Forty years ago today, I woke up calling a new place “home” for the first time I could remember. The previous day – July 1, 1976 – I’d moved most of the stuff I owned from my folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard to a ramshackle house in a working class neighborhood just a few blocks from the railyard on what I call the Near North Side of the city.
Hadn’t I lived other places? Well, yes, I’d lived in two places in Denmark, but those had been temporary; I knew I was going to back to Kilian Boulevard in the spring. And the same held true for the three months I’d spent in a Twin Cities’ apartment during a television internship. This time, however, I did not see myself heading back to Kilian Boulevard. And I did not remember the only other permanent move in my life, which had come when we left Riverside Drive for Kilian Boulevard in February 1957.
So as I awoke that long-ago July morning – a Friday, which means I’d have had some sort of obligations at St. Cloud State, maybe a class, a workshop or a half-day of work – what was I feeling and thinking?
I likely felt a little out of place. I know, as I wrote a few years ago, that later in the day, “there was the odd feeling that arose . . . when going home in the afternoon took me on a different route, not across the Mississippi to the East Side but west past downtown and the Polish Church and then north to just short of the railroad yard.”
Was I worried about being out on my own? I doubt it. Maybe I should have been, and maybe if the new place had been, oh, fifty miles from Kilian Boulevard instead of just two miles, I would have been. But being twenty-two, not yet knowing much about life and being just across the river from Mom and Dad, I had no major concerns.
What did concern me? Well, I did wonder how I’d get along with the other three guys in the house. Two of them, though, had been in Denmark at the same time as I had, and although we hadn’t been close there, we knew and respected each other well enough. The third guy, I didn’t know at all, but it turned out he was rarely home. He worked for a railroad and often rode the trains. I got along fine with that group, but as guys moved out upon graduation and new guys moved in, I wasn’t all that fond of the other folks in the house, and my stay there was only nine months.
I suppose I was also wondering, as I woke that first morning on the North Side, when my girlfriend would be able to come for a visit. She was working as a housekeeper at a summer theater near Alexandria, seventy miles northwest of St. Cloud. I didn’t have to wonder long; she showed up sometime that first weekend.
And life chugged along. I finished my summer work at St. Cloud State and started and abandoned a graduate program. I started work at a music store in a mall and shortly after that got fired for the only time in my life. I got two cats, and the three of us shivered through the winter in the inadequate heat provided by an oil-burning stove in the living room. I went back to school in the spring in search of a print journalism minor, and midway through that quarter, I moved to a mobile home owned by my friend Murl in the little burg of Sauk Rapids.
The house on the North Side still stands, looking more ramshackle than ever. We had an errand nearby the other day, so as we headed toward home, I drove by. Based on the toys in the tiny front yard, a family lives there now. I know that the place now has central heating, which went in shortly after I left, but I have no idea what else may have happened inside. And I really don’t need to know. It’s not like I loved the place during those nine months.
But the house on the North Side nevertheless has a grip on me that’s – how do describe it? – maybe not horribly tight but still tenacious. It was the first place, after all. And though I did not love it as I have loved other places I have lived over the years – with the most-loved place on that list being our current digs here on the East Side – it was for a time my home.
So, pulled not quite at random from about 1,500 tracks with the word “home” in their titles, here’s Big Maybelle with “Way Back Home” from 1952. The tale it tells has no relation to my musings above, but so what? It’s today’s Saturday Single.