No, not the St. Paul from the Bible, the greatest of the Apostles, who was converted on the road to Damascus. The city St. Paul on the Mississippi river in Minnesota. One of the Twin Cities, along with Minneapolis. That’s where I was born back in late December of 1952. So this post is just some stories of where I got started, and some early memories and influences.
So I was raised by Indians in a garden where there were huge thunderstorms and we ate White Castle hamburgers. I guess I should clarify that.
I was baby number six for my parents, after one girl, one boy, and then three girls. Since I was a baby boy (instead of one of many girls), I became my Mom’s favorite. You can just ask my siblings about that. When I came home from the hospital, my Mom now had a newborn, a one-year-old, a two-year-old, a five-year-old, a six-year-old, and a ten-year-old. It was too much. She reached out to the church and she was connected up with a home for abandoned (perhaps troubled) girls. She chose a 16-year-old Indian girl named Jeri to come and live with us and help with the children. Evidently Jeri thought I was the cutest thing and carried me everywhere, to the point that they say I didn’t walk until I was two because I didn’t have to! Incidentally, to give you an idea of what times were like in the “mid-century” era, my parents had friends who would no longer come to visit or even associate with them because we had an Indian living in our house.
The house stood on a double lot, and in the “side back” yard was a flower garden that had been started by the previous owner of the house. The flowers were peonies, but not just any peonies. These flowers had won first prize at the Minnesota State Fair several years running and they were HUGE! So my mother would go outside in the morning to weed the garden, and she would sit me down next to her under the flowers. So I was raised in a garden. My earliest memory is of that garden. I remember watching the earthworms in the black, soft dirt, and the ants on the flowers. My mother told me (probably much later) that the ants helped the peonies to open up and bloom, so we always left the ants alone.
There be four [things which are] little upon the earth, but they [are] exceeding wise:
The ants [are] a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer. (Prov 20:34-35)
My first word was “flower”. My Dad worked for 3M as an engineer making magnetic tape, so we had a tape recorder even back then. I was getting a bath in the kitchen sink, my Mom floated one of the peonies in the water, and I said, “flower”. My Dad got his tape recorder to save the event for posterity, but to add some interest he took the flower away! I immediately started to cry and didn’t stop until he put it back. Maybe he had a bit of a mean streak. Unfortunately, we lost the recording in a fire we had at our house in the mid-60s.
My Dad had an upright piano that he used to play and he’d sing old songs for us while we sat next to him on the bench to sing along. Also, our house had a big wraparound screened-in porch and we would keep a couch on it in the summer. Now if you’ve never been in the Midwest, you’ve never heard a real thunderstorm. I liked to sit out on the couch with the rain pouring out of the sky and listen to the huge peals of thunder echoing off the neighborhood houses. I wasn’t scared because my Dad told me that it was just the angels pushing a piano down the stairs. That made perfect sense to me, so to this day I love thunderstorms. I remember the first time I heard the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” The first verse captures what I feel in a thunderstorm.
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
Then there is White Castle, the home of the Perfect Food. After church on Sunday we would sometimes trundle off to White Castle and get a “sack” (that’s a “bag” to you non-Midwesterners) of hamburgers and head over to Gramma Wanschura’s house. I was so impressed that I could eat four hamburgers! At the time you could get them “with” or “without” (onions). I think now they just make all of them with onions. Even then you could watch them make the burgers, which was really cool. It was located at “Seven Corners” in St. Paul but I couldn’t figure out if any of the current Castles is the one I ate at. There’s not one near me now which is probably a good thing since I would weigh another 100 pounds more. I do know where the nearest ones are, though (Howell, Eatontown, and Edison near the Menlo Park Mall). So if you’re near any of them, feel free to pick me up a sack.
I was about four and a half when we left that house and moved to another one on the east side of St. Paul. But that’s a story for another day…