Thursday, June 9, 2011

Returning to the village

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the summer of 1954, our family was the second to move into one of the newly-constructed houses on our block on Second Street N.E. in the panhandle of Fridley, Minnesota. The purchase price was $9,900.

I was two years old, my sister, Deb, a few months.

Located in Anoka County, Fridley is a first-tier suburb on the northeast border of Minneapolis. It was incorporated as a village in 1949 and became a city in 1957. In the "Fridley tornados" of May 6, 1965, a quarter of the city's homes were damaged or destroyed.

In short order in 1954 and 1955, other young families took up residence in the remaining abodes, most of them with one or two youngsters in-hand. No one of a certain age required clairvoyance to know what transpired in the bedrooms of young parents throughout the neighborhood. In no time at all, additional younglings arrived to provide playmates for each age cohort.

With no grass at the beginning, nor trees to climb, and no fenced yards, there was no end of open-range play areas. Also, there was "The Field," an expanse of sand and weeds across Main Street that stretched a mile north and south along Main, and a quarter mile west from the street to the massive railroad switching yard.

We learned to ride bicycles on the dirt alleys – which caused fewer injuries than did falls on paved roads, few as those were. (It was a big deal when curbs, gutters, and asphalt eventually replaced tar and crushed rock for street surfaces.)

As grass and a few trees were planted, fences were installed that restricted our range of free movement. Play then came to center on a few front and back yards, including ours. We knew everyone, and everyone knew us.

The Hansens, next door, were Methodists. The Willmans, across the alley, were the token Catholics. Next to them, the Sepples attended First Lutheran Church, which was somehow more conservative than our church, St. Timothy's English Evangelical Lutheran, affiliated with the United Lutheran Church in America. Mainly – owing something to my parents' evangelism – if you were Lutheran in our neighborhood, you joined or attended St. Tim's.

My family were charter members of St. Tim's, organized on Palm Sunday, 1959. My brother, born in April that year, was named after the church. At its peak, 10 years later, the church counted a membership of 1,200, operating on 10 acres of land on the shores of Sullivan Lake.

In those days, most of our mothers did not work outside the home. Also in those days, no 24/7 news cycles convinced our parents that we needed to be kept under lock-and-key or chaperoned. We could roam all day and most of the evening, and got in trouble only if we failed to show up for supper.

Friendships formed, all of them meaningful and some of them lasting.

One of the lasting ties was that between my brother and David William Wicklund. Dave was born in November 1958 and lived across Second street.

Dave died of natural causes on June 2, last week.

Over the years, many of the Second Street parent neighbors have died – Don and Elaine Archer, Harold and Audrey Sepple, Arvid and Fern Hansen, Tom and Tess Thompson, Gene Wicklund – while others have moved away.

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up my mother at her home in Monticello and drove to Dave's visitation and memorial service at St. Tim's. We were way early, so we spent time driving around the old 'hood.

The landscape had an alien feel, what with trees 50+ years old. Our old house has a basketball hoop on the garage. (We never had a garage.) Many of the houses sport bay windows, brickwork, decks, and other affectations.

It was mid-afternoon and no one was extant in yards or on the street.

We arrived at St. Tim's at the stroke of 3pm. Dave had been confirmed in his Christian faith there on May 5, 1974. The photo of his confirmation class is displayed permanently in the lobby, as are those of all of us who passed through from 1959 to the present.

Dave's mother greeted us at the entry and welcomed a long and silent embrace. There are no words that can comfort a grieving mother. Dave was the second son she had lost to natural causes.

It was a blessing to see Harvey and Sylvia at the church, along with their children, Neil, Donna, and Debra. I babysat those children after their parents moved from South Dakota.

Daniel Lloyd held court at the organ and piano keyboards, as he has done since he was a teenager in the 1960s.

Dave's younger sister, Susan, recalled her brother as a man who viewed life as a glass half-full, one who cultivated an encyclopedic and rabid knowledge of the Minnesota Twins baseball team (and, to a lesser extent, of the Minnesota Vikings and the old North Stars).

Friend Randy, who met Dave at Columbia Heights High School in 1975, recalled an intelligent and loyal friend who lived each moment in color.

Randy's sister and Dave's love, Renae, described a man who provided the color to her life and knew how to work an entire room at every high school reunion.

We listened to readings from the Book of Revelation ("the old world has passed away"), Psalm 91 (expressing confidence in God), and the Gospel of John (Jesus taking leave "to prepare a place").

We sang "On Eagle's Wings" and "Amazing Grace."

We adjourned to the church basement for fellowship and a light meal that, in Lutheran fashion, was anything but light.

As she has for more than 50 years, Eva, 88, continued her ministry and constant presence at the food table, assisting in the provision of nourishment to the nuanced ties that bind.

In the fullness of time, all boundaries of time and space pass away and collapse upon themselves. This was expressed best in the handwritten message that accompanied the bouquet placed in the worship chancel by Dave's mother:

"I will love you forever."

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