The picture says it all. When you read this letter we will be somewhere in the USA, driving our Toyota from Minnesota to California. We have sold our house and, when next heard from, we will be living across the street from the Stanford campus in Menlo Park, California, in a small 2-bedroom apartment. We don’t know what our new living arrangements will be like, so let me reminisce with you about our old ones.
Thea and I moved to the Twin Cities from Mayor Daley’s Chicago in 1971 to work at the University of Minnesota, and we bought our house on the banks of the Mississippi that November. We were near everything, but were more “country” than “city”. By car it was less than 15 minutes to either downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, or the airport; the University was about 7 minutes by car or 35 minutes of brisk walking. For longer trips, we were never more than 3 stop-lights away from an Interstates leading North, South, East, or West.
Many winters I have put my skis on in the shelter of my garage and skied along the river’s edge to Minnehaha Park and Ft. Snelling State Park. Summers I have portaged my canoe from my garage to the Mississippi and reached the same destination through the locks near the Ford bridge. In every season I have taken advantage of the pedestrian and bike paths on both sides of the river and the numerous bridges and have walked, jogged, and biked loop courses of various distances ranging from 3.5 to 20 miles. With all this easy access, we were not near enough to hear any of the throughways, nor were we under any regular flight paths.
We liked every room of our 3BR rambler. The master bedroom held a king-sized waterbed and served as my dressing room with generous bureau and closet space. The second bedroom had 3 (count ’em) closets and served as Thea’s office and dressing room, and the third bedroom was my office and computer room.
We could seat 12 at table in the dining area and we’ve entertained up to 30 at buffet. When there’s just the two of us we ate in the generous breakfast area of the kitchen. The dining room table frequently doubled as a project area for sewing, picture sorting, or other activities that overflowed our offices. Even with our new electronic piano, the living room was just the right combination of cozy and spacious.
The porch faced west and was an asset both summer and winter. In the summer we kept the windows open and frequently ate all our meals there. We loved sitting there during a thunderstorm, protected from even a driving rain by the extra wide eaves. Came winter-time we filled the porch with plants and maintained a comfortable temperature with the built-in heater. We would relax there with a beer on a sunny February afternoon when the outside temperature was below zero.
The fully finished basement almost doubled our living space. I had a large workbench in the center of the utility room which served not only for wood-working projects, but let me get an early indoor start on Spring planting under the double fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling. The enormous recreation room was fully paneled and carpeted (I did that myself) and had a full-sized working fireplace. It was a great place for a party; a pingpong table only took up one end of it and the dry bar provided easy access to refreshments. It also provided a romantic alternative for the two of us. What better way to spend a January evening than relaxed in bean bag seats with glasses of sherry and firelight the only illumination!
When we bought the house in 1971 the only trees were three elms (which have long since gone, victims of the Dutch Elm Disease) at the front of the property. Now the front yard has a lovely clump of 3 birch trees, a good sized hard maple, a large black walnut tree, a beautiful blue spruce, and a large Scotch pine. Additional plantings were chosen to provide interesting shape and color contrasts during the winter months, as well as the more obvious summer beauty, and to provide privacy between us and the houses on either side.
The back yard boasts a mountain ash, a red maple, a producing cherry tree, a towering Norway spruce, two maple trees, and three pine trees. The cherry tree produced a fantastic crop this past year. Of course, we did have to practice share and share alike with the birds which are attracted to that and to the mulberry tree which grew in otherwise useless space next to the garage.
But all that is only part of the outdoor story. There is an organic vegetable garden in several sections which kept us supplied with fresh vegetables every summer. Our seasonal crops included tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, eggplant, various squashes, cantaloupe, raspberry bushes, broccoli, brusssels sprouts, parsnips, carrots, peas, beans, and lettuce, plus raspberry and rhubarb beds which came up year after year. Once seedlings were up in the spring, the soil was kept cool and moist with grass clippings. In addition, it was refreshed every year from the large compost box which was hidden beneath the mulberry tree. Grass clippings, yard wastes, leaves, the inedible parts of vegetables, and waste vegetable-matter from the kitchen all composted with little labor on my part. This went on for all 21 years, and the resulting soil was so healthy and rich that I would get a sensuous pleasure just letting a handful run through my fingers! And not a drop of pesticide!
As you can imagine, we have very mixed feelings about this move. We enjoy all aspects of living in Minneapolis (yes, even its winters), and we’ve made many friends we hate to leave. But our children and grandchildren are calling us. We are selling to a couple in their 50’s who, I hope, who will love our house as we did, while we change our life style again. We won’t like our apartment in California nearly as well. But it will only 5 miles from our Lisa and Bill and Rebecca and Joshua, all of whom seem to want us nearby. And at our time of life, somehow family seems more important than even the nicest of houses.
Speaking of family, this year I can’t resist bragging about our son, the Civil Engineer who has his own consulting business, complete with airplane. In the wake of Andrew last August, there were only three greenhouses in all of Dade County, Florida which were not completely destroyed by the hurricane. And guess who had designed all three of them! Phil and his friend Margie visited us last summer, and drove off with a van stuffed full of our furniture, our canoe sitting on top, and pulling a trailer piled high with additional belongings. And we’ve still made more than a dozen trips to Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. It’s amazing what one can accumulate in 21 years!
Our teen-age granddaughters are a textbook example of how different two girls of the same family can be. They are both wonderful (of course), but April marches to her own drum whereas Miriam is much more peer-pressure-oriented. They and their mother (our daughter Sue) recently ate at a restaurant which did not have a separate no-smoking section. When the man at the next table lit up a cigarette, April walked over to his table and politely asked him to put it out. He seemed startled by the request, but acceded to it gracefully. Meanwhile Miriam tried to pretend that she belonged to a different planet, or at least to a different family. But our daughter is marvelous. When April later asked her if she had been embarrassed, Sue said, “Yes, but I was also proud!”
Lisa took 9 months maternity leave after Joshua was born last December, but is now back to working 3 days a week at NASA-Ames. Bill is working too hard and traveling too much for a very successful start-up company in the computer field (if you think I’m biased, look up Cisco’s stock history these last two years). Their life is hectic, but they still find time to enjoy their new house, each other, and their two wonderful children.
No marathons for me this year, but we’ve seen operas in New York, Madison, Des Moines, and, Minneapolis. The biggest contrast was in New York where we saw Cav and Pag at the state-of-the-art New York State Theater in Lincoln Center, followed by Rigoletto at the Amato Theater on the Bowery which seats all of 100 people.
I’ll leave the rest of this page for Thea, and close by wishing you all a happy and exciting next year, whether you’re wallowing along in the same old rut as we used to do, or are moving to new and unknown territory. Please forgive if I don’t add any personal notes this year, but if I don’t get this mailed before we leave, I never will – –
There are aspects of moving that are satisfying, if not fun. We have moved out of our lives lots of possessions that were not being fully used but were kept because we had emotional attachments or because we had space. I feel unburdened. There are aspects that are not as pleasing . We must find a new physician, a new dentist, a new barber, a new auto repairman . . . .
The past few months haven’t all been spent packing. A man called from Texas to ask “Are you selling gold bricks?” I said, “Yes” and sold him three. They are not actually gold; each is a real brick, somewhat cleaned up, with a brass plaque which indicates that it came from the University of Minnesota Memorial Stadium which was torn down this summer to make way for an Olympic-size quite handsome Aquatic Center. Volunteers sold thousands of bricks to alumni from all parts of the USA, the proceeds going to the Scholarship Fund. It was interesting to hear some of the stories as callers reminisced.
The election is over, none too soon. I’m very concerned about the kind of country our April, Miriam, Adam, Rebecca, and Joshua will take over from their parents, the Boomers, in 20 years. If the Democrats can’t start us on the road to improvement, where do we go from here?
We are studying road maps and have laid out several different weather-dependent routes, Minneapolis to Palo Alto. We would like to drive to Des Moines, pick up I80, visit the Panarellis at the U. of Nebraska, niece Barbara in Denver, the Gerstles at the U. of Colorado, get back on I80, and drive straight through to San Francisco. However, being mindful of the Donner Party, we will get a weather report each morning, and choose a route that will keep us and our lightweight Toyota out of trouble.
We wish you all a happy holiday and a most felicitous 1993.