In 1989 on the first tee at the newly reopened Como Park golf course, after watching my grandfather’s drive slice across two fairways and bank off a tree, I learned that golf is as much educational as it is recreational. “Grandpa, you missed,” I said, playfully jabbing at my hero. “Yeah, but that’s alright,” he replied with a smile. “Hitting a tree is good luck for your next shot.” “Oh!” I gleefully said, while altering my aim for a majestic birch 100 yards away. “Wait,” my grandfather said while he corrected my stance. “It doesn’t work if you try to hit it. It’s like a lucky penny. You can’t put it down and then pick it up.” This made perfect sense to my eight-year-old brain.
My dad, William LaMont Kaufman, was superintendent of Saint Paul Parks for thirty-four years. He dearly loved his job, and because he did, approximately one-third of our childhood was spent in his beloved parks. Como, our favorite, offered so much to children as well as to adults. Our dad taught us the name of each plant in the conservatory and the outside gardens, not only in English but also in Latin. Many Sunday nights were Como Nights, when we sometimes brought a picnic and raced to find Dad’s name on plaques in the zoo and conservatory. But his love for Como extended to other parks: Harriet Island, Phalen, Highland, and his smaller treasures—Hidden Falls, Rice, Irvine, Kellogg, Lilydale, Indian Mounds, Mears, and Newell, among others.
One of my favorite places in Saint Paul is Rachel’s Trees. Rachel’s Trees is a memorial to my sister who passed away a few days after birth. The trees are a small part of Como Park, but they are beautiful. They bloom white buds in the spring. They are only about five feet tall, but they are very important to me. Usually my mom, dad, and I go down to see the trees on my birthday.
The sign mysteriously appears when the snow starts, at the foot of the golf club driveway, announcing the start of the ski season at Como Park: “Welcome to Mount Como.” When my husband tells a friend visiting from Switzerland, a snowboard instructor, that his kids took downhill ski lessons there, the Swiss fellow looks puzzled. “But there are no hills,” he says.
My sister phones. "Storm!" she says, disgusted. "They're calling this a storm. No wind, maybe an inch of snow. It's winter, for Pete's sake, we're supposed to have snow. Get a grip!" My sister is not one of your hardy outdoors types, but we're Iron Rangers, and even though between us we've spent six decades in Saint Paul, we retain the Ranger's right to scorn urban wimpiness. It's the TV weather people who have set her off. "They are trying to brainwash us into weather wimps."