Ghosts

On the way home from a lunch last week – I met my sister to celebrate my recent birthday – I drove through the city of Monticello, where I lived and worked after finishing college.

That in itself was not odd; Monti lies on one of our most direct routes to the Twin Cities, a drive that takes us through Monti on Highway 25, the main north-south street of the city, as we head toward Interstate 94. And if we take the other Monti exit on our way home, we drive down Broadway Street, the main east-west route through the city. I suppose we get through there ten times a year. But we rarely turn off those streets and we rarely stop.

Coming home from the Cities a couple of weeks ago, I had the Texas Gal turn off Broadway Street and drive along the parallel street, River Street, for a few blocks. It’s still as pleasant as I recall it, but an unexpected cul-de-sac forced us back to Broadway Street before I got to where I’d planned to go, and we headed on home.

Last week, driving alone, I turned at the right spot and drove past the building that housed the Monticello Times during the years I was a reporter and editor there, 1977 to 1983. It’s been a little bit more than ten years since my one-time boss, DQ, sold the paper to a chain and that chain moved the paper’s offices elsewhere in the city.

I’ve written here on occasion about the figurative ghosts I find here in St. Cloud, people and structures no longer present physically but very clear in my memory as I make my way through the city. Even though I’ve been back in St. Cloud almost thirteen years now, they still sometimes surprise me.

And ghosts of memory startled me the other day in Monticello. I lived there a far shorter time than I’ve lived overall in St. Cloud, from 1977 to 1987 with an eighteen-month interval in there for graduate school in Missouri. And I’ve known for maybe five years that the building that used to house the Monticello Times – on River Street and visible from Highway 25 – now houses a dental office. But I’d never stopped to take a look.

As I came near to River Street the other Tuesday, I was startled to see that the dental clinic had reconfigured the building. The main entrance used to be on River Street, up where DQ’s brother sold office products when I arrived in 1977 and where DQ’s office was located when I left town. It’s now at the opposite end of the building, and as I pulled into the parking lot and stopped, I looked at the large window to the right of the clinic’s main door. I imagine that on the other side of that window one now finds a waiting room. During the last couple years of my time at the paper, on the other side of that window you’d have found my desk.

It was, as I said, a Tuesday, and in the paper’s weekly rhythm, Tuesday was a writing day. From seven in the morning until about four in the afternoon, I’d have been at my desk, turning out copy: An account of the previous evening’s meeting of the Monticello City Council; stories covering the previous Friday’s football games at the high schools in Monticello and nearby Big Lake, as well as coverage for the other fall sports at the two schools and their attendant junior high schools; highlights from the weekly sheriff’s reports in Wright County and Sherburne County; a feature story or two; and coverage of anything out of the ordinary that might have occurred during the past seven days in that small town.

I sat in my car and looked at the window, thinking about the young man who, more often than his older version can now remember, would look out that window in search of the right word, the right lead sentence, the right way to offer his readers the news, both good and bad. And I realized that the young reporter and editor who sat on the other side of that window is as much a ghost to me these days as are the people in the stories he covered and the places he went to do so thirty-some years ago.

Having realized that, I dismissed the thoughts of going into the dental clinic, explaining what brought me there and looking at the space where my desk sat years ago. I left the ghost undisturbed, perhaps on the phone with the city administrator or maybe writing about a break-in at the local American Legion club, and I headed for home.

Here’s a track from an album I loved dearly during those last years at the Monticello paper: “Ghosts” is the closing track from Dan Fogelberg’s 1981 album, The Innocent Age.

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3 Responses to “Ghosts”

  1. A belated Happy Birthday to you, Whiteray!

  2. jb says:

    This is a really beautiful piece, as yours so often are. I used to go ghost-hunting in my hometown whenever I went back, but in recent years I have decided that it’s better to let them be. It’s easier on the heart.

  3. Yah Shure says:

    Thanks for writing a piece so compelling that I just had to play the home version. The Times sign remains emblazoned on the building in what amounts to Google Maps’ Ghost (street) view. A couple years ago, I was scanning Google’s satellite view over my late grandmother’s rural Iowa house and couldn’t figure out why I kept missing it. It wasn’t until switching to the street view that I discovered the little house it showed was merely a ghost of the patch of grass now standing near a newer and bigger successor.

    I’ve had a similar ghost feeling all day about the place that once stood just a few blocks up from you on Lincoln Avenue. The only thing remaining on the street view that would give any indication of the little cement-block radio station that once stood there is the lip along Lincoln where the driveway once connected.

    Sure, the much bigger replacement building next door still uses that same broadcasting tower, but it wasn’t the place where I once wished my father a happy birthday over the air and played an appropriate track from Sgt. Pepper’s.

    I still can’t believe today marks that same milestone for Dad’s disc jockey son.

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