Archive for category Sioux Falls

Christmas Traditions

Growing up I always counted down the days to December 24th.  That was the day we’d open our Christmas gifts.   We’d start either after the church Christmas pageant (which we were in, at least through sixth grade), or sometime in early evening.   It was a party.  Friends would stop by, my mom would make her trade mark bar-bq’d beef, and the egg nog and drinks would be flowing (though us kids would be satisfied with root beer floats).

I usually was the one to hand out gifts, and we’d go one at a time, with numerous breaks.   That meant that gift sharing took a better part of the evening, and I tended to hoard a couple of gifts so that when everyone was done, I still had one or two to open.   I’d manage to skip my “turn” at opening by not having one ready or handing out a gift to the person after me, realizing that most people weren’t really keeping track of whose turn it was.  I liked being the last one to open a gift.

We’d get our “Santa gifts” the next day.  My parents were smart, they’d put out the gifts, unwrapped, and fill our stocking so when we woke up we could run and start playing with our toys.  Our most expensive and “special” gifts were the Santa gifts, and we’d often get up at 6:00 AM to go find them.   My parents could stay in bed, no doubt slightly hung over from the night before, as we kids would have fun.  Those were the days.  When I was very young we’d head to Madelia, Minnesota on Christmas to my great grandparents house.  After age 12 (when my Great Grandpa died and they sold the farm) we’d say home, with my Grandma from Mankato visiting.     Also up through age 12 we’d go to church Christmas day.  Then in a fight my mom would leave my dad’s Missouri Synod Lutheran home and join the American Luthern Church.   My dad stopped going to church out of embarrassment.  My mom and sisters went to the ALC church, and I stayed home.   At that point I still believed, but really didn’t like church.

One year we did go to Madelia on Christmas eve, and the celebration was huge.  All our cousins were there, someone dressed as Santa handed out gifts to the kids, and the party went most of the night.  I later asked why we usually came on Christmas day rather than celebrate Christmas eve there, and I was told that my family wanted to have our own Christmas eve tradition.   It was a good one.   One year, when I was 19 and my sisters were 17 and 11 I screwed it up.  I had volunteered to work Christmas eve at Village Inn Pizza, where I was a supervisor/night manager.   My boss Warren Andy told me to close at 7:00, and expected I wouldn’t be busy.  I had one helper in the kitchen, and one person busing/dishwashing.

My sisters were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to start until 7:30, but I tended to volunteer to work all holidays (Easter one year, July 4th double shifts every year because people wanted that day off and I loved getting 18 hour days), and figured it would be easy.   At 7:00 people were lined out the door.  My instinct as night manager took over and I kept the place open until the line dwindled, finally closing at near 8:30.   My sisters were calling demanding I get home so they could open presents.  By 10:00 everyone had left and every table was dirty, and it was a disaster.  My sisters actually came in and helped clean and close the place.   We started opening gifts at near midnight!

The first year I missed Christmas eve at home was  when I spent a year in Bologna Italy, working on my MA.   But I traveled to the Christmas markets in Germany (Munich, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Ingolstadt — I think in total I hit about eight markets!) as well as enjoying the run up to Christmas in Italy.    By the time I was 25 my parents divorced, but the traditions continued.  My mom held Christmas eve with my sister’s family much like we did as kids – a party, my niece and nephew enjoying gifts, and my Grandma coming in from Mankato.  I’d pick her up en route from Minneapolis while working on my doctorate at the U. of Minnesota, and despite some icy roads we made it every year.   My dad would have turkey and we’d open his gifts Christmas day.

When I moved to Maine and got married, the traditions faded as we were so far from South Dakota.   We often opened gifts when they arrived rather than waiting for Christmas eve, and with only two people and families far away, it took awhile to have it really feel like Christmas.   We traveled to South Dakota a couple times, but it wasn’t until we had kids that we started our own traditions.   We still do gifts Christmas eve.  Unlike my parents, we have only one Santa gift Christmas day (my parents give us a bunch), and it’s wrapped.   We also stuff the stockings, of course.   We roast a turkey on Christmas day, and unlike my parents, we don’t have a lot of guests or a party atmosphere on Christmas eve.   Not only are family distant, but most friends work at the University and are scattered during  this time.

We look forward to going to South Dakota for Christmas sometime soon, and we have a plan to go to Christmas markets in Germany some not too distant year.   We don’t go to church, but the kids recognize it as a Christian holiday that we enjoy because we believe in the same values: peace, love, and goodwill to all.   We spend time talking about that, even as we indulge more than I’d like to in the consumer culture in buying remarkably cheap toys and gifts for the kids.    Christmas music fills the house (though as I write this Star Wars music dominates, as the kids are playing Wii lego Star Wars: the Complete Sage, a game they’ve been addicted to for about a month).   And, though I miss the magical feeling I had as a youth, starring at the Christmas tree lights, in awe of the beauty of the colors, tree, presents and decorations, it’s still a great time of the year.  We watch some Christmas movies, decorate the house (though we have yet to indulge in a real tree), and have good family time.

So everyone, have yourself a merry little Christmas, and for those who don’t celebrate it, peace, love and goodwill to you as well.  Those values are real, fundamental and unite humans, even if we choose too often to separate ourselves from them.   Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist, agnostic and other (and believe me, it’s a struggle to raise kids and explain things when you’re an ‘other’ like I am — it’s harder without an already scripted storyline and set of rules!), love connects us all.    May the force be with you this holiday season!


Reliving 1976

Lately I have taken bits of time here and there to start transcribing my old journals.   I’m currently in the summer of ’76, which was in some ways idyllic.  I was 16, had a car, worked at a restaurant busing tables and washing dishes, and spent most of my time playing tennis, hanging around with friends, and having crushes on different girls (and a first real kiss).

As I read it Sioux Falls of 1976 comes alive again — hanging around the tennis courts at Frank Olson park, working at the First Edition Restaurant, a full summer including a back packing trip to the Black Hills with my friends Dan and Brad, a super fun high school debate camp at Augustana College (and my crush on Elaine and really a trio of girls from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area).

I can picture myself driving around in the 1963 Chevy Bel Aire, working late nights cleaning the restaurant, spending most days playing in some way.    We didn’t drink, smoke, and certainly didn’t even think of doing any drugs — but played a lot of tennis and had fun.   A clean wholesome but awesome summer.   Instead of texting or even calling we’d drive over to each others houses and see if anyone was home.

I’ve always had a fond view of that summer.  I recall it as sunny every day.  And it was the driest year of Sioux Falls history, only 11 inches of precipitation all year, which was great for a 16 year old having fun, not so good for the farmers.  As I read through my journal I realize it also was amazingly stress free.  My job (30 – 40 hours a week) had me work mostly evenings busing tables and doing dishes.   I could do that work easily — in fact I was complimented as the fastest dishwasher the manager “Walter” had ever seen.   (And I recall devouring half eaten steaks or left over fries that the waiters dumped in the dishwashing bins).

Daytime I was constantly on the move — visiting friends, playing tennis, hanging out.  The days were social and fun, and thanks to my job I had money to go out for pizza, pay for gas for the car, and even get back packing gear for the big trip to the Black Hills.

I’m just starting on this journal transcription project, but I’m impressed by how thorough the journals are.  I described most days in detail, recounting conversations, and events.  As I read it I can picture Sioux Falls circa 1976.  Frank Olson park in my mind is exactly how it looked then (it helps that I don’t know how it looks now).    My parents did not intrude at all in my life that summer; I came and went as I pleased, even when I worked until 2:00 AM, or was gone all day playing tennis or visiting friends.   I had some chores, but they weren’t intense.

In the first part of June I had a crush on a 14 year old named Joanna.   My best friend was going out with her older sister (the family had girls aged 11, 14, 16, 17, and 18, and also a boy aged 13 with whom I also got along well).   A lot of us hung around their house that summer, playing chess, checkers, talking and heading to the park for tennis (or to watch their brother’s ball games).   I have to wonder what their parents thought about us hanging around so much!  Later I’d have a crush on the 16 year old (Kathy) and with her I’d have my first kiss.

I did have some political commentary.  I didn’t like Jimmy Carter, I wanted Reagan to beat Ford in the primaries (he didn’t), and defended North Korea during our backpacking trip after they shot some US soldiers.   I was a jerk at times (refusing to clean up after a shower at a friends’ aunt’s house in Rapid City because I didn’t like being ordered around — Brad should have smacked me), but overall I’m enjoying getting to know my younger self through these words.

I’ll blog about that summer every now and then as I go through the transcription process, perhaps reflecting on what that era was like, or a particular event I happen to transcribe that day.    I suspect there will be a few blog entries comparing the current era to that bicentennial celebration year.   Moreover, as the journal transcription will be slow, and my journals continue through the rest of my high school time, this my be fodder for blog entries for some time to come.

For today, I just want to issue a profound thank you to Scott Erb, the 16 year old boy who in June, 1976 decided his life was fun and interesting enough to record in a detailed journal.   The gift my young self is giving his 50 year old “future self” is priceless.


Time Passages (in Sioux Falls, SD)

“Well, I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well, it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these
Time passages
There’s something back here that you left behind
Oh, time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight”

– Al Stewart, “Time Passages,” title track from his 1978 LP

One time in the 80s when I visited Sioux Falls while living in Washington DC, I listened to Al Stewart’s “Time Passages” as the plane took off from the airport at 7:00 AM, with the sunrise in all its beautiful glory showing over the horizon.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a song more, as it mixed perfectly with the atmosphere.  On this trip to South Dakota, the song took on even more significance as I pondered how profoundly different Sioux Falls is in 2010 than when I was growing up.  The Sioux Falls of thirty years ago is still be there, but also far away  (another line from the song — “I know you’re in there, you’re just out of sight), bits and pieces surfaced, but at times the city seemed strange.

Downtown Friday I looked around at the various stores.  In a two block section of Phillips Avenue I spotted only one remaining from my era — Raymond’s Jeweler’s.   In all of Downtown there were few businesses which survived since the seventies.   The Ming Wah cafe is still there, and I was delighted to see the Hamburger Inn still in existence, but Fantles, Shrivers, Michaels, Burkes, Woolworths, the Nickel Plate, and all the standards from the past were gone.  Skelly’s pub still stood, but Sid’s liquor store had vanished.

Simply, Sioux Falls has a new down town.  The State Theater is there, but not showing films.  The K-Cinema (not down town, to be sure) and Hollywood theaters are long gone.  We went to a candy shoppe (I wish I recalled the name), and there we found old favorites.  Candy cigarettes!  Zotz!  Small jaw breakers in the green 25 cent box!  Bubble gum cigars!  The kids got a kick out of asking for “another pack of cigarettes” and even got to the point where they were “pretending to be Michael Jackson,” smoking and drinking as they gobbled up MY candy cigarettes.  But yet, even that candy store’s blast from the past showed how different the present is.

Then there is Falls Park.  Sioux Falls has that name because the Sioux River has falls there, and they are beautiful.  In 1968 I remember the road there being closed because of post-winter flooding (I was eight).  At 16 I had my first kiss in Falls Park, at that time a neglected part of town.  I always wondered why such majestic falls were not taken advantage of, and the answer was always “it’s too close to the stock yards and the penitentiary (state prison).”  Finally the city has awaken to this beautiful gift and turned the park into  a glorious large spectacle, with an evening light show, a tower to climb, and new roads and parking.  Yet, even as it achieved what I imagined it should thirty years ago, I yearned to be there back in 1976 when I had my first kiss.  Kathy Bingen, I don’t know where you are now, but I thought of you as I looked at this modern complex!

When I was five my mom told me I couldn’t go to Dairy Queen if I didn’t ride my bike without training wheels.  I lived at 305 W. 29th in Sioux Falls, a block and a half from a DQ.  I learned to ride that day, and still remember the cones (7 cents for tiny, 10 cents for normal, 15, 20 and 25 cent cones going up the ladder) and the sign for 15 cent hamburgers.  Across the street was “Courtney’s Books and Things” where I went to buy the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books, saving my allowance every week.  And, when I didn’t get a new book, I went to Lewis Drugs on Minnesota Avenue and 36th to get a 45 RPM record.  My first purchase was “Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension, and then “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond.  My barber shop was across the street.  All of that is gone.

Lewis Drugs still exists — my mom works at one, but that old store is now their corporate headquarters.  The Village Inn Pizza Parlor I used to work at is now a casino, across from the Western Mall, which has morphed into a furniture sales center.   Back in 1978 I was riding along the Sioux River and came across a new bridge in the middle of nowhere.  I rode across it, fancying myself the first bicyclist across this bridge in the middle of nowhere.  Now it is a well traveled old 49th street bridge between Kiwanis and Louise avenues, with a huge playground and shops beside it.

I used to jog out from 49th to Bahnson in the Tuthill park region, going on a gravel road in the  country.  Dan Taranik and I would drive at high speeds over a rail road track that was elevated, making our cars airborne.  Now it’s a totally built up residential area, no longer outside of town, but snugged in the middle, as Sioux Falls now stretches way out past 69th street.  Grocery stores and residential areas now lay on places we would go out in the country to maybe “park” or shoot fireworks.   When I left Sioux Falls was a city of about 80,000.  I worked my last summer on an assembly line at Starmark Kitchen cabinets.  We started work at 7:00 AM, I sanded or painted, and the day ended at 3:00 (no air conditioning).  It was on the edge of town on Benson Avenue.  Now that street has its own exit.

Sioux Falls is now over 160,000.  In 11th grade I took a course called “A Week with the Mayor” as Lincoln High had a program getting students out in the community (I also did a week with the Argus Leader advertising  sales folk — the paper is still there too).  Rick Knobe was mayor, but one day a young city planner named Steve Metli took a few of us out in a convertible and explained his plan for the town — to help gray areas avoid becoming slums, and vast plans of growth.  As he drove  out on a gravel road he described future neighborhoods.   Now, I see what could only have been imagined in the late seventies.

I heard that Steve Metli retired just a few years ago, and I guess he was successful.  The town has no real slums, it’s grown in a way that still feels comfortable and where traffic flows well and neighborhoods are safe.  At one point in the 90s it was Money magazines number one place to live.   I look back at that convertible ride now and realize it was an honor to have a chat with the visionary who worked with others to bring about such a dramatic change to the city I grew up in.   Malls and shops on the west side spread over what was once empty land — a massive 41st street expands out where we used to drive on a two lane highway to Wall Lake.   As I contemplate the city I realize that this is what it’s like to grow old — to see the world change in ways one would have hardly imagined.   But I am glad I lived in the Sioux Falls of my youth.  As great as the city is now, it was a wonderful place to grow up.    I wouldn’t trade that experience even for youth!