When I was a kid, I lived in a very small town in northwestern Minnesota. The closest city was Winnipeg, up in Canada, unless you counted Grand Forks, North Dakota, which nobody ever did.
This town was named Holt and I believe you can still find it on an older map. It consisted of a post office, the Friendly Tavern, the JB Hartz store (a white clapboard building), a public cold-storage locker (for storing venison, every fall), a community hall, a public school (grades 1-8), a service station, a creamery, a cemetery, something called ‘The World’s Only Typha Plant,’ and last (but never least) a Lutheran church.
My father was the pastor of that church, which was the only reason we were ever there, a family whose kids were born in Texas, California (that’s me), Arizona and—oddly enough—a city called Thief River Falls.
TRF (as it was known) was twelve miles south of Holt as the Ford station wagon rumbles. It was the place you went on Saturday for groceries, for your school clothes (either JC Penney’s or the S&L), and (best of all) for a movie at the Falls Theater. My happiest memory of childhood is when Dad put down the wrench after working on the station wagon, wiped his hands, and said, “I guess we’d better get you kids to the matinee.” The movie, I think, was ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,’ with Richard Basehart.
But the best part of TRF was the Carnegie Library. It was an old brick building, as square as the Scotsman who bequeathed, with linoleum floors and oak bookshelves that glowed in the afternoon light. It was there I would pass the occasional Saturday morning, picking enough books to last another week.
Then back home, reading those books and roaming the fields, I enjoyed a stew of solitude and adventure that would result in an adult like me: someone who is always exploring, always on the alert for the next strange story.
Incidently, this video by Sam Amidon in some weird way captures my American life, from the fiddler in the old Union uniform to the prairie Scandinavian, to the piney woods of Minnesota, to the rocky shores of the Pacific, to my great-grandmother’s and daughter’s name: Pretty Saro.