Minnesota dreamin’

A childhood spent moving all over the world comes with a side benefit: a feeling that the world is wide open, that there are no limits, no boundaries – the world is your oyster with a cherry on top.  Gross sounding, but a good feeling nonetheless.

The flipside could be considered a curse: drifting along without a tether or the grounding that comes with a community of beings who know you, without somewhere to come home to after all those global walkabouts. But like many sublime intangibles in life, if you’ve never had those things, you cannot possibly know their value.

So as an ignorant, nomadic, unencumbered citizen of the world, I, along with my husband-to-be, made the relatively risky decision during the teeny little “recession” of the early ‘90’s to quit stable reporter jobs in Washington, DC (where we met) and head West, if for no other reason than we could. That and we were miserable in a town of walking resumes who have no idea they are miserable until they leave.

San Francisco won out over Seattle for two reasons, one a bit misguided:  first, I was born there and had been back many times to visit my grandparents; and second, because it was “sunnier” than gray Seattle. Hah.

We found a one-bedroom, third-floor walk-up apartment between Nob Hill and Russian Hill that was slightly more than our planned rental budget. Hardwood floors, a fireplace and huge bay windows that actually looked out onto a Bay (the freakin’ San Francisco Bay, no less!) we were willing to pay extra for, though. The real estate agent, a woman from Hong Kong with a Chinese accent from Central Casting, took us up to the rooftop on a classic San Francisco summer day, the Golden Gate Bridge barely visible through the fog to the left, Coit Tower to the right.

She turned to us and said, in a perfect Charlie Chang imitation, “On a cle-ah day, you can see fo-evahhh.”

My fiancée and I looked at each other, eyes bulging with the strain of laughter containment.  I forced a serious look, “I think we’ll take it.”

We loved our little place – it was the perfect love nest for our first year of marriage, the tinkle of cable car bells barely reaching us, a pair of doves nesting in our window box.  When we found I, too, was “on the nest” (okay, I’ll stop the metaphor already), we decided we needed more space and found a quiet two-bedroom in Lafayette, the East Bay town where I worked.

Baby number one came. New jobs for me and my husband meant money enough to buy a house. Or so we thought.

We began our search as the dot-com era gathered dizzying speed.  Housing prices in the Bay Area began their fast ascent into the ether as people outbid each other by the thousands, throwing in airline tickets, cars, their first-born, only to find they didn’t even make it into the top ten bids. We ducked out for a little while, thinking prices would surely come down. We ducked out for good when we narrowly missed spending over $400K for a Berkeley house the size of a bread box and another about two blocks from the Oakland neighborhood where I’m pretty sure the hallowed term “ gang-bangers” was invented.

Baby number two’s imminent arrival brought on a serious reassessment.  With no family nearby, no friends within 40 minutes via a hellishly traffic-laden drive, and no houses we could afford without both of us going into indentured servitude and daily three hour commutes for the next 40 years, we decided a move away from the Bay Area and nearer family was the ticket.

My parents, ever citizens of the world, lived in Boston at the time, but could give no guarantees that the wind wouldn’t blow them to Oregon… or South East Asia. My husband’s mother, on the other hand, lived in the same Richfield, Minnesota house she purchased with her husband in the early 1950s. I’m pretty sure she still had some of the same furniture and canned goods they set up house with, too.

Stability and sheer numbers won out – seven of my husband’s eight siblings, their spouses and children lived in or near Minneapolis – and we made the move to Minnesota.

Eight-months pregnant, crabby and stressed with a potty-training two-and-a-half-year-old and a cat in a carry-on, I boarded a plane while my husband drove our car and our big dracanea plant named Stanley across the country.

My mother-in-law kindly put us up in her house while we looked for our own. We had the whole “second floor” to ourselves. A loose term because it’s really a converted attic with no bathroom and stairs too steep for a woman in my unbalanced condition to navigate in the dark every half hour for a potty break.  So we set up “the bucket. “ A large, plastic paint bucket, to be exact.  The chamber pot of queens.  And it was so hot up there in those late August weeks that I had to sleep totally naked. It’s a lovely thought, really, looking back – a naked, hugely pregnant woman peeing on a bucket every half hour.  During that month, I slept very little, read almost all of Barbara Kingsolvers books, painted cheap furniture for my daughter’s future room, was unreasonably nasty to my sweet mother-in-law and grew evermore impatient with our house-hunting.

Finally, we bought one. From our California perspective, we got an amazing deal for a really nice, old house in a nice neighborhood with good schools in the heart of residential South Minneapolis, ten minutes from downtown… ten minutes from everything, really.

So we settled in.  Baby #2 was born at the end of September, and winter hit soon thereafter.  I was woefully unprepared for everything:  two babies (#1 still potty-training , but reluctantly), driving in the snow, the isolation of having no one to talk to, I mean, cry to,  except over the phone to my mother and my poor husband who was trying to get work done at his new job.

I began to understood what my college-educated great-great-grandmother from Vermont must have felt when her husband dragged her to the vast, empty, howling plains of Colorado to make his fortune in cattle ranching. Lonely, lonely, lonely.  And while I was surrounded by people and she lived miles from the nearest town, the people who surrounded me were Minnesotans — nice, but extremely insular.  They just don’t let you into their inner-circles within five minutes, or even five years of meeting you.

Here’s why:

Minnesotans don’t leave. If they do, they come back to raise their families. They hang out with their kindergarten friends.  If they’re from outside the Twin Cities, they typically came here to go to the University of Minnesota and never left.  So they hang with their college friends.  As for the city kids, they often  return to the neighborhood they grew up in to raise their own children – in a three block radius in my neighborhood, I can count four young families who live on the same street as their parents.

This is not a criticism, by the way. It’s the very reason we’re still here. The values that drive that solid insularity  – family, friends, community – are palpable here. It makes the Twin Cities — and I shouldn’t be telling you this secret — an incredible place to raise a family. Schools are great, social services are incredible, housing is affordable and those all-important quality of life pieces – commute time, length of workday, etc. – are still quite civilized compared to the rest of the country.  My husband, for example, now on job number four here, has never had a commute longer than 20 minutes, and getting home after 6 pm is a rarity.

My husband and I secretly call our neighborhood Mayberry.  On the Fourth of July, there’s a bike parade followed by ice cream for everyone.  On Halloween, hundreds of kids roam the streets safely while the street adjacent to mine is blocked off for hot chocolate imbibing and hot dog consumption. I can count on my neighbors to shovel my walk in the winter while I am gone. If my garage door is open at night, we get a call. If my daughters behave badly, I hear about it – after they’vebeen parented by them the same way I would parent them.  If someone makes a too large batch of cookies or grows too many tomatoes, we’re sure to share in the bounty.  It’s no surprise to me that a recent study shows Minneapolis to have the most volunteerism of any metro area in the nation. Both my husband and I have donated hundreds of hours to our schools, church and community. But we’re not special –everyone here does that.

It’s almost a cliché in a way, but one you’re glad is real.

Ten years since that first rough winter, we’ve really made it. I know this because not only do we now have a wonderful array of friends from all over the country, including Minnesota, but we’ve been invited to cabins belonging to natives. This is a big deal.  It means we are thoroughly and completely rooted and entrenched here.  We are no longer from “out east.”

Sometimes this place feels a little too small, too narrow. That old wanderlust calls us. Our feet get itchy. So we travel quite a bit, which the lower cost of living here allows us to do.  We visit friends in other states, cities, countries. But every time we do, home calls us back. We feel lucky to live in this place with its strong Midwestern values and its stoic, but truly good people

You could say our wings have been clipped or that we’ve sold out for a comfortable life. Or you could say we finally understand the value of those intangibles I mentioned at the top of this very long story – because we now have them.  Either way, we are teaching our girls to be citizens of the world, but also giving them a place they can come back to, where they can re-ground if their heads get too big, re-juice if they’re beaten down by the world and re-connect to who they are if they ever lose sight of that.

The way I look at it, the world was our oyster and by happenstance, we found a pearl — we took the long way, but we were lucky enough to find home.

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32 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elizabeth Harty
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 17:56:42

    Grew up in Minnesota – left in ’85 for Houston was back in ’88. Lived in my home town until I HAD to move to the Cities to find a job. Been wanting to go home ever since.
    Having kids really gives you the opportunity to tie into a community through their activities. I was thinking of getting a couple of kids, but the up-keep was too much. Thus, after nearly 20 years, I still don’t think of this as home.
    And this post isn’t too long – it’s just right.
    Keep up the great work!

    Reply

  2. Pamela Grover
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 19:01:47

    Great post, Molly! I’ve experienced how it’s easier to understand America when travelling to other countries. Just listening to how much more foreigners knew about us was enlightening.

    As a native Minnesotan, I’ve never *really* appreciated what we have here. Thanks for opening my eyes!

    And as for the length of your post, it felt daunting as I scrolled down the page at first. But the way you write is so captivating that it didn’t feel long at all.

    Thanks again~

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:27:12

      Pam, I’m glad you saw that I was being complimentary of Minnesotans…and that it gave you food for thought about how great you are! Hope to see you T FF soon!

      Reply

  3. Tim C Martin
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 19:11:04

    Well Molly…it appears your visit to the South West has helped you appreciate everything you have 😎 I can genuinely say that after living here in Phoenix for 12 years….we don’t feel like any of this rings true for us…perhaps because everyone in Arizona is from somewhere else (usually Minneapolis or Chicago).

    Oh well…I guess we’ll always have January! 😎

    Good Read!

    Tim

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:24:49

      I cast no aspersions on any particulAr area! In truth, I had this entry almost totaly done before we left for our trip. Btw, you must remember our little place in SF – didn’t you stay there with a buddy for a little while we were on a trip somewhere? My memory…yikes!

      Reply

  4. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 19:29:54

    Sounds divine, wouldn’t it be odd if the girls ended up living on the same street as you do now – after they’ve bummed around the world for a decade or so. Didn’t Paul have a network of old mates to tap into? But you really want to establish your own friendships and that takes time. I think you do value them more as you get older and it sounds like you have the best of both worlds. Do you think you’ll stay there after the kids leave home and you retire? Ha, if it was by the sea with a tropical climate I’d probably be there too:)

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:22:13

      You’re right, Miss Annabel. Paul definitely had his college buddies and even a high school friend or two…and I’d actuallly known them awhile at that point, too. But for some reason, perhaps proximity, we just didn’t see them thatnoften, and I think that was probably dumb of us….li e and learn, eh?

      Reply

  5. Cathy
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 02:40:57

    Molly, I’m so glad I took the time to read this. I was going to feel guilty and just delete it because of time crunches today. For some reason I started reading, “Just a sentence or two” I said to myself, and then I finished the whole thing.
    I felt a connection many times, not because my life has necessarily mimicked yours in its particulars but because I’ve had many of those same thoughts and emotions in regard to my own experience.
    You are so right on about realizing within ourselves the need for stability in relationships and in our lives and yet at times, yearning for broader and more interesting experiences. That’s why imagination, entertainment and travel are so important.
    As to the question of whether to stay or leave at retirement:
    My in-laws left for Florida. They had independence and missed all the piano recitals and ended up returning when their health declined. My parents stayed in MN after retirement. They took off in Jan/Feb and had interesting adventures including perfect beaches in Hawaii and sailing around Cape Horn. Then they returned home for the grand kids piano recitals. Different economic abilities might take one on different local adventures.
    Like a bird, we want our feathered nest AND our wings.
    You will find your balance.
    Miss you in choir!! We’ll have to get definitely out on the pontoon this summer.

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:18:59

      The debate about retirement definitely rages on in our household, but I think we plan to be wherever our kids end up when they have kids…if it’s here, we’ll for sure do the winter bird thing. I love your bird metaphor, btw! We’d love to see you this summer, so definitely keep us in mind for the pontoon! 🙂

      Reply

  6. gina a.
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 03:56:36

    Very nice Molly-your neighborhood sounds just like mine on Capitol Hill. Small town in a bigger city. Neighbors who call me and say something to my kids if they aren’t wearing their bike helmet or waiting for a signal to cross the street. And the walking resumes made me laugh-thank goodness neither George nor myself are lobbyists, reporters, lawyers or congressional staffers! I don’t think I could stand it!

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:15:47

      I’m glad you didn’t take offense at my negative DC comments! And Capitol Hill must have gotten a lot safer since I lived there in the early ’90s…glad you’ve taken that beautiful area back to it’s residential roots!

      Reply

  7. Jane Kelly
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 03:57:37

    Molly – fantastic. I started reading this because I thought I’d better do it, but then I couldn’t stop! I miss you guys.

    Reply

  8. Mix Creative
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:30:48

    Love all the little details you added in your writing: the real-estate agent, the doves in the window box, and the “cat in a carry-on”. Love your work…keep it up!

    Reply

  9. laura Torpy
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 04:30:57

    I thnk I want to move! Another great blog!

    Reply

  10. Don Patrie
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 10:08:32

    Molly…How well you write…I may lean on you when I write my book….Raising 5 daughter’s from Dad’s point of view…I think I told you what the title will be… “I didn’t know Shower Curtains weren’t made out of Nylons” I recognized “Cathy” when she mentioned the Choir.. I too miss it..after 20 some years. Went to the Choir’s annual picnic at Teri’s place and saw lotsa friends…If you and Paul and the girls are going to be in town on the 4th…I may be having a Fireworks Party at my place and would delighted to have you as my guests. It’s always spectacular from the 15th floor. Keep in touch.

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 17, 2010 @ 14:35:25

      I’d be happy to ghostwriter or edit anything you come up with, Don! Not sure what our plans are for the fourth, but let’s stay in touch about that…glad u like my blog!

      Reply

  11. burbs09
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 14:38:20

    Nice post, Molly. I guess I’ve gotten too weather-wimpy because I could never leave the SF Bay Area and return to the Midwest, land of snow and cold.
    That said, your descriptions of Minneapolis could certainly fit my hometown, Milwaukee, where childhood friends also live on the same blocks they grew up. Glad you’ve found a city that works for you–in the end, that’s what counts. Don’t forget to come visit SF, though!

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 18, 2010 @ 04:31:08

      If we coulda’ we woulda’ stayed in No Cal. You guys had one leg up on us having family pretty near by. Even if you don’t see them, there’s a feeling of connectedness and comfort that’s hard to replace. And we’ll definitely be back to visit again soon!

      Reply

  12. Laura Barbeau
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 16:08:02

    I am really appreciating your writing, entries, etc. — they have been very easy for me to relate to. For sure the earlier entry about getting bored too easily and not finding a career to land on. I finally did, and at 50 am loving what I am doing.

    As for this entry, being part of this neighborhood I know what you are talking about, and as a life long Minnesotan, (…regretfully) I now have a far better understanding of what many non-Minnesotans have to explained to me about trying to find a place here. I will be sharing this with a few people to help them understand what they are up against and why it is important to appreciate the insularity while persisting in infiltrating it.
    Thank you for including me. Is that another Minnesota thing or just me?
    Laura

    Reply

    • mollykelash
      Jun 18, 2010 @ 04:27:18

      Share away! If my entry helps some of your clients who are having trouble adjusting here, so much the better. One of the things that REALLY helped me was getting involved. In my case it was the Basilica choir, but it doesn’t have to be church-related at all.

      Reply

  13. Lea
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 08:28:04

    Molly, So fun! Thanks for sharing. I laughed til I wiped tears out of my eyes of your description of being: hugely pregnant, sleeping naked, and peeing in a bucket…
    good stuff!

    Reply

  14. Bethany Johnson
    Jun 23, 2010 @ 00:03:08

    Molly- I have tears in my eyes as I read your description of our lovely neighborhood, “Mayberry.” It really is so special, and when I try to describe our ‘place in the world’ to outsiders I tell them it feels like a big hug. I am never alone physically or emotionally. There is always a hot meal over the fence, a cold beer on the patio, a cleared sidewalk on a snowy morning. Thank you for articulating (so well) what I have felt for the past 8 years!

    Reply

  15. Hope Rajacich
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 14:43:02

    So finally I took some time to read one of your posts. I certainly knew it would not be a waste of my ever-shrinking free time. However, the house of crazy was temporarily forgotten when I finally sat down to read your blog. It was lovely! Thanks and I’m looking forward to the next one.
    Hope

    Reply

  16. Ed Bock
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 07:27:41

    Hi Molly,

    I just read your blog for the first time. Not only are you a fabulous image-maker but what a great writer. Thanks for sharing yourself. You are a real treat. I am now a fan and a regular reader. 🙂 Ed

    Reply

  17. Rebecca
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 08:52:25

    Hey Molly! You da bomb. 🙂 I’m trying to subscribe to your blog, but I’m so slow I’m trying to figure it out!

    Reply

  18. Trackback: things I’ve learned from my mother-in-law « seriously

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