pie. You could put a quarter in the juke box to hear Elvis or Pat Boone, or the Everly Brothers. Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon, the Platters.

Best of all, for ten cents, you could get a cherry Coke. Or a lime Coke. Or a phosphate.

I wonder what would happen if I went to a restaurant today and ordered a cherry vanilla phosphate? I think I would get (after a bewildered look) an Italian soda for six dollars.

But you could also get a comic book from the revolving stand: Little Lotto, Archie and Jughead, Superman. Or the latest 'Teen magazine. Or hair curlers, and beauty supplies like Pond's cold cream or Jean Nate cologne. If it was a gift, they would happily gift wrap it for you. Free, of course.

Not to forget the main reason for their existence: drugs and prescription medicine. If you were ill, they simply delivered your medication to your home. No charge.

They knew you by name. They probably knew me by the length of time it took me to select a candy bar or gum: Milky Way or Three Musketeers? Teaberry or Clove?

Oh, what I would give for a corner drugstore back again. One with no aisles instead of one with twenty-five.

We have such a drugstore in Center City, the next town over, two miles away. It's called Gordy's. No soda fountain, but friendly pharmacists who know your name, advise you on your prescription, even deliver if you're ill.

Although Target or Wal Mart may sometimes be more convenient, my husband and I refuse to change. As long as Gordy's is around, we'll continue to go there.

After all, Gordy's allows us escape the fast pace of the CVS's and return to our past just a bit. And relive warm memories of bygone days.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why you haven't heard from me

Cough, hack hack, cough cough cough, hack, cough, hack hack hack, cough cough cough. Hack hack hack, cough cough cough, hack, cough, hack hack hack, cough cough cough.

Hack hack hack, cough cough cough, hack, cough, hack hack hack, cough cough cough.

Well, that's how my days have been filled for the past week.

But I'll be back soon with more musings, memories and moments to share.

I promise.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Alexis

Our little Lexie (our great-granddaughter) is now four years old.

She wanted a "Dora Princess" party. She talked about little else for weeks, telling us excitedly all about it.

Well, a "Dora Princess party" is exactly what her Mommy and Daddy delivered for her.

The sun was shining in the beautiful Marthaler Park on a cool, crisp autumn day. Sarah had hot cider with lemon and cinnamon sticks waiting for her guests.

And, of course, Princess hats and balloons.

The children were blindfolded as they played Pin the bracelet on Dora. Of course, the highlight was the Princess crown piñata.

Again, the children were blindfolded as they attempted to break into the piñata, spilling out all the candy treats.
Lexie didn't like her blindfold, but continued to keep her eyes closed.

When, at last, the crown was broken, each child was given a princess bag to collect the goodies.

We feasted on many varieties of piping hot pizzas. And Princess Punch, made by Grandma Kristie.

And, of course, what else but a special Dora birthday cake...homemade by Mommy.

A perfect way to celebrate, don't you agree?

Lexie thanks Mommy with a kiss!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Use caution when wishing

A few evenings ago, I remarked to my husband that I wished for one, quiet, uninterrupted day, just for me. I would sit and stitch, knit, and read my book.

Preferably with him gone fishing. Or at least, with the house to myself.

Well, here I am. And not by choice.

George is headed 90 miles down the road to New Prague (Minnesota) for their annual Dožínky festival. Dožínky is Czech for harvest, and it is a lively festival with Czech singers and dancers, Czech food, pivo (beer), and plenty of friends and family from his hometown.

We usually go together, but I've been looking for a weekend day to go to Minnetonka, about an hour's drive, to Stitchville for fabric and beads for my newest project, African Women With Quilts.

Then a little pre-Christmas shopping at the Country Store. After that, destination West St. Paul for my great-granddaughter Alexis's fourth birthday party. She has been telling me all about the plans for her party, complete with a Dora Princess theme and a piñata.

Somehow, in the middle of the night, gremlins sneaked into my bed and scratched at my throat. So I woke up with a sore throat and what feels like a golf ball when I try to swallow.

Looks like I got my wish for a quiet day. Minnetonka will have to wait. If I am really lucky, with some rest and chicken soup, the situation won't get worse, and I can take in the birthday party, at least for a little while, with no hugs or kisses to spread my germs.

So where have I heard the expression, "Be careful what you wish for?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My naivete

I have, what is now, an amusing postscript to my last post: An unusual beginning.

While in New York for the conference I mentioned, in 1998, my sister, Christine, drove in from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where she lived, to see me.

She picked me up at the conference hotel in Gramercy Park, we spent the day together driving to Long Island, and she was then to drop me off at my new, online friend, Shelly's, in Rego Park, Queens, at day's end. I was excited to finally meet Shelly.

When Christine learned I was staying with a person I had met online, but didn't really know, she was flabbergasted at my nerve. Or naivete (a polite word for stupidity), as she probably viewed it.

So we worked out a plan. She would drive me there to "check out the place" and meet Shelly, allowing me to stay only if she approved and felt I was safe. I reluctantly agreed, but trusted her judgment. It wasn't the first time her intuition was right on.

We developed a signal. She would call me after she pulled away, but hadn't gone too far. She would ask if I felt okay to stay, or should she return to get me? If I didn't answer her questions, she was turning the car around to head back. If all was well, I would thank her again for spending the day with me.

Moments after I was dropped off, and we had both met Shelly, the phone rang, as promised.

"Thanks again for spending the day with me," I said, on cue. I happily assured my sister I was fine. Shelly had prepared a wonderful dinner for me, and we were busy making plans for our next few days together.

Later, I thanked her for her loving concern. She was there for me if the situation had turned out different.

No matter how smart and assured we think we are sometimes, it is always good to have someone watching out for you when your thinking is clear only to you.
My sister, Christine, the marathon runner
If that happens to be your sister, you are so blessed!

An unusual beginning

I found a friend online.

I am not talking about a Facebook friend. Nor a dating service. Nor a chat room.

But about thirteen years ago, as I was writing Ragnhild's Story, a historical novel based on the life of my grandmother, I was looking for information about the Merchant Marine.

My grandfather traveled the seas with the Danish Merchant Marine until he finally landed in Jacksonville, Florida, where he "jumped ship," so to speak, abandoning his assignment in order to stay in America. He made his way to New York City to join his brother who worked as a baker at Ellis Island.

I found a research website where I could post a notice requesting further information. I got a reply from a person in Queens, New York.

She was also searching for information on the Merchant Marine, but for a different reason. She was using every means she could to identify and locate her birth parents. She had a lead on someone she thought her parents may have known, who was in the Merchant Marine, and asked if I had ever heard of this person along the way in my quest. I had not.

But as we shared our reasons for searching, some of our findings, and our stories, a friendship developed. I learned her name was Shelly. She and her twin brother were adopted at birth. The need to find her birth parents was strong for her; not so for her twin brother.

It quickly became clear she was a far more experienced researcher than I. She gave me suggestions of other websites to visit, and offered to look through microfilm records for me in New York.

About a year later, I had a business conference scheduled in New York City. I told Shelly about it, and suggested we might meet someplace.

She not only invited me to stay with her after my conference was over, she insisted I was more than welcome and she would love the visit. She would accompany me to the New York City offices to search the microfilm records there.

I accepted, I visited, and the e-friendship we had established online became a personal one. I have since visited her many times, staying with her in Queens, and, last fall, with my daughter, at her new townhouse in New Jersey. We always take in a Broadway musical and go to South Street Seaport to shop and eat.

Shelly and I at South Street Seaport, one day after we met face-to-face (1998)
My book is written. She found her birth mother. Our missions have been accomplished.

But our friendship endures.

A strange beginning? Perhaps. But, oh, such a treasured friendship.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How we remember

It is interesting what happens as I share some of my memories with you.

With some recent past writings, for example, I learned:

My friend, Rosie, remembered things I didn't from our days of working in St. Luke's Hospital kitchen: stuffing our uniform pockets with cherries; feasting on the goodies stored in the big walk-in cooler.

My friend, Janet, met her husband of 46 years at the Minnesota State Fair. My friend, Barb, learned that her Dad also fried hamburgers at the Fair, as mine did.

My sister Christine, actually has the original book, The Cloud Shoes, given to us by Tante Rachel. My sister, Joan, doesn't remember the book at all.

The point is, we remember things differently, and we remember details another might not.

With permission, the following passages are from Watercolor Sky, my friend, Lenore's blog. She writes so beautifully. I encourage you to tap into her blog, as well:
It is true that memories unite us when shared with loved ones, but sometimes the facts are mellowed over time and each person remembers different things, because we are different. However, on the pages of our lives, the stories that are written enable us to become the people that we are. Sometimes they are our strength and other times, perhaps, they prevent us from realizing our full potential.

The wonderful thing about remembering incidents in our lives is that usually the bad parts sink into shadows and the happy and good events only grow more memorable with time. How lucky we are to wander down memory lane, every now and then, and know that our journey has taken us on many pathways leading us to the safe haven of the here and now.
Our memories make us who we are, it's true. And I think we forget the bad memories so that we can move on beyond them.

But even painful memories contribute to who we are, in either a positive or negative way. We can choose to feel their scars, or we can learn from them. We can forgive.

The older we get, the more we learn to treasure today. This day.

Will we be crippled by the bad memories of our past? Or will we realize we only have today in which to be happy and free?

For me, I choose to concentrate on my best memories, and it is those that I share with you. I hope you enjoy them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A new favorite

We sang a hymn in church last Sunday that I had not heard before. Its delightful lyrics and melody have been etched in my mind, and my heart. I've been humming or singing it all week.

It is my new favorite hymn.

So I did a little research, ala Wikipedia, and learned it was written by Jan Struther in 1931.

Jan Struther was the pen name of Joyce Anstruther, (1901–1953), an English writer from Buckinghamshire, England. She died of breast cancer at the early age of 52. Ms. Struther was remembered for her character, Mrs. Miniver, and wrote a number of hymns, such as "Lord of All Hopefulness."

It goes like this:

It is set to the melody of an Irish folksong, from the village of Slane. It is also the melody of another well-known hymn, Be Thou My Vision.

It is a wonderful prayer to begin the day. Or anytime during the day. I just had to share it with you.

Peace and blessings as you go about your day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cloud Shoes

When my four sisters, my brother and I, were young, in 1957 to be exact, we were given a book as a gift from our Tante Rachel Due, who lived in Manhattan.

Tante is Danish for "aunt." Though my mother's family was very small, they had several close family friends who, though not blood relatives, were given the title, Tante.

Tante Rachel was one of those. We children came to know her when she visited our home in Minnesota. She presented us with the book during her visit.

Tante Rachel had a dear friend from her native Norway, Borghild Dahl. Ms. Dahl was the author of several children's books; among them, The Cloud Shoes.

All of her stories were delightful, most set in her homeland of Norway.

Besides inventing captivating tales and enchanting Norwegian legends of trolls and elves, Ms. Dahl was a remarkable woman, graduating from the University of Minnesota, then receiving a Master's degree from Columbia University. She taught literature and journalism at Augustana College. She was decorated with the Medal of Saint Olaf by the King of Norway.

But there was one thing she did not possess: her eyesight.

She typed her manuscripts on an old Braille typewriter. The kind with round keys, a cloth ribbon, a black roller carriage, and a manual carriage return. No, it was not electric.

Can you even imagine such a thing? No delete key? No insert key? No memory? No backup and restore?

My mother tells the story of a time when Ms. Dahl had worked laboriously for days on end, with little rest, to meet a story deadline. She typed, and typed, and typed, and typed some more. I imagine she typed carefully, as well, with the absence of the above-mentioned keys.

When she finished, she handed over the manuscript for publication.
Only she hadn't realized there was no ribbon in the typewriter.
I can't begin to fathom that degree of disappointment. The story told by my mother ends here. But Ms. Dahl's stories live on in the hearts of children around the world.

The Cloud Shoes is an enchanting tale of a king and queen in Norway during a time of famine. The king promised his people he would do anything to save them.

This led him on a hopelessly difficult journey to bargain with the dwarf of Trond Mountain, aided only by a pair of baffling "cloud shoes" to help him jump off a mountain peak. The "cloud shoes" would become the first pair of skis to be used in Norway.

I managed to find an old used copy of this book for sale. I leafed through its musty pages and I was suddenly a child again.

I'm going to continue to search for the books of my childhood. Maybe I'll get lucky and find The Bobbsey Twins . Or Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. Or even Boxcar Children. Or Black Beauty. Or....

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day: a recollection

To commemorate Labor Day, yesterday's Sunday paper featured a story about "worst jobs" people had experienced.

As diverse as my work history is, I can't match some of their stories of detasseling corn, working in canning factories, or cleaning fish. I guess my worst, or at least most challenging, would be the summer I did daycare for six: three teenagers and three toddlers. I prayed at frequent intervals throughout the day to get me through.

But as I recounted my various jobs, a funny memory came to mind the summer I was 16.

With a December birthday, most of my friends turned 16 long before I did. Mary Kay had started working in the dietary department at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Rosie worked at St. Luke’s Hospital (now United), also in the dietary department.

So the summer I was 16, I joined Rosie in the kitchen of the old brick St. Luke’s. And it was old. But not long after I started working there, we moved to a brand new part of the newly-built hospital in a much larger updated kitchen with new trays, new dishes, the works.

There we worked side by side, Rosie and I, on the dinner assembly line where we would add the salt, pepper and napkin to the tray as soon as it started its journey down the conveyor belt. Later, we'd advance to the position of “starter.” The starter's job was to prepare the tray for the line, making sure the proper pace was maintained: not too fast, not too slow.

When the patients were finished eating, and the carts were returned from the nursing stations, we’d take the dirty trays off the carts and ready them for the dishwasher.

Once we had even more experience under our belts, we graduated to “nourishments” - the snacks patients requested between meals.

At this time, Rosie and I were also double-dating, frequently going to the drive-in movies. We figured we had quite an advantage working with patient nourishments, as we could prepare food to take along to the drive-in while we prepared the patients’ snacks. Not that this was allowed, mind you. Somehow our consciences didn't stop us.

One evening, we made up bags of chicken salad sandwiches, grapes, chips and cookies. We carefully put them aside to take along when our shift was over. We'd punch the time clock, change clothes, and our dates would pick us up at the hospital.

Our mouths were watering for the great food we’d prepared.

But when we got to the drive-in and opened our bags, we discovered the goodies we had prepared for ourselves got mixed up with a patient’s.

Some very lucky patients got our windfall while we got the meager and uninteresting offerings that were meant for them.

Perhaps our consciences got the better of us, after all.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It gets in your blood

Every year, for ten days in August, thousands of people, from all over the state and outside of the state, go through the turnstile to enter the Minnesota State Fair.

Their adrenalin is high. They have waited for this day all year.

Everything is there. Every imaginable exhibit. Every imaginable, daring, thrilling ride. Every imaginable carny barking his promise of a prize every time!

Every imaginable hawker demonstrating gadgets and gimmicks. Found only at the Fair! Special Fair price! Not available in stores! Step right up! Buy it here!

Every imaginable food, and some you could never even imagine. Deep-fried. Served on a stick. Food you would never find anywhere else but the State Fair, once a year. That's probably a good thing.

These days, many of the food stands are owned and run by restaurants and various food franchises. But in days gone by, many of these booths were sponsored by churches. Staffed by members who volunteered their time, cooking, baking pies, waiting tables and cleaning up at night, it was a major fundraiser for the church.

Our church was one of those. Photo ca. 1957

From my earliest memory of the Fair to only a handful of years ago, the church operated their food stand in this manner.

Each year, a member of the Ladies Aid took on chairmanship, a demanding role with a huge commitment of time: scheduling workers, determining how much food to order, paying bills, keeping books. Only in its later years did they hire a coordinator to oversee the effort, but the work continued to be staffed by volunteers. My Dad fried hamburgers and onions on the grill, every year for at least twenty years.

Our stand was famous for its hot roast beef sandwiches. People came back year after year, their mouths watering for what they remembered was the best sandwich anywhere.

Once we girls were about 12 years old, we could volunteer as waitresses. We could hardly wait until we were old enough, and then it was great fun to sign up with one of our friends and play waitress for a day. The church even reimbursed our admission cost, so when our shift was done, we were free to discover all the Fair had to offer. Although the adults donated any tips they received back to the church, we weren't that charitable. Our tips became our spending money for food and rides in the Midway.

When we went together as a family, it was to explore all the free things the Fair had to offer. The cattle barns, horticulture building, dairy building, and machinery hill.

This photo was taken of me and my brother on Machinery Hill in 1958.

People have very unique and special memories of the State Fair. Perhaps they met a sweetheart there. Or a secret lover. Rode on a boat through the "tunnel of love," as I did with a boyfriend or two. Or even attended on their honeymoon.

It gets in your blood. You simply can't stay home when the State Fair is occurring. You are driven to go. You may miss something if you don't.

Ask my sister, Christine. Labor pains with her first child didn't stop her. Her husband got a wheelchair for her and they walked through the fair, labor well underway. A few hours later, Josh was born. But she didn't miss the Fair.

A group of Minnesotans recently got together to try to recreate a celebration of the Minnesota State New York City!

Like I said. It gets in your blood.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Land of 10,000 mosquitos

Everyone thinks Minnesota is known for its 10,000 lakes.

Wrong. It's 10,000 mosquitos.

And they are all out this year. Revved up and ready to suck blood. I don't think I've ever seen them so thick and so thirsty.

But then, wait. I do remember...

It was the summer of 1968. My father-in-law had purchased a pop-up camper and invited us to use it. My then-husband's aunt and uncle were going camping in northern Minnesota, and suggested we come stay at a spot next to theirs while they were there. It sounded like great fun.

My husband's younger brother, Darrell, decided he'd like to join us. There was plenty of room in the camper and we welcomed his company. So the three of us adults and two-year old daughter, Kristie, went off on our weekend adventure.

We arrived at the campground and went about setting up the camper. Kristie delighted Uncle Paul and Aunt Alice with her antics of jumping off a stool and then clapping her hands and exclaiming, "Yay, goodie!" The more everyone laughed, the more times she jumped off the stool.

It was a hot and humid evening as we all shared in a sandwich supper. When dusk arrived, we built a campfire. So far, so good.

But then we all adjourned to our own beds in our own campers, snuggled in to our sleeping bags, and turned off our flashlights.

Buzzzzz, buzzzzz, bite, bite! All of a sudden, the three of us adults were swatting and slapping, and Kristie was crying. We turned on the flashlights and there were at least a million mosquitos, at least, flitting about the camper. One of the guys checked all the openings to make sure everything was snapped shut and tight; the other swatted mosquitos swarming all over the camper; and I settled Kristie down, checking her for bites.

We found one of the openings had come loose, thereby providing the mosquitos with an invitation to come in. When we thought we had it remedied, and all the mosquitos in the camper were very dead, we turned off the flashlights to try again for some sleep and some relief.

Wrong again.

Buzzzzz, buzzzzz, bite, bite! The mosquitos came back full-throttle and it seemed they had summoned all their relatives to come join in the feast.

This time we were all bitten again, and had lost any shred of humor we may have had earlier. I'm sure I was the least patient and the most crabby.

Again, we checked the openings; again we swatted mosquitos; again I settled my toddler, checking her for bites.

Then as we were looking up with the flashlight, we saw it. A tear in the mesh netting toward the ceiling that provided air to the camper.

We didn't know of a way to repair the tear. There was nothing to stuff it with, and no way to keep anything in place. Overtired, out of ideas for a solution, and out of patience, we decided to abandon our camp and head for the nearest town to check into a motel. Any motel.

We pooled our pocket change (refer to earlier "Pinching pennies" post) and came up with enough for all of us to share a room. We fell into the motel beds exhausted. But oh, the relief of a night's sleep without mosquitos.

Except for all of us, almost in unison: itch, itch, scratch, scratch.