It was the morning after Labor Day, 1962. I was a shy, nervous fourth-grader, attempting to fit in with my classmates on the first day of school. Having moved from southeast Minneapolis to suburban Golden Valley, Minn., just a year before, I was slowly building friendships but still a little gunshy.
Mrs. Larson, who eventually would become one of my all-time favorite teachers, was breaking the ice with her traditional opening discussion:
“Welcome back, students! I’m excited to meet all of you. Let’s get started by having each of you talk about something you did over your summer vacation.”
What I remember liking about Mrs. Larson was she didn’t play favorites. So whether you took a trip to Europe or only made it as far as Brainerd, she never prejudged.
I was one of the Brainerd boys. And proud of it. Each summer, my parents would venture north to stay at a cabin on Gull Lake, owned by their best friends, the McDonalds. My sister, Cheryl, and I could do all sorts of fun stuff with the McDonald kids: swimming, boating, fishing.
A drive-in movie theater was nearby, and I have fond memories of trips to a place called Lumber Town, which offered miniature golf and great fried chicken. The trek into downtown Nisswa for the predictable souvenirs and ice cream also was a big hit.
So, even if I had to follow one of those wealthier European travelers to the podium, I felt a genuine love for summer life in northern Minnesota. And still do.
Which brings us to today. Now married and with children of our own, Laurie and I have been fortunate enough to travel to a number of great American cities. Our now-25-year-old twins, Ashley and Patrick, joined us for most of those summer visits.
San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa, Fla., and even Green Bay, Wis., all were wonderful destinations for this loyal Vikings follower and his family. Yet, the majority of memorable moments during their early years took place at locations immediately recognizable to many Upper Midwesterners.
Craguns, Maddens, Ruttgers and Fair Hills are household names to folks around here, particularly Minnesotans. But I was always amazed at the number of different states represented on license plates during those stays at Minnesota’s top resorts. Even out-of-towners had discovered the gems we’ve tried to keep to ourselves.
It’s been a gradual but steady transition toward retirement for my wife and me. Ash and Pat are three years removed from college. They both have moved out of the house, leaving our dog, Chase, to garner the most attention now. But they’ve yet to start families of their own and still live relatively close. I mention this only because, while we admire their independence and heartily endorse their freedom, they’re still “our kids.”
It reminded me of 1986, when the legendary Jim Adelson was stepping down as sportscaster at Fargo’s KXJB-TV after 25 years on the job, handing the mic to his mustachioed weekend reporter from Golden Valley.
“It’s your show now, kid,” Jim had declared — at which point he proceeded to let me know all of the things he would have changed in my first show as the new Sports Director.
Believe it or not, I didn’t really mind Adelson’s admonitions. Oh, I’d covered sports in smaller North Dakota markets for a few years by then. But this was his baby.
And even at 25, Ash and Pat are our babies.
So when our daughter recently told us she had a “big decision” to discuss, we knew something was up.
To her credit, she waited until the whole family was present for a Sunday dinner at home. She began by explaining that she’d worked hard and made plenty of money since graduating from college. She wasn’t in a relationship. The timing was right.
Her next words were measured and confident.
“I want to go to Thailand for a month. Alone.”
I tried hard not to spit up my shish kabob.
Privately I was hoping I’d heard “Paul Bunyan Land.” At 62, my hearing isn’t the best. Then again, having a giant lumberjack say hello to a woman in her mid-20s probably wasn’t a realistic thrill anymore.
But Thailand? That country a mere 8,300 miles away? Bangkok?
How about the Black Bear Lodge and Saloon in Baxter, Minn., instead?
Ashley always has been the curious one. Fiercely independent as well. Even as a 4-year-old, she often would wander away at the playground, giving us the occasional moments of panic.
So, I admired her desire to learn about another country and was genuinely proud of how she’d thought this thing out.
I guess it was the “alone” part that scared us the most.
What followed was a constant parental march to Google Land for a quick education about Southeast Asia.
Before long, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t taken the time to learn more about this colorful and wonderful country.
Only moments after posting her travel plans on Facebook and Twitter, I was amazed to read how many of Ashley’s friends not only supported her idea to go but had already been to Thailand and were familiar with the surroundings.
Don’t get me wrong. Playing “Duck Duck Grey Duck” with the McDonalds in the woods by Gull Lake still holds a special place in my heart. But picturing Ashley in a Tuk-Tuk and dining on duck in Bangkok sounds pretty intriguing, too.
The fear of the unknown can be a powerful deterrent to progress.
Laurie and I certainly acknowledge having had a few sleepless nights since cautiously giving Ashley our blessing that evening. We wouldn’t be parents if we didn’t. But there’s definitely something exciting about this new generation’s world and their ease of connections to far-off lands.
Just days after her arrival, Ashley could be seen sipping a banana smoothie at her hostel in Bangkok on a steamy Thai morning.
She had reached us with her “smart phone” on something called “Face Time.” Use that phrase around my father, who passed away in 1994, and he might have thought I’d committed a felony and now awaited my sentence.
Personally, I’m good with Detroit Lakes, Minn., and pizza at Zorbaz. But as the Facebook pictures come back and our daughter meets new friends from England and Sweden, we’re gradually back to getting as many z’s as we found on that menu in DL. I have a feeling Mrs. Larson would have given us equal time, either way.