Going up is always easy; once you clear the great urban smear that extends 40 miles west, it’s you and the highway. Nothing to see; move along. After St. Cloud come the Expanse - 70 + miles with only two towns of any note, Melrose and Freeport. The latter has a smiley face on the watertower. I’ve always wanted to stop by. I never have.

Because you have to make good time, and if you’re making good time, you can’t stop – or you’ll lose all that good time you’ve made. So we pressed on to Alexandria, had refreshments at a Wendy’s, then went on. Wife and child fell asleep, and I got an hour or so to myself, no radio, no distractions: just the road, the sky, my thoughts, and the occasional jab in the thigh with my Swiss Army Knife to keep me awake. Radio’s no help. There are perhaps eight public radio stations in the last 30 miles to Fargo, and each one plays “A Prairie Home Companion,” which makes me erupt in hives so severe my eyes close up. The rock stations are all HARD ROCKIN’ stations SERVIN’ UP A DOUBLE-SHOT OF BENATAR. I see why my dad got the satellite radio. Sometimes only birds in space can come to your rescue.

Coming back
is hard. After Alexandria the traffic inexplicably thickens. Before you get to Alex, it’s light. After Alex the road has five times the traffic. I can only guess that most of middle Minnesota funnels through Alex to hit the highway into the city.

The result? Well, sometimes you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Sometimes you’re doing 80 MPH. Tonight I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic that went 80+ MPH for 95 miles, and if you don’t think that’s a harrowing experience, well: try it.

We went up for Easter, of course. Let the cousins play, catch up, have the big dinner at the Holiday Inn with the rest of Fargo. I swear: half the town goes there. Most of the adults dress up, but you have your usual dirtball contingent who cannot part with their ragged logo-splattered sacks for a single Sunday. It’s amusing to watch these young males – can’t call them men – slouch past five young women in silk dresses and hats; they don’t have a chance, and the know it. But you suspect they don’t know why.

They served – ham! I’m not a ham man. Never have been too hot on ham. As a foundation for mustard and horseradish, it suffices, but then again I’m not much for the big red bloody beef they carve in these buffets, either. We all ate our fill and chatted; my dad’s lady friend grew up in New York City, so we always have something to talk about. No one wanted to leave the table any time soon, because this was Easter in North Dakota. And that meant it was probably snowing outside by now.

It was.

I woke up around 3 AM, thanks to our friend Mr. Beer. I attempted to leave the room. I had little success. The doorknob was in the correct place, and it opened; but once I passed through it I found myself in a smaller room, not a hall. Tactical retreat. I felt along the wall until I discerned the outlines of another door. The knob was in the wrong place. Operational pause. I felt along the wall again and found a light switch – over the course of the evening it had changed from the standard push-buttons of Jasperwood to an modern up-and-down switch. This was odd. Very odd. I flicked it – and I realized I was back in Fargo. Ah. Reset; new template; turn off light, and find the bathroom by the old ancient instincts.

I wasn’t back in my old room, because it was never my room to begin with. I grew up in the room next door where my wife and child were sleeping. This had been my sister’s room; before that, my mother’s sewing room. Now it’s the mausoleum of my childhood, frozen in time – the furniture, the books, the trophies, mementoes, all that stuff that makes you feel like a stranger in your own skin, all the stuff you accumulated before you left home and started all over.

Blah, blah. This is about the 97th time I’ve done this. You can only get so much mileage out of the Deeper Meaning of sleeipng in the bed you slept in 35 years ago, and I don’t doubt I’ve done that here over the years with predictable regularity. But this time was different. My dad’s selling the house. I get one more trip back home before home is gone for good. Oh, what a melancholic essay for the ages that will be; lay in a supply of Kleenexes. It hasn’t sunk in yet, exactly, except that I’m glad he’s doing this now. It’s not the usual Augean stable-job you have when someone has lived in a house for 40 years; we purged a lot after my mother died, and my dad has been tossing out stuff over the last few years. But tonight we found a drawer he didn’t know existed. A drawer in which my mom had put linens and napkins and doilies. So many doilies.

Hmm: a napkin from my high school graduation in a plastic bag. I put items from Gnat’s parties in bags; she did the same. Some matchboxes, very old, very dainty – from her wedding, I’m guessing. An unopened bag of Kleenex napkins from the early 70s: save the wrapper. But the rest of it has to go. After a while the sheer weight of undistinguished items is too much, and you have to let go. You have to take the bolt cutters to certain ties to the past. Old ugly china: does it matter that it belonged to Great Grandma? It does. But in the end it doesn’t. If you could make these items speak, it would be different; if the salt cellar could describe who sat around the table on Christmas Eve, what they wore, what they said, who had manners, who laughed too loud, who watched everyone with birdy eyes and said nothing – that would be different.

Individually they’re fragile and undistinguished. Collectively they have value, presence, and heft; you can’t get rid of them, so you put them in the top cupboard and leave them alone. Just like family! Oh, relax, I’m kidding. But bad china is a curse passed from generation to generation. If only we had a tradition that demanded we break all the dishes when the bearers finally pass; even the kids could join in, flipping the dishes like Frisbees into the grave.

But that’s my opinion. I value different things, particularly those characterized by a lack of intrinsic value. I.e., junk. There are four old board games I’m taking back. Last night I was going thoughthe board games and thought: hello, what’s this? Another box, dusty and unlabeled, its corners split. I open it up, and I’m stunned:

Modern Bride, Fall 1952.

Beneath the magazine, the Fargo Forum with my parent’s wedding announcement.

Just sitting in a box. In a stack of boxes. In a basement closet.

For half a century.

It gets better. In personal terms, this is like sending in the robot to look at the Titanic. There’s an big thick envelope inside the magazine, addressed to my mom. It contains a big brochure about wedding cakes from the “Federal Bake Shop.” Mint condition. A letter from “The Store without a Name,” complete with letterhead. It’s hand written:

Fargo, North Dakota
August 4, 195x

“Dear Bride to Be.

Of course your wedding must be perfection and we would like to help you prepare for your day of days.

Won’t you come in and see for yourself? We have a trousseau collection that will truly delight you.

Cordially yours,
Donna Thompson

The newspaper has an account of the nuptials.

The bride wore a gown of satin and Chantilly lace fashioned with a satin redingnote with fitted bodice, Mary Stuart sleeves and turn-back collar. The collar reveres were of scalloped lace over satin and continued down the lace front of the gown to the hemline. The full fathered skirt was cut en train. A Queen Anne bonnet of matching lace over satin edged with loops of seed pearls held her silk illusion fingertip veil. She carried a cascade bouquet of stephanotis centered with an orchid. She carried a handkerchief that had belonged to her great-grandmother.”

And that's just a few grafs; it goes on to list who did what, which aunt poured the coffee and which aunt to be managed the gift table.. You'd have thought it was the social event of the century instead of a fine simple wedding in a small Church on a Thursday night in 1952. It concluded with a description of what my mom wore when they got in the car, and the address in Moorhead where they went to spend their wedding night.

And we have privacy concerns today?

When I was done reading this stuff I realized that I hadn’t put out the Easter Candy. Even though we were in Fargo, the bunny was expected. I laid out eggs and jelly beans in the living room for Gnat to find, and I put them in the same places I’d found them when I was her age years ago. The railing by the fireplace. In between the piano keys. Atop the books on the shelf. I’d never done this before and of course I’ll never do it again.

Back downstairs to brush & wash. I noticed something on the wall: Count Chocula. In 1972, for the usual teen reasons, I scorned my parentally approved room and set up a base camp in a narrow basement corridor that led to the downstairs bathroom and a storage closet. I had a desk down here. I burned incense and read National Lampoon and had bell-bottomed thoughts and made the peace sign to a picture of Nixon. I put stickers on the wall. Some of them came from a Count Chocula promotion – glow-in-the-dark stickers of the Count and various minions. Bats. Toadstools. I turned off every light in the basement and went back into the corridor. I’ll be damned.

They still glow.

As does this.

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