Posts Tagged ‘Hot Tuna’

Saturday Single No. 257

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Lord knows that no has ever gone ignored offering me a box of records.

So when a friend of mine from Eden Prairie called me one Sunday morning in August 1995, I listened. She and her husband were doing some organizing and streamlining, and there was a box of records they’d decided – in the age of the CD – that they could part with. Did I want them?

I gladly set aside whatever it was I was doing – probably nothing more urgent than reading the morning paper – and drove the fifteen or so miles out to Eden Prairie. Linda and I chatted for a bit, catching up on how my new job downtown was going and talking about her preparations for the new school year, as it was August, and she’d soon be teaching English at Eden Prairie High School again.

I put the box of records in my car and headed back to south Minneapolis. Once at home, I looked through the records, an interesting mix of mostly Seventies stuff, blending into the early Eighties: A late Allman Brothers Band LP, some Hot Tuna, Lowell George and Little Feat, a late Carole King, Rufus, Kenny Rankin, Bill Withers, Sade, Gerry Rafferty, Men At Work, Loggins & Messina, James Ingram, a disco compilation, a couple of classical albums, a two-LP compilation of Billie Holiday and more. I jotted the date somewhere unobtrusive on each jacket, with a brief notation of the source, and over the next few months, I listened to them all and then moved them into the main stacks.

If you’d told me as I listened to them that I wouldn’t see Linda for another sixteen years, I would have been startled and saddened.

We’d met four years earlier when I arrived in Eden Prairie to be a sports reporter and feature writer. Along with teaching English, she was the girls gymnastics coach at Eden Prairie High School. At the time, the gymnastics program was the most successful athletic program at EPHS, having won the state large school title in 1991 after finishing second eight straight times. The other athletic programs at Eden Prairie were gathering the momentum that’s made the suburban school a state power in the last sixteen years: Six of Eden Prairie’s fall sports teams this year – football, girls swimming, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross-country – are ranked among the top ten in the state. At the time I arrived in Eden Prairie, however, that prominence was yet to come; girls gymnastics was the jewel.

And I soon learned that Linda, by word and – far more importantly – by example, was teaching the twenty or so young women on her team far more than back flips and floor exercise. She was teaching life: how to share; how to persevere; how to stay centered in the jangling world of high school and the larger jangling world beyond the high school walls; how to win gracefully, which is difficult; and how to lose gracefully, which is far more difficult.

During gymnastics season, I talked to Linda at least two times a week, sometimes at the high school, sometimes on the phone. If I was facing a deadline or she was particularly busy, the conversations focused entirely on gymnastics. But frequently, as my time in Eden Prairie went on, we’d find ourselves talking about things that had only a tangential relationship to athletics. We became – as happened for me with a number of folks at Eden Prairie High School – good friends.

And still, she taught. From our conversations, I learned. (She may have learned from me too. I’d like to think so, but I don’t know.) What did I learn? The same things she was teaching her gymnasts, things that I think all of us need reminders about every once in a while: How to share, how to persevere, how to remain centered, how to win gracefully, and how to lose gracefully.

The Eden Prairie Eagles gymnastic team did not get a lot of practice at that last, losing gracefully. The team won the state large school title the first year I was there, and it might have won it the second year I was there. I don’t remember for sure; my years in Eden Prairie – some of the best of my life – tend to blur a little bit. I do know that Linda’s team made the state meet the first three years I was there. And there came the state meet in one of those years when the team did not win, when the title went to the gymnasts from nearby Lakeville, Eden Prairie’s great rival.

As the team from Lakeville went to the front of the room that evening to collect the championship trophy, I saw what I think was Linda’s greatest accomplishment in coaching. The rival Panthers held their trophy high, and Eden Prairie’s girls were the first gymnasts among the other seven teams to get to their feet, applauding and honoring their rivals’ accomplishments.

After my third season in Eden Prairie, Linda retired from coaching; she had a family she wanted to spend more time with. We still talked, though not as regularly, as I saw her on my frequent visits to the high school. And we had the occasional telephone conversation, talking about almost anything but gymnastics.

Then, in the summer of 1995, I left Eden Prairie for a downtown Minneapolis job. A month later, Linda called and offered me her records. I brought the records back to south Minneapolis, and over the next few years – as often happens – the friendships and associations I’d made during my time in Eden Prairie faded away. I kept track – through the Minneapolis paper – of how Eden Prairie’s teams were doing, but I lost track of the people. The 1990s rolled over, and I met the Texas Gal. I moved to Plymouth and then we moved to St. Cloud. And wherever I went, my records – including the forty or so that Linda gave me – came with me. And on the odd occasion when I’d play one of Linda’s LPs, I wondered how she was doing.

I looked for her on Facebook about a year ago, and I found her. We’ve sent a few notes back and forth, and other than that, I see her updates and she sees mine. She’s doing well. Early last month, Facebook told her it was my birthday, and she sent me a note. Along with the birthday wishes she said that her son – now in high school – has gotten into vinyl, and she said he’d asked what she’d done with her old records. He was annoyed when he learned she’d given them away. I told her I still had her records and offered them back to her, if she wanted to meet sometime for a cup of coffee between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.

She was thrilled, and as it turns out, she’s going to be attending a poetry event tomorrow afternoon at the nearby College of St. Benedict. So tomorrow, the Texas Gal and I will head out the five or so miles to the little burg of St. Joseph, where we’ll meet Linda for lunch. And I’ll give back to her the records that I’ve kept safely for her for the past sixteen years. I hope her son enjoys them as much as I have.

This post is, I guess, my way of saying thanks to Linda for the music and the life lessons she gave me. I don’t know what the best life lesson was, but one of my favorites among the LPs was Hot Tuna’s 1972 release, Burgers. So here, chosen from the record pretty much at random, is “Highway Song.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Edited and corrected since first posting.