The River Bench series: Garden encounter

The Cherokee Heights Garden Club has celebrated seventy-five years of service. They have faithfully beautified and tended the flowers on Smith Avenue at the High Bridge for years. Returning from a walk in Cherokee Park, I pass by the High Bridge flowerbeds. A seventy-something woman is tending the spider lilies and bachelor buttons, deadheading a few and weeding between the plants. She has brought a minimal set of tools in a basket. I nod as I walk by, giving her a thumbs up for her work and continue on my way north toward the river bench. Continue Reading

Kwame J. C. McDonald: He faced death with courage

Hotep. Kwame McDonald was a much-loved icon in the community. He was well traveled and well known across the country. My relationship with him—a relationship of associating and working together—lasted over thirty years, right up until the time he died. This is also a story about the manner in which he died, his whole attitude about life and death, and the acceptance of his fate. Never in my whole life have I seen, in the face of death, such a demonstration of courage, determination, and thoughtfulness—which not only affected him, but affected all of the people he knew and loved. He was careful to minimize any and all gestures of pity, sorrow, and grief; yet at the same time he did want people to know he was dying. Continue Reading

Ironic meetings of ghosts at the Irish Fair of Minnesota on Saint Paul’s Harriet Island

The Irish Fair’s site along the pewter-gray, spreading Mississippi beneath downtown Saint Paul on the ample greensward of Harriet Island is majestic and invites celebration. The bustling and music-crammed Irish Fair with its snowy canvas tents, its black-tinted signposts, and plentiful green turf offers an Ireland of the mind to its visitors. Whether Irish-American, native-born Irish, or simply a non-Irish person casually intrigued by the inviting complexity of Irish culture, the Fair’s lack of an admission charge, handsome location, and more than forty performing musical and dance groups gently stimulates the imagination. Continue Reading

Dylan, Spider John, and the Purple Onion

I got to know Saint Paul and I got to know Bob Dylan because I got to know Bill Danielson. Bill owned the Pink Pizza Shack at Hiawatha and Lake in Minneapolis. In 1957 it was a hangout for me and my friends. Bill and his wife, MaryAnn, did pretty well there, but he wanted to be in Saint Paul, his hometown. He sold the Pizza Shack to brothers Duane and Lonnie Anderson, who changed the name to Dulono’s. Continue Reading

Dating on the Hill

Fifty-two and newly divorced. Sounds like the symptoms for something fatal. I moved to Cathedral Hill and started going to Nina’s Coffee Café for daily dialysis. Out goes the old, sad blood, in comes the new, highly caffeinated stuff. Some of my friends said, “Why don’t you date?” And other friends said, “Forget about dating. Get comfortable with being alone.” Continue Reading

Midway memories

My Hamline-Midway neighborhood is the kind of place where childhood memories are made. Sure, Wisconsin Dells, a Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas, and Disney World all have their fair share of excitement and joyous wonderment. But nothing can compare to the warm feeling you get as sticky chocolate ice cream drizzles down your fingers, while you watch your sister try to feed the dog some of hers. The simple rushes of adrenaline as you speed away on your tarnished red mountain bike, the fading orange sun glaring off the chrome handlebars. In the winter, glistening white snow forts protect from compacted snowballs that sting like bees. Baseball games under the bright floodlights of Midway ballparks, making you feel as if you are at Target Field, standing right next to Justin Morneau. Buying rich, creamy Milky Way candy bars at Lloyd’s Pharmacy, then stopping at the library to pick up Tintin comics. Spending time with loved ones, be it shouting “Uno!” as the last card leaves your hand, getting a plastic birdie stuck in your inexpensive racket, or figuring out a puzzling crossword. These are all memories that might not seem big and amazing, but they are the most important. Continue Reading

What Saint Paul owes to whiskey

During an 1883 visit to Saint Paul, the great Mark Twain observed: “How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary—but always whiskey! Such is the case.”[1] Continue Reading