Thinking Back

Let me say up front that I’m writing this blog for my therapy and if it conjures up a memory or two for you, great.

Journaling has become today’s version of keeping a diary. Both men and women journal for one reason or another, but I don’t remember any boys keeping a diary. I write this because I sure wish I had kept a diary when I was in elementary or high school to refresh this old mind of “the good old days.” I still have some very fond memories but I might be able to reminisce even more.

When I first started to serve mass, it was like being in a play and I was one of the supporting actors with the priest playing the lead role. There was so much to do; put on my cassock and surplice (yes, that is what they were called), get the altar ready, light the candles, put out the linens and cruets, prepare the incense if it was to be used and have this all done in time for the start of mass. Then, there was the mass itself. Well, one mass per day did not seem to be enough so I prepared an altar at home and, when they were available, enlisted my sister Jane and my cousin Linda as servers. I used grape juice for the wine and Neccos as hosts. In today’s politically correct society, I’m sure this was all sacrilegious. Eventually, at age 13, I went to the seminary and Jane and Linda were off the hook.

As young as I can remember, we took the train from North Judson to Chicago (on the Erie Railroad) and then to Minneapolis. Someone came from Anoka (my birthplace) to pick us up to bring us to grandma and grandpa’s farm where we spent most of the summer. The train we rode from Chicago to Minneapolis was the Zephyr operated by the Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q). There were two Zephyrs, one headed north and one headed south. They eventually passed each other along the Mississippi River. Thus, they were called the Twin Zephyrs or the Twin Cities Zephyr. I still remember the observation car with a second level so you could see out into the distance. I also remember the Bar Car for lunch and snacks and the Dining Car with its white table cloths for breakfast and dinner. Maybe it’s time for another train ride.

When I was about four years old, my grandpa was the County Commissioner, he was still driving, and he had important meetings in town. I always wanted to go with him but he had more important things for me to do. If my mom and grandma were cleaning, he would give me a pencil and paper and ask me to keep track of who cleaned what area of the farmhouse. I dutifully said yes and when he returned, I had a page of scribbled notes. Scribbled because I was only four and had not learned to write yet. At age 11, I became my grandpa’s designated driver for those trips to town. His heart wasn’t the best and he wasn’t supposed to drive. I was tall enough to reach the pedals so he would get me in the car on the pretense that he was teaching me to drive. We would drive the roads that divided the farm fields and then take the back way to town. I learned then that all of the important meetings were taking place at Schmidt’s Tavern. I didn’t complain because Schmidt’s had the best root beer this side of A&W and I got to drive. I’m sure my mom and grandmother knew but they never let on.

Then there was eating breakfast at my grandparent’s kitchen table each morning with the Sanderson brothers. The three brothers weighed about 300 pounds each and they farmed for my grandpa. My grandma fed them each morning at about 9:00 after they had been in the field for 3+ hours. I was always sure to be at the table at 9:00 for oatmeal, eggs, potatoes, ham or pork chops and fresh biscuits. They were responsible for my poor table manners because if you didn’t reach, you might not get anything.

In the immediate area of my grandparent’s farm, there were 10 cousins and 10 “second cousins” and an assortment of neighbors so yard games never lacked participants. One game regularly played was Red Rover. In today’s high tech world, Red Rover might not be able to hold anyone’s attention. We managed to continue to crash into the opposition line of cousins as long as no one got hurt. It all seems so simple now; call out a name to be “sent over” and then prepare for them to crash into your outstretched arms. When Red Rover was over, some of us resorted to hiding in the ditch that guarded the road from town and we would jump out of the ditch and make noises and faces at the passing cars. Another low-tech activity for the day.

My Uncle John was the county sheriff and lived with my aunt and cousins in Little Falls, Minnesota. The National Guard camp, Camp Ripley, was near Little Falls. In the summer, I would visit and my cousin Eddie would cut me in on his summer job of going to Camp Ripley to sell the two Minneapolis newspapers; the Star in the morning and the News in the afternoon. In between we would shine boots for the guardsmen in camp. What a deal. It was easier to do than trapping gophers and selling their little legs for the 40-cent bounty; which I did with my other cousins. The time spent with my Uncle John always involved a lot of teasing which exposed me to what my mother had endured being six years younger than her brother John and it toughened me up for when I returned to Indiana.

My grandpa had a Model T Ford that mostly took up space in the machine shed. One year he gave it or sold it to my dad and mom. We got to drive it back to Indiana, about 600 miles. That same year we took a drop leaf desk/dresser home with us. The desk fit in the back seat so my sister Jane could lay on the drop leaf and I could sit next to her. I remember the dresser drawers were packed like a suitcase. Well, as you can imagine, we didn’t go very fast. Also, it is very hilly between Minnesota and Indiana so going up the hills was a struggle. But for the two of us in the back seat, going down the hills was like being on a roller coaster.

As I said, writing this was therapeutic for me. Thanks for bearing with me.

Update – I’ve had six treatments without any issues. I’m off this week so I’m going to Minnesota to visit my sister Jane and brother-in-law Allen. Who knows, I may find a Model T to drive back. I’m sure it would be without Sue.