Cousin Diana, Aunt Bernadine, Grandma Downey, Me, Bernice
Except for the terrible intermittent trauma I suffered from my grandfather, my early adolescence was rather uneventful. I chose a musical instrument in sixth grade and joined the band. The band director, Dick Wyland, thought perhaps I should play trumpet or trombone. I insisted on the saxophone because Larry Ankrum was playing saxophone. He got tenor and I got alto. I loved it so much that I practiced between two and six hours every day.
I played first chair alto sax all the way through junior high and high school. In junior high I went to Sunrise Park, located on the south end of White Bear Lake. The band director was Keith Woodbury. After ninth grade I won the band scholarship to band camp. It was given each year to the student who the director thought had made the most improvement during the year. I was so proud and excited, but as it turned out I couldn't go after all. That was the summer my grandfather finally died.
We had travelled to Nebraska for a summer visit, which was by no means unusual. We spent a few weeks in York at the home of my Aunt Dolores, Uncle Ben and Cousin Randy. My grandfather suddenly had a stroke and was taken to the hospital in Lincoln, which is about fifty miles east of York. My grandmother and I then went to stay with my cousin Dennis, his wife Helen and their two small children. They were renting a house in Lincoln because Dennis had been transferred there from Chicago by his company, Burlington Northern.
My grandfather spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. My grandmother was there every day, but I stayed at my cousin's house. Every day I would ride his bike around the east end of Lincoln. One day I was riding along when the rubber handgrip of the bike slipped off. I stopped to put it back on and noticed a rolled up piece of paper stuck inside the handlebar. I pulled it out and shamelessly read it. It was a love letter to my cousin Dennis from a woman who was not his wife.
When I got back to the house, Dennis was out in the yard. I waved the letter at him and yelled, "Hey, Dennis, look what I found in the handlebar of your bike!" Oh, I thought he was going to kill me. He grabbed it and made me promise not to tell anyone about it. By then I was very good at keeping secrets, so I never told a sould until I grew up and developed the habit of telling everyone everything.
The next day my grandmother dragged me to the hospital to see my grandfather. I didn't want to go under any circumstances, but I had to. When I stood uncomfortably next to his bed, he weakly grabbed my hand. It was almost as though he wanted to make amends, but I would have none of it. I jerked my hand away and fled the room.
Later, back at my cousin's house, I overheard Grandma say to Dennis, "I don't know what made her run away from him like that." I could tell she was disappointed in my behavior. I wondered what would happen if I told her, right then and there, why I hated Grandpa so much that I refused to be at his deathbed. I kept my mouth shut, though, and never told her as long as she lived.
The telephone call from the hospital came that night as we were eating supper. My grandfather was dead. Oh, happy day! Grandma, Dennis and Helen quit eating immediately. Helen comforted Grandma. I kept right on eating even though my stomach was very nervous and upset, mostly because I hated to see my beloved Grandma cry.
The funeral and burial were back in Lincoln. My grandfather's brother, nephew and grandnephew came from Wisconsin in their small plane. I rode the fifty miles back to York in the plane with the nephew Howard and his son Roger, who was only a couple of years older than me. That was my very first plane ride.
I don't remember anything about the funeral except sitting there in a chair at the chapel and wishing it were over. Any memories of the burial in York cemetery completely escape me. I do, however, remember the dreams I had afterwards. We were staying for a few days at Dolores' home in York before we went back to Minnesota. Each night I dreamed that my grandfather was buried in a shoebox in Dolores' basement. In my dream he was small enough to fit in the shoebox. I would go down to the basement and dig him up and stick pins in him. Sometimes I dreamed that he was coming after me, but then he always went back in his shoebox and was once again covered up by the dirt floor in my aunt's basement.
Never again did I ever venture into that basement.
After Grandpa died, the stresses of life eased up. I was free!
Grandma and I went back to the farm to live there alone. Bernadine and Diana came often to visit. I started my high school years at White Bear Senior High in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
Those were probably the best years of my life. I had my close group of girlfriends, which included Barb Conley, JoEllen Lammers, Arvilla Mortensen, Kathy LaMotte, Anita Axmark and Janine McKenzie. Barb played 2nd chair tenor sax in the band (Larry, of course, played 1st). JoEllen and Janine both played alto. Barb, JoEllen, Kathy, Arvilla, Anita and I were all on an intramural girls basketball team that we called The Chipmunks, only because the cute boys we had crushes on were on the boys' team called The Squirrels.
White Bear High School had a great hockey team. Each of the three years I was in high school, from 1965/66 to 1967/68, the team made it to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. Go Bears! Of course we never won anything but the consolation prize, but it was great going to the games just the same. The pep band always got in for free. We all got on a bus and headed to downtown St. Paul for each of the days our team played. It was a rollicking good time. On the bus we always sang high school rah rah songs and flirted back and forth with the boys. We laughed and joked and didn't have a care in the world. We were high school students in the 1960's. The drugs and anti-war activities had not yet reached us.
Another friend I had in high school was Debbie Koch. I met Debbie in creative writing class. She was a riot and had a great influence on my life. Debbie belonged to a drum and bugle and colorguard sponsored by Twin City Federal Savings and Loan. Soon I belonged to it, too. The drum and bugle consisted of all boys. They played trumpets, trombones and drums. Debbie and I were in the colorguard, which was comprised of all girls. Over a two year period, I marched in dozens of parades. We usually took first place in all of the parades.
We travelled by bus to small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Most of the parades were in the summer, but the exceptions were the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the Anoka Halloween Parade, as well as the Minneapolis Aquatennial. This was a wonderful part of my life and an experience I'll never forget.
There was a trombone player in the corps named Jim Peterson. He was also in the band at my high school. Our style was credited in great part to him, for he arranged many of Henry Mancini's songs for our group. We marched to such tunes as The Pink Panter, Peter Gunn and Baby Elephant Walk. I loved that music and I loved the corps.
Our leader was a man in his late thirties. He developed routines for the color guard. One of our most famous was the Headchopper. In this there was a lot of flag and rifle twirling. Then the rifle girls would suddenly stoop down while the flags turned suddenly with their flagpoles straight out. If a rifle girl did not stoop down fast enough, she could be hit in the head by the flagpole. Thus the name Headchopper. None of the rifles ever got hit, but there was a lady in the crowd once who did get hit in the head by a flag. She had ventured too far out into the street.
Going to the parades by bus was a big thrill for us. Many times the teens would pair off and make out in the bus seats. One girl got the nickname of "two hundred mile makeout." Another girl was called "boom boom" for obvious reasons. Debbie was called "blue boobs" because she once wore a blue bra underneath her regulation white blouse.
There was one boy I used to make out with on the bus. I no longer even recall his name, but I remember he used to like to go at it hot and heavy. Once the group had a picnic at Sucker Creek. He got me in the woods and laid me down on the gound. He wanted to get in my pants, but I turned him down by pushing his hands away. Not only were the mosquitoes terrible that night, but I knew I was in no way ready to have sex at that young age. He became quite angry. I told him you could still have fun without doing that. We didn't speak much after that. I found a different boy for my bus makeout partner. His name was Mike Sandman. He was a year younger than me, so that only lasted for a couple of bus rides. To this day I wonder whatever became of him. He was the type of boy who would be sure to make something of himself when he grew up. He was serious, intellectual, and very kind.
The boy I liked the most was Tom Kostuch. He palyed trumpet in the corps and also in the school band. He was the closest I ever came to having a high school sweetheart. He even invited me to the prom when he was a senior and I was a junior. I remember being very surprised. I didn't know how to answer him. I didn't know how to dance. I told him I would let him know. I few days later I told him no because dancing was against my religion. Actually, the church I was going to left it up to each person to decide for herself, although they did rather frown on it. Anyway, it was a good excuse for me not to go to the prom. I just knew I would have been terribly embarrassed, both by my lack of ability to dance and by my lack of the necessary social graces that many of the girls who went to school dances had. These were the cheerleaders and the rich girls who lived in North Oaks and Dellwood.
If I had it to do over, I would have gone. After all, I did have a great crush on Tom, and he was such a nice person that even if I had stepped on his toes he would not have minded. As it was, he graduated and went on to college. That was the last I saw of him until about six years later when I was working as a veterinary technician at the University of Minnesota Small Animal Clinic on the St. Paul Campus. At that time Tom was a graduate student at the College of Veterinarian Medicine. We did go out to lunch once, but I was already married with two children by that time.
Many years later, when I was living alone with my kids and reflecting on my past, I kept thinking of Tom constantly. I was even having dreams about him. Finally I called one of his relatives. They told me he had died from cancer. He had left behind a wife and six children in Wisconsin and that his wife was also a veterinarian. I felt so bad. Tom was only in his early forties when he passed on. I added him to my list of people I knew who had died and gone to the other side.
My grandmother and I lived on the farm until I was seventeen years old and a senior in high school. The farm was about a hundred years old. It consisted of a white frame two-story house with an open front porch and a closed back porch. There was a red henhouse, barn, brooder house and outhouse. There was also a little white pumphouse that pumped water from the well to the kitchen. When the water drained from the kitchen sink it went into the "sewer," which was a pipe that led from the kitchen, under the driveway, and into a small drainage ditch on the slope at the side of the back yard.
The henhouse was rather long and had a sand floor. One end had a garge-type door so that the old tractor could be housed inside. The barn was two stories. On the bottom of the west end was the two-car garage, although only one car was kept inside. tTe middle portion of the bottom of the barn was a room that contained cages that my grandparents had used to keep various animals in, such as rabbits. The east end contained stalls for the horses they used to have. The upper part of the barn was the hayloft, but by the time I came along there was nothing in it except piles and piles of pigeon poop. It was dried together in mounds, and my cousin and I used to walk across it to get to the hayloft door where the long, heavy rope hung. We would grab hold of the rope and swing ourselves out into the sky, then back again. Sometimes we would shimmy up and down the rope.
The brooder house had a fence attached to the front of it and a yard that we called the brooder yard. In the yard was a large tree that I loved to climb. Diana and I often played in the brooder house. Of course, nothing was bred in there anymore, so it made a lovely playhouse for us. I spent hours sweeping it out and putting curtains on the windows. Then I dragged a little table inside and a few chairs. It became my clubhouse.
One day Diana and I were inside when it began to rain. It came down in torrents. We decided we'd better try to make it back to the house. I stood in the doorway trying to get up the nerve to make a run for it. Diana gave me a little push to help me make up my mind, and away I started to go. Unfortunately, I slipped in the mud and fell to the ground. I had a pencil in the pocket of my pedalpushers. The lead was pointing upwards. It went right into my side. I had to go to the doctor to have the lead removed, get stitches and get a tetnus shot.
Once, several years before my grandfather had died, he had to go to the hospital by ambulance. He was throwing up blood clots. My grandmother must have thought he was going to die then, for she said to me, "If we have to have a funeral, I want you to stay out of that brooder house for awhile." I never could figure out what one had to do with the other.
Kids on a farm love to be active. One thing I enjoyed doing was climbing onto the brooder house roof. This was easy, for it was sloped low at the back. Then, from there, I would climb onto the outhouse roof, for the outhouse was right next to the brooder house. Then I'd jump down to the ground. It made me feel good that I could do such a thing.
We had the best outhouse in Vadnais Heights. That little village had a lot of them in those days. There were many people who had indoor bathrooms, but just as many who had only outhouses. We had a two-seater. The hole was very, very deep. When I was little, I kept thinking that the Devil would come up from the deep dark hole that was full of poop and stick me in the butt with his horns. I guess I thought that hell was down that hole.
My aunt also had an outhouse, but here was only a one-seater with a shallow hole, so every few years a new hole had to be dug and the outhouse moved. The other thing that made ours the best was that it had electricity! That was so my grandparents could plug in the heater fan. It sat on a little wooden box on one side of the door, while the toilet paper was on a roll on the other side. The heater fan would give us a cool breeze in the summer and heat in the winter. I was usually careful not to touch it in the winter, for if I did I would get a shock. Sometimes I did it anyway just to feel the shock course through my fingers and up my arm.
Vadnais Heights was called "Dogpatch" in those days, after the Little Abner comic strips. You could have livestock in Ramsey County back then. One of my good friends, Becky Welch, had several Shetland ponies. I loved to visit her and try to ride them. Another friend, JoAnn Gamnis, had a real wooden playhouse in her backyard. We would often have overnights there. These were the same girls who I went through grade school with and was in the Brownies and Girl Scouts with.
Most of the kids in my immediate neighborhood were Catholic. They all went to Catholic school through the eighth grade, after which they transferred to the public school. There were often theological discussions on the schoolbus which consisted of dialogue such as "If you're not Catholic you're going to hell."
"You're going to hell 'cause you're Catholic."
When I was in eleventh grade I developed my dialogue a little better. When the discussion got around to Catholocism, I said, "I thought about being Catholic. In fact, I almost did. But I found out there are just too many errors in their dogma."
"Like you Catholics worshipping Mary when the Bible clearly states that you're only supposed to worship God."
"You're going to hell for saying that."
And so it went. Luckily, the conversation always turned to boys after that, and the boys turned away in disgust and talked about sports and threw spitballs at each other.
My good friend Janine McKenzie was also Catholic. She and I used to have discussions about it, but she was polite and made sense. Never once did she tell me I was going to hell for not being Catholic. I remember her telling me that Catholics didn't worship Mary, but that they honored her. She said, "How would you like it if I came to your house and just ignored your mother and wouldn't even talk to her?" I felt better toward the Catholics after that, but it was a long time before I finally came up with a new motto for myself. Now, when someone asks me what religion I am, I say, "I embrace them all and adhere to none." When the hospital asks me what they should put in the box on the form regarding religion, I just tell them to put Jedi.
The only Protestants in my neighborhood were myself and my grandmother, my cousin Diana and aunt Bernadine, and our immediate neighbors up the hill, the Fast family. My grandfather, and probably Tony Fast Sr., was a self-proclaimed atheist. My aunt, uncle and cousin rarely went to church. Bernadine used to be active at North Heights Lutheran when Diana and I were small. She brought us to Sunday School and for a few years helped out at the church. She began to omit church from her weekly schedule and decided she was just as good as those who went to church every Sunday. Of course she was right. I think she was ticked off because when she walked up to Rice Street to catch the bus to go to work every morning, people would drive by her and not stop to offer her a ride, even in sub-zero temperatures in January.
When I was seventeen years old and a senior in high school, my grandmother burned the house down. She didn't mean to, for it was an accident, but she was devastated. The farmhouse was a hundred years old and the wood was very dry. It was the middle of January in 1967. The temperature outside was thirty degrees below zero. We had a gas stove. That morning the pilot light had gone out. My grandmother lit it with a match. There was a small hole in the plasterboard right above the stove. The flame from the match was sucked right up that hole.
Grandma yelled up the stairs, "Get up! Colleen, get up! The house is on fire!"
I got our of bed and came down the stairs. I peered up that hole and saw a flame, so I got the turkey baster and began to squirt water up the hole. Of course that didn't do a thing, so I called the fire department. They came but drove right past our house, for they didn't see any flames. I had to run to the end of the driveway and flag them down when they drove by again so they would know where to go.
Grandma and I stood out in the yard on that cold January morning and watched the firemen destroy our home. I ran back in to get my chihuahuas. I went into the downstairs bedroom and found them cowering under the bed. A fireman asked me what I was doing in there. I told him I was getting my dogs. He went back to work with his hose and his axe and ignored me. I got the shivering little creatures, gathered them into my arms and brought them outside. I put them in the huge 1955 Dodge that I had learned to drive with.
By the time the firemen were finished putting out the fire, the house was thoroughly gutted. The Red Cross put us up in a motel in White Bear Lake for the night. The next day we came back to the farm with Bernadine to inspect the damage. There was a lot of smoke damage and of course damage from the firemen's axes. The inside of the house looked like the ice house in the movie Dr. Zhivago. Grandma miserably stood and looked while I gazed about me in awe. We began to go to work salvaging what we could. We brought the clothes to the laundromat, but the furniture was ruined.
After the fire, Grandma didn't know what to do. She felt so bad. I think she probably felt guity for burning down the house, although of course it was not her fault. It was a terrible accident. But she was still just sick about it.
I took the fire in stride. After all, Grandma had once told me that when she and Granpa first came to St. Paul they lived in a nice house on Hoyt Avenue by Como Park. When her husband bought the farm in Vadnais Heights and moved his family there, she cried. She didn't want to live in an old farmhouse with no inside toilet.
Now she cried because she lost that farm after living there for over thirty years. I looked upon it as an adventure. I brought my friends to see the charred ruins. They murmured in appreciation and amazement at what could happen in a split moment.
Grandma went to stay with Bernadine, Everett and Diana in their little three-room cottage that had no indoor plumbing or water at all. There wasn't really room for me, so I stayed with my friend Janine. Her parents welcomed me. They had a beautiful home in White Bear Lake. I loved staying with them.
After a month, I switched to the home of another friend, Anita Axmark. Her parents welcomed me, as well. Anita's mother asked me to stay with them until Grandma and I had another place to live. I guess she thought a month was long enough at Janine's house and that I shouldn't wear out my welcome. I think she wanted to feel that she was doing her part to help a fire victim. She was a very nice lady. I'm ashamed to say that I never told her how much I appreciated her help. I was a teenager. Teenagers are sometimes too busy growing up to realize how much others do for them until they finally reach adulthood and are able to look back with a new perspective.
For me, being at Janine's and Anita's was a taste of freedom. It was almost like being on my own. Of course I had pretty much done whatever I wanted to at home anyway. It was getting so Grandma could no longer control me. I was always purposely missing the schoolbus so I could take the car to school. When I didn't feel like going to work at my job at the A & W, I wheedled, cried, pouted and begged until finally Grandma would give in and call in sick for me. I was spoiled. I liked getting my own way. And Grandma would do anything for me. She seldom told me "no" and meant it.
In the end, I got kicked out of Anita's house. Her mother became angry at me and that was the end of that. Back then I was like most other girls. I was boy crazy. And I was driving Grandma's car. That was a bad combination.
One night I stopped at the Standard Oil gas station on County Road E and Bellaire in Sunrise Park. I liked to go there and flirt with the boys who worked there. There was one in particular I was attracted to. I offered to give him a ride home that night. We stopped somewhere to park. We made out hot and heavy, but back then we nice girls left all our clothes on. So did the boys who went with nice girls. Also, nice girls did not let boys pet below the waist. Looking back, I 'm thankful that I remained a virgin until I was nineteen.
By the time I got back to Anita's house it was after midnight. Anita and her mother were waiting up for me. Her mother gave me hell. She told me that my grandmother was trusting her to take care of me and that I was acting very irresponsibly. I mumbled something about having to give someone a ride home. I'm sure my flushed face must have given me away.
By then Grandma had a mobile home to live in, so off I went to join her. It was situated on what was our farm. Several year before the farmhouse burned down, a mobile home park was developed on the land adjacent to the farm. I could stand in the field behind the barn and see it. It was down the hill and across the meadows. Actually, it was sitting right on top of the swamp they'd had to fill in to build it.
The mobile home park, called Five Star Mobile Estates, was delighted that our farm was destroyed. They wanted the land. They got it, too, and dirt cheap, for Grandma was in a bind and didn't have a lot of financial knowledge. They gave her some money, told her to pick out any new mobile home she wanted on their lot, and she could live in the park for the rest of her life without paying any lot rent.
I went with her to look at the homes. There were singlewides and doublewides. This was the late sixties; the homes were still being made with paneling on the walls rather than sheetrock. If they ever caught on fire from a faulty furnace or other reason, they burned like dry straw inside of a tin can. I figured the chances of us having a fire destroy two homes were slim.
I told Grandma she'd better take the doublewide since the singewide wouldn't be big enough to hold all the stuff we'd salvaged from the farmhouse. That's what she did. I didn't think she'd be happy in a small singlewide trailer after living so many years in a large farmhouse. I was right.
I was also happy about having an inside bathroom, complete with tub, shower, sink and toilet. Grandma was getting too old to walk to the outhouse at all hours of the day and night. Granted, we had a pot we used at night and during times of sickness. The problem was that we had to carry the pot out to the outhouse in one hand and a tin pail of very hot water in the other. We'd dump the contents of the pot down the outhouse hole, then fill the pot with the hot water and dump it down there again. Now that routine could be history.
I had done a lot of the carrying and emptying, but when I wasn't home Grandma would do it no matter how many times I told her not to. She had a very large hernia on her navel. The doctor had long since told her not to lift anything heavier than a teakettle. She wouldn't listen. Of course not, for she was a Downey woman. Downey women rarely listen to anyone unless there is some good reason to do so. Downey women have the irritating habit of usually being right.
Grandma also received insurance money for the farm. She used some of that to buy a brand new car. I tried very hard to talk her into getting a Firebird, but she wouldn't listen. She got what she wanted, which was a 1968 Dodge Dart with a slant six engine and an automatic on the steering column instead of on the floor. It even had four doors instead of two. There were no bucket seats. Very unsporty. There I was stuck driving it instead of my dream car. Oh well, it was better than the 1955 Dodge I had been driving.
At one time I had my own car - an older Rambler station wagon. I drove it everywhere. One day I was very ill with the stomach flu, but I insisted on driving to the hockey game that night at Aldrich Arena. I got there okay and sat with my friends but didn't have the strength to cheer for our team. Soon I felt nauseous and had to leave. I was driving down Highway 36 and had to pull over so I could vomit. That out of the way, I began to drive on when suddenly there was a loud clunk. My car would go no further. I don't even remember how I got home that night. What I do remember is that some boy a couple of years older than me who had a crush on me towed my car home to the farm (this was a couple of weeks before it burned down). He spent a few days working on it outside in the subzero temperatures of a Minnesota January. I remember him coming in the house to get warm. Then he kissed me on our back porch. My Grandma asked me later why I didn't want him to be my boyfriend since he knew how to fix things.
"Look what he's doing for you, Colleen. He'd make you a nice boyfriend. He's a mechanic. He'd be handy to have around."
"His nose was too cold when he kissed me, Grandma," came my sharp reply.
I never did like very many of the boys who liked me. As for the boys I was crazy about...well, then didn't know I existed!
Take Bryan King, for example. He was in the youth group at the church I began going to in junior high school. I was madl in love with Bryan for six years. As much as a young teenage girl can be, anyway. He barely knew my name no matter what I did to get his attention. Apparently I was too young for him to notice, for he was three years older than me. Sigh...such is life.
Life continued on in the mobile home park. I hated it when people called it a trailer park because it sounded so tacky. It made it sound like a welfare ghetto lived in my people who threw their garbage out the door. Our park was nice, though. The worst part of it was knowing that it used to be our farm. All the trees, meadows and fields were gone. That was very sad for me.
Five Star Mobile Estates had big lots. Most of the homes were newer models. We were still on our farmland, so to speak, and we still had the beautiful view of Lake Vadnais and all its surrounding reforested pine trees. I could still take my fishing pole and walk down the Waterworks Road and fish for sunnies. I could still ride my bike over to Sucker Creek Park and all around Lake Vadnais.
Our mobile home had three bedrooms, a fairly large living room, a dining room with a built-in hutch, a dinette area and one bathroom. The only carpeting was in the living room. All the other floors had linoleum. Or do I say vinyl flooring?
It was scary living there during bad storms, but otherwise it was okay. Once, before the farm burned down and when the park was new, there was a small tornado. Several trailers blew over. They hadn't been anchored down yet. A baby was missing, but they soon found him. He was sound asleep inside a lampshade!
Once our mobile home park was the focus of an article in a national magazine. There were pictures. Someone had the bright idea of making highrise trailers. They built a cement tower, much like a parking ramp, that was three stories high. On each level they put a couple of mobile homes. How awful! Not even a back yard, unless you wanted to jump down two or three stories. This was the most stupid looking thing I had ever seen. Several years later they removed the monstrosity from the park.
By this time it was almost my 18th birthday. Soon I would graduate from high school. I had already been accepted at St. Cloud State College for the fall quarter of 1968. I spent the rest of that spring joyriding in the Dodge Dart (my Rambler had died; that big clunk was the engine crashing down), chasing boys and being involved in my school activities as well as the TCF Color Guard. I hung with my friends and continued to work at the A & W. I also worked in the office, doing payroll, at Gem Discount Store in Maplewood.
Sue Roller was a girl I carhopped with at the A & W. She became one of my best friends. I had a terrible crush on her brother Jon. He would come up to the A & W with his friend Steve. They both rode motorcycles. I thought Jon was the coolest, cutest boy I had ever seen, even if he was a year younger than me. That didn't matter because he was very tall. He, on the other hand, never gave me a second glance. His friend Craig Freeberger was one of the first boys I ever dated. On our first date, we went to the movie theater in downtown White Bear Lake and saw Dr. Zhivago. It was so romantic for a young teenage girl.
In the summers during high school Sue Roller had a job as a mother's helper to a rich family on the far shores of White Bear Lake in Dellwood. Another friend, Sandy Everson, had the same type of job for a family on exclusive Manitou Island. It was so much fun to go out to the Island and visit her. The family she worked for let her drive their pink Mustang convertible. We thought we were pretty cool driving around in it. During our senior year, Sandy and I began to hitchhike around just as everyone did in those days. Then we began to see if we could get away with stealing things out of stores. It's amazing how easy it was in those days, for there were no electronic monitoring systems. Sometimes I wish we would have been caught. But we always got away with it, so we kept doing it for several months, just as a lark. Looking back, I'm amazed at the things we got away with and at the things we had the nerve to try. Perhaps I was rebelling against some of the things that happened in my childhood. Perhaps I was just being a teenage who was experimenting with various things in life. Thankfully I grew up and never did such things again.
Graduation day came at last! I'd been waiting for this day for three long years. I had thought it would never come!
It was on the evening of June 6, 1968, which was a Thursday. School had already ended. I spent the day hanging around with a few friends. We went out in a boat on White Bear Lake for a few hours. I was wearing shorts and a halter. The sun was shining brightly.
I should have known better. Every year I have that terrible hindsight, for every summer, the first warm sunndy day, my fair Celtic skin gets a bad sunburn.
The graduation ceremony began at eight o'clock that evening. By then I was hurting badly, no matter how much Solarcaine I sprayed on myself. My skin looked like a lobster. I felt like screaming like a lobster.
Grandma said it was my own fault. I should know better by now, so I had better grin and bear it. I went to my high school graduation, for I would not have missed it for anything. Not after all the work it had taken to get to this point in my life.
The ceremony was held at Price Athletic Field, which was behind the old high school. This was now being used as a junior high school. My sophomore year had been the first year the new high school had opened.
First came the processinal with the caps and gowns. Then the Reverend Lyndon Schendel gave the invocation. We seniors who were in the band took our places among the other band members and played Light Calvary Overture. What stands out the most about my high school graduation is sitting with the band wearing cap, gown, blouse, skirt and nylons against my red painful legs and holding my saxophone across my lap.
The choir sang a few selections, awards were presented, then our names were called one by one as we went forward to receive our diplomas. Afterwards all the seniors posed for pictures taken by their families before going to the refreshment table for cookies and punch.
The senior party took place that night. I inteded to go to it with most of my friends. That is, until Debbie Koch asked me if I wanted to go down to the West Bank with her and her brother instead. Her brother had graduated a year or two before us and was now a student at Augsburg College. I didn't know him very well. I also didn't know what or where the West Bank was. I was game to try something new, though, so I said yes.
The West Bank is located in the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis. It is so named because it is on the west side of the Mississippi River. The University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus is located in that area on both sides of the river. There is the EAst Bank side and the West Bank side. On the East Bank side, on the other side of the campus, there is an area of shops and restaurants that are frequented by students and staff. This are is called Dinkytown. On the West Bank, just west of the campus, is another area of shops and restaurants. This is merely called the West Bank.
In the late sixties, the West Bank was the habitat of a large number of hippies, musicians and artists. Most of the hippies hung out on the corner of Fifth Street and Cedar Avenue. There were a large number during the week. This number grew even larger on weekends. They frequented the little restaurant with its stools in Richter's Drug Store and played the pinball machines in the back of the store. They ate at the various little restaurants and bought albums, trinkets, incense and rolling papers at head shops such as The Electric Fetus.
I arrived on the West Bank for the first time late in the evening of my high school graduation. Debbie had obviously been there before, for she knew many of the hippies. It certainly looked like everyone was having a very good time, for they were all grinning ear to ear. It was as though no one could quit smiling. And everyone accepted everyone else. It didn't matter if ou had been a cheerleader or a sports star in high school. The hippies did not care anything about things like that. Many of them wore peace signs and gave each other the peace sign when they met on the street. They would say things like "Make love, not war," and "Peace, sister." They also constantly said things such as "Far out, man," and "Psychedelic."
Debbie took me upstairs in the buiding next to Richter's Drug Store. This was Dania Hall. It was a big dance hall where the musicians had long hair and moustaches and played music that was called acid rock. Huge strobe lights flashed in time to the music. When you danced and looked at the others on the dance floor, it looked as though every few seconds the people were not there. It was very surrealistic.
After Dania Hall closed for the night, we went to an apartment next door that some friends of Debbie lived in. I remember going into the bathroom and passing out for a few seconds because of the intense pain I was feeling from the sunburn. Debbie came in and brought me out into the living room. She asked her friends for some Noxema. She gentlyrubbed it on my legs where the burn was worse. She then made me drink a lot of water to replenish the lost fluids. Soon I felt a little better. Finally we left to go home.
That was my first exposure to the hippie lifestyle, but it was certainly not my last. Within a couple of weeks I was living on the West Bank and became a hippie myself. I was happy as a lark and as free as a butterfly.
(This is the end of Part Two. Part Three will be in a new blog post.)