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.
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.
My name is Debbie Gilbreath Montgomery.
I grew up at 978 Saint Anthony, which
is on the corner of Saint Anthony and
Conceived, born, and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin—that’s me, Paul Vincent Bartlett, a (displaced) cheesehead. And not of your typical Wisconsin lineage.
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.
“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
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.
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.”
THE ARTIST PATRICIA OWEN worked for the Peace Corps in Senegal. “They give you a mission, and when you get there, you find one
Left everything. Left Laos in ’78.
Followed a husband following Vang Pao.
MY NEIGHBOR DEREK LUSCHE was seeking the center of gravity in his new bird sculpture. “I am going to hang it and maybe make it part of a mobile.”
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.
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.
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.
MARY STUCKY GOES around the world.
The journalist knows the earth is round, and what goes around
comes around, so she has been going around and around.
A HALE FELLOW with a flair for retail, Todd Romocky grills, listens, hustles, grins. “I’ve been a meat-cutter for the past twenty years.
RICHARD ABRAHAM paints outside.
“Painting is easy until you know how,” Edgar Degas knew, and now Abraham knows. His pictures delight.
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.
“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.”
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.
During my twenty years of living I have made some really good and really bad choices. The worst choice I made was getting involved in gangs and drugs, which led to my unwilling trip to Mexico and life-changing events. Being in a gang is like playing chess: Only the king and queen survive, while the rest are and always remain pawns.
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. I first went there on a lark, something to try once because I had just moved to the Twin Cities and wanted to meet new people. I never got around to stopping.
My name is not “Exotic . . .”
My name is Freedom
My people are worth more than eye
candy and shallow praise,
My people have no home, no country
We are from stolen territory…
Early in the morning on June 21, 2007, my son Cullen encountered a rowing scull, crewed by five young women in the Saint Paul Harbor and pinned by a heavy current of the Mississippi River. This crew team had misjudged the current and was trapped against the Padelford wharf barge.
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…
Booker Taliaferro Washington, born in approximately 1856, was enslaved in Virginia on a plantation. The young Booker yearned to learn to read and to serve. After slavery was abolished, Washington went to school and became an educator. In 1881, as the principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, he transformed the campus from a rundown building to an educational institution offering thirty-eight trades. His first book, Up From Slavery, tells his story and is highly acknowledged today. Washington also authored thirteen other books.
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...
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.
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.
Did you know that in early 1934 there was a small potato chip manufacturing plant in Saint Paul? My family owned and ran it. I was about four or five years old at the time. We lived at 1276 North Snelling Avenue, across from the main gate of the fairgrounds.
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…
Newly ordained, I stand in front of a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Next to me is Nhia (Jonah) Xou Yang, former CIA collaborator turned minister. We are in the shared sanctuary of our respective Hmong and American congregations in a church on Saint Paul’s North End. It is Advent 1982. Soon the peacefulness is shattered. A rock band composed of Hmong teenagers arrives, rehearsing as they do each weekday afternoon. The noise drives us from our contemplation…
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.
My father has “old age of the eyes.”
That means he’s going blind
slowly from the inside out.
He says I look like a model
with my hair swooped back.
He points out a covenant of blackbirds….
Wang Ger, also called Joe, has been trying to teach me to speak more words of Hmong.
“I have learned English; you can learn more Hmong.”
I am not a good student, but he does not give up…
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.
Dale Massie pulls for the little guy. “I’m pulling for the little guy, like you and me. God gives us free will. We have no excuse. You know what I’m saying?” While he smoked his break away, we engaged and enjoyed a free-ranging dialogue that touched on aliens, human violence, the many names for God…
We flip through the pictures
You are moving
We listen to each song
You are undoubtedly alive…
I never saw the Schmidt Brewery that Patricia Hampl presents here, alive with its reverie-enhancing, rhythmic, red neon sign. But the first time I discovered the hulk of the brewery’s abandoned buildings sprawled out along West Seventh Street in the fall of 2004, I recognized immediately what I was looking at; its vacant structures flooded me with the memory of reading about that flashing sign in Hampl’s acclaimed 1981 memoir, A Romantic Education. Soon the Schmidt site will take on a different look as “developers” trick it out to new purposes—a welcome change.
“Sally Dixon is the Goddess of Film,” asserts digital artist Bonita Wahl. A dancer with Kairos Dance Theatre, a cultivated soul, and a legendary angel for artists of all sorts, Sally was one of the first curators of avant-garde film in America. She exhibited pioneering experimental works by the likes of Stan Brakhage, James Broughton, Carolee Schneemann, Robert Breer, and Kenneth Anger at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art during the 1960s…
Private Ivy Hagan and Josephine Hicks Hagan became the twenty-something ensemble known as “Aunt Jo and Uncle Ivy.” They mentored children of all ages and needs throughout Saint Paul between 1933 and 1994. They were gifted storytellers, speaking in parables of their African American memories between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Saint Paul, Minnesota. I listened, observed, and learned.
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.
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.
A RENOWNED RECYCLER with a long history of community service, Richard Miller writes parking tickets as part of his job as Building Service Assistant for the Minnesota Historical Society.
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.
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.
Laurence “Larry Ho” Hodgson (1874–1937) was a unique combination of poet and politician, a prolific writer who produced thousands of poetic and prose works.
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.
During the Civil Rights movement, most youth felt that the leadership of their community was inadequate and didn’t speak to their concerns, and therefore they would “take matters into their own hands.” Little did they realize that their methods and tactics were causing more problems than they were solving, that they had the effect of polarizing the community; as a result, there were constant disputes and conflicts, stemming from those who thought they knew the most about what to do, how to do it, and who would do what about the problems that were plaguing the community.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Her garden, growing on Germain Street, needed just as much as a baby, every bit of her attention, love, and care. We moved so many times. The house on Germain was the fourth we moved into, but not the last. The backyard of this house was a bit narrow and long and even had a little hill that led to a small woodsy area. Almost every day from spring until early fall, my mother came home to her garden ready to care for it. She threw on her black short-sleeved shirt, navy blue shorts, size five black Old Navy sandals, and a pair of yellow rubber gloves.
Gordon Parks was an acclaimed artist who confronted poverty and racism with such creative grace that he became an internationally admired cultural icon long before his death in 2006 at age ninety-three. An accomplished photographer, writer, composer, musician, and film producer and director, Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, and later moved to Saint Paul, where he spent his formative years. His memoir, A Choice of Weapons, which describes his experiences from 1928 through 1944, was first published in 1966 and reissued in 1986 and 2010 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
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.
In April 2009, my wife and I lost our house, then I decided to be homeless, and being depressed didn’t help things. This was a year from hell. Then I met some angels in the skyway of downtown Saint Paul. I did research and found out about the Dorothy Day Center. I stayed there at night, and I met some people I liked. Lindsley was someone I could talk to about religion and baseball—he was the first person to give me hope that things would get better. It was there that I learned a lot about people like myself who are homeless. I got to see that a lot of them are pretty caring people and very intelligent. They’re people just like you and me.
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.
At the writing workshop, I ask the students if they are here because they think writing is important. A couple of them raise their hands. Then I ask if they are taking the workshop because they will receive extra credit, and most of the hands shoot up. I had offered to share my love of language by teaching this workshop at Face to Face Academy, a charter school for homeless youth in crisis, after learning that 70 percent of all teens in foster care end up being homeless for a year or two—foster parents no longer receive help from the government when the child turns eighteen.
Grabbing the ballet barre to support myself, I attempted to stretch out my right leg. My thigh felt like a vise was twisting it tighter and tighter. The pain was so intense, I was afraid to breathe. I hobbled out of the dance room and nearly collapsed on the hallway floor. Massaging my cramped leg, I watched those energetic adults and wondered how I, a forty-seven-year-old Black woman with no dance experience, ended up in an Irish dance class.
My wedding day began at 1 a.m., when I got up for work as anchor and producer of Sunrise 7, the morning show on WSAU-TV, based in Wausau, Wisconsin. After my shift ended at 9 a.m., I met up with my fiancé, Noah, to say goodbye until our wedding night, then headed for my mother’s home in Saint Paul. Born and raised in the United States, Noah and I are what you could call a typical American couple. But we also treasure our Hmong heritage and wanted to honor our families by following the tradition that has spanned many generations. Although we’ve been engaged for a year, we can’t get married until our families give their official approval and agree on a dowry. There is no guarantee this will happen.
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.
Not everyone in my family made it to Saint Paul. My parents were village people, until the villages were burnt down. Hiding in the jungle, their food was stolen; their friends and relatives starved. Our people, the Karen, were attacked because we have a different culture, language, and religion. My father was shot through his hand. It took a long time to heal. Let me explain. My name is November Paw. My parents fled Burma (Myanmar), over mountains and a great river, before I was born in 1992.
“Hey kid,” he coughed out at me from the mint green armchair, “I’ll take it neat.” As he spoke, a rare shaft of late afternoon sun bounced at an odd angle through the dimly lit garden apartment and caught my great-uncle across the face. The mix of dusty light and smoke rising off his Chesterfield cigarette formed a sepia haze around his head. For an instant, his pallid complexion regained some youthful color reminiscent of the once-handsome Marine war hero. Ludwig was his real name, but he went by Smiler. If Smiler earned his name based on congeniality, it was a long- vanished attribute.
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.
For well over a year I drove around Ottertail County, poking around in its little towns, stopping whenever something caught my eye, asking “why?” a lot, and “who should I talk to?” It would be easy to make light of what I did under the title “area reporter,” just because the towns are small, relatively few people are affected by their decisions, and most of the world barely knows where Minnesota is, much less Ashby, Erhard, Henning or Dent. But that would be missing the point.
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?
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 segments could be about any subject we chose—as long as it pertained to Saint Paul. I learned that more than a few of those on hand already had extensive experience as television producers and/or videographers. For complete novices like me, SPNN planned to offer crash courses in video camera operation, lighting, and editing. The classes were quick but comprehensive, and gave me enough confidence to take the plunge into shooting my first video. I submitted my proposal for the project and felt ready to check out the necessary equipment and start filming.
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.
Aiken studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he learned to harness and integrate his calling as a healer with his creative gifts and, like his mother, to use them sensibly. The motto that he lives each day is, “I create my art to heal the hearts and souls of people in the communities by evoking a positive spirit.”
In the spring of 2009, Irv Williams is playing a shiny new tenor saxophone. He has a young miniature schnauzer named Ditto who, in Irv’s words, is “very exuberant about everything.” He’s writing new songs for his next CD, his fifth since 2004. He has two regular weekly gigs, one at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis and the other at Il Vesco Vino on West Seventh in Saint Paul.
Groundbreaking urban historian Richard Wade always told his students, me included, that the true feel of cities was more likely to be found in literature than in scholarly works. That holds true for this metropolis and can be demonstrated through the works of three Jewish writers who grew up in Saint Paul. They had somewhat similar early experiences, but told their stories in different manners—humorous, serious, and nostalgic—and eventually traveled different paths. One thing the trio has in common, however, is the fact that they are still well worth reading.
Unlike the horror stories about parents gone bad at Little League games that occasionally appear on the evening news, Midway has a strong tradition of respect and civility, due in large measure to Jim Kelley, the energetic co-founder of the Midway Baseball program.
“I have this flame of hope that does not go out. I believe I can make the world a better place, I believe it, I believe it, I believe it, and I’m going to keep pushing,” she says. Contreras Edin is the executive director of Centro Legal, a nonprofit legal agency that has been providing legal services to the Latino community in Minnesota for over twenty-five years.
The first moustache on record appeared on a Scythian horseman around 300 BCE. Assuming he had the most advanced tools of his day, this Pazyryk rider enjoyed scraping a single, dull, possibly copper blade across his wind-swept cheek. Things have only mildly improved. Even with the Gillette-Schick cartel’s recent move to five-bladed razors, shaving technology has moved forward at a molasses pace with one blade improvement every 450 or so years.
Carol Bly wrote short stories that had weight, complexity, and wit. She was also a prolific writer of essays, a cultural critic, an ethicist, and, in her own terms, “a gadfly.” Being that outspoken and opinionated can startle Minnesotans. She was also a teacher of writing at universities, summer programs, the Loft, in her own dining room, and by e-mail. Before I met her in a summer class, I was vaguely aware that some people found her intimidating, even alarming. What I found was a dedicated teacher, very kind, and tremendous fun.
The first time I met the Bird Man at Dunn Brothers about three years ago, he introduced himself as Mark, but he added that if I wanted to, I could call him Smooth. I wondered why Mark, somewhere in his forties, with a daily scruff, a casual concern for his hairstyle, and an everyday outfit of jeans with a workman’s jacket, was called Smooth.
Remember that date? You know—the one when you were a teen and had so much fun you’ll never forget it? Danny took his gang to Como Zoo. After hours. There was not much to see, since most of the animals were locked up. They went for the excitement of doing something dangerous.
“A high priestess in the cult of murder as a fine art” was how Saint Paul literary critic James Gray described her. She was often referred to as “the Mistress of Mystery.” But until recently, she was an almost forgotten figure in the city’s literary lineup.
My grandmother grew up in Saint Paul, poor and Irish. A McDermott, she was the youngest of the six children, and the only girl. Some say that she was spoiled. I have tried over the years to learn more about her, but she is a hard one to pin down.
Anyone who knows the history of Neighborhood House on Saint Paul’s West Side probably knows the name Constance Currie. Born March 18, 1890, in Saskatchewan, Canada, to a family with a long history of social service, she began her career at Unity House in Minneapolis. But it is her many years as director of Neighborhood House (1918-1957) that best mark her legacy.
The third Hmong American to serve on the Saint Paul School Board of Education, Kazoua Kong Thao has made an impact on how we learn today.
I was born and raised in Somalia, then lived many years in Dallas. After I graduated from the University of North Texas, I moved to Saint Paul in search of a job and a wife. It was January 2004, and the temperature, with windchill had dropped to -40° F.
For all of you Minnesotans who flatter yourselves by thinking you’re hardy, I suggest you snow blow for a while. That’ll take you down a notch.
The door to the legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium doesn’t even open for an hour, yet eighty people are waiting as my wife and I step into line. In another half hour, the line will double and then double again, until the RiverCentre staff will ask the RollerGirls to open the doors early. A line of over three hundred people messes up the flow of the public through Saint Paul’s convention center and to the Xcel. The hits, the falls, the brilliance are real. The players of the Minnesota RollerGirls have resurrected a dead sport and redeem it—game by game—from the depths of 1970s late-night television hell.
Whether you are a native Saint Paulite or a transplant, chances are you have a favorite bartender. Saint Paul is arguably short on some things, but people: when it comes to bars, you can take your pick. From the highest order, with oak and marble features, to scratch-off parlors in old working-class neighborhoods, there is a crowd and atmosphere to suit your taste.
My name is Halwa Abdulkadir Hussein. I was born in Somalia in the town of Hargeysa in 1989. I grew up in Somalia. I am Muslim. I have four brothers and a mom. My father died in 1994, and at that time I was young, so I moved to Kenya. I came to the United States of America on June 6, 2006.
The following two stories are written by adult learners of English as a second language in Saint Paul. The stories are from Journeys: Stories and Poems to Open Your Mind, an annual collection of student writings compiled by the Minnesota Literacy Council.
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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