Tag Archives: Minneapolis

the rhythm of where I came from, the rhythm of where I am

It is amazing how my ideas of the seasons, the natural cycles accompanied by Earth’s journey around the sun are so shaped by growing up in the Midwestern US.  Even after dwelling in the desert for 8 years, I frown at the shoots of wildflowers reaching green tendrils up to the sky in January and exclaim No! Its too soon! Of course, what is wild and natural can be neither early nor late, but there is a part of me that still exists in Minnesota, that still appraises within the constructs of that world: long winters with temperatures that plunge well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit  Short, glimmery summers that pass with a breath of humidity, the buzz of mosquitoes  and then suddenly are gone. The sacred two week race between the 15th of May and memorial day to plant seeds if there is to be any hope of tomatoes in August.

The day I saw the beginning of wildflowers there was a high of -5°F in Minneapolis, and I think it was that part of me, still shivering in the North, that couldn’t accept my new home, the new rhythms of life. Barry Lopez writes on how disconcerting life in the Arctic is for those of us dominated by the simple truths of temperate living: the sun rising in the East, setting in the West, day after day. It is true in Tucson, albeit to a lesser degree. I get frustrated with Midwestern transplants that complain about the lack of seasons in the desert.  There are seasons, magical ones, but they aren’t our seasons. I understand this is really what they miss: the comforting truths of fall leaves crunching underfoot in early October.  The heavy snows of March. The breeze off the lake cutting through the humidity of July. And we can adjust to new places, humans are adaptable afterall. I tend to lettuce and chard during these months while Minnesota is under a blanket of cold and snow and ice, I open the door and let warm January breezes pass through the house. But there is still the part of us gazing at the world through the eyes of our childhood, from the perspective of where we came.

the return

Dear Mom,

You’ve been gone six months and we did it, the final step in the formal mourning process. We brought your ashes back to Minnesota.  Everytime I return there, something inside of me cracks open. The plane touches down and I feel a ball of emotion I can only experience in Minnesota.  Peace, gratitude, longing. Years can fly by, but its still my home, your home.  The lush trees wave “hi” with huge, loaded branches that shimmy in the wind. The lakes sparkle in the sunshine. Its so very, very beautiful.

We had a service at First Universalist.  Our old church in South Minneapolis.  The stained glass windows from the years as a synagogue are gone, and the century-old building has been adapted to be more ADA friendly.  Still, there is no question, its the same place that you passed out fliers to congregants, and sipped black coffee with your friends, and cooked for fundraisers, and listened to my harp recitals in the basement.

People shared beautiful words about you.  They not only loved you, they really knew you.  Your life was full, yet you were so very present for everyone you encountered.  Perhaps the finest achievement in your life were the relationships you tended. They blossomed perpetually and the roots ran deep.

You wanted to return to LaSalle,  where your father was born and is buried.  The day after your memorial in Minneapolis, we drove through hours of cornfields to this lovely little town on the prairie. From the cemetery, you can see the grain elevators, a beautiful tree, and the big, big sky. Reflecting these sensible Scandinavians, this cemetery is also where people plan ahead.  It seems like every other headstone belongs to the living, with their death date remaining blank. For now.

Your family gathered in the cemetery. Many of them I don’t know, a casualty of your father’s early death. Still, we stood together under the prairie sky, united in the experience of loss. Your uncles had moved headstones so there would be enough room for you next to your dad. We put your ashes deep in the rich, black soil.  The wind was powerful; it whipped up skirts and blew the tears right off my face.  We retreated to the church basement in a small white chapel where your family has married and buried their dead for generations.    Your cousins served bread and sweets and coffee. I visited the home of your aunt and uncle, and rubbed my hands along the bedpost of a bedroom set that your father refinished before I was born, before lymphoma took him away far too young, like you.

Not all of your ashes went into the ground.  I took some away with me.  I thought about keeping them, but the pale, grainy powder seemed to have nothing to do with you.  The ash isn’t your smile, your light, the way you moved or laughed or sighed.  This is what we are reduced to, in the end, but a life is so much more than this. I can understand how religions around the world developed the concept of spirit.  We are more than the carbon leftovers of our physical body.

So, I put your ashes in Lake Harriet, on the 6 month anniversary of your death.  I know this isn’t what you asked for, but it felt right to me, to bring you back to the lake you pushed me around in my stroller as an infant, and where we walked side by side as adults. This is where it began for us.  I released you as kids fished nearby.  Your ashes clung together in the water for a while, like a cloud, then slowly disappeared as small waves lapped against the wooden dock.

I feel some relief after burying you in Minnesota.  But I also know that its not over for me. I won’t be eating sweets in church basements with strangers that loved you anymore, but the road without you stretches out before me, and its long.  If you were here, you probably would grab my hand and murmur “Oh, Lamb.” Because there isn’t much to say.  No cure for this, no expiration stamped on the bottom of my grief.  But if I can walk this road ahead with half of the loving grace that you did, well, I’d be living this life well.


at the lake with Mom

Breakfast Club

On Sunday mornings, I miss Breakfast Club.  This gathering of my mother, stepfather, and their best friends occurred at a greasy-spoon breakfast joint every Sunday morning. While Mom loved going out for breakfast her entire life, the regularity of this ritual started around the time I was finishing up high school.   While the core group consisted of the three middle-aged couples, I often attended, as did my best friend, our significant others, and any other random smattering of friends who happened to be around on a Sunday morning and were interested in breakfast.

As options for smoking indoors were dwindling by the late 1990’s and smokers were an essential minority in our group, Breakfast Club could occur in only several locations around Minneapolis.  The type of place where tattooed waiters hustled coffee and bacon, you had to talk over the crowd, and there weren’t such things as reservations, or many tables that could seat 8+. So, we needed to meet at a time that could seem painfully early to me – 8:30. This was before my status as a morning-person was fully established. But even if I was out cavorting till the early morning hours, I still tried to drag my ass to breakfast, because it was that fun.  I’m sure I had more than one boyfriend think I was nuts for pulling myself out of bed and inviting him to come along to breakfast with family and friends at the ridiculous hour of 8:00AM.  But I often did.

It was particularly hard to get up during the wintertime.  My body felt heavy, and I longed to singer in sleep a little while longer, but the promise of great food and even better company called to me, and I pushed myself from the cocoon of my comforter.  I remember driving down icy streets, which were Sunday-quiet.  The sun was up, but shined a dim, bluish light on everything.

But I’d soon arrive at breakfast.  I would walk through the door and be assaulted with the smell of eggs and bacon, the sound of silverware clanking.  A brave heater vigorously pumped out the heat, further warmed by numerous bodies.   I chased down some coffee and felt the fatigue melt away, and happiness set in.  We would sit around a table, laugh about our week, complain about politicians or our jobs.  Mom and her girlfriends would tease me about my longing for a particular waiter, a rather-Emo man named James who would patiently flirt with me.  It provided such entertainment my parents would request that he be our server every Sunday.

Breakfast with those you love is always enjoyable, but my mom provided the glue to this gathering.  I think it was her joyful spirit that laid the foundation for such a diverse, dynamic group.  She somehow made it all possible, for years.

Of course, nothing lasts forever.  Friends quit smoking, and much to my chagrin Breakfast Club started often meeting in more-refined, non-smoking suburban locations.  What had been once a week became once a month or so. I became a nurse and suddenly lost half of my Sunday mornings to working at Hennepin County Medical Center.  My best friend moved to DC.  I moved to Tucson. My parents and one of the core couples of breakfast club needed to step away from their friendship.  All things go.

It was wonderful to have the space of Breakfast Club for 5+ years.  It provided community and connection for all of us.  I’d like to recreate it somehow.

A more modern version of Breakfast Club. Sedona, May 2008

From Minneapolis to Tucson

I’m home now.  It was extremely difficult to leave my Mom in Houston, but as always, it feels good to return to Tucson. It quenches me and I feel my well-being immediately improved in this strange, dusty town.

I’m from Minneapolis originally, and we Minneapolitans are a snobby bunch. I’m not entirely sure why; it seems to go against Scandinavian values of humility, and lord knows most of us are pale, square-faced and have names ending in “_son.”  Of course, if you can forgive the weather which is nearly always terrible, Minneapolis is a vibrant, engaging city. We are quick to point out our really cool light rail, downtown with real skyscrapers, the fact that there are more theaters per capita than in New York City, etc. etc. etc. We love that we actually had our very own grunge rocker in the 1990’s (Dave Pirner). We think Minneapolis Hip-Hop is sooooo underrated (“Slug is a genius!”). We subscribe fully to the idea that we are the true metropolitan gem, the only place in the country that is urban and refined and still has gentile, polite population.  Honestly, we probably have little-man syndrome, being in the Corn Belt, not too far away from Chicago (undisputedly a “real city”) and having a name that sounds too much like Indianapolis. Not to mention, weather so terrible it discourages tourism beyond obligatory family or business functions. 

I’m sure we sicken the rest of the state, and that people from Alexandria to Tower are tired of how in love with ourselves us Minneapolitans can be.  I once offered up the services of a couch in the living room of my parents’ condo to be a crash-pad for a few Dave Matthew’s fans from the Iron Range, who migrated down to “the Cities” for a concert. Generous of me, I know.  After my mom served them coffee (thanks, Mom!), they proceeded to read the local paper and rip on Minneapolis—how it was dangerous, congested, and they hated it. More than taken aback by rudeness, which was indisputable, I was in utter disbelief.  Were they actually talking about this wonderful city? MY wonderful, fabulous, exciting city?

Anyway, being from Minneapolis, I thought I was a member of an important club.  I liked patronizing downtown and uptown bars, as if sitting there next to really fashionable, interesting people made me fashionable and interesting too.  I wanted to be an enlightened urban person, taking mass transit to work, planting my own attractive flower garden in the front yard to match my neighboors’, volunteering for important causes while wearing bio-degradable shoes.  In fact, I couldn’t imagine being otherwise.  I liked debating the ethics and health benefits of drinking coffee, while tossing back my chemically-processed hair. I liked pretending to be bored while sitting on the bus. This was my life, until I moved to Tucson.

If the vibe of Minneapolis is “we are great!” the vibe of Tucson is “we don’t give a f*$!.” If Minneapolis represents superficial beauty, Tucson is all about looking worse than we really are.  Dirty, dusty, kind of run down, but when you sit down with us for awhile we grow on you.  We enchant you with our lack of personal hygine, our absence of artificiality.  We give you the space to be entirely yourself– even if who you are is kind of strange. See, its more cool, actually, to be humble, to not be enchanted with how you look in the mirror, but to be committed to the guts, the raw core of who you are.  That’s Tucson.  We don’t have the most beautiful urban parks– they are mostly inhabited by homeless people.  But the mountains, the huge Saguaro, the yellow warmth of the orb in the sky will take your breath away. You will fall in love with not who we want to be, but who we really are.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m from Minneapolis, and I still feel my heart drop when I see the skyline and the thick trees from a homebound airplane.  I  relish in a particular and irreplacable joy  from walking around Lake Harriet, eating Sebastian Joe’s ice cream, hearing the rustling of cottonwood trees.  But I also feel home in Tucson, where the sun melts away everything except what’s really important, and I bloom.