In South Dakota, where my dad’s from, you swim in a crick, you put a ruhf over your head and you set down ruhts.
In the Foreign Service, where I’m from, they sent Dad and Mom and Susie and me back to his ruhts every few years to remind us that we were Americans. It was called Home Leave.
Lucky us, that though Dad and Mom are no longer here to lead us back, my sister and I get to continue reconnecting with our Minnesotan and South Dakotan family, our own grown-up Home Leave. She visited earlier this summer and I just got back, each of us replenished by hugs, songs, conversation and pot luck suppers that end with bars, in this case the cookies of my cousin Molly, who we saw at her home in Northfield.
Home Leaves started in Washington, DC, where Dad would debrief at the State Department while Susie and I discovered American television at the Francis Scott Key Hotel. Then, the drive to Minnesota: cutting across a corner of Maryland, diagonally through Pennsylvania, straight across Ohio and Indiana, staying overnight in an exotic American motel; and on around Chicago and into Wisconsin for the best lunch in the world hung on your car window at the A&W Root Beer Stand; finally crossing the Mississippi into Minnesota and turning north, looking for barges moving slowly up the muddy river,and houseboats resting on sandbars.
And then, Sugar Loaf announced our arrival in Mom’s home town, Winona. I found Sugar Loaf still right there when I drove my husband to Winona last week. There was Lake Winona, where we played in the water with Molly and her sisters, ate watermelon with our Robb grandparents and spun ourselves in dizzy circles on the playground merry-go-round. Allowed alone on the sidewalk in front of Mom’s childhood home, we rode tricycles Grandpa brought home from Robb Brothers Store. Children in Europe and Latin America didn’t do anything unsupervised. They didn’t romp.
Ray and I took the Home Leave path from Winona north along the river, past the place that Mom said was where Laura and Mary Ingalls and their parents drove their covered wagon across the river on the ice from Wisconsin on their way from the Big House in the Woods to the Little House on the Prairie. Mom had read us Laura Ingalls’ books over dinner, Dad’s grandfather had staked a claim back them, and one of Grandpa’s cousins was married to one of Laura’s cousins. We were pretty much related, I thought.
And then, on to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, to where three of the Amerson clan migrated. Aunt Elaine (for years I thought she was Auntie Lane), Aunt Snooky (OK, so it’s Mavis but not to the family), and Aunt Jeanie (as she’ll say, the youngest sister) are my touchstones. They know me. Elaine told us how my dad got his Norwegian father to trade up from a horse-drawn plow to a tractor. Jeanie, who worked with the publishing arm of the Minnesota Historical Society, encouraged my efforts on this blog. And Ray and I
enjoyed an evening with Aunt Snooky and Uncle Bob at their retreat on the banks of the St. Croix, where the pace is unhurried and the gardens are splendid.
Home Leave would take us west from the Twin Cities across the soy and cornfields to the Hidewood hills of South Dakota, where Dad was raised and where his ashes joined the seas twelve years ago.
His sister Marie lived on a farm — where Susie and I were invited to feed the sheep and collect eggs, totally scary adventures in American ruggedness — and sister Clarice in town hosted Amerson singalongs.They have passed on, and it’s their children who now draw me back. Marie’s son, Roger, got married on Sunday in a fairytale perfect lakeside setting attended by his children and those of his lovely bride, Julie.
Now how’s that for a Home Leave ending?! Can I get an amen?