Sometimes these days when I get up in the morning it takes me more than a few steps to work the kinks out, and I wonder why it is that my feet don’t seem to work as well as they used to. This usually follows a night whose wee hours I spent, sleepless, pondering the long train of personal history I seem to be pulling these days, and how increasingly muddled the trip seems, in retrospect.
A sure cure for these doldrums, I have found, is a visit to my mother, who was born 100 years ago this very day, June 19th, in 1911.
Her father, a dentist, moved to Winona from Lanesboro when she was still a baby in the days before W.W.I, making me still something of a newcomer to Winona. Nevertheless, Mom has lots of memories of the old days here. They lived on Lafayette Street in a house, now gone, next door to the old Cathedral Grade School. Her earliest memory of Christmas was that she and her brothers were not allowed out of bed until the first street car rumbled down Main Street, which they lay awake and listened for all night long.
In winter those days there was a toboggan run built like a log sluice that came down from Garvin Heights Road and ran out onto the frozen Lake Winona. There are pictures of it at the Historical Society. She wanted to, but was not allowed to ride it, since it was quite dangerous and was finally closed after some kids were killed on it one year.
In any case, life was far more tenuous back then. The reason her family moved from Lanesboro was to be nearer to the medical help available in Winona – she and one of her brothers had contracted polio down there, but recovered fully in the Winona General Hospital up on West Seventh.
She remembers with fondness visits in the family Model T to her relatives in Black River Falls, except for her mother’s extreme anxiety on the trip home, lest they run late and have to cross, after dark, what was popularly called the death road, which ran between Bluff Siding and the Wisconsin end of the old wagon bridge. It was a narrow track, and when the light was poor travelers were likely to careen down its steep bank and into the black waters of the Mississippi to drown.
In those days the old bath house on Latsch Island faced out onto Bathhouse (naturally) Slough between Minnesota and Wisconsin; older Winonans will remember the structure, but probably not till it was moved to the other side of the island to face downtown Winona. For years one of the local retailers, H. Choate & Co., (whose grand, iconic old building still stands, now housing Heart’s Desire, on the corner of Third and Center), held a contest at the beginning of summer to see which girl could strip out of her clothes, into her bathing suit, and scramble out of the changing room, down the wooden steps, and into the water first. The prize was a new bathing costume, which mother won one year. She admits to fudging herself a leg up on the competition by the subtle stratagem of wearing her old suit, rather than undies, beneath her street clothes.
Mom met my dad at church services in the Congregational Church on Broadway when they were both attending Winona Teachers College, now WSU. Their initial attempts at starting a family ended in sorrow, as her first two children were stillborn. (We helped her find the unmarked grave of the one who went full term over in Woodlawn Cemetery a few years back, and marked it with a little stone.) However, she quickly mastered the childbirth thing, bearing me and my four siblings in fairly quick succession. (I was actually born with no help from the doctor; I was early, he was late.)
Mom tells the story of trying once more, after my two older brothers and I came into the world, for a girl. At the age of 39 she got her wish, plus another boy, after my twin sister and brother were born. She was a petite 5’2”, the twins each seven pounds at birth. Mom remembers having to be helped out of her chair in her ninth month with them. The long awaited girl, my sister Nancy, was a fussy, troublesome child who never slept, in contrast to her brother Nick, a placid, cheerful baby.
Whatever verbal gift I have I owe to my Mother, who was also a gifted pianist, whose music would drift up the stairs and lull me to sleep many a summer night. However, when it came time to form the family band, she was relegated to the drums, as it was paramount that our audiences should have absolute proof, by the keyboard mastery of the Edstrom tots, of the Pointer System’s magical properties. Her lasting musical legacy to the world was badgering my father to make some money out of the band arrangements he was giving away to fellow high school band masters – and thus Hal Leonard Music was born.
Mom was able to stage a happy reprise of her mothering days, baby-sitting our two daughters, Cassidy and Morgan, while Fran and I struggled to keep the infant and struggling Winona Shopper alive. The precocious Cassi was her pride and joy, and she was always a stalwart defender, and apologist for Morgan, who could be a difficult child.
Now Morgan takes her two little girls, Peyton and Andie, to see their great-grandmother every Friday morning. Later, Mom will always say to Fran and me, “That Morgan – she’s such a good mother!”
Well, she has had good examples.
Happy 100th, Mom.