Archive for the ‘East Side’ Category

Complications & Fries Again

Friday, May 26th, 2017

The vacant corner lot up the road is being developed. Fences are up, dirt’s being pushed around, and a concrete platform for utility meters has gone up. A sign along the Highway 10 frontage road says that a self-storage place is going in. I’m glad to see something’s being done with the corner – the East Side needs more commerce – but I was hoping for something less prosaic. After all, the corner lot used to be the site of a place that mattered to me. Here’s a post I wrote about the place back in 2009.

Just up the road from our place, right next to U.S. Highway 10, is a vacant building. Sometime in the last year, the auctioneer came by. They sold the booths and the counters, the grill and the deep-fat fryers, the hydraulic lifts and the gas pumps, the tool cabinets and all of the things that made the little building a gas station and restaurant for as many years as I can remember.

It was called Townsedge, and that was accurate enough in a practical sense. For many years, when folks would come into St. Cloud from the Twin Cities, Townsedge was the first gas station or restaurant they saw. They’d pass by a few other places – the marine shop, the masonry place and a used car lot or two – but if folks on the road had the usual travelers’ needs, Townsedge was the first place they saw where those needs could be met: Fill your tank, check the oil, buy a pack of smokes, sit down in a booth for a few minutes and have a cheeseburger straight from the grill, with a couple of pickle slices on the plate and a basket of fries on the side.

It was the kind of place you don’t often find anymore, and that’s truly a shame. There was another place like Townsedge across Highway 10, Fred’s Cafe, a classic American truck stop, and both Fred’s and Townsedge did well for many years. When Fred’s went out of business – that happened during the years I was away, but I think it was in the early 1990s – a chain convenience store/gas station took its place, and I’m sure that took business away from Townsedge. And when a franchised burger place opened up a couple of years ago about half a block from Townsedge, that pretty much told the tale.

After Dad retired, my folks went to Townsedge for coffee a couple of times a week, and after the Texas Gal and I moved here in 2002, I’d walk over and join them every once in a while. As we sat, I’d look around the place and gauge the ages of the customers. I’d see a few single moms with kids, but not many. Most of the time, I was the youngest person in the place (except for one or two of the waitresses). Once Dad was gone and Mom moved, I had no reason to go into Townsedge anymore, and not too long after that, I saw the “Closed” sign in the window as I drove by one day. And eventually, the auctioneer came by.

Places come and go, but Townsedge – as it was in the 1970s, not as it was in its last years – was a special place for a couple of reasons. First, the fries. The French fries at Townsedge – golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside – were among the best I have ever had. I’ve been to a few other places over the years whose fries were better, but when I was in high school, Townsedge had the best fries in town, and the little cafe was frequently the last stop during an evening spent out with friends.

Then there was the evening in early December 1970, during my senior year of high school. The St. Cloud Tech High School choirs had performed in concert, and a young lady and I were going to double up with another couple for burgers and fries at Townsedge. For some reason, the other guy had to cancel, so there were only three of us, my date and me on one side of the booth and the other young lady sitting across from us.

I dropped a quarter into the jukebox terminal in our booth. I have no idea what I played, but one of the other young folks elsewhere in the cafe had cued up the week’s No. 1 record, and that’s what we heard first. My date sang along for a few moments with the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” We all laughed, and I realized that my life right then was about as complicated as it had ever been. None of us mentioned it, but all three of us – my date, the other young lady and I – knew that if I’d had my druthers, I’d have been sitting on the other side of the booth, next to the gal whose boyfriend hadn’t been able to join us.

Then the waitress brought us our burgers and fries, and life moved on.

And here’s “I Think I Love You.”

Sixty Years On

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

It might have been in March, it might have been in May. It likely was during April, but after sixty years, there’s no way to know.

So I’ve not known when this spring to mark the day in 1957 when two boys – five and three years old – ventured across Kilian Boulevard on their tricycles to meet the three-year-old boy whose family had moved into the white house kiddy-corner from theirs during the winter.

That new boy in the neighborhood was, of course, me, and the boys heading my way across the intersection – and I can still envision them pedaling down the middle of Eighth Street as it crosses Kilian – were Rick and Rob.

Over the years, folks have asked me who in my life have I known longest outside my family – it’s the kind of question you get in parlor games or on long, dull drives – and I’ve never been able to really answer. I don’t truly remember who was in the lead on that tricycle trip from across the street. I think it was Rob, but I’m not certain. If it was, then I’ve known Rob longer than I’ve known anyone except my family. But he holds that spot over Rick by no more than two or three seconds.

Truth be told, they hadn’t set out from their house just to welcome me to the neighborhood; they were off to hit the candy counter at Wyvell’s Store, the little neighborhood grocery another block west and half-a-block north from our place. I remember talking with them for a few moments, and then I watched as they made their way on down Eighth Street, turning their trikes into the alley halfway down the block and then onto the dirt path leading to the next corner, a path on the margin of someone’s lawn that had been worn by years of tricycles, bicycles and feet, all looking for a slight shortcut on the way to the neighborhood store.

(I haven’t purposely looked in years, but I’d bet that if I took a brief excursion from Kilian down Eighth today, I’d see that same dirt path through the edge of that yard. When we were kids, an elderly woman lived there, and a dim memory tells me that she was grandmother to the kids who lived in the next house along the way to the store, but I’m not sure. The lot is empty these days; sometime after I left home, the house there was badly damaged in an explosion, and what was left was torn down. I’m not sure if the lot is unbuildable, but it’s been years and it’s still vacant. As to the store, I’m not sure how long it had been Wyvell’s or who had owned it before then. Sometime around 1960, an older couple bought the store and it became Tuey’s Grocery, and then, right around 1965, it was sold again and became Norb’s Superette. Norb hung in there until sometime in the 1990s, when he retired and the store’s interior was remodeled to make it a house. Its exterior, though, proclaims clearly its origins as a neighborhood store, one of many such that used to be found along the streets of St. Cloud.)

And that was how I entered Rick and Rob’s lives, as a brief delay during a trip for candy. Not too long after that, I would guess, I joined them on a trip to Wyvell’s as well as heading across the street to play at their place, in the best yard for kids in the neighborhood. (Their dad was a manufacturer of fences and playground equipment, and their yard was, in effect, a testing ground for prototypes, with swing sets, teeter-totters, small merry-go-rounds, monkey bars and other climbing stuff.)

As we got older, Rick and I paired off more often and Rob went his own way with other friends. Rick and I were closer in age – five months apart – while Rob was nearly two years older than I. But there were plenty of times over the years when the three of us did things together, and there were times when Rick wasn’t around for some reason, and Rob and I hung out.

In the first couple decades of adulthood, we saw each other rarely. We were busy setting up our lives, I guess. Rick was a member of the wedding party when I married The Other Half in 1978. I was a member of the wedding party and read a portion of Scripture when Rick got married in 1982, and Rob has told me I’d have had the same duties at his wedding in 1983 had I not been living in Missouri. But our contacts during the late 1970s and through the 1980s were limited, although we did have a couple of table-top hockey tournaments during the latter half of the 1980s. (Those tourneys were when Schultz joined us; he and Rick had kept in touch since high school.)

I entered the nomadic phase of my life in the late 1980s, not settling down until 1992, when I began to see the brothers together and separately again, but those meetings were sporadic. It wasn’t until the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud that I began to organize get-togethers twice a year, with table-top hockey and baseball being the ostensible reasons.

And reconnecting with Rick and Rob, and with Schultz, whom I knew during our high school years, is one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I’d hope it’s been that good for them, too.

So what tune is going to match that? Well, nothing precisely, but one that comes close is “My Old Friends” by English singer/songwriter Duncan Browne. It’s from his self-titled 1973 album.

Inner light, inner light, shine brightly on my old friends.
May they go on, never fall, never think that I don’t wish them well.

Farewell To The Ace

Friday, October 28th, 2016

For the past couple of years, Mom and I – and other customers, too, I assume – have known that the Ace Bar & Grill was in a precarious position.

It’s been about two years since Janice, one of our regular servers there, told us that the restaurant was up for sale. The owner was retiring, she said, and was hoping to sell the property as a restaurant, trying to keep intact the business that’s occupied the corner at Wilson Avenue and East Saint Germain since 1932.

Every once in a while, during our weekly or so stops at the Ace, we’d ask Janice or one of the other servers if there were any news. No matter who it was, she’d shake her head. “Haven’t heard a thing” is something we heard a lot.

Last week, the news came down. The Texas Gal spotted it first from the St. Cloud Times via Facebook. The Ace was closing on October 31. The property had been sold, but there was no indication of what would come next. I mentioned it to Mom Monday. She’d missed the story in the Times. “Oh, no,” she said. We agreed that we’d get there Tuesday after running a few errands.

As I’ve noted here before, since Mom moved into her assisted living center ten years ago, we’ve been regular lunch customers at the Ace. And for years before that, going back into the early 1960s, the Ace was a regular stop for our family after movies and basketball games or sometimes just for a meal out, and on a memorable evening in 1978, the Ace hosted the groom’s dinner for my first marriage. (The eventual failure of that pairing doesn’t negate the good memories that came along the way, and that dinner is one of those memories.)

And I’ve written here several times about the place, called the Ace Bar & Cafe back then and styled as the Ace Bar & Grill in recent years, most likely since the place was rebuilt after a fire in the 1990s. I’ve told how, when I was twelve or so, I got lost in the warren of corridors in the old building and ended up in the smoky bar, surrounded by loud and tall people. I’ve mentioned how I always notice the music coming from the ceiling speakers, chronicling the changes in recent years from a mid-1960s soft sound (think Ferrante & Teicher and Ed Ames) to a mid-1990s sound (think Gin Blossoms and Corrs) and then back to an adult contemporary mix of the late 1960s and early 1970s (think B.J. Thomas and Cat Stevens).

It had been a while since Mom and I had made it to the Ace, given her travails and mine this autumn, but we got there Tuesday and were greeted warmly. “One last time, eh?” our server asked as she led us to our table. I nodded sadly and asked if there were any clues as to what would follow.

“Not a thing,” she said.

I’ve seen rumors online of a Kwik-Trip convenience store, and it’s true that the neighborhood could use a convenience store/gas station, though I think the better site for that would be at the west end of the same block, where a Holiday stationstore recently closed (and where the building that Holiday occupied is the same one that housed Carl’s Market – the source of the best potato sausage I’ve ever had – from before I can remember to sometime in the 1990s). The corner property on which the Ace stands seems too small to accommodate a Kwik-Trip, several of which have opened in the St. Cloud area this year.

So we had our regular lunches: Hash browns with two eggs over easy for Mom and a burger with smoked Gouda cheese, fried onions and bacon – no bun, no pickle – for me, with tater tots and ranch dressing on the side. She had a chardonnay and I had an amber ale, and when we finished, we wished the servers well and made our ways out of the Ace Bar & Grill for likely the last time.*

And as I think about the Ace this morning, I can forget that it’s 2016 and that I’m 63. I can forget that Mom is in her nineties and that Dad has been gone for thirteen years. I can forget that the Ace as it is today was built in the 1990s after the fire that destroyed the old Ace with its warren of corridors that had to confuse more people than just one twelve-year-old boy. In my mind, the Ace Bar & Cafe will forever be somewhere in the years between 1965 and, oh, 1978, with the noise from the bar at the front of the building almost, but not quite, drowning out the easy listening soundtrack coming from the dining room’s overhead speakers.

Again, think Ferrante & Teicher. And the song that starts with the line “Once upon a time there was a tavern . . .”

Here are Ferrante & Teicher with their take on “Those Were The Days.” It’s from their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*The place is open through Monday, and it’s possible the Texas Gal and I might get there over the weekend, but given our weekend busyness, that seems unlikely.

‘A New Adventure’

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

He was almost certainly homeless, dressed in a tattered and stained yellow long-sleeved shirt and what I think were bicycle pants, with the left leg shorter than the right. He carried a scuffed and dirty red athletic bag and a plastic bag from a grocery store, the latter holding at least two bottles of water.

He was heading over to visit a friend, he said, at the River Crest Apartments, a residence for chronic inebriates just down Lincoln Avenue from our place, and he stopped by our garage sale on the way. He looked to be in his forties, and he spoke with the same vagueness, the same lack of focus, that we’ve heard from the folks who live at River Crest since the place opened about six years ago.

He talked about a wife and oddities in their lives, but it was hard to tell as he spoke whether those were things that had happened in the last few years or long ago. Later on, the Texas Gal and I guessed it was the latter.

As he wandered around our small offering of things for sale, he noticed a magnifying glass on a stand with a flexible neck, like a gooseneck lamp. It was priced at five bucks, and he picked it up, and then his gaze fell on an orange backpack. “Oh,” he said, “that looks like a good one.”

It was a good backpack, bought in November 1973 in a sporting goods store in Fredericia, Denmark. When I’d headed to Denmark that September, I’d brought with me a light rucksack, thinking that it would suffice when I headed out hitchhiking or riding trains across Western Europe. One four-day trip to the West German harbor city of Kiel told me it wasn’t big enough or rugged enough, and I told my parents so in a letter.

They responded by sending me $35 – the equivalent of about $190 today – to get a backpack in time for my planned early December travels to Brussels and Amsterdam, and sometime in late November, I went to the store recommended by my Danish host family and bought myself an orange nylon backpack with a silver aluminum frame. That’s what our ragged customer saw offered for sale last week.

It was only a little difficult to put the backpack into the garage sale. I hadn’t used it since 1975, when I took a bus trip from St. Cloud to Kingston, Ontario, to visit a young lady I’d met during my European travels. We didn’t match well on this side of the Atlantic, and I never heard from her again. Nor had I used the backpack. Protected by an old pillowcase, it had sat on a shelf in my parents’ basement until Mom sold the house on Kilian Boulevard in 2004. Since then, it had sat in a closet in our apartment and then on a shelf in our basement. About a week before the sale, the Texas Gal asked what I wanted to do with it. I acknowledged with a sigh that my backpacking days were long gone, and we priced it at five bucks.

As we sat at our small table watching our visitor examine the backpack, the Texas Gal asked me, “Do you want to just give it to him?”

I shook my head. I was willing to sell the backpack, but to just give it away? “No,” I said.

After all, it had been my companion for much of what I’ve called the greatest formative experience of my life. On my December travels, I had carried it and it had carried me as I hitchhiked to Hamburg and Hanover in West Germany and then rode buses and trains to Brussels and Amsterdam and back to Fredericia. In March and April, I traveled more than 11,000 miles on a rail pass, and the backpack rode my shoulders from train stations to hostels and cheap hotels all over Western Europe, as far south as Rome and as far north as Narvik, keeping safe all the things I needed as I traveled.

Our ragged visitor moved on to look at other stuff we had for sale, but I was looking back. By the time one of my trips – the longest one, in March and early April 1974 – had ended, the backpack carried not only my clothing and sundries but four pieces of contraband: a liter mug pilfered from the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, a smaller beer glass lifted from a restaurant in Nuremburg, and two delicate painted tea glasses liberated from an Arabic restaurant in Paris. The mug and the beer glass were late additions to the backpack’s contents, but I still marvel that the two tea glasses – they now sit atop a bookshelf in our dining room – survived more than a month of travel, protected by nothing more than a sweater or other soft garments.

As I looked back, our visitor returned to the backpack. “That sure is a nice one,” he said.

I think I sighed. And I said to the Texas Gal, “Go ahead. Give it to him.”

She did. I had to show him how to work the flap and its ties, and then we loaded his bags into it and helped him slip it on his shoulders. He picked up his new magnifying glass and headed for River Crest. I watched him as he went, the vivid orange of his new backpack easily visible until he went into the building about a half a block away.

“He needed it,” the Texas Gal said.

“I know,” I managed to say. “And it’s gone on a new adventure.”

Here’s the best track I could find among the nineteen tracks in the RealPlayer that had the word “adventure” in their titles. It’s “Adventures On The Way” by the English group Prelude, and it’s from the group’s 1974 album, After The Gold Rush.

Saturday Single No. 494

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

In the middle of this past week, a friend of mine on Facebook – also a fellow member of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – noted that she’d had to explain the concept of a punchbowl to her elementary-age students. And she wondered when was the last time her friends on FB had seen or used a punchbowl.

Well, noted another fellowship member, we use one every year at our annual dinner. Others mentioned graduation celebrations, formal dances and the other types of get-togethers one might expect.

I added that we’d used a punchbowl at the celebration of my mom’s 90th birthday almost five years ago, and I noted that the punch we’d served that day was made from the same recipe (and very possibly, now that I think about it, served from the same punchbowl) that was used for the punch at my sister’s wedding reception in 1972. The recipe, I told FB readers, was one my mom found in a magazine.

But as Wednesday faded and Thursday arrived, I wondered if that was the source of the recipe, which calls for pineapple juice, frozen orange juice and ginger ale. Certainly Mom could have found the recipe in a magazine in 1972. She subscribed to several publications that could have offered it: Better Homes & Gardens, McCall’s and Redbook come to mind. The recipe’s genesis wasn’t all that important, but I wondered.

We went to lunch Thursday, Mom and I, at, of course, the Ace Bar & Grill. She told me about a lovely funeral that took place earlier in the week for the woman who’d been the oldest resident in the assisted living center, and she asked how the Texas Gal and I were feeling, as she knew we’d been struggling through a couple ailments each. We were getting better, I told her, turning around in my mind the thought that funerals and ailments will likely be more and more frequent conversation topics as the years go on.

Then I asked her about the punch, and she remembered it clearly. “So good!” she said (and she was right about that). And I asked if she’d found the recipe in a magazine. No, she hadn’t. She’d gotten the recipe from her mother, my grandmother, and it had been served in 1965 at the celebration of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary at their farmhouse just outside Lamberton, Minnesota. That meant, I realized, that I had dipped and served some of that punch, as my cousin Debbie and I – we were both eleven – were on punch bowl duty for at least a part of that gathering at my grandparents’ home.

And, Mom went on, that punch had been served at the reception when she and my dad were married in July 1948; that celebration also took place at the Lamberton farm. So where had Grandma gotten the recipe? Well, Mom said, she’d gotten it from her sister Hilda. And Hilda, Mom said slowly, thinking, had gotten it from her roommate at nursing school.

The memories began to spool out, as they always do when Mom gets to talking about things that happened sixty or more years ago: Hilda was living in St. Paul, and the nursing school was at the long-gone Miller Hospital (and was a program of the University of Minnesota, according to the page about the hospital at Placeography).

Hilda’s roommate was a nursing student, too, Mom said, visibly sifting the memories as our lunch was served – eggs and hash browns for her; a German burger (a hamburger with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and bacon) and tater tots for me. Hilda’s roommate, Mom said, was Sophie, Sophie . . . Kashinsky. Sophie came from Hutchinson, Minnesota, a town about sixty miles straight west of the Twin Cities, with a population back then of not quite 5,000 people.

Where did Sophie get the recipe? Mom didn’t know. She’d met Sophie a number of times, the last occasion being a potluck picnic at the Hutchinson home of the recently married Sophie during the summer of 1950. Mom recalled the year of the picnic because she was pregnant with my sister at the time, and she also recalled that she brought baked beans to the picnic. I have no doubt that if I’d asked her what color the table cloth was, she’d have remembered.

But there was no answer to the question: Where did Sophie get the punch recipe? I didn’t say this at lunch, but it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that Sophie got the recipe from her mother, and I’d like to think that it was served at a reception for Sophie’s graduation from Hutchinson High School sometime during the 1930s, or maybe even at the reception when Sophie’s own parents were married, most likely in the early 1900s.

What I do know is that if one Googles “punch pineapple juice ginger ale,” the second recipe that pops up from allrecipes, called “Party Punch V,” is the one for which I bought the ingredients when we were planning to celebrate Mom’s 90th birthday in 2011. It’s evidently a classic.

That’s a story that really didn’t go anywhere, I know. Life is like that sometimes. But when it came time to find a tune to pair with that meandering story, I got lucky pretty quickly. I found a track from the Temptations’ second album, The Temptations Sing Smokey, released in 1965. The album went to No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B album chart. It’s a  song more often associated with Mary Wells, whose 1962 original went to No. 9 on the Billboard 100 and to No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B singles chart.

It may be more familiar coming from Wells, but it’s pretty damned good coming from the Temptations, and that’s why the Temps’ cover of “You Beat Me To The Punch” is today’s Saturday Single.

At The Caucus

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

The Texas Gal and I spent a little less than an hour last evening playing our small part in this nation’s political process: We attended our precinct caucus at a nearby elementary school, meeting with other members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party from our neighborhood.

(The party’s name – Democratic-Farmer-Labor – is a holdover from the 1944 merger of the Minnesota Democratic Party and the social democratic Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party in 1944. I learned at Wikipedia this morning, that Minnesota’s DFL is one of only two state parties affiliated with the national party that has a different name; the other odd party out is neighboring North Dakota’s Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party.)

Parties caucus every two years; the Texas Gal and I missed the 2014 meeting, but I think we’ve been at every other local caucus since we moved to St. Cloud in late 2002. Turnout last night was high; our precinct, which is not densely populated, had forty-two people cast votes in the presidential straw poll, substantially more than the last time we had a straw poll, which was 2008. Last night, we filled a classroom at the school, which we hadn’t done before. Other precincts that are more densely populated filled the school’s cafeteria and media center.

(The evening has Minnesota’s DFL clearly showing its populist roots: The straw poll results in our precinct had Bernie Sanders with 29 votes and Hillary Clinton with 13, which was a little bigger spread than in the state-wide results reported this morning: With 86 percent of Minnesota precincts reporting, Sanders leads Clinton by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin.)

A lot of Sanders’ support in our precinct came from young folks: I’d guess that about half of the forty-two people who voted were twenty-five or younger. My major disappointment of the evening was that about half of those young folks left right after the straw poll (which is used to apportion delegates to the local district convention, where delegates to the state convention will be selected, and so on up the ladder) and thus they did not take part in the other portions of the caucus, which included selecting those delegates, selecting precinct officers and debating resolutions offered by those at the caucus.

I offered two resolutions: One advocating a national health care system based on the Medicare model, and one advocating an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that bars capital punishment. Both passed, the first unanimously and the second with one dissenting vote. That latter result, to be honest, surprised me. The same resolution was rejected at our precinct caucus eight years ago.

The Texas Gal and I will continue our involvement at least one more step: We volunteered to be among our precinct’s delegates to our State Senate District convention in a couple of weeks. It will be the first time for her to move beyond precinct activities, I think. For me, it’s a resumption of my involvement in DFL politics; during my years in Monticello, I was active in the Wright County DFL, attending several county conventions. I doubt I’ll be that active again, but I’ll probably end up doing more in the precinct; our precinct chair is also a member of our Unitarian Universalist fellowship (and a fellow musician there), so I’ll likely pitch in down the road if he needs some help.

As to appropriate music this morning, I searched the 87,000 tunes in the RealPlayer for the word “vote.” I found the album Devoted by one-time American Idol contestant Kristy Lee Cook and a few tracks that actually deal with voting. The best of them comes from 1969, when voting in the U.S. was still limited to those 21 and older. The duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were among those wanting the voting age lowered (which happened in 1971, when those 18 and older were granted the vote), and the pair released a single titled “L.U.V. (Let Us Vote).”

The record was pretty much ignored: It bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, never getting any higher than No. 111. But it’s an interesting artifact of the times.

Home

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

I reached a milestone this week, one that testifies to how nomadic my life has been: I have now lived in our house here along Lincoln Avenue longer than I have lived anywhere else during my adult life.

The Texas Gal and I have been here now for seven years, four months and five days. My previous longest adult residence was seven years and four months on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, a tenure that ended when the neighborhood was gentrifying and the corporation that owned the building wanted to get in on the action. Had that lease not been terminated, I think I would have happily stayed on Pleasant Avenue for many more years. And I might never have met the Texas Gal.

I won’t bore you with the list of the twenty places where I’ve lived over the years. (I mined that vein at least a little for a post when I was playing with Google Earth more than five years ago.) By my count this morning, there are twenty places on that list, starting with the ill-kept and poorly heated house on St. Cloud’s North Side where I went when I left Kilian Boulevard and ending here on the East Side just six blocks from where I grew up.

Will there eventually be a twenty-first place on that list? Most likely. The Texas Gal and I are finding that keeping the house in order is gradually becoming more and more of a challenge. So is living on three levels. One small example: Doing the laundry on Mondays requires numerous trips between the main floor and the basement and at least two trips to and from the loft. Can I do that? Yes, but not as swiftly as I could seven years ago. Will I be able to do it as easily seven or even three years from now? Almost certainly not. Life would be easier and simpler on one level and in a smaller place. We’ve been talking about those things for a while but have made no decisions yet about when or where.

But the topics of where and when will likely be on the agenda as we make our way through this winter and move on into the spring. Whatever we decide, though, I do know one thing: Wherever the Texas Gal is, there is my home.

There are more than a thousand tracks in the digital files with “home” in their titles. Sifting through them this morning, I find many that don’t quite fit what I’m writing about. Some come close in one way or another. Here’s one of those, one that cut deeply into me during the years before I found my Texas Gal. It’s “Home Again” from Carole King’s 1971 masterpiece, Tapestry.

Of Pate & Rye

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Once more, we visit the ghosts of East St. Germain, the main drag here on the East Side of St. Cloud. It’s 1965, and we go once more into the dining room of the Ace Bar & Cafe, where the young whiteray, his parents and his sister are celebrating one occasion or another.

After we order, as we sit with our beverages – probably a Mountain Dew for me, a Coke for my sister, a Hamm’s Beer for Dad and an old-fashioned for Mom – our waitress brings us the relish tray: Carrots, celery, radishes, pickles, liver pate, probably some pickled herring, and an assortment of crackers in cellophane packages.

Restaurants don’t do relish trays anymore. They’re too labor intensive and too wasteful, I imagine. But fifty years ago, every “go out for a nice dinner” restaurant in the St. Cloud area offered them: The Ace, the Persian Club, the 400 Club, the Hub, the Log Lodge, and maybe more I can’t think of right now. The trays’ offerings changed a bit from place to place but a relish tray was a constant of a nice dinner out in those days.

My favorite portion of the relish tray, as I’ve noted here once before, was the liver pate. (I love pickled herring almost as much, but it wasn’t a rare treat, as we routinely had a jar of it in the fridge at home.) Almost as soon as our waitress placed the tray on our table, I’d have my eye on the pate, and I’d rummage through the selection of crackers until I found a packet of Ry-Krisp. The flat rye crackers seemed made for liver pate, and just thinking about that long-ago treat makes my mouth water as I write.

The pate and of the pickled herring on the tray were no doubt a reflection of the Northern European origins of many of the East Side’s residents back then. Most families on the East Side had been in the U.S. for a couple of generations – there were a few immigrants and first-generation Americans – but even second- and third-generation folks fifty years ago tended to hold onto the ethnic tastes and traditions of their ancestors.

There were still vivid connections to those immigrant ancestors: My mom spent a lot of time as a child with her maternal grandfather, who emigrated from Prussia as a child (and in fact, William Raveling lived long enough that I sat on his lap as an infant). My dad’s family had come to the U.S. from Sweden a little earlier but still held onto many of its Scandinavian traditions, lutefisk, pickled herring and flatbread among them.* The families of most of the kids I knew on the East Side were like that. Not all of them descended from Northern Europeans; the names I recall of some of my schoolmates reflect origins in England, Scotland, and the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe. But we all cared about our ancestors’ origins, and the folkways and tastes of those ancestors were important as well.

So why this today? Because last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Ry-Krisp has come to an end. After nearly a century, the company is closing. As Kevyn Burger wrote:

For as long as there have been modern grocery stores, there have been boxes of Ry-Krisp on their shelves. Every one of the commercially produced crackers inside was mixed, baked and packed at the world’s one and only Ry-Krisp plant in southeast Minneapolis.

But the Minnesota-born brand is no more. Production at the boxy white factory wound down in March. Soon the final packages of Ry-Krisp will disappear forever from the cracker aisles, and with them, a bit of local history will crumble.

In one short century, Ry-Krisp rose from humble origins to become a product distributed around the globe. The crunchy rye-flavored snack became an emblem for overlapping culinary trends, shifting from peasant fare to health food to diet aid until changing tastes led to the cracker’s quiet demise . . .

Reading that piece brought me back – as so many things seem to do – to the Ace Bar & Cafe. And it brought me back to the occasional stock of Ry-Krisp I used to keep on my shelves at home. I’d buy it as a snack – a platform for cheese – now and then, and about fifteen years ago, after my doctor advised me to adopt a whole grain diet and further encouraged me to avoid yeast and fermented products for a year, Ry-Krisp was one of my bread substitutes. I recall sitting at my kitchen table in my small apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, eating kippered snacks on Ry-Krisp for a quick lunch.

Once the prohibition on yeast and fermented products was lifted, I found myself a brand of whole wheat bread. At about the same time, whole grain Triscuits and Wheat Thins became my snack crackers of choice, and Ry-Krisp left my shopping list. Until this week, that is. Once I read the piece in the Star-Tribune, I knew I had to buy one last box of Ry-Krisp. And here it is.

My Last Box of Ry-Krisp

I wasn’t the only one with the idea, though: By the time the Texas Gal and I got to our neighborhood Ca$h Wi$e on Sunday afternoon, all of the regular Ry-Krisp was gone from the shelves, as was all of the seasoned Ry-Krisp. I was left with the consolation prize of a box of light rye crackers. (The company also made multi-grain and sesame versions of the cracker, but there was no shelf space for those new-fangled varieties at the local store.) It may be light, but it’s Ry-Krisp, and the ingredients are the same as they always were: Whole rye and salt. (The idea of a multi-grain Ry-Krisp, a version I don’t ever recall seeing in stores, bothers me, if only vaguely; Ry-Krisp was supposed to be rye, and when you start throwing other grains into the mix, you’ve got something else.)

So I’ve got my last box of Ry-Krisp, and I think I’ll head out sometime in the next few days to the Byerly’s grocery across town – it’s a little more high rent than Ca$h Wi$e – and see if there’s any liver pate from Scandinavia or even Germany on the shelves. (If I have to settle for French, I will.) Then I’ll have myself one more snack of pate on Ry-Krisp, and for a fleeting moment, it will be 1965 in the Ace Cafe once more. I think I’ll skip the Mountain Dew this time.

And here’s a record that we might easily have heard in the background at the Ace on a Saturday evening in 1965: “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Sounds Orchestral was No. 1 for three weeks on the Billboard Easy Listening chart and went to No. 10 on the magazine’s Hot 100.

*That attachment to tradition was likely enhanced by the homogeneity of the area around Dad’s hometown of Cambridge – most folks there in the early 20th century could trace their roots to Sweden – and by multi-generational living: Among the members of Dad’s household during his childhood was his Great-Uncle Charlie, whose parents or grandparents came from Sweden. (Great-Uncle Charlie’s rocking chair, refinished and reupholstered a few years back, sits in my dining room.)

Bread In The Night

Friday, March 6th, 2015

One of my regular stops here on the East Side is the Country Hearth bread store, where the nearby bakery sells second-day bread and goodies. Second-day? Well, sometimes third day, I suppose, but the bread is fresh enough. And it’s much cheaper than any of the grocery stores in town: I get my whole grain bread for $1.99, and the Texas Gal’s plain white bread runs – depending on sales – about $1.25. That saves us at least three bucks.

The bread store’s been there a long time, right next to the bakery building, which has also been there a long time, at the intersection of Wilson Avenue and East St. Germain. One of the most potent sensory memories I have comes from a moment just south of that intersection: It’s a Monday in autumn, probably around 1965, and the weekly meeting of Boy Scout Troop 112 has just ended at nearby Salem Lutheran.

I pilot my Schwinn bicycle east from the church and reach Wilson Avenue just a block from St. Germain, and the night air is filled with the tangy aroma of yeast and the hearty and somehow comforting smell of baking bread. I pause at the stop sign and draw in a breath, savoring the aroma of the night shift’s work.

As I think of that moment – most likely late September, for the leaves were turning, crackling softly on the trees in the breeze that brought me the bakery’s aromas – I also see the long-gone Dairy Bar just across Wilson Avenue from where I stood. That’s where we sometimes bought Cheerio ice cream bars – chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream on a stick – during the summer. During the school year, however, the Dairy Bar felt like foreign territory, for that’s where the kids from the nearby St. Augustine School – a parochial school – bought their candy.

(I suppose the kids from Lincoln School who lived nearby – north of the state highway that separated Lincoln from St. Augustine – went to the Dairy Bar. Most of Lincoln’s students lived south of Highway 23, and we did our candy shopping at three other locations: the Wilson Avenue Store just south of the highway; Tuey’s Grocery – once Wyvell’s and eventually Norb’s – on Fifth Avenue just half a block from our place on Kilian Boulevard; or the Hilltop Store, about eight blocks further south on Kilian.)

In memory, I turn from the Dairy Bar to the next block on the right, and I’m not certain if the current Church of St. Augustine is there or not. It was built sometime in mid- to late 1960s; until then, St. Augs’ parishioners – including Rick and Rob and their family – went to Mass in a basement church on the far right end of the block across Wilson Avenue from where I stood breathing in the night’s aroma.

And I look in memory to the left of the Dairy Bar, toward the bakery, which still stands today. It’s been expanded over the years and now fills the entire block, including the place where the Dairy Bar – and several homes behind it, I think – once stood. Large red letters on the western wall of the oldest portion of the bakery now proclaim “Country Hearth.” As I stood there in the autumn of what was likely 1965, however, that western wall was painted something like the picture below. (I can’t find the exact graphic, but this one’s pretty close.)

Sunbeam Bread

And if I did indeed glance at the bakery while savoring its aromas on that autumn evening, I likely thought about touring it a few years earlier as a Cub Scout, seeing the huge metal bowls with their robotic mixing arms, the immense ovens turning out ranks upon ranks of loaves, all of them winding their ways down the roller paths to be sliced and then wrapped in heat-sealed cellophane wrappers. (Plastic bags and twist-ties came along a few years later.)

And I also likely thought about the Saturday morning kids’ gathering a couple years earlier at the Paramount Theatre downtown. Several cartoons and a pitch for traffic safety (I think) were interspersed with on-stage appearances by Clarabelle the clown from the Howdy Doody show and Miss Sunbeam, her golden curls shining in the theater lights.

And all of that would have coursed through my mind in just a few moments, of course, with me straddling my Schwinn at the stop sign. After those moments, I would have turned right on Wilson Avenue toward Highway 23, leaving the fragrances of yeast and baking bread behind me and heading for Kilian Boulevard and home.

Here, unrelated except in title, is the slinky “Sometimes Bread” by Mongo Santamaria. It’s from his 1971 album Mongo’s Way.

‘Are All Three Of You Looties?’

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

We headed out last evening to celebrate my mother’s birthday. She turned 93 yesterday, and we took her to the Ace Bar & Grill here on the East Side, where she and I often have lunch (though we haven’t been there recently, as the cold weather has kept Mom inside in the past few weeks).

As we entered, Mom leading the way with her walker and the Texas Gal and I trailing in her wake, the hostess smiled. I waved three fingers in the air, and she said, “Three tonight! Are all three of you looties?”

None of us answered, and in the silence, I tried to figure out what she had said. “Are we what?” I finally asked.

“Looties! Here for the lutefisk dinner!”

We’d not known that Monday was the date for the Ace’s lutefisk buffet. Mom and I glanced at each other, knowing that we’d love to have lutefisk for dinner.

The Scandinavian dish has become a American joke over the years, the punch line often wielded in self-deprecation by descendants of the Swedes, Norwegians and Finns who brought the dish with them during the great migration from their homelands to the United States in – mostly – the mid- to late 1800s.

It is an odd dish. Here’s how it’s prepared, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Lutefisk is made from dried whitefish (normally cod in Norway, but ling is also used) prepared with lye in a sequence of particular treatments. The watering steps of these treatments differ slightly for salted/dried whitefish because of its high salt content.

The first treatment is to soak the stockfish in cold water for five to six days (with the water changed daily). The saturated stockfish is then soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional two days. The fish swells during this soaking, and its protein content decreases by more than 50 percent, producing a jelly-like consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish (saturated with lye) is caustic, with a pH value of 11–12. To make the fish edible, a final treatment of yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water (also changed daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be cooked.

It sounds dreadful, I know. When lutefisk is baking, the aroma is pungent (though the taste is much more bland than the aroma would lead one to believe). The memory of that aroma makes me think of December evenings on Kilian Boulevard long ago, where we had lutefisk at least once every year, and makes me think as well of my grandfather’s farm outside Lamberton, where we had lutefisk every Christmas Eve. In the early 1970s, that tradition moved to my parents’ home, and it lasted there until 2002, the Christmas before my dad died.

At the Ace last night, when Mom and I learned that lutefisk was on the menu, we looked at each other and shrugged. A lutefisk dinner for her birthday would have been a wonderful surprise, but the white sauce was almost certainly made with wheat flour, something she must avoid completely and that I can only have if it’s whole grain. (The Texas Gal, for her part, shuddered at the thought of lutefisk, which she’s tried once, and began thinking immediately of prime rib.) Just to make certain, I had our young waitress check with the kitchen on the ingredients in the sauce.

She confirmed our suspicions about the flour, and we regretfully said we’d have to pass on the lutefisk. “Well,” she said, “we do have lutefisk in butter.”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding, “but we’re firmly in the Swedish tradition with the white sauce. The other stuff? That’s for the Norwegians.”

The waitress laughed along with us and then said, “So that’s the difference! I’ve always wondered.” And she went off and got us our beverages as we all settled on the prime rib. As we waited, Mom and I discussed the possibility of making a lutefisk meal using a flour we both can have, probably brown rice flour. “It wouldn’t look very good,” I said.

“And that’s a lot of work for just the two of us,” she added. I nodded in agreement. And we pretty much decided that, like other things and people still cherished but now gone, lutefisk is a memory.

And here’s one version of the most common lutefisk joke among we Scandinavians: The song “Oh, Lutefisk,” offered here in barbershop harmonies by four sharply dressed fellows in 1979: