The Timbers

Our family shared The Timbers with two other families. For me and my siblings, it was OUR lake place. While we loved Grandma Grewe’s Grand Lake, we felt like The Timbers was ours. Our family bought into The Timbers when I was about ten, so this was in the early 1970s. Every winter our parents met with the other owners to divvy up the dates for the year. The place was not heated, so for Minnesota, that meant mainly June, July, and August. They also put dibs on weekends in May, September, and October.

Due to the scheduling, we were there most often a week at a time, but sometimes it was two. During the time we went there, we stayed at least one week per month there ever Summer, and often more. My parents and the other families kept the place until I was in college, so we were had this awesome “cabin” up North for over ten years. Some of my greatest childhood memories are from The Timbers. We all invited many, many friends to The Timbers over the years. I really learned to fish there; got elementary understanding of motors; learned to water ski, sail and canoe; engaged in roof repair; gathered kindling and chopped wood; learned to motorbike; played cards and did puzzles with family; read voraciously; and learned to HATE mosquitoes! More than anything, at The Timbers I learned the values of hard work and peaceful relaxation.

The Timbers could hardly be called a mere cabin. A Lodge would be a much better description. It was located South of Brainard, Minnesota, on Crooked Lake. Crooked lake was a long, narrow lake that resembled a river. The Timbers consisted of seven main buildings on a 12 acre tract of deep woods, consisting mostly of tall pine timber. The main lodge sat atop a steep hill overlooking the lake. The closest neighboring cabins were about a half mile away. The outbuildings included a garage (complete with expansive upstairs bedrooms), a caretaker’s cabin, a boathouse with four bunks a screened porch and an open porch extending over the water, an ice house, a fully screened sandbox, and multiple outhouses, complete with electric lights.

Jon, Jenifer (and Bos’n) on the path to the lake.

The buildings were constructed with gigantic natural logs. In the main lodge, the logs were at least two feet in diameter and were left uncovered on both the exterior and the interior. The main living room in the lodge was gigantic, nearly thirty feet by thirty feet, with a cathedral ceiling over twenty feet to the roof. It included a forty-foot front porch, with an accompanying outdoor deck that spanned across the entire front of the cabin. There was a master bedroom, a guest bedroom, kitchen and pantry, and a bathroom. We ate most meals at the long hardwood picnic-type table on the front porch.

The entire property was built by the Piper family, known for their early airplane business. They had plenty of money, so no expense was spared. In addition to the logs imported from Oregon, the fixtures – door handles, hinges, locks, and other hardware – was made from pounded wrought iron into various scenes and shapes. The door handles were fish; a round lock hole was covered with a wrought iron turtle; the door knocker was a bird; and there were other miscellaneous designs throughout the lodge and out buildings.

The view from the front of the main lodge was incredible. The steep embankment to the lake was wooded, but not so much to obscure the view of the lake. Across the lake was more woods. It was my understanding that the other side of the lake was owned by the State . There were no homes there and never any activity at all. In essence, this entire area of the lake was our own private paradise.

We walked from building to building, mostly down to the lake, on well manicured trails. That meant that we spend many hours keeping those trails in good repair, but since it was all natural, many large tree roots crossed the trail. That led to many a stubbed toe, sprained ankle, and face plants. This was especially true at night. It was PITCH dark outside. No one went anywhere without a large flashlight. Even then, for a kid that was quite the scary adventure! The biggest problem was that the boathouse, where us kids preferred to sleep, had no bathroom, only a nearby outhouse. As a result, we made many trips up and down that hill to the main lodge. It was a a trek equal to about a city block. Not fun in the dark.

On thing that fascinated me was what we called “the lagoon.” This consisted of a very large man-made pond down an embankment. There were stone steps leading down into a dry gully where the pond was created. On the far side of the pond was an elongated waterfall. There were remnants of a stone walkway around the pond and several small stone benches. One of the main things I remember about the area was that it was overgrown with large ferns. The sad thing is that we almost never went down there. Everything was almost completely overgrown. While the waterfall never worked, rainwater collected in the pond, so it became a massive mosquito breeding ground. Even getting close to the lagoon meant you would end up with hundreds of mosquito bites within a matter of moments. It was truly a potential beautiful spot, but without regular upkeep had become quite treacherous.

There was no television at The Timbers. That was one of the rules of the house. We think that this was violated by one of the other families as we once found a small television stashed in one of the closets. There was a single desk phone, but it was long distance to call anywhere, so it was rarely used. We always jumped any time the phone would ring. Dad got a few business calls every so often.

Going to The Timbers definitely taught us how to plan. This was primarily Mom’s responsibility, but we need to help her along the way. We needed to pack a week’s worth of food for the trip and needed to ensure we brought all the necessaries – sheets, towels, blankets, sleeping bags, and most importantly, toilet paper! Though we probably could have stored some stuff there, it seemed that every time we did, it was used – or used up – by one of the other families during the off weeks. Besides, there was no washing machine to wash the linens, so we just brought stuff home every time.

The Timbers was about a two and one-half hour drive from home. It was truly in the middle of nowhere. The closest town, Deerwood, was about a 25-minute drive away. From the “main” road, we were about a mile in, all along a winding dirt road. Even the main road was several miles from the nearest true rural highway. During our week at The Timbers, we were very much on our own.

Living conditions, while nice, were quite sparse. The only real luxuries were electric lights, indoor plumbing, the gas stove in the kitchen, and the refrigerator. We learned to appreciate the Franklin pot belly stove in the kitchen. That, and the massive fireplace in the main room of the lodge, were the only sources of heat. And that only worked if you had a good stash of kindling and chopped firewood!

The lake was not really much of a swimming lake, but we did a LOT of swimming there. Our property was over 1000 feet of shoreline, but there was nothing even close to resembling a beach. We simply jumped off the end of our short dock into water that was well over our heads. About thirty feet from the end of the dock was a large wooden “raft,” supported by a number of empty 55 gallon drums. Once a kid proved he or she could swim, we got the green light to swim to, from, and around the raft. If a kid couldn’t swim, the rule was either NO water or they had to wear a life vest.

Besides swimming, fishing, exploring, and boating, there was very little to keep kids entertained for a week at a time. I can tell you, though, that we rarely felt bored. If we weren’t playing outside somewhere, we were working: chopping wood, finding good kindling, general maintenance of the grounds and buildings, and for me, sweeping pine needles off the wood shingled roof! I don’t know if kids of today would appreciate The Timbers since there were not the type of activities that they seem to like. For us, though, it was perfect!

Evenings were family time. We really didn’t have much of that when we were home. Like many fathers of that time, my dad work very long hours. Though my mother dearly wanted a “dinner hour” all her life, it was only occasionally that had one with the whole family around the table. Not so at The Timbers! Dinners were a family affair. After dinner it was card games, long chats, or puzzles, sometimes all. On cold nights Dad read books aloud in front of a roaring fire. Those were the best times!

It was mostly Mom (or grandma) who cooked, but we all had jobs around the family dinner. We couldn’t get to the fun stuff until everything else was done. We took turns chopping vegetables and running into the pantry for this or that. After dinner, it was clearing the table, doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen, stocking the wood bin for the night, and anything else that needed to be done that night. One somewhat fun job was getting water from the pump. None of the running water in the lodge was potable. We had a pumphouse for “fresh” water and needed to pump fresh water into various urns daily. It was hard work for a kid to get water from the huge pump. It was definitely a workout! The only problem with the fresh drinking water was that it came out orange! That was from the large content of iron in the water that is typical in Northern Minnesota. It looked at tasted a little odd, but we got used to it.

The pumphouse

Visitors and parties were a regular events for us at The Timbers. One of us kids almost always had a friend or two come along. Many of our relatives and our parent’s friends either stopped for the day – or for an extended visit. Most of the latter visits almost always included long nights of card playing, stories, and alcohol. That kept the adults occupied while the kids ran wild. I remember several incidents of taking Jon and Jenifer on nighttime walks through the woods. The whole time I would tell them to look out for wolves, bats, and other nocturnal creatures. Once we got far enough away – but not too far – I would switch off my flashlight and run away. Poor kids are probably still afraid of being outside alone at night! Yes, admittedly, I terrorized my younger siblings.

I have so many great memories of The Timbers. I was so happy that Amy was able to visit once or twice before it was sold, but our kids never got there. Besides the great family memories there, the rustic way of life was a glimpse into the past. I learned so much about living in, and loving, nature. The lessons I learned there served me well as a homeowner dealing with maintenance, planting a garden, and being able to use tools necessary in life. And I still HATE mosquitoes!

Little Brother

Oh my! So much to say . . . yet so much I can’t say! Jon and I are just over five years apart. I read somewhere that five years is a big dividing line between kids. You sort of end up with two separate families. I have to say that is somewhat true. I had already started Montessori school and Pam was in the First Grade when Jon appeared. Pam and I had well established sibling boundaries set up when Jon showed up and busted our routine.

Jon looking lovingly (?) at his big brother!

I remember it being exciting to have a little brother. I think Pam enjoyed it more than me, but I definitely thought it was cool. We were too old to be jealous, but that certainly popped up later from time to time. I find it interesting that although we hung out a lot together as a family, that five years was just enough to ensure that Jon and I never got too close. Unfortunately, due to a combination of factors, we never did. The good thing is that we still have time to change that!

Jon loved cars. From a very early age, though, they seemed to get him into trouble. That did not change until well into his adult years. Because Jon was so into cars, he got cars for Christmas, birthdays, etc. He had Hot Wheels play sets and a little red car with pedals. The latter got him in trouble many times as he’d end up lost several blocks away from our house. Fortunately, he was smart enough to avoid the steep, half-mile hill in front of our house that would have deposited him, and his little car, into the Mississippi River.

Our dad had a 1965 baby blue Mustang convertible. Jon would watch Dad drive away in that car every morning and would go for rides with Dad any time he could, even if it was a quick trip to the gas station. One day Jon decided that HE would do Dad a favor and fill up the tank. So, he grabbed the hose in the driveway, turned on the water, and inserted it into the tank. No one had a clue until Dad got about a mile away on his way to work one morning! Jon got a good yelling at.

Jon’s next auto adventure was in our family station wagon. It was parked in the driveway on our Beverly Road home. Back in those days, there was no such thing as an ignition lock. Both the steering wheel and gear shift lever were operational without a key. As Jon pretended to drive the car one afternoon, he pulled the shift lever and it stopped in neutral. It wasn’t long before Jon was on the road – in reverse down the driveway hill. He must have been steering since he continued backing down the street and then around the corner. Fate was watching Jon that day since the car’s wheels got jammed along the curb several yards down the dangerous Beverly Road hill.

In addition to Jon’s fascination with cars, Jon went through various phases in his early life. I guess we all go through phases, but Jon’s were interesting! First, he became a mini-me of Fonzie from the Happy Day’s television show. There were times when I think Jon thought he WAS the Fonz. He slicked back his hair, wore sunglasses like Fonzie, and wore white t-shirts with a cigarette pack rolled up in the sleeve. He had Fonzie posters in his room and read anything he could get his hands on about he Fonz.

Following the Fonzie craze was the exact opposite. Jon had a complete make-over thanks to Papa Grayson. When Papa and Grandma came to visit for six weeks over the Summer, Papa took over Jon’s room. Jon became his protégé. Gone were the Happy Days paraphernalia and welcome to the fastidious, Felix Unger-like Jon! Papa must have put Jon into some kind of boot camp. After Papa left, Jon’s bedroom could have passed any inspection. Everything was in its proper place. His underwear, socks, and other clothes were impeccably sorted in his dresser and closet. From what I recall, this version of Jon lasted quite some time.

Because Jon and I were five years apart, I think I lost track of him by the time I was about 15 or so. For the next five years I was into girls and other high school hi-jinx, and except for the realization that there was another human in the house, I have no clue what Jon was up to. I suspect, though, that he endured a whole lot of teasing from me during this time! It wasn’t until Jon got into high school that I began to slowly take notice of my younger brother.

Jon followed me to Cretin High School in St. Paul. From what I could tell, he was very well liked and far surpassed my academic achievement at school. Much to my father’s delight, Jon played football. He made the varsity as a senior and was an undersized defensive end. Jon used his height disadvantage to get low on his opposing player and more often than expected, ended up disrupting the offensive plays. In my dad’s eyes, Jon had come close to, if not surpassing, elder sister Pam’s elite status.

Once incident that sticks out to me even now during Jon’s high school years was when he, as a junior, decided to throw a party at our house. My parents were away, but Grandma Grewe was staying at our house on Summit Avenue since Pam and I were way to busy in college to deal with younger siblings Jon and Jenifer.

We got suspicious when Jon started rolling up the carpeting in the family living room. He and his friends then hauled in an old claw-footed bathtub that my mother had used in her garden. I quickly and correctly surmised that the tub would be used for multiple beer kegs. Always the entrepreneur, Jon had advertised the party at several local schools with a modest entry fee.

Grandma was happily tucked away in the back bedroom – far from the main level of the enormous house – and Jenifer was sent to a friend’s house to spend the night. Pam and I were curious, so we stuck around to see what might happen. Well, before long our house was overflowing with well over a hundred high school kids. It was quickly growing out of control. There was at least once incident where Jon had tried to turn some kids away, but they wouldn’t leave. He found me to get them out of the house.

Pam and I were in the back yard shooting baskets. All of a sudden we heard police sirens. We spied police walking into the house to break up the party. Both of us suddenly realized that, as adults, we could be cited for “hosting” an underage party. So, we ran! We took off down the alley with high school kids streaming out of all the doors of the house. Only later did we realize that we had left poor grandma alone to deal with the fiasco. We slowly made our way back to the house. Somehow, though, grandma remained unaware of it all. When we got back Jon was sitting in the kitchen counting his money. He was actually glad that the cops had broken up the party. For him, it was a huge success!

Jon followed Pam’s path by choosing to become a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Birmingham, England, after he graduated from high school. By this time I had finished college, was married, and was serving in Germany with the Army. During a break from school, Jon came to visit us in Germany. From the little kid who annoyed me terribly, who irritated me further by becoming dad’s new favorite, I finally got to see Jon in a new way. He was a neat young man. He brought our dog, Schatzi, a British dog toy – a bust of Ronald Reagan – that became Schatzi’s favorite toy.

One thing that I recall from that visit of my grown-up little brother was that he had become infatuated by a young girl from one of the St. Paul suburban schools. He eagerly shared a photo album of her Senior pictures. Even after being away from this girl for many months during what would have been her senior year in high school, she was still HIS girl. Despite the time and distance, and the many opportunities that he had with young British women, Jon was quick to show everyone the album of his sweetheart. That was remarkable for a young man his age. His loyalty and love was evident to all. And, yes, Jon did end up marrying that girl!

There are various other stories that I could tell about Jon. More than a few of these are about Jon and cars, trucks, and motorcycles! Jon, like all of us, has his odd characteristics (like suddenly disappearing during family gatherings and ending every conversation with his tag line, “Blessings”), but he is genuinely a nice man and almost universally liked. I admire the way that he can interact with just about anyone he meets. I was especially touched with his calm demeanor with our sister, Pam, as she was dying. Jon was there for Pam (without disappearing!) and offered her regular foot massages.

Both Jon and I spent years raising our respective families, so outside of family events and a couple of family vacations, we’ve gotten together only occasionally. For the past twelve years I’ve lived away, so we haven’t had much time together. He has, though, served as a terrific dog sitter, traveling to Maryland to watch our dogs. The dogs always seemed to love him more than any other sitters and I think Jon enjoyed them just as much.

Jon and Buster

On a few limited occasions Jon and I were able to travel together. The first was when Jon and I accompanied Dad and Uncle E.C. to the Bohemian Grove in California. We had a terrific time together. The second was when Jon and his wife visited me in Heidelberg, Germany, during my deployment there in 2007. We had a grand time touring Germany and enjoying one of my favorite activities, lounging at the wonderful Friedrichsbad in Baden Baden. Finally, I joined Jon and son Eli to visit E.C. and the California Graysons in San Francisco and Tiburon in 2010. We enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

Jon and Eli in Tiburon

Jon and Kristy raised two delightful young men, Owen and Eli, who grew up mostly while we were living away.

Jon with Owen & Eli

I am looking forward to moving back to Minnesota soon so we can reconnect. Here’s to you, little brother!


I am obviously going way out of sequence in sharing my influences and mentors, but AJ’s untimely death has struck me hard.

AJ, Allesandra Jacqueline Lesho, was our dog sitter. She died tragically in a car crash soon after achieving her longtime goals of serving on a mission trip to Ecuador and getting into veterinary tech school. AJ was 24 years old. She stayed in our home several times to watch our dogs. She will be greatly missed by humans and canines alike.

AJ was a wonderful and kind young lady. Small in stature, but a giant in attitude, spunk, and love for animals. She lived nearby and worked as a veterinary assistant at the Elkridge Animal Hospital, where we have taken our dogs for many years. She always greeted us (mostly just the dogs!) with great enthusiasm. Due to frequent vet visits with our old dogs, we got to see her quite often.

Just days before her death, I texted AJ about potential dog sitting for an upcoming trip. She apologized for the slow response since she had to get back from the Ecuadorian countryside to WiFi. I told her I hoped it was going well. She replied, “It is amazing.”

AJ’s lesson for me is not that life is precious and short (though it certainly is). No, the real lesson for me is how much I didn’t even know AJ. I knew she was going on a trip to Latin America this Summer, but I didn’t know that it was to Ecuador. I didn’t know that she was going on a mission trip to care for animals as a volunteer with World Vets. I didn’t know that she had gotten into her dream veterinary program. I didn’t know anything about her background or her family.

In fact, I really didn’t know much about AJ. Yet, she shared our home when we were away and she loved our dogs nearly as much as we do! So why didn’t we take more time to learn more about her? Do we all have so many relationships in our lives in which we know so little about people we interact with on a regular basis?

Yes, I think we do. Some people are much better at learning about the people around them. I guess I’ve always tried to respect privacy, telling myself, “people will tell me if they want me to know.” Others either don’t have the time for “peripheral” relationships or, sadly, don’t care.

I believe the reason that AJ’s short life has affected me so much is a feeling that perhaps I could have helped her more if I’d known more about her. I hope I would have encouraged her more in reaching her goals if I’d known about them.

I also speculate that AJ had to raise a good amount of money for her mission trip. Besides what we paid her to stay with our dogs, AJ never asked us for anything. There is no doubt in my mind that we would have donated if only we had known. With my network of doggie friends, I have no doubt that I could have talked at least one or two others into supporting AJ. Now, sadly, I am left with only sending donations in AJ’s name to and her school, CCBC.

Tomorrow I will attend AJ’s memorial. I will likely talk to her family and friends to learn even more about AJ. I truly regret not doing so with her. That, I am learning, is a life lesson I’ve missed.

Thank you, AJ, we will definitely miss you!

Grade School

[In the midst of packing boxes, photos will have to come later!]

I’ve already written about my wonderful experiences in our Desnoyer Park neighborhood and our three-room Desnoyer Park school. It seemed as soon as I got comfortable with the school, it was time to move on to another school. That became a pattern in my early life and very well led to me being a bit of a wandering soul in my adult years. I am also convinced that it caused much insecurity and shyness due to always being a new kid at school.

After third grade, all the students at Desnoyer Park had to move on to other schools. In our neighborhood, the closest school was Longfellow. It was over a mile away, probably a bit closer if you could cut through the Town & Country Golf Course. Most days I rode my bike to and from school. That include a good part of the winter months as well!

The fourth grade was an interesting year for me. Not only did I really get to know my friend, Toran, but that was the year that my sister Pam set me up with the evil principal. I became somewhat of a class clown that year, but not until one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Johnson, left mid-year. Upon returning from Christmas vacation, we returned to a substitute teacher. We were told that Mrs. Johnson was not coming back. No further explanation was ever provided. For the first few weeks we had a succession of substitute teachers. Finally, we got one who stayed. Unfortunately, I don’t recall anyone liking her. That, together with the principal fiasco, led me becoming a class clown.

I did pretty well in classes that year. At that point, school was pretty easy for me. I don’t recall anything particular about the year, except for my friend, Harry, barfing right next to me and the black man who came to talk to our class one day. This was in about 1970, not long after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so race relations were still rather difficult across the country. At that time, St. Paul, Minnesota, was still very white. Our speaker talked about the difficulty of being a black man in society. I found him fascinating. My favorite story was when he talked about walking through a mall and a little white kid came up and bit him. He said the kid had thought he was chocolate! The class roared with laughter, but the lessons of race relations, kindness, and respect stuck with me. Many years later I remembered that story vividly when accompanying a black friend to a store in Kaposvar, Hungary. Little kids stared at him and followed us, as if they had never seen a black man before.

It seemed that as soon as I got acclimated to the new kids at Longfellow and the new teacher, summer vacation was upon us. During that summer, we moved from Desnoyer Park to our new home on “stately” Summit Avenue in St. Paul. That meant a new school for me and my sister. Our new neighborhood school was Linwood elementary. Linwood was a Kindergarten through Sixth Grade school in the central part of St. Paul. This time it was all new kids. At least from Desnoyer Park, most of the kids moved on to Longfellow. Now it was all new kids.

I never liked Linwood and never really fit in. My mom insisted that I join the band. I did not enjoy that at all. It also was somewhat ostracized at that school, at least among the kids in my grade. As the newbie, I quickly fell in with the wrong crowd. My new best friends were involved in drugs, petty theft, and other questionable behavior. I spend most of my time with Calvin. His family consisted of an older brother, a younger sister and a single mom, who worked her ass off to support her family. I don’t even remember much about Calvin’s dad. Calvin was not a bad kid, but had some bad influences in his life. Calvin’s older brother was in high school and was heavily into drugs. As a result, marijuana and hash were easily obtainable for us.

For whatever reason, I never really liked the idea, but smoked my first joint at about the age of ten! The best part about it was Calvin really was a good friend. Whenever the group would smoke pot, Calvin was okay with me not participating and he backed me up any time others would try to force me to join in.

Calvin provided a number of positive influences as well. He was an outgoing kid, so we always had other kids around. He got me very interested in sports. I was already an avid baseball fan, but never really played any sports. I was a small and short kid, so was often the last kid picked whenever teams were chosen. By playing baseball, football, and basketball with Calvin, I started to realize that I had some natural athletic ability. That still needed a lot of honing, but it was a start. Calvin and I spend hours and hours in the summer playing catch with a baseball and football in the fall. Calvin got me signed up for the local little league baseball team and, while I was still not too good, I learned the game and eventually got pretty good.

Calvin’s family was also very interested in downhill skiiing. His mom had been a ski instructor, so I got to tag along every time they went to Alton Alps or other local ski areas. There were some winter months that we skied at least one per week. I finally had learned a winter sport that I enjoyed!

Somewhat surprisingly, Calvin also got me interested in religion. I had always attended Catholic Mass with my father every weekend, but it really didn’t mean much to me. Calvin’s family went to a baptist church. I tagged along and was encouraged to get to know Jesus. It was in a baptist church that I first recall dedicating my life to Jesus and was “saved.”

After time, my relationship with Calvin started to sour. He became more involved in the drug scene and I moved on to other friends at school. After sixth grade, he moved on to the local junior high school and I followed my sister to St. Luke’s Catholic School. Fortunately, some of the kids from Linwood also moved to St. Luke’s, but there I was at yet again another grade school. By the seventh grade I was in my fourth new school.

During the second half of sixth grade I started a paper route. My first job! I remember trudging up and down the streets at around 5AM delivering papers in the cold and snow. I continued this into seventh grade and made friends with another paper carrier, Martin, who was from St. Luke’s. So, at least I had one friend when I started the new school. Since I was new to the school, I knew nothing about the school’s football team for seventh and eight graders. Martin joined the team and encouraged me to sign up, albeit a couple days late. Sadly, the coach didn’t care much for Martin and wouldn’t let me join the team. All of the “cool” kids were on the team, so I was again an outcast. That team went on to win the Twin Cities Championship in the Catholic school league during eighth grade, so this was a longstanding and bitter point in my life.

I became a bit of a loner in the seventh grade. I spent a lot of time alone at home throwing baseballs and footballs and shooting hoops in our oversized yard on Summit Avenue. I fashioned a ball yard in our back yard and would toss and hit balls for HOURS on end. Very quickly, I had to change from baseballs to tennis balls due to the many broken windows in our house. Due to the configuration. of the “field,” there was no left field and the living room windows were in right field. As a result, I quickly learned to hit to dead center field (and too often to right). I also taped a square on our brick house to throw tennis balls in an attempt to improve my aim. Again, I spent hours and hours every summer throwing tennis balls against the house. All this would later pay big dividends when I started playing competitive softball!

During my second year at St. Luke’s, despite not getting a football champion jacket, I did finally learn more about my Catholic faith. I was confirmed as a Catholic and learned Catholic sacraments. In addition, I got involved in theater and, overall, finally felt more a part of a school community. Most importantly, though, I became friends with Pat and Jim, both who would have a tremendous impact on me and become my high school buddies and lifelong friends. MUCH more about Pat and Jim later . . . .

Jim Shane and Willie Mays

The first non-family person I ever remember looking up to was baseball great Willie Mays. I had come across a book in the library entitled, The Baseball Life of Willie Mays. I knew very little about baseball and had never seen Willie Mays play. My dad was not a baseball fan, so I’d never even been to a big league game. Before I knew it I had re-read the book several times and, outside of family, it became clear that Willie Mays was possibly the most important person in my life. I started studying baseball and watching my hometown team, the Twins. Even with stars like Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva on the team, they couldn’t hold a candle to the great Willie for me.

When I was about ten (a couple of years after my grandpa Grewe died), I befriended an older gentleman that I met on while on a trip with my dad. His name was Jim Shane. We had taken a cruise from New York City to the Bahamas. It was a relatively short cruise that I don’t remember much about. I just remember that after the cruise, we had a relatively large group of people wandering around the city before we had to head the airport. We walked by a storefront that had a large poster/photo of Willie Mays in the window. I was mesmerized. My dad was moving on, but I stayed back from the group looking at the photo. Jim Shane was a part of our group and cajoled me to catch up to the group.

He told me to call him “Shane.” We talked about baseball as we walked through New York. When Shane was my age he watched the 1927 Yankees, thought of as the best team of all time. We talked Yankees, baseball, and later, Twins.

After we returned from that trip, Shane and I stayed in touch. He had worked in the mining industry. When he was in his late 40s, he fell nearly 100 feet and landed on his head. From that point on he was retired by the company and received a nice pension. Shane had no visible problems due to the accident, but he never worked again. Instead, he worked as full-time volunteer. He made daily trips to transport blood for the Red Cross. He drove people all over town. He made deliveries for volunteer organization. He harvested his garden all summer long and provide our family, and many other families in town with fresh fruits and vegetables. Overall, he just made himself useful for others. That was who he was.

For several years, we met regularly for pancakes. He also took me and my friends to Twins games on a semi-regular basis. Jim and his wife, Lucille, had no children. After a year or two of our friendship, Lucille suddenly died. I was in shock, but not nearly as much as Shane was. I remember walking up to him at her funeral and it seemed as he just walked right past me in a daze.

Lucille’s death changed our relationship for a time, but not for long. Pretty soon, he was back to helping others – and taking me out for pancakes and baseball games. Shane was like my substitute grandfather, but perhaps even closer. I called him on the phone nearly every day. We could talk baseball – and life – for hours. I suspect this was a rather unique relationship, as it lasted easily until my mid-teens. When other friends were on the phone with girls, I was on the phone talking baseball with Shane. It’s was probably after I entered high school that I thought I was too old for him. Fortunately, Shane latched onto my younger brother, Jon, and continued the contact with our family.

Shane’s selfish service to others and his basic kindness to everyone he met made a big impression on me. I am lucky to have had such positive, friendly, and giving influences like Shane in my life. His influence, plus my friendship with another great friend named Jim, led us to name our first-born son James. I’m sure Shane would be proud.


No, not me. MY Papa.

We called him “Papa.” I didn’t know him by any other name. I don’t recall how he got that moniker, but it fit. His full name was Ellison Capers Grayson. He was born in 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina. He was a fine Southern gentleman – the gentlest of souls I’ve ever known. I rarely saw him visibly angry.

Papa as a younger man. I remember him much older.

Papa was an interesting man. He was incredibly smart, but didn’t have a college degree (a fact I didn’t know until well into my adult years). He was a draftsman and (I thought) an engineer. One of the oldest relics of his is a drawing he made for the U.S. Navy for a submarine. This dated from before WWI. Papa could draw just about anything and his handwriting was unique and impeccable. From what I could recall, he could fix anything. He made my sister a wonderful doll house and made me a fine-crafted wooden tool box. The handle for the box was the crooked arm of the included hand drill. Papa had a manicured yard and had a special green thumb. His rose garden received his special attention.

Papa and Grandma moved from South Carolina to Minnesota on a temporary assignment with the railroad. Papa was the “engineer” who designed the iconic orange refrigeration railcars for various fruit and vegetable producers. He worked for such railroad companies as Western Fruit Express, Fruit Growers Express, and Great Northern Railway, the latter causing his temporary assignment to St. Paul, Minnesota. Unfortunately for Grandma, Papa’s “temporary assignment” to Minnesota lasted over forty years!

I never remember Papa working, but I’m pretty sure that he didn’t retire until after I was born. I do remember him always wearing a suit. In fact, I am certain that even AFTER he retired he continued to wear a suit quite often. Certainly any time Grandma had him take her anywhere. A signature item on Papa’s suit jackets was the iconic Rotary International lapel pin. He was very proud of that and wore it every day.

Some of my earliest memories of Papa were at the St. Paul Rotary Club’s “children and grandchildren’s day” at the St. Paul Athletic Club and at the Athletic Club’s Sunday brunch. The Rotary club at that time far exceeded 300 members and meetings took place in the gigantic ballroom. I remember stopping in the men’s room with Papa prior to meetings. It was a classic! Marble walls, bathroom attendants, five-foot urinals, shoe shine stand, and even a barbershop. Papa regularly took me to the club for haircuts.

My mother loved Papa. He was everything that my father was not: beat, organized to a fault, initiative about fixing just about everything. My dad couldn’t even fix the flapper in a toilet, while Papa could have installed an entire toilet and could have replaced all the innards by modifying spare parts. Papa was a regular in our home, checking off my mom’s “honey do” list that my dad never had the time, inclination, or ability to do.

When I was about eight or nine years old, Grandma and Papa moved back to their home in Charleston, South Carolina. We kids were devastated. We had only recently lost our Grandpa Grewe, but now were to be without our precious Papa. Grandma Grayson was the strict one. Papa was great with kids and we all loved being around him. Grandma and Papa would often take Pam and I on shopping trips. This almost always included lunch somewhere. The real treat was when the trip was to Dayton’s in downtown Minneapolis! That normally meant a stop at the Forum Cafeteria. The Forum was a spectacular, Art Deco style two-level cafeteria. The food choices seemed endless.

At the Forum, Pam and I would pile our trays with jello, meatloaf, potatoes, corn, cakes, pies, and cookies. Grandma was always far ahead of us, so didn’t put the hammer down on our selections. Papa, for the most part, let us pick whatever we wanted. Almost every time, as we were stuffed with food left on our plates, Grandma would tell us, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” She chided Papa to keep a better eye on what we put on those trays. I’m not sure if Jon and Jenifer ever had that experience, but if they did, I’ll bet Grandma watched them like a hawk!

After Papa and Grandma moved to Charleston, we didn’t lose touch. Papa was a prolific letter writer. I am sad to say that I did not reciprocate as much as I should have. I’m sure he hoped I would write him more. One of the most interesting “letters” from Papa was when he sent me a lizard in a matchbox. Papa had poked air holes in the box and left some leafy greens for the lizard to eat, but unfortunately, the lizard did not survive.

I was lucky enough to spend a summer in Charleston when I was ten years old. Not only did I get to meet cousins I didn’t even know I had (second and third cousins), I really got to know Papa even better. At that time he was in his seventies, but you wouldn’t know it they way he worked his house, yard, and garden. They had a small house, but an enormous yard. Papa hired “cousins” to do the mowing, but he and I did everything else. We dug, planted, weeded, fertilized, raked, and picked-up sticks all summer long. This included keeping his famous rose garden blooming. I suspect this time with Papa led to my joy of gardening later in life.

Papa also showed me all the sights of his hometown. I’ve been to every major tourist attraction in the area; watched parades of cadets at the Citadel and toured the campus; spent time on the Battery overlooking Fort Sumter; poked around old cemeteries; visited with Papa and Grandma’s many friends and relatives. Most of all, though, it was just spending time with Papa.

No matter what we did and where we were, Papa impressed upon me the importance of good manners and kindness. Outside of my mother, he is probably the kindest person I’ve ever met. Decades after his death, I met Rotarians who had known him. Even after so many years, they were effusive in their praise for such a “kind and wonderful man.” From what I can tell, Papa had no enemies. I really cannot recall him ever saying a bad word about anyone.

I am blessed for having known Papa and for his influence in my life. He definitely taught me empathy and to be kind to everyone. He definitely taught me to at least TRY to fix things. I have taken apart far more than I’ve ever put back together, but Papa spurred a healthy curiosity about how things work. I write much like Papa (and my father) by using large and small caps in my hand written words. Finally, Papa taught me how to treat women – like a gentleman. I still remember how proud Papa looked at he and Grandma’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. Grandma knew he was a keeper.

Papa died at the age of 80 when I was in high school. For whatever reason, Dad (or maybe Grandma) decided that the whole family would not attend the funeral in Charleston. Only Dad went. I was devastated. It was then I decided that if I was able, I would never miss a funeral. Even now, I think of Papa every time I attend a wake or funeral. I’m sure he would be proud. If I can provide even half the example to my grandchildren that Papa provided to me, I, too, will be proud.

Grewe Grand Vista a/k/a Grand Lake

As a regular reader of this blog knows, this blog is about significant influences in my life. That means not just people, but special places to me. One of the first real special places I remember is Grand Lake. My grandparents, Carl and Ruth Grewe, bought a “lake place” on Grand Lake in Rockville, Minnesota. Grand Lake was probably less than a half-hour drive from their home in St. Cloud. Until my family found “The Timbers,” Grand Lake was where we spend our summers. There may have been a bit more to it than just buying The Timbers, but more on that (and The Timbers) in a future blog.

I have so memories about Grand Lake that it is hard to know where to start. It is there that I have most of the very few memories I have of my Grandpa Grewe. He died when I was eight years old, so it feels like we didn’t have too much time together. Memories of him at Grand Lake include taking boat rides with him in a small rowboat; Grandpa trying to fix the outboard motor; floating in a large barrel-half as Grandpa waded through the water with me; Grandpa smoking cheap cigars; and Grandpa’s birthday party shortly before he died. Ironically, the last time I visited Grand Lake was when I took my own grandson, Austin, to the lake.

Me and Grandpa Grewe in the lake (with Pam in the foreground)

There was so much more than Grandpa Grewe at Grand Lake. There was Grandma, Aunt Gail, Uncle Chuck, cousins Joey and Amy Rising (Aunt Gail’s kids). Aunt Shari and my Grewe cousins were not yet around in those early days. Mom went with us more often than Dad, but often it was just Pam and I spending time with Grandma and Grandpa. Frequent visitors included my Great Aunt Signe, her husband Milo Jahoda, Great Grandma Selma Kallin, and other extended Grewe and Kallin relatives.

Grandpa Carl Grewe was first-generation German and Grandma Ruth Grewe was first-generation Swedish. Great Grandma Kallin arrived by boat from Sweden when she was just a teenager. I just remember her as a tiny old lady. She lived with Signe and Milo (actually, I think they may have moved into HER house) in St. Cloud. Mom’s family consisted of her older sister Gail and her “baby” brother Carl. Because my dad’s only sibling lived in San Francisco and his parents moved back to Charleston, S.C. when we were still relatively young, we were much closer to the Grewe clan than the Graysons.

I remember so many activities at Grand Lake. Most of the time, we (like most Minnesotans) just referred to it as “the lake.” We played many games on the substantial side yard. Joe, Amy, Pam and I regularly explored the “neighborhood,” swam, fished, got lost in the nearby corn field, and just ran around together like many young kids did. Nobody watched us. We could be gone for hours without anyone worrying about where we were or what we were doing. My favorite activities were fishing (especially with Grandma), rowing the boat across the lake, walking around the lake with cousins, and just swinging on the old porch swing. Another memorable activity for me at the lake was reading comic books. I found several boxes of Uncle Chuck’s old comic books. They kept me entertained for hours!

Many significant activities took place at the lake. Every summer birthday seemed to take place at the lake. I also vaguely remember Uncle Chuck’s engagement party, some sort of bachelor party, and Joe and I staying at the lake on the weekend of Chuck and Shari’s wedding. Parties were common and always involved food. Just about any meal was a treat. In August and September we always got freshly picked corn on the cob from the farm at nearby Pearl Lake. We fired up the giant and majestic granite fireplace grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. Grandma was a wonderful cook and everything tasted good. The front porch was where us kids ate. There were tables that pulled up along the front wall and we simply grabbed a chair and feasted. The only problem was if someone kicked the wooden support legs of the “table,” it caused the entire table to drop!

The outdoor granite fireplace grill was not the the only piece of granite surrounding the lake. Built into the grill was a large slab of granite that served as the front of the chimney. It was engraved with the inscription, “Grewe Grand Vista.” At the drive-up entrance to the house was a foot stone etched with “Grewe” and another nearby had the scripture Golden Rule carved into the stone, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The other memorable granite pieces included various granite scraps interspersed along the sidewalk from the house to the lake. One of the last stones before the lake was a “mistake” tombstone of a woman that had a crack through it. It might of been rather eerie to some, built it was just another stepping stone to us.

The reason for all the granite was because Grandpa Grewe was in the granite business. Grandpa and his brothers owned a firm in St. Cloud called the Grewe Granite Company. Grandpa sold the business shortly after I was born, but there were always granite pieces around the lake, at Grandma’s house in St. Cloud, and in my homes growing up. Even today, I have a granite table that my grandfather made and one of the two granite bird baths that my grandfather had made.

The lake house was nothing special. The last time I was there, it didn’t look all that different than it did when I was young. It consists of a fairly large wood frame with wood siding. It has been painted various colors over the years. The most distinguishing feature is the huge screened porch that extended across the front of the house and extended halfway along each side of the house. Everything inside is rudimentary and, except for the bathroom, hot water heater, and modern oven, it remains the same today. There is still an antique gas oven and wood burning stove in the kitchen. When we were kids, all the meals were prepared using those now-rudimentary appliances. I think it wasn’t until Gail and her family lived there about half of the year that the bathroom and modern oven were added. Before that, we had to head outside to the outhouse to use the bathroom. Fortunately, it was a two-seater!

The great room of the house had a huge fireplace. Except for the wood burning stove in the kitchen, it was the only source of heat in the spring and fall months. There was a dining room between the kitchen and great room. Three bedrooms ran along the sides of the house (only two after the bathroom went in). Grandma and Grandpa had the “good” bedroom – the only one with a decent bed. The kids slept on beds along the sides of the porch. They were only thin and old mattresses on top of springs, but we LOVED sleeping outside every night. Only if it rained really hard was this a problem. Otherwise, we slept like babies, mostly underneath the stars. Even now, I love sleeping whenever I can hear rain outside my window.

I was lucky to have spent so many good times at Grand Lake, both as a kid, and occasionally later with my kids. Uncle Chuck still owns the place today, which is how I was able to experience this with Austin.

Amy with Austin at Grand Lake

Our frequent visits to the lake ended shortly after my grandpa’s death. That led to one of the experiences at Grand Lake that I will never forget. I think it took place shortly after Grandpa’s funeral. Joe and I were sleeping in one of the side bedrooms when we were suddenly awakened by an explosive argument between Grandma, Gail, and Chuck. I don’t remember the details, but it was mostly between Grandma and Aunt Gail. I think it was about the handling of Grandpa’s estate. Gail thought she would be the executor, but it was actually my dad, who was a lawyer.

The argument was traumatic for me. I remember peeking out of the room to see Grandma with tears pouring down her face. Both she and Gail were screaming loudly. I think Chuck was part of it at the beginning, but must have left. I’d never really seen my Grandmother sad and angry before. Little did I know then, but this caused a rift between my family and Gail. We saw much less of our cousins after that. We still saw cousins and still got to the lake on occasion, but it was never the same. Shortly thereafter, we started going to The Timbers instead of Grand Lake. We loved The Timbers, but losing Grand Lake was bittersweet. Grand Lake became Gail’s territory and we always felt like interlopers. Even so, Grand Lake holds a very special place in my heart.

At Grand Lake, I learned the true value of family. It was there that so many of my memories of my Grewe/Rising family were formed. It was there that I last saw my Grandpa Grewe. It was there that I last saw my cousin Kris. It was there that my only cares in the world were wrapped around my sister Pam and my cousins Joe and Amy. It was there that I learned my love of Minnesota sweet corn. It was there that I learned to fish and swim. It was there that I celebrated so many family celebrations and it was there that I saw my grandmother cry. Grand Lake was this and so much more to me. I wish every kid could have that experience. I feel blessed to have had such a wonderful opportunity.


Toran was my first real best friend. Yes, I used to play with neighbor Tommy, but that wasn’t much of a long lasting friendship. Toran, on the other hand, is someone I consider a lifelong friend. We’ve had some very long intervals between seeing each other, but it is always as if we never missed a beat whenever we see each other. Unfortunately, since moving to Maryland, we’ve had an excessively long time between visits.

I first met Toran at Desnoyer Park. We started hanging around together in the 3rd Grade, but I think it was in the 4th Grade that we really became the best of friends. Both of us were “newcomers” at Longfellow school because Desnoyer capped out at 3rd Grade. Many of our classmates went on to other schools. Toran and I became fast friends.

Toran was, and is, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He had a very interesting family and ALL of them were wicked smart. I believe that both his parents worked at the University of Minnesota. His mom was a scientist with the U of M heart program. I’m not sure of what his dad did. She was from Finland and had a calm Scandinavian accent that was familiar to me (more on that in a later story). Toran’s dad was from Turkey. Both were extremely hard working. Toran had two older brothers and a younger sister.

I remember doing math tables in 4th Grade. No one could even come close to matching Toran in the competitions we had. He could do complex multiplications in his head faster than I could add two numbers. I guess coming from a family of scientists helps! Despite both parents being immigrants, ALL of the kids spoke perfectly English with no accent besides the Twin Cities version of Minnesotan.

It was from Toran and his family that I learned about setting sights high. There was absolutely no doubt that Toran and his siblings could achieve anything that they wanted to do. Their family was exceptionally generous to me. I remember Toran’s dad telling me that I would be a high achiever as well. It was important for me to hear this from someone besides family, and it made a very positive impact on me. I can still hear Toran’s dad encouraging me.

I have no idea how much money Toran’s parents had, but as professionals, I’m sure they made a decent living. Despite this, they lived in many ways as if they were poor. Their house was rather small, but Toran’s dad, together with Toran and his brothers, expanded the home to a very nice and comfortable size. They did ALL the work themselves – and did it to a professional standard. I was amazed. My dad could hardly pound a nail straight, yet they built a wonderful home. It was heated mostly by a wooden stove. The kids learned from a young age that they had a responsibility for their family. I recall many cold mornings heading outside to haul logs in for the day’s heat.

As an adult, Toran went on to build himself a magnificent home along a river. Not only did he perform the work himself, but he had the forethought to purchase the pricey land well before it was highly sought. Toran accomplished this using both his head and his hands. I could not compete with Toran’s skills, but I was able to learn much about fending for one’s self using wits and technical skills.

Thought it has been years since I’ve seen Toran, there is no doubt in my mind that he is still successful, comfortable, and perhaps more importantly, satisfied with his accomplishments and his lot in life. In short, Toran is a winner in life. Thanks for the many life lessons from Toran and his family!

Desnoyer Park

Our home in the Desnoyer Park neighborhood was at 2470 Beverly Road. This was the home of my childhood. I vaguely recall our Highland house, but this was truly the first house that I could call home. It was a stately home perched atop of Eustis hill. It was on a corner where five streets came together. The home was large, builds of white stucco with blue shutters, and had a huge yard. Though the address was on Beverly Road, the front of the house faced Eustis Street. It had a front overhang that was held up by four magnificent pillars. A hedge surrounded the extra-large corner lot, making it appear a bit like a mansion.

The house consisted of two useable stories, plus a full walk-up and voluminous, albeit unfinished and rustic, attic. It had the normal kitchen, living room, dining room, and three-season porch on the first floor. The second floor included a master bedroom, three good-sized bedrooms, and a bathroom. All bedrooms had more than adequate closets. A single-car garage was attached. The basement was large and housed the furnace, a laundry room, and a “workshop” area (as if my dad had any use for a workshop!). Soon after moving in, my parents updated the kitchen, added a full first floor bathroom, and turned the porch into a real “family room,” complete with bar seating through a kitchen opening.

The neighborhood was very quiet. This small triangular neighborhood was bordered by railroad tracks and interstate 94 to the North and Northwest, the Mississippi River to the South and Southwest, and the Town & Country Golf Course to the Southeast. It consisted mostly of small homes with families. It was just our parents, me, and my sister Pam when we moved in. Brother Jon came very shortly after. In fact, he might have been the reason to move into the larger home.

Pam and I quickly became acquainted with the neighborhood kids. Pam started kindergarden at the Desnoyer Park school. A year later, Mom enrolled me at a nearby Montessori School. I remember something about me being too smart for “normal” school, but I’m sure that was just Mom’s idea of explaining why I wasn’t in the same school with Pam. I just remember that I felt like I got cheated out of nap time, something that was NOT in The Montessori curriculum. Perhaps that is why I am such an advocate of good naps even today!

Because of the advanced learning at Montessori school, Mom, Dad, and teachers suggested it might be a good idea for me to start regular school in the first grade rather than kindergarten. The only problem with that is that I was a very young first grader, turning five just after the start of school. It certainly was not a problem with the academic rigors of the first grade, but I believe it later hurt me on various levels. Not only was I always one of the youngest in the class, but I suspect that I was perhaps a bit more immature than my classmates. From an athletic perspective, it definitely hurt my prospects. I was already of small stature, but was a year in growth behind many of my classmates.

Despite being the youngest, I very much enjoyed Desnoyer Park school. It was a great place to start since it was an old “temporary” schoolhouse with only three classrooms. There was a kindergarten room, a first grade room, and a combined second and third grade room. There were always a number of second graders in the first grade room as well, but these were likely the slower kids. We never knew a difference about it since even the second graders in the first grade class inevitably ended up in the third grade the following year.

The first grade teacher was very strict. I think her name was Mrs. Mudge. She got the kids in line from the very start. She was also the one who really controlled things during recess. Recess was what I remember the very best about the school. We had a blast playing every game imaginable. In addition to controlled games like Red-Rover, we played king of the hill in the winter and had a giant slide, a huge jungle gym, and a now-banned and dangerous merry go round. I recall playing a game similar to king of the hill where the last person left on the merry go round was the winner. It was pretty scary, but I won a few times. I was also ruthless when it came to spinning the thing as fast as I could, and likely contributed to some injuries. We all got up and walked away, though!

I had a very sweet, older teacher in the second grade. I don’t recall her name (maybe Ms. Abby), but I remember wanting to please her. As a result, I did quite well in school that year. My report cards were excellent (one of the few times in my life!). Unfortunately, she was retiring the following year, so she co-taught with a new teacher when I was in the third grade. The biggest thing I remember from third grade was that was the year my Grandpa Grewe died. That occurred shortly after my sister Jenifer was born. It was a complete shock – and my first experience with death. I was crying in school one day and my former second grade teacher kept me after school to ask about it. When I told her about my Grandpa, she gave me a hug and told me she would have to help fill the void. She made me feel much better. It was an act of kindness and compassion that I’ve never forgotten. Even thought I don’t remember her name, she had a profound impact on me. From that point on, I suspect that I “felt” compassion for others more than most of my male friends.

Immediately behind the school there were several large skating rinks in the winter – one for general skating and one for hockey. There was also a warming house adjacent to the general rink. It seemed that most kids (and a lot of adults) hung out on the rink during winter months. Many times we needed to shovel the ice before we could skate. Unfortunately, I could never skate well. Part of this was because my dad was not a winter sports aficionado. I don’t think I ever saw him on skates. That is probably due to his parents being transplants to Minnesota from South Carolina. Since I didn’t really take to winter sports, I suspect felt the cold more than my peers, something that would never change. I remember that from a very early age. Even if we were at the rink, I spent way too much time in the warming house as opposed to on the rink. I’m sure it also had to do with embarrassment for not being able to skate as well as the other kids.

The summer months, though, were wonderful. I could run and play with anyone. Most of the time it was Tommy Boehm, my sister, and Tommy’s sisters. There were a few other kids that joined from time to time, but I feel like our group sort of ran the neighborhood. We certainly ran, walked, and biked all throughout the neighborhood all summer long – and from sunup to sundown every day. We lived the life of Riley! Tommy was a year behind me in school, but because I was young for my class, we seemed to click together quite well. Tommy, though, was the adventurous one. He taught me to stretch boundaries. Most of the time that was okay, but it was during one of these adventures that I received my first stitches.

My new stitches!

Another bad lesson was when my sister and I locked our mom in the basement. Mom had told us we could NOT go out to play at the Boehm’s house. I have no recollection why, but she had been quite clear about it. When Mom was in the basement doing laundry, Pam and I locked the basement door and left. Bad decision! Not only was Mom livid, as we should have expected, but she had to crawl out a small basement window. As this was a rather old home, the screen was nailed to the frame. As Mom was crawling out, she stepped on a rusty nail. The nail went right through her sandal into her foot. After her trip to the ER, we were grounded for WEEKS! We learned, albeit a little late, NOT to mess with Mom!

All in all, Desnoyer Park was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in. Unfortunately, after sister Jenifer was born, Dad decided our house was too small. Our growing family soon ended up in a grand new home on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul. That home would lead to even more fine adventures, but I consider our home on Beverly as my childhood home. It contains not only the stories listed above, but many more fond memories.

S/S Bahama Star

My dad ruined me. When I was four years old I took my first cruise on the Bahama Star. It was a short two or three-day cruise from somewhere in Florida to Nassau, Bahamas. There was me, my sister Pam, my mom and my dad. I actually remember very little about that cruise, except for my dad being sick in bed for most of a day. Mom told us that Dad was seasick, but I’m not so sure. My dad was a Navy man. I’ve been told over the years that he was always prone to seasickness, but for all the cruises I took with him, this was the only time I remember him getting seasick. I now wonder whether it was actually a little hangover rather than being seasick! Anyway, the Bahama Star started my love for travel aboard luxury liners.

My next foray into the world of cruising was a short trek in the early 1970s from New York City, again to Nassau. We cruised aboard what, at that time, was the largest cruise ship in the world: the Queen Elizabeth II. The QE2 was the flagship of the Cunard Cruise line. Unlike my first voyage, I remember so very much about the QE2. It was just me, my sister, and my dad. We were with a group of my dad’s clients/friends. One of the friends was his travel agent, who brought along a couple of his kids. His son was my age and together we explored every square inch of that 70,000 ton liner! I was so impressed at the mere size of the ship. The restaurants were without a doubt the best I’ve ever experienced on a cruise ship. The British staff was impeccable and I learned much about British customs, including “high tea.’

In 1976 my family (now including younger siblings Jon and Jenifer) embarked on a cruise to Bermuda on the SS Amerikanis. We were originally booked to have all six of us in a cabin, but our travel agent tipped my dad on the fact that the room right next door was vacant. For a $25 tip, us kids got our own room right next door. We had a blast on that ship. Jenifer (then 6) spent hours every day riding up and down the elevator with the “Lift Boy,” who adored her. She and Jon also ordered bunches and bunches of bananas from the room steward, who also took to our group of young kids. The only problem was that on the way back from Bermuda, Jenifer came down with the chicken-pox. From then on the crew avoided us like the plague!

The talent show those days was not nearly the same as today. Pam, Jon, and I entered as “The Spirit of ’76.” We played a drum and fife squad with Pam playing her piccolo, Jon on the drum (the cabin wastebasket), and me carrying an American flag. It was a big hit . . . and we WON the competition! The prize was a case of champagne. The staff scrambled to find more “appropriate” gifts for us, but still presented the champagne to our parents. All in all, it was a wonderful trip, which only cemented my love for cruising.

The next childhood cruise was only a few years later aboard the Cunard Ambassador. This time we included my grandma Grewe and cruised to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. We had two more “family” cruises that included my mom and siblings. The first was a Thanksgiving cruise on the Holland American Line’s SS Westerdam with my parents, siblings, and now children. My kids were young, but not nearly as young as my brother Jon’s kids, who were still nearly infants. That was a trip for the ages since it included near hurricane winds and the rockiest cruise I’ve ever been on. On the promenade deck, there were waves actually crashing up over the bow. It didn’t take too long before they shut down ALL outside access.

The cruise line had conveniently placed plenty of barf bags in every lobby. People were literally throwing up all over the place, and it wasn’t from a virus! The real testimony to the weather was that on Thanksgiving Dinner (the worst weather day of the week), there were only two other tables occupied besides ours. During dinner, I remember drinks and even salt and pepper shakers falling down. I enjoyed it all, but nearly everyone else was locked in their cabin feeling queasy. The fitting end to that cruise was when our flight back to Minneapolis was diverted to South Dakota due to the weather. We arrived very late in the evening and there were only a couple of cabs in town to take the entire manifest of passengers to the local hotel.

The final “family” cruise was a Christmas cruise after my father died. It was aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. This remains the largest ship I’ve ever cruised on. Its 150,000+ tons makes the QE2 look like a bathtub toy, but despite this, I continue my romantic fascination with the mere size of the QE2. That is probably due to my relative 9-year-old size.

Amy and I have taken numerous other cruises over our marriage, including: my second voyage on the Amerikanis, the Westerdam (2), the Norwegian Sun, the Norwegian Getaway, the Norwegian Star, the Carnival Liberty, and the Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas (2), Serenade of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, and Adventure of the Seas.

All told, that is somewhere around 18-20 cruises and over 100 days at sea! I am not writing this to brag. I am not even close to the number of cruises my parents or others who cruise sometimes twice per year. Rather, I am merely share my recollections and the genesis of my love for the sea. I find it both exhilarating and relaxing. Some of my best memories are aboard cruise ships. We’ve cruised with family and friends, as well as several with just the two of us. On the latter, we met numerous interesting people along the way.

While I am always up for a cruise, I recognize how much we miss along the way. A less than one-day stop at an island or city is never enough to experience the culture and beauty of any one place. But if you ever just want to simply relax and go to sleep with the soft waves lapping aside the ship, I highly recommend a cruise!