That was one of my favorite signs viewed along the highways of Minnesota, that one in front of a dairy store near Pine Island. This next one startled me too, but I’m not sure why, “WE HAVE BOX ELDER BUG KILLER.” Maybe it was just seeing the word “killer” in such big print. I wondered, what the heck is a box elder bug, and are they really something one has to worry about up here? Those questions were answered a few days later when my god mother, Laverne’s, husband took me too see the Grey Cloud Island Town Hall. He went to open the door, and he said, “Watch out for that sprayer, the box elder bugs are everywhere, and I’m trying to keep them out.” And sure enough there were half-inch long black and orange bugs crawling all over the door frame trying to get inside. Probably trying to get in on “early voting.”
Being March and all, you could probably say my trip was a migration back to the ancestral, Boehmke breeding area. Migration of the Idiotica Authora, a breed of mammal that migrates once every 40 years…provided it lives that long. I rented a car while up there, and I did a lot of driving. My intake of Minnesota came at such a rapid pace, whether in the car or not, that I felt like a dog that’s hanging its head out the window of a moving car. You know, tongue hanging out, saliva dripping, nose wet, and the eyes of a pot smoker, kind of glazed and vacant. That was me, overwhelmed by the Minnesotaness of it all. Honestly, it made me happy just to hear the long O’s of the Minnesota accent. I’ve got so much Minnesota in me after 5 days up there that I fear it will all just come flying out in as a blizzard of nonsense. I’ve got to get hold of myself and make some sense out of this. Luckily, the trip did have a beginning, a middle and an end, so I’m going to try to restrain myself and go at it that way.
So, the beginning, the first day, was Young America day, and that was the first issue too. Since I’d been out there last, the towns of Norwood and Young America had merged into one town. Even the combined town only consists of 3000+ souls. But when I got to the exit off Hwy 212 for Norwood Young America, which town was I entering? I still wasn’t sure after having lunch at The Mill House, on Third Street, but when I left there, stopped to take a picture of the water tower (I’ll spare you that one) and got to Second Street, I knew I was home. There was big old St. Johns Lutheran Church to the right
and down to the left would be my grand parents old home.
I parked in front of the now remodeled home and spent about half an hour walking around taking video and photos. The character of old home has been ruined by the remodel, but it was a kick to see that the old hatchery and garage remained remarkably unchanged.
Seeing the big open grassy spot where Gramma’s garden used to be, jeez, it was as if the heart had been taken out of the place.
I drove a few blocks to Main Street where I was to meet my hosts for the afternoon, first Lavonne Kroells, who was doing double duty by working for the Red Cross and at the same time getting me acclimated, and then Sharilyn and Wayne who helped me at the Heritage Center as I searched through thousands of old photos and around town as tour guides.
Coincidently, Sharilyn and Wayne bought property across the street from my grand parents, the property that formerly contained the old beauty parlor and horse stable. Sharilyn as a child rode on Romeo, the horse I used to see there. And Sharilyn herself became a hair stylist. Sharilyn and I are the same age, with birthdays just a month apart.
My arrival in NYA did not go unnoticed by the local media. It doesn’t take much to cause a “stir” in a small town. Here’s a link to the article that came out in the Norwood Young America Times a few days after I left: Article. There was a lovely photo of “yours truly” with the original article, but they didn’t include it with the online version (something about the glare off the forehead), go figure….
Through Sharilyn I found out that Peggy Barlau, wife of “Whimpy” Barlau still lived in town. Whimpy was a friend of my dad’s. She was happy to come over to the center and sit and chat for a while. How wonderful to hear her talk about the old days. You know, when Peggy was in third grade she first saw her husband-to-be as he and my dad walked out of the YA baseball park together in their uniforms.
That’s LaVonne and me in the Museum.
The photo above is of Wayne and Sharilyn Feltman with Peggy Barlau in the middle. They also shared memories. Peggy said that after my grand parents died she was asked if there was some remembrance she would like from the house. She says that she chose a small, beat-up, old metal bowl that Grandma used when she made egg coffee. The making of egg coffee was a daily practice, and as I’ve found by speaking with others, not uncommon, at least back in small-town Minnesota. To make egg coffee, one brings a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting for that, mix the grounds with one egg (in Peggy’s bowl). Put the contents of the bowl into the pot and return to boiling. Then add a small amount of cold water to make the grounds/egg mixture sink to the bottom of the pot. Peggy’s eyes gleamed as she described the wonderful, clear, aromatic coffee that this process produced.
Peggy also described the big chicken butchering they would hold each fall at my grand parents place. Heads were rolling (yes, literally), then gutting, followed by the big wash tub of boiling water, then feathers flying, butchering and finally the tub of cold water. The dressed meat was then packaged, frozen and used for school lunches at the Lutheran school.
After we finished up at the museum, Wayne, Sharilyn and I drove out to St. John’s cemetery to visit Grandpa and Grandma’s grave. Rain was spitting as the three of us walked among the tombstones. We finally found it, they took my picture and we raced back to the car in the raindrops.
My brother, Jim, had asked before I left on the trip if I’d check on whether the long-time-established “Bouncer’s” local bar still existed. Well, our last stop of the day was just for you, Jim.
As a kid I never entered Bouncer’s, but the adults often spoke of it, alluding to the sometimes rowdy things that took place in and around there. Of course, Bouncer himself is long gone to that big bar stool in the sky. As the three of us enjoyed a beer, a huge rain storm raged outside, which went largely unnoticed by the patrons inside. But as you can see, I finally made it inside the mythic Bouncer’s. The beer’s still cold and tasted pretty good too.
I absolutely used up my half-day in Young America. Even on the way to my hotel there was one last stop, in the dark, at Bongards 104-year old creamery.
That’s the big Holstein cow outside the retail store at Bongards. I’m thinking she’s the one at the front end of the fresh curd production.
Here are a couple of my favorite photos found in the Heritage Centers collection.
The first photo is Eric Perschon, the photographer who donated his collection to the Heritage Center. My brothers and I visited him and his foxes, Foxy and Loxy, back in the 1950’s.
The second shot is actually a photo of a photo, so not real clear. You can click on it, and it will get a little bigger. You’ll see my dad, Merlin Boehmke, and Whimpy (Wilmer Barlau) in the front row. As it says, that’s the 1939 YA Cardinals team photo. I thought it was interesting that there are at least 3 different uniform styles, indicating that these guys played on the team over a number of years, keeping their old uniforms as the years went along.
So, that was the first half-day of my five-day trip. If nothing else were to happen I would have called the trip a success. But there was more, more “blog fodder” for another day. Oh, by the way,
You CAN go back.
First find the remnants of things.
Then listen to all who will talk.
And fill in the missing pieces
The poor Pony. Gene tells me he’s been cryin his eyes out wanting some attention. Don’t worry Pony; I’ll be back out soon.
Thanks for reading.