My father and I used to go door-to-door delivering wafers in a tiny gold case. I imagined my father gave me this job to make me feel special when all of the older kids went to school. When they disappeared behind the doors of St. Mark’s School with their starched uniforms and shiny pencil cases, I felt left out. As a remedy, my father quickly got me started in the business of delivering communion to neighborhood elders. Continue Reading

Booker Taliaferro Washington and me

As founder and president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University), Booker T. Washington valued education and instilled in his students of African heritage values of hard work, creativity, and entrepreneurship. These values have touched my family members and me throughout our family’s ­history. Continue Reading

Calling Gadahlski

Gadahlski refers to the garage door of the house I grew up in. The house was a modern rambler sitting on a hill in the pristine, well-educated community of St. Anthony Park. My parents, my sister, and I did whatever we could to fit into the mold of “the Park.” The house expressed this desire for perfection with its regularly mowed lawn, clipped hedges, and fresh paint. Even the flower and vegetable gardens were neat and orderly. Continue Reading

What’s in a name?

“All over (America), Negro boys and girls are growing into stunted maturity, trying desperately to find a place to stand, and the wonder is not that so many are ruined—but that so many survive!” Continue Reading

Walks with the chowhound

Selby is a chowhound. An inveterate, unrelenting, willfully indiscriminate gastronome of Saint Paul street food. Naturally he is named after the street where he lives, Selby Avenue, and naturally, when I come to dog sit him, we commence our journeys from that haunt of celebrated eateries, dine-ins, and dessert stops. This poses a problem, as Selby is a beagle, a breed that distinguishes itself by a sniffer so acute it can divine a three-month-old pancake-thin squirrel carcass from a snowbank high as a Himalayan foothill. (Why Saint Paul should have snowbanks of that magnitude is a matter for another story, and of serious inquiry to whichever department is charged with grooming the city’s wintertime walks into a Sherpa’s mountainside trek.) Continue Reading

Five things to love about Saint Paul from someone who moved here from somewhere else

1. Traffic

I know this sounds ridiculous: to love the speed by which one can get across town. Big deal, right? Yes. It is. You have no idea. Prior to moving to Saint Paul in 2008, I lived in Seattle, a city with an enormous and ever-worsening traffic problem. Zillions of people are constantly moving into Seattle and clogging up the roads in the process. Seattle blew it on transportation by failing to either build enough roads and mass-transit options when it was early enough or, alternately, build enough enormous walls to keep people from moving there. Now it’s too late. Continue Reading

Saint Paul’s Big River Journey

“Can you kids be quiet for a minute? I think a towboat is trying to call me on the radio.” This morning the pilothouse of the Anson Northrup is packed to the gills and I am surrounded by eleven-year-olds. They are standing around my chair, crowded onto the lazy bench, and spilling out the door. I have spent fifteen noisy minutes telling them about all the stuff in the pilothouse. I used to guide this passenger vessel up and down the Saint Paul waterfront. But now they are tired of my voice and want to stretch their own a little bit. I am hoping they have things to ask and say about how this experience on the river has changed their perspective, but the din is so loud by now that I am thinking of pulling out some of my newly gray hairs. Before I can, a large bald eagle swoops gracefully overhead and drops to the water, deftly removing a wriggling fish right in front of us. With a powerful push of his wings he lifts away, holding lunch in his talons. The pilothouse becomes quiet, save for the surprised exhales and the drawn-out “Whooooaaas.” Continue Reading