by Frances Edstrom
Only when I leave Winona do I realize how comfortable "” maybe to the point of boring? "” my life is. I take the same route to work in the morning. I try to vary my routes to the grocery store, to places where I volunteer, but really, my landscape, although beautiful and endlessly interesting, is well-defined and often predictable. I sort of like that fact.
Last weekend we drove up to Minneapolis to stay in a hotel near the Mall of America for a free paper conference. At dinner, someone at the table remarked that no matter what hotel we go to for a conference, the dinner inevitably looks the same "” walleye or prime rib, salad on the table with french or ranch dressing in the stainless steel pitcher, dessert already on the table, alternating white cake and chocolate in uniformly sized pieces at each place setting, which half of us eat before the entree comes.
The scene at the Mall of America is no great shocker. It's as though everyone in Winona decided to go shopping at once. Now and again you'll see someone a tiny bit different, but it's pretty much the Midwestern face again and again. The same merchandise is displayed over and over and over and you've usually already seen it in Winona.
But on one afternoon, I took the car while John was at a board meeting, and delivered a year's worth of newspapers to the bookbinder in St. Paul to be bound into a couple big blue-covered volumes.
It's a trip I like to take, although an industry friend pointed out that we could simply mail each edition to the bookbinder, and they would mail the volume back to us. There's something interesting about bookbinding to a person who likes books. The covers, the different papers used in the process, the low-tech machines into which the books are placed to get them good and bound and stamp titles on them. And, there are two cats who rub up against your ankles.
On the way back to the hotel, I missed the turn onto I-94 and decided to take the neighborhood route. I found the Ford plant that I'd been reading in the papers had survived the latest plant closures the auto manufacturer had dictated. As I waited at the stoplight, I took a survey of the cars I could see in the parking lot next to the United Auto Workers Union building "” not one Ford.
When the light turned and I was on my way again, I saw three men in Middle Eastern dress standing quite still, in a row, heads bowed, facing a building "” the Planned Parenthood Clinic, strangely enough. I drove through neighborhoods that can't have changed one iota since they were built for GIs coming home after WWII "” tiny square houses, identical brick facing, a big picture window in front and a one-car garage. What had been there before that, I wondered. Then I went past enormous old mansions, one smack dab next to the other. Why, with so much room to spread out, I thought, didn't all these rich people take a little more land for themselves.
I drove past St. Thomas University, and gave a mental wave to the Winona kids I know who go there.
Back at the hotel, John and I and two long-time board members tried to fill out some of the history of the organization since we'd been members. We found a quiet table in the ballroom, but soon were joined by staff members preparing the room for that night's banquet. Suddenly I felt as though I were in Mexico, rapid Spanish spoken all around me, laughter at jokes I couldn't translate.
But by that evening, at the same old banquet, everything was familiar again. And now I'm home in the same house, with the same dog, the same view, and that's okay, too.