Doc Bozeman tried to concentrate on that bullet—black and glistening with blood—and not on the fact that it was lodged in John Dillinger’s shoulder. Muscle and tissue gripped it like the gangster didn’t want to give it up, and Bozeman maneuvered to get a grip with his forceps.
Dorothy Day and I go way back.
Granted, I never met her, but I can’t help but feel a connection after volunteering every third Saturday for the past twenty years at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown Saint Paul.
Billy Peterson has left his impression on Saint Paul baseball for more than five decades.
As a forbidden summer activity, we enjoyed swimming at the Ford Bridge over the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
I was seven years old, in second grade, and tired on a daily basis. Most mornings I arrived at Highland Elementary School after limited sleep. I was robbed of sleep by bouts of eczema, an inflammatory condition of the skin. Rashes covered my skin, and in the middle of...
The “sizzling sixties” stands out as one of the most dramatic seachanging decades in the annals of American political and social history.
Hi there! Everyone talks about the good old days—how they used to be—what a difference from today. Remember when gas was 25¢ a gallon? And cigarettes 26¢ a box with a 1¢ tax? Wow!
Pig’s Eye Island owes its name to a nineteenth-century trader, Pig’s Eye Parrant, who sold liquor and guns along the Mississippi’s watery highway.
I grew up in the Dale-Selby neighborhood of Saint Paul. To be more
exact, we lived in the upstairs of a duplex just off the corner of Dayton
and St. Albans, one block from Dale and one block from Selby.
Where I first put my arm around you.
Clad in red coats
and autumn hats,
we walked from the Farmers’ Market,
bags of basil in hand,
then arm in arm.
The dog waited.
When I see sweet potatoes, I often think of Deborah Torraine. Deb
was a community organizer in the Twin Cities. She always referred
to herself as a cultural worker; she was a mentor to new and
emerging artists, and the Director of Community Engagement for
the Saint Paul Almanac.
Driving back from the reservation, I cross a small bridge into Saint Paul. I feel the troubled waters. I think of my grandfather’s people,the Dakota. I think of how they lived by the water, how they made fire by the water.
Jenna already has her lights up, of course. I would have mine up, too, except ever since Sam fell into the Grand Canyon, I have been a little behind on things.
Saint Paul is my chosen home, the place where I feel most deeply that I belong. Now. It has not always been so.
I’m sorry you fell Tuesday night, a little after 8 p.m. I hope you’re okay. Your husband looked mighty upset when you fell.
Our Lady of Guadalupe,
leaning in the mercado window,
make intercession for the West Side.
Mystical rose of yellow, red, and blue,
protect those who journey through
the corners of George, State, and Chavez streets —
New Tepeyac, District del Sol.
Tonight she asks you to sleep
with her. both of you in the bed
with siderails, a plastic mattress pad
“All over (America), Negro boys and girls are growing into stunted maturity, trying desperately to find a place to stand, and the wonder is not that so many are ruined—but that so many survive!”
JAMES BALDWIN 1955
Frayed upon the edges
Free of wrinkles despite
that they were not then
My father’s parents
looked so in love
at a time in the 1930s
Selby is a chowhound. an inveterate, unrelenting, willfully indiscriminate gastronome of Saint Paul street food. naturally he is named after the street where he lives, Selby avenue, and naturally, when I come to dog sit him, we commence our journeys from that haunt of celebrated eateries, dine-ins, and dessert stops.
The world is filled with empty promises.
it’s like when you tell a person you love them,
and they say it back,
but after that
y’all never speak again.
Not wanting to alarm my husband and infant son, in case they’ve fallen back asleep, I don’t call. I don’t even text. But I do take a picture with my camera-phone, because I need proof that I’ve done it, that I’m actually here: sitting in a 2005 toyota Matrix, outside the Saint anthony Park library. this is incredible.
In praise of buses rattling through the streets
In praise of passengers jostling for a seat
In praise of a transfer I didn’t need to buy
In praise of snow falling from the sky, and my down coat
Bought secondhand but warm
It was my mom’s first marriage proposal. At eight, she was the older woman. George was only six. After hasty consideration, Mom turned him down. As she explained to her mother, she couldn’t marry George. He liked carrots. She didn’t.
The photo had sat on the windowsill for the last twenty years. It had borne the sun’s ultraviolet tentacles until they sucked the ink from each pore. The image was that of the first child, a promise of greatness and potential to be cultivated.
The midnight sky is bright with the light of new snow. Rooftops have gone missing.
Saint Paul recently lost one of its most sterling examples of what it means to be a responsible, useful, and compassionate citizen. That individual was Arthur Chandler McWatt.
I laughed out loud when Bobbie finally confided to me the thought that struck her when she first heard my voice on the phone: “Oh, Lord. Another white woman looking for a Black care provider for her Black child.”
What’s this park named?” Owen asked as he clambered up wooden steps.
My wife and I glanced at each other and shrugged.
THE ARTIST PATRICIA OWEN worked for the Peace Corps in Senegal. “They give you a mission, and when you get there, you find one
Rain obstructs the windows
And scatters the light from street lamps
Into illuminated circles on the sidewalk.
Left everything. Left Laos in ’78.
Followed a husband following Vang Pao.
We called it “The Spot.”
You could sit and look at the sunset,
watch trains crossing the Mississippi,
rounding the eastern shore of Pickerel Lake.
“You look like yesterday.” Margaret set her crossword aside and smiled warmly from the bench outside Northwestern Hall at Luther Seminary.
I am Hamda Ahmed Essa. I am twenty-two years old, I am single, and I live in the Twin Cities. In 1991 when I was a little girl in Somalia my family and relatives had to run away from the war.
Words don’t mean much here. Take Ida, who is excited to hear: there is a phone call for her! She turns to the window to pick up her glasses.
On Saturdays when I was a kid, my friends and I took the streetcar—later the bus—to downtown Saint Paul. Sometimes we went to the library, where the wise librarians knew how to help active boys find books that would hold their interest and keep them coming back for more.
Kwame McDonald, an African pillar in the Saint Paul Rondo com- munity, was working on his autobiography when he transitioned into ancestorhood.
People ask me, “What is Hmong?” Hmong is not just an ethnicity, but a definition of who I am. Hmong is a tradition, a culture, and a belief. Above all, being a daughter in a Hmong family is both a gift and a curse.
MAY LEE BEAMED when I praised her fennel.
Mhonpaj’s Garden is the first organic Hmong Community Supported
Agriculture (CSA) in the U.S.
I’ve been here for ages, my power
formed this land right, all curves and banks,
low countryside and limestone bluffs.
Tossing the ball
back and forth
from hand to air to glove
The sound of it, leather
hitting leather, a satisfying thud.
In a way, I feel sorry for Kate Middleton. She didn’t have to worry about a flooding Mississippi River dumping tons of mud on the wedding venue. Nor did she spend nights making hundreds of paper rosebuds for bouquets and centerpieces.
Springtime is the season of the Cinderella gown. My main task when helping my daughter prepare for her high school prom was to take her shopping for that one magical dress.
Quiet and complacent; that described me in high school. A campus planning mishap catapulted me from my insular high school persona into one boisterous, self-assured college student.
When you asked me if I wanted to go to prom,
I was filled with excitement, until you requested
if my date could be your brother;
my 1st and last ex-boyfriend.
We were moving to Saint Paul after a year in Ireland, all ten of us packed into a tiny Fiat station wagon for the drive from New York to a big house on an even bigger hill set on Osceola Avenue.
No chairs fly through the air tonight,
no linseed oil drips from a homemade brush, no argument ensues over process,
for Gauguin does not appear,
Amid the ransacking rumble of semitrailers, we stumbled
the sloped hill of Pierce Butler,
the truck route near the train tracks.
It was a little before seven on the morning of June 1, 1966, when I entered the stately building at 55 East Fourth Street and hurried up the stairs.
We were ice cream truck connoisseurs
And knew which Popsicles would stain our tongues.
We were rich in playground sand
And told one another, if you step on it, you’re it.
When we were ten. We saw a country called Viet Nam on WCCO as we ate dinner on our TV trays from Shell Oil, but that country would go away at the turn of a knob.
I always like to think about the fun one could have around the late 1960s. We could dance the night away. The clubs you could go to if you wanted to dress up or dress down.
It is a good collection of boys, my son’s Midway baseball team. They won their share of games, but the biggest victory came with the biggest loss for one of Sid’s teammates. It was an unparalleled profile in courage, not just for him but for all the boys.
It was a hot day like so many days in July, the weekend of the Taste of Minnesota. Weekends around the house always but always, to the dismay of the teenager of the house, consisted of time-intensive, labor-filled yard projects.
A few years ago on the Fourth of July we wanted to invite some neighbors over for homemade cinnamon rolls. I make the rolls from scratch; my wife invites.
As the Black poet J. Saunders Redding said: The relationship between a people and their history is the same as the relationship between a child and its mother; history not only tells a people where they are and what they are—history also informs us what we still must be and what we still must do.
I grew up in the West End on Arbor Street, by the old Schmidt Brewery. One of our pastimes in the mid-fifties was building and racing “chugs,” which were homemade go-carts, made entirely of found parts—boards, bent nails we straightened with a hammer on the sidewalk, and of course the most cherished find, wheels big enough to use (many baby carriages were wheel-less that summer).
Swatting mosquitoes in the rhubarb,
I watch you pull husky potatoes from the earth.
You roll them in your palms and scuff the dirt from their bulging eyes and moony grins.
Here’s Mister Potato Head!
The Cherokee Heights Garden Club has celebrated seventy-five years of service. They have faithfully beautified and tended the flowers on Smith Avenue at the High Bridge for years. Returning from a walk in Cherokee Park, I pass by the High Bridge flowerbeds. A...
Kwame McDonald was a much-loved icon in the community. He was well traveled and well known across the country. My relationship with him—a relationship of associating and working together—lasted over thirty years, right up until the time he died. This is also a story about the manner in which he died, his whole attitude about life and death, and the acceptance of his fate.
The Irish Fair’s site along the pewter-gray, spreading Mississippi beneath downtown Saint Paul on the ample greensward of Harriet Island is majestic and invites celebration. The bustling and music-crammed Irish Fair with its snowy canvas tents, its black-tinted signposts, and plentiful green turf offers an Ireland of the mind to its visitors.
It will leave nothing. Nothing. The future comes, ripping the asphalt up—black, jagged slabs.
You’re not alone with your sleeplessness. The lion is roaring. There’s a peacock, too, though you didn’t recognize its call until Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom went to India. You’re not alone because a distant siren cues the timber wolves, all of them except the shy ebony outsider, the only one who doesn’t fight over the salami your brother tosses into the Wolf Woods.
“IN THE MIDDLE of all the chaos of life, a massage,” smiles Andrea Sullivan. She is a practitioner of Shiatsu Anma, Chinese Abdominal Detox Massage (Chi Nei Tsang), Thai Yoga Massage, and Taoist Medical Qi Gong and meditation, and to watch Andrea giving a massage in the moiling farmers’ market is becalming.
My grandmother had forbidden me from going to their house, so Jaine and Tamara starting sending me airmail. My bedroom window faced their yard, and when my grandmother wasn’t home or it was dark out, they would write me notes on paper airplanes and send them up through my window. I had just learned to read and write so it was all very exciting…
Dylan, Spider John, and the Purple Onion by Bob Scroggins I got to know Saint Paul and I got to know Bob Dylan because I got to know Bill Danielson. Bill owned the Pink Pizza Shack at Hiawatha and Lake in Minneapolis. In 1957 it was a hangout for me and my friends....
Fifty-two and newly divorced. Sounds like the symptoms for something fatal. I moved to Cathedral Hill and started going to Nina’s Coffee Café for daily dialysis. Out goes the old, sad blood, in comes the new, highly caffeinated stuff. Some of my friends said, “Why don’t you date?” And other friends said, “Forget about dating. Get com- fortable with being alone.”
I wake up from a deeply sedated sleep; I am scared. I don’t understand my surroundings, nor how I arrived here. I search for a glimpse of familiarity, the eyes of my loving mother, my adoring father’s warm hands. There they are. They tell me they have not left my side in two days. I have given everyone quite a scare. Bacterial tracheitis killed numerous children in 1980. I was among the first in the state to survive. As a mother now, I can almost understand the terror that my parents felt those first forty-eight hours.
In 1952 I became an O.L.P. girl by default. On the day I was to get measured for my Derham Hall uniform, Mother and Dad told me that I couldn’t go there after all and they immediately took me, in tears, down to Our Lady of Peace High School to register. It was a financial decision. Grudgingly, I joined the 190 girls who made up the second graduating class at O.L.P., which quickly had been dubbed the “Old Ladies Prison” by the boys at Cretin.
Her 80th birthday—“Surprise!”
She smiles from the party photo, her last…
The first thing I saw when Dad turned our car down Grandma’s street in Merriam Park was the sky-high catalpa tree in her front yard. It was the only “cigar tree” on the block, and when I spied it, I knew we were almost there. It was a beautiful tree, with frilly white flowers in the spring that magically became long, brown seedpods in late summer.
My Hamline-Midway neighborhood is the kind of place where childhood memories are made. Sure, Wisconsin Dells, a Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas, and Disney World all have their fair share of excitement and joyous wonderment. But nothing can compare to the warm feeling you get as sticky chocolate ice cream drizzles down your fingers, while you watch your sister try to feed the dog some of hers.
We had only been living in Saint Paul for a couple of months when my husband told me he’d found somebody else. “Someone from work,” he said. “Can I keep my stuff here until I find a new place?” I put off telling my mom for a couple of weeks, not wanting her and my dad to worry about me and my one-year-old son. When I finally did tell her, I had to repeatedly assure her that my freelance work was actually bringing in enough money to live on, even though it was far from true.
I was living on the street . . . had used up all my clean undergarments . . . and did not have any money or place to wash. One day I was taking what is called a “sponge bath” in the White Castle on University and Lexington, feeling really low . . . hours passed, 2 p.m. . . . traveled down to the Loft Teen Center and filled up on penny candy, sitting on the corner of Oxford and Carroll Avenue. A grey four-door car pulled up slowly . . . right next to me . . . my head was down, very close to the street gutter entrance . . . I could smell the stench of whatever was down there. I heard a deep, smooth, radio personality voice saying, “What’s the matter, man?” I was like, “What?” I couldn’t believe it. “I need some clean draws . . . and socks!” I answered. This voice replied, “Get in.” Wow! My angel on Earth. Steve bought me a pack of clean boxers and socks. Then he allowed me to shower at his house so I could go to school . . . clean.
Every generation has its historical moments
Of collective grief and disbelief
Moments we forever remember
Exactly where we were when . . .
The deaths of Kennedy, King, Clemente
The space shuttle Challenger explosion
When the planes hit the towers on 9/11…
Some days trees are all I see.
Today they’re getting fringed in leaves
at the crown. Underneath
there’s a huge ball of root
that nobody sees except my son…
Just beyond the hem of the lake’s blue skirt
the sky turned suddenly jaundiced,
a weighted stillness, not quite your own, descended, and even the black pine
and birch hovered motionless
in a calm that bore no calm at all.
Back in the old danger days,
when we were kids, we stood
on the front seat of the Chevy Impala—no seat belts to hold us back,
our mother’s arm the only thing between us and the dashboard
My father and I used to go door-to-door delivering wafers in a tiny gold case. I imagined my father gave me this job to make me feel special when all of the older kids went to school. When they disappeared behind the doors of St. Mark’s School with their starched uniforms and shiny pencil cases, I felt left out. As a remedy, my father quickly got me started in the business of delivering communion to neighborhood elders…
Gadahlski refers to the garage door of the house I grew up in. The house was a modern rambler sitting on a hill in the pristine, well-educated community of St. Anthony Park. My parents, my sister, and I did whatever we could to fit into the mold of “the Park.” The house expressed this desire for perfection with its regularly mowed lawn, clipped hedges, and fresh paint. Even the flower and vegetable gardens were neat and orderly.
Growing up as young Black men in Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, we learned a lot from the generation of Black men who preceded us. We, like they before us, were simply known as “the Rondo boys.” Rondo was where we learned to survive, to grow and develop—it was where we learned the value of our extended family membership, where we fell in love and got our hearts broken. It was also where we learned what’s in a name.
It snowed that afternoon. Heavy, wet flakes pelted my coat on my walk down the sloping drive toward Cleveland Avenue. By the time I got to the iron gate it was soaked through and smelled of wet lamb’s wool. I looked back. I was an English major at St. Catherine’s that...
I remember hearing Kurt Vonnegut, who
was speaking in Saint Paul, say that when
the aliens arrived on a desolated earth,
we should leave them a message, carved in
the walls of the Grand Canyon…
It was my mom’s first marriage proposal. At eight, she was the older woman. George was only six. After hasty consideration, Mom turned him down. As she explained to her mother, she couldn’t marry George. He liked carrots. She didn’t.
The photo had sat on the windowsill for the last twenty years. It had borne the sun’s ultraviolet tentacles until they sucked the ink from each pore. The image was that of the first child, a promise of greatness and potential to be cultivated.
The midnight sky is bright
with the light of new snow.
Rooftops have gone missing…
Da’ Kwamsta’ was my Rites of Passage. From the moment we first met. Da’ Kwamsta’ always told me, “Kemet, you don’t have the type of atmosphere to work for anyone but yourself!” He would explain to me over and over about the loopholes, the codes, to survive as a young Black man. He would express to me in parables that this road that I chose was a very, very lonely road. Self-love was critical to further my faith and trust in the Creator, and to my personal growth and development.
To me, the rusty fifty-gallon steel barrel near the alley in the northeastern corner of our back yard had been there forever. It was where the wrapped-in-newspaper food scraps and other assorted discards were deposited. When I got tall enough to reach over the top, I was allowed to carry the matches and light the scary fire that daily burned the ragtag contents. Once the barrel got about half-full of ashes, Dad took it to the dump to empty it, and I got to go with him…
Your goal is to make it home while he still sleeps. That way when he comes up from the basement, there will be coffee. The chicken soup flecked with cilantro and green pepper will be covered and waiting. Maybe you’ll be sautéing the rice. Maybe you’ve added the boiling water and salt. Maybe, if you’re very lucky, if the children are still watching TV and haven’t gotten loud, the rice will be almost done, the water almost all absorbed. He pats your hip three times, lifts the cover on the soup, tags the rice with a wooden spoon. Nice, he says, before walking to the living room to displace the children.
In 1973 we invited the women we knew in the neighborhood—most of them, like us, mothers of preschoolers. We knew the mothers of the teenagers who babysat for us, so we invited them too. And we invited our elderly neighbors who indulged our children riding Big Wheels over their lawns. We scheduled the party the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when, we reasoned, mothers needed a break from their children. Our written invitations flatly stated, “MOMS ONLY.”
Relax. Think. Who was your favorite teacher? Hold that thought. James Dee Cook doesn’t recall the male teacher’s name but confirms that his third grade teacher was a major force throughout his lifetime. James was born and raised in the Rice neighborhood at the height of the Great Depression and rode the bus to elementary school. Math was James’s art. Like a human calculator, he doodled numbers in his right brain as he played in his sandbox.
I took my first breath in St. John’s Hospital at Seventh and Maria. That makes me a native Saint Paulite, even though I grew up in the suburbs. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, many suburban parents-to-be chose Saint Paul hospitals to welcome their babies into the world. As a suburban child, it was a big deal to go shopping at the downtown department stores, and each trip we took, my mom never failed to point out St. John’s at the top of the bluff. “That’s where you two were born,” Mom would remind my brother and me. Anytime my brother and I were fighting in the backseat, Mom would remind us that we’d all wind up back at St. John’s if she crashed the car because we had distracted her.
I remember Rondo . . . the streets were cobbled stone.
I remember Rondo . . . 450 was our home.
I remember Rondo—the intersection Arundel Hill,
On one corner the cab station; across the street,
Joe’s Grocery Store . . .
I remember Rondo, and we never locked our door.
I remember Rondo—smiling faces still in my mind
Each fall and spring since 1996 we’ve loaded students aboard one of the Padelford Packet boats at Harriet Island. Their mission is to learn about how they are connected to this amazing body of water. The joint project between the Padelford Company, the DNR, and the Science Museum of Minnesota is called the Big River Journey. Six times a day we squeeze fifteen to twenty fifth and sixth graders into the wheelhouse to talk about the school subjects that help a person become a riverboat pilot. Anyone who thinks smaller classroom size has no impact on the quality of education can come spend a day of Big River Journey with me.
My girlfriend lives in an apartment across the street from the Saint Paul Cathedral. She has a very Catholic upbringing that only shows when we get to fooling around on her bed with its view of the illuminated massive doors and dome of the church across the street. Then guilt kicks in and I wish there was a curtain to draw. More than once desire has been quashed and old morality triumphs over free love as I am sent packing. After my latest expulsion, I’m driving my economical four-cylinder Chevy II in a sour mood as I pass through the intersection of John Ireland Boulevard on Kellogg when a fast Pontiac Grand Prix roars through the red light and hits me.
The summer I turned nine was filled with days spent with my two best friends, Punch and Dell. A day would begin at first light as I slipped through the house like a ghost after pulling on faded shorts and a too-small shirt.
I take a seat at a corner table facing the window. A blustery spring day. The mutter of cars and buses as they pull up to the stop sign.
Western Avenue, once the city limit back when little farms lay between St. Paul and the milling city of Minneapolis.
p>Nanny is my grandmother. Daddy is her husband, my grandfather. One day, years ago, Nanny and Daddy were out looking for the Winter Carnival Medallion. They watched others find the medallion on the grounds of Nanny’s old house.
The fear of you haunted my every day.
Fear of your fist—a slap or punch—
there was no difference between the actual and the dread.
Mother said they already knew
that the communist soldiers
were on their way to her father’s house because he was a provincial governor, he was one of the firsts on their lists. They had many lists.
I spent two summers semi-underground in Saint Paul. I worked in a corner of a municipal building’s warehouse near the Mississippi River. It was, more accurately, the city’s basement.
Take the bus? Sure, I can take the bus. Moving to Saint Paul from a small southern Minnesotan town in 1976 was thrilling. I was nineteen years old and fearless; riding the bus didn’t seem like a big deal.
A chunk of snow falls while my grandma Dorothy Marie Miller Wick Rangitsch Hayes stares out the window. She is eighty-nine years old and lives in the disorientation and terror of dementia.
We stood at the corner of West Seventh and Albion waiting for the WALK signal. Though it was February, the sun was shining and the weather was mild. My four-year-old son was never one to throw away an opportunity to venture to the local park, and so he called upon me...
As you go through life you get kisses you remember forever. There is the kiss you get in the parking lot of Porky’s Drive-In when you are fifteen. There is the first kiss that tells you this is the girl you are going to marry someday.
When I was eight years old and living in Pennsylvania, my father took a new job in Minnesota at the Saint Paul Foundry. He and my mother had immigrated to America from Scotland and always spoke lovingly of their hometown of Edinburgh, but work opportunities were better in America.
I see the car. I know it is not hers. I know, because she has been gone for years—at least gone from my world. This car—it is the same color, the same make, maybe even the same year.
The railroad caboose was our warming house. Pete didn’t open it until ten, but that didn’t stop us. With our blades and sticks over our shoulders, ear bras on our heads, choppers on our hands, we would change in the snow banks and the Stanley Cup finals began.
Driving through the intersection of Dale Street and Minnehaha Avenue, in the Frogtown district, you couldn’t help being impressed by the massive yellow-ochre brick building with the exceptionally tall glass block windows.
I imagined her stretched out and weeping over her womb on a stretcher,
There’s no time in traffic on 35E to honor
a place such as this—my old neighborhood in ruins. In one second my car wheels cover what was once
my brothers’ bedroom with the nursery rhyme floor.
Among our family stories is one with a lesson: Don’t try swimming with the sharks.
A RETIRED NEUROSURGEON, John Mawk teaches all the sciences at the international high school in Lowertown.
The New Year, with its dependable timing, its greeting full of bells and whistles
and promises, has arrived. We stand,
once more, at a new beginning.
Let us think on the porch darling. Sit anywhere you like. I sit here because it fits me.
I can get up quickly, if need be, possibly never return.
You stay here with the morning sun dripping on your forehead.
My dad James Melvin Young Sr. became a second generation “Red Cap Porter” when his uncle William A. Young retired circa 1949. Melvin was 23 years old when the Saint Paul Union Depot at 214 Fourth Street in Lowertown was the gateway to the world. Working there was the spark that ignited a love for world travel for my dad. There were approximately thirty-six Red Cap Porters employed at the Depot, all African American. Their red caps became synonymous with integrity and reliability. Their work was demanding.
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.
In the spring of 1994, I was a writer in residence for Consortium of Associated Colleges in the Twin Cities. This meant that participating campuses would house me for seven days, and during this time I would do individual and group writing critiques, a workshop, and a formal reading for the entire campuses at St. Thomas University, Macalester College, Augsburg College, Hamline University, and College of St. Catherine.
When I was growing up near Mounds Park during the fifties and sixties, fresh milk was delivered to our stoop like clockwork; however, no one came to haul away the refuse. A big, rusty metal drum in our back yard received the trash instead. When it got full, my father lit it on fire. Items you couldn’t burn—bottles, cans, old plastic toys—were driven to the Pig’s Eye Island City Dump. My brother almost always got to go with Dad to the dump, a fact that he lorded over his little sisters. But sometimes we got to go too.
I am proud to make Saint Paul my home, as I feel the African American people of Saint Paul are strong, proud people. The first sixteen years of my life were spent in Minneapolis in a poor White neighborhood. My siblings and I were the only Black children in the schools we attended. Yes, there was a great deal of prejudice in our community. Little children don’t know hate; they have to be taught. Even though my White friends’ parents may not have liked their children being friends with us, most of them accepted it because they loved their children more than they hated us.
Max Shulman (1919–1988) grew up in a Jewish community in Saint Paul’s Selby-Dale neighborhood. After graduating from Central High School, he earned a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. His writings were invariably humorous and were published in novels and magazines. He eventually became a successful writer for theater and television. His novel Potatoes are Cheaper was a portrayal of life in the city in the late 1930s. Extract from Max Shulman, Potatoes Are Cheaper (Doubleday and Company, 1971): 1–4, 23.
Patrick Coleman writes: “LeSueur was perhaps Minnesota’s most famous proletarian writer, so it is not surprising that she wrote about the humble people of Saint Paul’s Swede Hollow. The following selection was written during Prohibition, ushered in by passage of the Volstead Act in 1919.” Extract from Meridel LeSueur, “Beer Town,” Life in the United States: A Collection of Narratives of Contemporary American Life from First-Hand Experience or Observation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933); pages 31–33, 40.
When I arrived at the airport my sister and her family came to the airport to pick up my family, and when I saw them, they said “Welcome to Saint Paul.” My first surprise was the snow. Before I came to the United States, I heard people talk about snowfall. I thought, if I go to America, I will eat snow and I don’t need to do anything—just put it in a cup and mix it with sugar and milk, and then we can eat it, because in my country we eat ice a lot in the summer. But in the U.S., no one eats snow.
I’ve lived in Dayton’s Bluff just a few blocks from the Mounds Theatre all my life, but not for the whole life of the Mounds Theatre. It was built in 1922, and I was born twenty-nine years later. The Mounds started out as a silent movie house. It was billed as “The Pride of Dayton’s Bluff.” It had a small stage for vaudeville acts. Local musicians played in an orchestra pit. The first “talkie” was shown at the Mounds in late March 1929—on what would eventually become my birthday. The movie was My Man, starring Fannie Brice. The Mounds was remodeled in the 1930s, receiving air conditioning, an exterior ticket booth, and a fancy marquee.
I was a young Philadelphian, freshly divorced, and looking for a new city in which to start my new life. I was tired of rat-filled alleys and dirty heaps of black snow that lined the streets like piles of coal. At a library, I happened upon a travel magazine. And on those glossy, full-color pages, I spotted a picture of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.
Although I live in Minneapolis, I have a strong connection to Saint Paul. When I worked as a legal secretary in downtown Saint Paul, I could see across the Mississippi from my twenty-second-floor window to where my mother, Ione, worked in 1943 during World War II: Holman Field. Born in Spicer, Minnesota, Ione moved to Minneapolis in her early twenties. During the war, she had a long commute from North Minneapolis to her job in Saint Paul: A bus took her to downtown Minneapolis, then a streetcar brought her to downtown Saint Paul, and a shuttle carried her across the Robert Street Bridge to the Northwest Airlines Modification Center, where she worked on a radio crew for the B-24 bomber plane known as the Liberator.
Deborah Torraine volunteered for the Saint Paul Almanac as a community editor, hosted two Lowertown Reading Jam events, authored short stories for publication and, in February 2011, took on a new role as Director of Community Engagement. In June 2011, Deb tragically passed away, leaving behind bereaved friends and family, but leaving behind a community very aware that they were blessed to know her and deeply grateful for her gifts to them. In the comments section at the bottom of this page, please share your memories of our sister… Deb Torraine.
Vera’s death was just last December, and I am missing her on this May evening, as our forty-third anniversary approaches. I need time and space by myself, to think. A view of the Mississippi River twisting and turning sharply, as I am right now, would set the tone. A drink and something good to eat would be nice—a martini, a very good steak, a favorite after-dinner drink.
They say every school has a bully. I don’t know if that’s true, but our school has a bully. A big, mean kid with a bowl cut and a scar running down his cheek. He rides my bus to and from school every day. Every day, the loud voice of the backseat tyrant is heard over all the others. Laughter is silenced with a flick of his wrist. His name is Joe. No last name, just Joe. On this warm afternoon in late May, Joe is picking on Andrew, calling him names, slapping him with the sharp metal edge of a ruler (a particularly nasty and popular weapon of bullies), pulling his hair. I say, “Cut it out,” and the bully’s eyes turn to me.
I hold out my hand and feel the soft tapping of raindrops on my palm. They are cool and don’t seem to care where they end up. I take out my umbrella and hold it up so I don’t get wet. It is fall. The wind starts up, and I am glad I wore my sweatshirt and rain poncho. The rain starts coming down harder now, and my patrol flag flaps madly as if trying to escape my grasp.
Katie McWatt was about thirty-three years old when she ran for Saint Paul City Council: In March 1964, civil rights activists Reverend Denzil Carty, Kwame McDonald, and Alpha Adkins convinced Katie McWatt to run for a seat on the St. Paul City Council. There had never been an African-American on the Council in the history of the City. Her experience as an advocate for improved educational opportunities, the hiring of more African-American school staff, lobbyist for non-discrimination in housing, employment of African-Americans in the building trades and a dedication to social justice were critical issues for McWatt.
We were halfway around Como Lake when I heard it—the long mournful three-tone whistle-cry that grew in volume. I stopped. What is that? What is that? I know that sound. But it was utterly out of context, and I had to think to place it. The bird called again. I stopped Doug and made him take out his earbuds. (He was listening to American Music Club on his iPod.) Doug, I hear a loon!
A grizzled old towboat mate of twenty-six named Steamboat Bill explained the dangers of working in high water to me in very simple, very direct terms. “Rule number-one is: Don’t fall in! If you fall in, you’re dead. It’s that simple. The current will drag you under and you’ll drown!” He told me this from the deck of a barge moored in South Saint Paul in the spring of 1975, when the Mississippi River was rising fast. Years later I watched as another young deckhand learned this lesson.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, I was three years old. Two years later, my silver-haired father, Verne Cummings, was drafted into the Army. He was thirty-five and the father of two. After basic training, Dad was assigned to Special Troops, Headquarters Company, 8th Infantry Division, and spent the next two years in Europe. Dad always said he was assigned to Special Troops because he knew how to run a movie projector. Even though he had never finished high school, Dad was quickly promoted. After the German surrender, Sergeant Cummings led his squad to liberate one of the concentration camps.
The year was 1933: FDR had just succeeded Herbert Hoover in the White House, the first episode of The Lone Ranger aired on the radio, Fay Wray co-starred with a giant mechanical gorilla in King Kong, and the chocolate chip cookie had just been invented. The young boy hurried alone through the freezing darkness on his way to Assumption, the old German church on West Seventh Street, where he served daily Mass. It was still very early, barely five o’clock.
In the drama of my family, the Uptown Theatre played a lead role. Sitting in the middle of the block at 1053 Grand Avenue, the theater began as the Oxford in 1921. In 1929, the Uptown was reborn as an “atmospheric theatre” with an Italian motif, stucco walls, faux balconies, stars and clouds on the ceiling, and a brightly lit marquee. In the 1950s, it was again remodeled in mid-century modern style. In 1976, the Uptown turned its lights out for the last time, to make way for a parking lot.
As coats made from the pelts of animals go, the one that I inherited three years ago probably wasn’t that expensive: It isn’t mink, beaver, sable, or even fox. Rather, it’s made from the pelts of brown rabbits, dyed black. We figure it came to my Austro-Hungarian great-grandma in the 1930s; family lore has it that Great-Uncle Ted presented it as a gift to his mother. Inside, embroidered in champagne-colored thread on small slips of satin that match the lining, are her initials: M. L., for Mary (Peck) Laber. But there is a bit of mystery associated with the coat—a photo shows Grandma Laber in a dark fur that’s a slightly different style from the one I inherited.
For almost as long as there has been a Saint Paul, my family has been a part of the city. My father, Carl Reimringer, was born here in 1914, and baptized in Assumption Church, where his father was baptized and his grandfather was married. Though I’d never lived here, when my wife and I moved to Saint Paul shortly after my father’s death in 2001, I fell head over heels in love with the city, feeling that I’d returned to a home I hadn’t realized had been missing from my life.
RULES: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you. (I was tagged by Kimberly Nightingale, publisher of the Saint Paul Almanac.
It was dinnertime. Well, actually, it was ten o’clock at night and my mom had just finished a big show. I was hungry, cranky, and tired. “Mom, I’m hungry, where are we going to eat?” I mumbled and growled at the same time. “We’re going someplace special,” she told me as I cranked up the seat warmers and fell asleep on that cold winter night. It was a short drive and she woke me up and dragged me out of the car.
Follow the sounds of childhood laughter up and over the snowbanks and into Margaret Playground on the East Side. It is 1937, and as you near the hockey rink, you can see a small mob of adolescent boys and girls huddled together or sliding on the ice. They are joining the hockey goals into a small cage. Inside, giggling along with the others, are my grandmother and grandfather.
I was fascinated by everything about the mission—I tutored boys there in the 1970s—and I fell in love with that sign. I saw the north side of it whenever I drove into town from my home in Roseville. When I learned in 1981 that the mission had found a new home and the building at Seventh and Wacouta was to be razed, I called the salvage company and asked if I could have the sign. The owner said, “Okay, if you move it.”
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.
Dr. Sobkoviak of Frogtown, our dentist, stood looking out the window of his office at Western and University and saw Russia. As he changed the point of the drill, looking straight through Old Home Dairy across the street into the Kremlin, he warned me about Nikita Krushchev. He was slow and thorough, stopping to polish his glasses in front of that window. In his starched white tunic, he was a true professional.
I learned a few sparse details about the tragedy of September 11 at Lutsen’s Bar on Lake Superior. I waited in the lounge for my turn to use the pay phone and watched as the television silently showed strangers holding hands and jumping from the burning towers. I felt like I was returning to a changed world. My friend Jane Sevald was also entering a whole new world. At age forty-five, she was taking on her high school classroom teaching English and writing at Como High School to students from Ethiopia, Somalia, Laos and Iraq.
The only time I ever lost my wallet was at a Twins game in 1972. When I discovered my back pocket was empty, I remember my brother Tom and I running across the parking lot and crawling under a half-open service door to get back into Met Stadium. As we walked through the bowels of that venerable sports palace looking for help, my stomach was in knots thinking about losing over sixty dollars, my driver’s license, credit card and student discount card for Burger King. Suddenly, we spotted a burly figure coming towards us. Was this my angel of mercy?
I will never forget the first time I entered a Mexican store as an eight-year-old and tried to buy something. It was after I had emigrated from the United States to Mexico. I had trouble with ordinary words, like asking to use the bathroom. I had to tell one of my older sisters to do it for me, because they knew more Spanish than I did. One day, my dad sent me to the store to buy leche (milk). I had a very puzzled expression, so my sister slapped me across the head and said, “It’s milk, you retard.” “Well, sorry, miss know-it-all!” I answered her back while rubbing my head. As it turned out, my sister went for the milk.
Vladimir from the Ukraine had a big heart and would help the girls from the dish room take the garbage out. Eleanor, who worked until she was eighty-five years old, was the baker and backup kitchen supervisor who would treat everyone on the tray line to a dinner roll, dessert bar, or piece of cake. Sandy from Liberia was the comic relief in the kitchen.
The bluffs near Shepard Road were steep, nearly
Worn away, over time, by the flooded
Sweep of the river. Minnow pools survived
Those years, there by the edge of the city
Near the cliffs…
Saint Paul is a provincial town, a green place of bluffs and rolling hills made up of culture swatches—Old Timers and Newcomers—that sometimes clash and bump up against each other. But eventually, with a little nip and tuck here and a stitch or two there, we settle into a quilted work that is strong and wide enough to cover us all. Saint Paul is a haven for the creative and the faint of heart; those of us who long for a little less struggle and a lot more quality. So, I ran. Yes, I ran away, away!
Tennessee Williams. Arthur Miller. August Wilson. When you list the playwrights of American theater whose work transcends all others, those three names stand at the top. Much of Wilson’s defining ten-play saga of African American life in the twentieth century, a massive undertaking with a play for every decade, was written right here in Saint Paul. That includes the first to hit Broadway (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and the Pulitzer Prize winners Fences and The Piano Lesson.
Saint Paul’s iconic Como Zoo has long been a charming, peaceful place to enjoy creatures great and small. But one morning in 1994, the zoo was anything but peaceful. I was working by the giraffes when a vendor came running toward me. Her words were a zookeeper’s worst nightmare: “You better come quick. One of the gorillas is out!”
Here is a picture signed in 1974 from the very first case I ever worked on. I had just pulled off my blond wig when Sgt. Paul Paulos pointed his camera at me, so I put the wig back on crooked, because I really didn’t think he’d take the photo.
Every time I used to drive down Cretin Avenue, just as I got to Selby, and depending on which direction I was heading, I’d point to the left or right and say, “My father grew up at the end of the street. Down there.” Whoever was with me would never look to the right or the left, but would answer, “I know. You always say that.”
I am a mother of three who moved to Saint Paul about a year ago from one of the meanest cities in the world, I think: Chicago. When I arrived at Saint Paul’s Greyhound bus station, I was terrified. I did not know a soul and had nowhere to go, but I was determined to start a new life for me and my children. I walked out of the station to flag down a cab, and this woman said hello. I looked at her like she was crazy. She didn’t know me, and I kept moving.
But the actual movie wasn’t the big event—it was the walk home. With complete abandon and total unselfconsciousness, we acted all of our favorite scenes from the movie we had just seen.
The Selby-Dale Freedom Brigade, which emerged out of this melange of ideologies, objected to using Kittson’s name for the park on the grounds that this nineteenth-and early twentieth-century entrepreneur was not a fit man to memorialize. Not only had he had at least two and as many as four Native American “wives” before marrying European Mary Kittson, he sold liquor to the Indians and bought their fur pelts for a pittance and sold them for exorbitant amounts. One brigade member said Kittson “personifies the destructive, imperialistic aspect of American history,” and he urged that parks and public buildings be named “for people who have contributed to the struggles faced by those exploited.”
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