This basic memoir is a work in progress. I intend to expand on many of the details I touch on here, especially describing in more depth the way life changed when our mother Catherine died and our step-mother, Evelyn, moved in, a period of renewal and some happiness mixed with turmoil and unbalance for us all. I hope to make clearer some of the dynamic workings of our family over the decades during and since my childhood. (July 2001)
I was born on April 20, 1946, in the hospital in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, a few miles from the family's hometown of Deep River. While the other children were all born at home, with Dr. Wilford Park, our father, doing the delivery (at least that was what I was told--possibly other family members know differently), for some reason I was relegated to the hospital for delivery. I have no idea whether or not there was an anticipated complication, which never happened, or what (?). Any other family member have any info on this? Maybe our mother Catherine just wanted the security of a hospital setting for once. I was born into a family with four older siblings, Betty and Douglas, from Dad's first marriage, and Robert and James from his second.
The other frightening incident was entirely my fault. The summer before we moved from Deep River, Dad wanted to take another boat ride on the river. James and Robert were off somewhere and Dad took Mother and me and a neighbor lady out in the speedboat. I very seldom had been permitted on the boat before this. I think there may have been an element of Dad trying to impress the neighbor. We were traveling very fast across the water and I thought it looked quite solid now. I suddenly and unexpectedly stood up from my mother's lap and leaned out over the water. I remember clearly being suspended over that fast surface, actually out of the boat altogether. It was by sheer muscle power and determination that Mother was able to get me back into the boat before I fell. "But I wanted to walk on the water!" I protested. I recall that distinctly. It had looked so different than water had before. "You can't walk on the water. You'll sink!" The terrified look on Mother's face and the face of the neighbor lady turned my thinking around. We got Dad's attention (he, up in front at the wheel had not seen any of this) and he slowed down and turned around. I spent some time sitting on the shore with Mother while the boat went out again without us. Another memorable experience from a very early age.
I remember music being a part of my life in that Humboldt Ave. house from early on. Dad had a pretty substantial classical music collection on 78 rpm records that I would listen to whenever he had them on. I was first introduced at an early age to classic favorites like Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, Variations on Theme of Haydn, by Brahms, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. There was an old Heintzman upright piano that we brought from Canada that Mother and Betty played often, and Mother was very anxious that I learn to play piano as soon as I could. I gather that Robert and James didn't have much interest in it, so I was her last hope. I took a real interest in piano and eventually took a few months of lessons at McPhail School downtown. The teachers were fairly strict and I had a lot of trouble fitting in with the discipline of it, so I had to quit, much to Mother's dismay. But of course I did end up becoming a piano player, in part because of my Mother's hopes for me and her very impressive skills as a pianist herself. Her example got me hooked, I think. The old upright piano was in the living room until late 1955 when Evelyn moved in withher own piano, a Winter Co. spinet piano which took up residence in the living room, pushing the upright into the back porch family room off the dining room.
Once when I was in grade school Dad presented the family with a special new gift that I was initially forbidden to mess with: a new cornet in a blue case. I felt pretty left out being once again relegated to the status of too young to be trusted with anything valuable. James ignored it, and Robert had already started playing the French horn in junior high school, so by the time I entered 7th grade, I was the one who took up the cornet and learned it well. By the time I graduated from high school I was quite a good player, helped especially by an inspired "Mr. Holland"-type band director at Jefferson Junior High (Mr. Al Fischer) and the world class band program at my high school, Minnehaha Academy. I went on in music in college (more on that later) but did not pursue trumpet studies then, which I regret, but I still pick up the trumpet here at our home once in a while for fun. This trumpet is a much better instrument than the original cornet. It was used by my son Jonathan when he played in the bands throughout grade school and junior high, and into the advanced band at South High School (a program every bit as exciting and rewarding as my high school band program).
A few memorable incidents stand out during my years at the Humboldt Avenue house. As I mentioned, this home seemed to me to be my most important childhood place even though we only lived there for 12 years. I still have dreams about life there, the neighborhood streets nearby and the rooms of the house themselves. I remember getting a kick out of jumping off the landing of the front stairs and landing on the main floor of the front hall (about 8-10 steps) which always caused the pipes under the floor to jangle rewardingly. In the winter the static electricity would build up to remarkable levels. We three would rub our feet across the carpet to build up the charge and extend out our fingers toward the radiator by the front door to discharge the sparks, often an inch long or more. It felt very tingly. It even worked through pencils held in your hand. There were plenty of exciting things that happened there during the first five years, before Mother's death from cancer in January 1955. The exploded pressure cooker left a very impressive lumpy meat stain on the kitchen ceiling. Once someone's beautiful home-made birthday cake was spoiled by an incredible trail of big black ants that led to behind the refrigerator (we had left the frosted cake on the kitchen table for only about 15 minutes). Christmases at Humboldt were always exciting for me since, with Betty and Douglas and before long Betty's husband Murray (studying for a PhD in insect pathology at the U of Minnesota) and baby Linda usually in attendance, the pile of presents under the tree grew astronomically. Our tree was always bought at the farmer's market nearby, and we would spend a couple of hours decorating it when we got it set up. There were always too many tinsel icicles but they were fun because they would be drawn towards you if you held out your hand, due to the ever-present static electricity.
We had a nice fireplace that had been converted by gas, with a large fake log loaded with tiny gas jets. The chunks of asbestos (no danger from it was known then) sitting on the surface of the log were designed to glow colorfully when heated up. I would stare at those glowing shapes endlessly when listening to the classical 78'sDad played in the old reddish console record player/radio that stood on the living room floor next to the fireplace.
We had an old time ice box in the pantry with a lining for the run-off from the melting ice. There was a small door that could be opened from outside for the ice delivery man to stick the block of ice in. This box was not used anymore since we had a real refrigerator for keeping food cold. We had a regular delivery of milk in quart bottles at least for a while. It was quite a change in buying patterns when people started to buy their milk with the groceries at the store. In the basement we had a storage room 'fruit cellar' which was where long-term food could be kept (canned things, potatoes, squash) and where we hid things, since people didn't go into it very often. This was where one time Murray showed me James' birthday present to be presented the next day, if I could be trusted not to tell. Of course, I was so excited about the present that I ran to tell James immediately, forgetting way too easily my sworn secrecy. James had the bedroom at the end of the hall upstairs, which essentially was a back porch (right above the family room with the old upright piano) with windows on three sides (it must have been very cold in there some winter nights). James loved (and still loves) to grow plants due to all the sunlight available in his room, so it was all the hanging vines and tall plants that inspired Betty and Murray to buy James, as a birthday present that year, a small, live salamander, complete with miniature terrarium to live in. When I blurted out excitedly to James what he was going to be getting I couldn't even remember how to say 'salamander' so he couldn't figure out what it was until he saw it. His first comment was, "I don't want a lizard." So Betty and Murray's carefully considered gift was blown and shattered before the birthday party even happened. But James and the rest of us warmed to the little creature nearly immediately, and it lived happily in James' jungle for a couple of years (there may have been more than one newt in succession).
Our basement furnace was big and old with lots of huge pipes leading from it all covered with thick white insulation. Originally it was a coal furnace (we still had the remains of a coal bin) but it had been converted to fuel oil before we bought the house. There was a point in the early 1950's when Dad decided the right thing to do was to convert the furnace once again--to natural gas. There were a few glitches at the beginning for this change over to gas. I remember a very dramatic moment, before the workings of the automatic pilot light were learned, when I came down the stairs to the basement only to see Dad with a flaming long piece of bamboo reaching carefully into the furnace grate. Douglas was standing there helping. Suddenly a really huge tongue of flame whooshed out to engulf them both. Very loud. It was much taller than them and probably about ten feet long. It was gone in a second, with the furnace apparently burning properly after that. I still have no idea what went wrong, but Dad never took chances with trying to light the furnace manually after that. Dad came rushing over towards me sputtering and amazed with singed eyebrows and wide eyes, unhurt. Douglas, also unhurt and unfazed, had thrown his arms up around his head so I don't remember the state of his hair, but he had a lot more of it than Dad at that time, so it probably got singed too. But I recall that Douglas thought it was a really exciting surprise, sort of like a thrill ride (he loved motorcycles at the time, in his late teens), and he laughed nearly uncontrollably, in heavy contrast to Dad who thought the whole thing had been a fiasco.
The household was lively and exciting and a warm, special place to be with all the older teens/early 20s siblings, Betty and Douglas, leading lives much more exciting and exotic than me, and my nearer older siblings often teasing me and taking advantage of me. Sometimes at dessert time "I divide and you choose" the portions led to laughter from the older ones and a quick snapping-up of the dishes that I accidentally overloaded. Douglas' motorcycle, then his old black de Soto were fun to ride. Betty had a number of boy friends who took her out to parties before she settled on the old flame from back home in Deep River, Murray, for a husband. They lived on our third floor for a while, Betty serving as sort of a housekeeper and baby sitter for us. The timing and sequence of events during that whole period is confused to me but it was fun. After Betty's marriage, it was interesting to have the baby, then toddler Linda around. I remember teaching her patiently how to steer and ride a tricycle. The basement was the main training area. I remember being so proud when we all attended a performance of a play in the sanctuary of our church, Hennepin Ave. Methodist, in which Betty had the lead role, looking lovely and glamorous in a white dress. Before the play started I was able, from the center balcony where the family found seats (it was a very crowded performance), finally to see her when she came out on stage, and I probably blurted out something like, "There's Betty!" It must have been kind of loud because it elicited smiles and laughter for several rows of people around us. I have no idea what the play was about, but Betty was impressive, didn't blow any lines and garnered a lot of applause afterwards.
The electrical system in our house was always a little quirky and Dad was often tinkering with it to try to improve things. One problem I remember was the light socket installed in the old gaslight box overlooking the driveway outside. Once Dad was trying to test this light and the way the box connected with other circuits in the house. I recall holding a test light on a wire for Dad that he had somehow connected to the outside light, but wired through from the light in the hall closet on the main floor. Dad instructed me to let him know when his test light bulb came on. At first it was dark, then it lit up only partially. "Is it on yet?" he asked from the next room. "Sort of." Then he pushed the switch by the front door and the bulb with me in the closet came on full force. "NOW it's on," I called out. "But you said it was on before!" The implication was that I was showing myself to be an unreliable assistant. He pushed the switch again and the light bulb went back to the dim, partially-on state. "It's still on but not as bright." "What are you talking about!" he called. "It's either on or it's not!" I was able to pull the bulb on it's wire out from the closet far enough for him to see. Finally he believed me, and the surprise and frustration on his face were easy to identify. But he wasn't mad at me anymore, just this crazy circuit that was on full with the wall switch on, but still on dimly with the wall switch off. The outside light eventually had to be disconnected altogether. Another time Betty was outside hanging laundry on the metal clothes line, when she mentioned that she could feel a little electric shock through her wedding ring when it touched the clothes line. I wanted to feel what that was like too (fascinated as I was of things that aren't doing what they should). When I put her wedding ring on my finger ("now be careful, that's a valuable thing") and touched it to the clothes wire, the shock so surprised me that the ring went flying into the grass somewhere. Murray had to hunt through the grass on his knees for twenty minutes to find it. Apparently the hook for the clothes line, when drilled into the side of the garage, had hit an electric wire in the wall. I remember Dad sometime later going through the entire house turning off everything electrical anywhere, including all the clocks. The electric meter was still slowly turning, and it would only stop completely when the circuit to the garage was turned off (even though nothing was on in the garage either). Conclusion: electricity was just leaking into the ground on it's way to the garage, and the only solution was to kill the power to the garage altogether.
One time before Betty was married, she was in charge of us three boys while Mother and Dad went out to someone's house. I was about five, chasing James down the upstairs hall for some reason (we were just goofing around), and he rushed into his bedroom and slammed the door, which consisted of about nine glass panels. I wanted to stop him so I held my fist out and the door closed right through it. The resulting bleeding was pretty remarkable and Betty was quite beside herself as to what to do. She tried washing my arm in the sink but the long slice from wrist to mid-arm was spouting profusely. She wrapped it in a towel and told me to hold it tight. She ran next door to our neighbor, an older surgeon named Dr. White, who, as luck would have it, was home. He came over with his bag, and, as everyone watched, we sat at the dining room table and he calmly stitched my arm up. There was only one chunk of skin that needed the stitches and I watched in fascination myself. I don't remember crying but I do remember it hurting. The rest of the wound was closed up with strong tape and covered with cloth dressings. I still have the scars on my left arm from that incident. When Dad and Mother came home there was a lot to show and tell.
Another very dramatic incident occurred when I was in second grade (I was seven or so). My friends Dale and Dewey and I were all playing around in our garage hayloft, and I thought it would be a fun thing to haul up my scooter to the hayloft, just so it could be up there (I can't imagine that there was much room to ride it). I had earlier tied it to a rope and I had thrown the end up to the others in the loft, before climbing the ladder to the loft again. I was in the process of pulling on the rope when the heavy scooter caught in the garage doorway below. Of course, I had to try to free it so I leaned out and began pulling harder. I went headfirst out of the loft doorway, about twelve feet above the cement driveway. As I disappeared, I remember Dale looking up from what he was messing with and asking, "Where's Warren?" And I even said, in a state of detached confusion, "I'm right here," as I flew into the air and down to the driveway. I landed on the side of my head. I recall what must have been a very dramatic scene for my mother: I came around enough to cry as she came rushing out the back door toward me, my friends with her, and then I collapsed passed out completely, and didn't wake up again until that evening. I found myself in my own bed in my pajamas with my father doctoring me. I had a serious concussion and had been bleeding from my ear. I was home for a month recovering from that fall. I enjoyed the vacation until I heard somehow that I might need to repeat second grade now, having slipped so far behind. That idea was a horrible one to me so I worked pretty hard trying to catch up once I got back to school. In fact I was able to go onto third grade, and stay with my classmates and friends. I was much more careful with heights from then on, and I even developed a little phobia about being upside down. I had a lot of trouble learning how to dive in the water at Y camp years later (but I did eventually learn how to do a basic headfirst dive), but I never was able make myself do any trampoline flips in gym class in high school in spite of really wanting to.
I remember fondly the fall of the year when it was our task to install the fifty or so wood-frame storm windows on our house. I was too little to get up on the ladder (until much later when I reached my early teens and most all of the manpower of the house had flown), so I was relegated the task of washing the windows with the hose car-washing brush, before they got stuck on the house. It wasn't a lot of fun but it needed to be done and we all worked on it together. Often it would be a Saturday afternoon and we'd be listening as we worked to the Gopher football games, during the time under coach Murray Warmath that the U of M football team was nationally prominent (once in that era the team won two Rose Bowl games in two successive years). Also a part of that vivid picture of window work on a chilly fall Saturday was the rich scent of burning leaves beside the curb. Everyone, including Dad, used to do it to get rid of their yard's leaves. The burning ban instituted around 1960 stopped that practice; now the only time I get to smell that aroma is when I happen to be out in the country in the fall near homes that still handle their leaves that way. We kids used to jump into huge piles of raked leaves; it was a lot of fun to be submerged in them. One time I foolishly buried myself in a pile of leaves at the street corner. Dale and his little brother Kent were there watching with interest. Suddenly a car came down the street and turned the corner. I hadn't planned on that. I remember vividly seeing the back wheel of the car turning past my eyes not more than three inches away. I realized too late what a dumb place this was to be. The kids checked on me to see if I had been hit, but nothing had happened. The lady in the car stopped and was mildly hysterical for a minute. I remember agreeing with her that I was stupid for doing that and promising I would never do it again.
I have a few other memories of the five years in Minneapolis before Mother died that are worth mentioning. I remember once watching with Mother an actual sculptor working on the figures above the door of St. Mark's Episcopal Church that faces Loring Park (he was from Europe and didn't like people watching him, but be was a remarkable artist-those carved figures are still there and still beautiful). Loring Park used to be bigger, with ball fields and more space. It used to extend right up to Hennepin Ave, which was separated from Lyndale Ave. by only a small strip of land that held the Plaza Hotel. Where the sculpture garden is now, in front of the Walker Art Center, there used to be a city park with a lot of flowers, and a nice fountain with lily pads growing in the pond around it. I remember being fascinated with the tadpoles living in that pond, some of whom had already started to grow legs! One time in this park a tent had been set up in the open space. It was not designed to be a public thing to see, it was just there if people happened to walk by it, which Mother and I did one afternoon. I thought I was so clever when I was able to climb through a hole at the bottom of the tent near where the posts held it up, and to my great surprise, inside were elephants! I crawled out again to excitedly tell Mother (who had begun to wonder where I had gone so suddenly) about the elephants. She tried to prevent me but I dived through the hole again, and this time found the animal keeper waiting for me, with my mother outside calling to me to get back out there again. She was angry for my disobedience-she'd told me to stay with her. The man was nice but said I should be listening to my mother, but that if it was okay with her, I could see the elephants IF I used the regular door like a normal person. The keeper told Mother where the door was, about 20 feet down, and she came through there to finally catch me. I must have been pretty hard to keep in line. We all looked at the elephants together then, with full permission. They apparently were in town for a small circus showing downtown that we hadn't heard about.
My friend Dewey lived on the corner of the next block and their family garage faced Dr. White's backyard. From our backyard it was easy to see Dewey's garage. One time Dewey's father came home with a great-looking model T car, which he was very proud of. The model T has no roof and a hinged top section to the windshield and this part has to be folded down before the car will fit in the standard garage. One time many of us in the neighborhood heard a huge rending shattering sound and when we looked over we could see that the top section of the windshield (not folded down) had indeed caught under the top of the garage doorway, as he had tried to drive it in. He was mad but too embarrassed to say much. A couple weeks later he returned one day with the fixed-up model T, which he really enjoyed tooling around the neighborhood in. But about two weeks later, with me and other watching once again (I was not in position to warn him in time), the same thing happened again-he failed to remember to turn down the top section of windshield. Another horrendous crash! This time the entire windshield was shattered from being jammed in the doorway. But this time Mr. Cable kind of went crazy, swearing and jumping around and kicking things, including his model T. I understand that the car was sold, as was, the next week.
Being the littlest one in the family usually is a good thing, but for me it held some real drawbacks. I recall one year that I was shunted over to a neighbor's house down the street while the other four people in the family went to MEXICO! For vacation. I was just going to be too much trouble for everyone. I remember well a photo of James and Robert having the time of their lives somewhere on the ocean shore in Texas or farther south. I felt pretty gypped, I'll tell you. They were gone in the car for two weeks! I stayed with the Jacksons, who had two boys, Billy and Donnie, that were more Robert and James' ages, and Susan, just a toddler, so I didn't really have anyone to relate to much. Mrs. Jackson tried her best to keep me occupied and it all worked out well enough. I remember being completely blown away when Mr. Clifton Jackson, the head of the household, put on his black tails and pulled out his violin! He was a member of the first violins in the Minneapolis Symphony, and when he warmed up with his rapid-fire scales and patterns and sweet lyrical tunes before leaving to work, I was truly impressed. I guess music clicked with me even then.
I returned to that house, near Douglas Ave. and Humboldt, for an estate sale last year. It was neat to be there again. The basement still had a whole lot of different storage rooms filled with things. The Jacksons hadn't lived there for forty years though. I remember that they moved to a nice new house over by Lake of the Isles even long before we moved away. There was a little crawl space in the attic of their old house on Humboldt, off the bedroom of an old lady roomer named Aunt Rose. James and Robert and Billy and Donnie showed me how to get into it. By crawling on your hands and knees for about ten feet, you could reach a space big enough to stand up, at the very front corner of the roof. The bigger boys had a light in there and it was a cool secret place to go sometimes. Once Mr. Jackson found us there, having awkwardly crawled to it himself, but he was a lot bigger so it was much harder for him to manage. He told us all to stay out of there for good (I'm not sure we did). All of us always got incredibly dusty whenever we went to this secret place, and I made the mistake of crawling across Aunt Rose's bed afterwards once, which brought some scolding from Mrs. Jackson and necessitated her pulling off the lady's bedspread and washing it immediately.
Another time we were all to have a vacation camping trip to the Black Hills for two weeks, and the Nash, with everyone in it but me, took off down the street as I watched in horror! I was locked out of the house and they were going to be gone for two weeks! I cried this news to Oly, the old gardener for Dr. White, who was friends with all of us. He assured me that they'll be right back, not to worry. And sure enough the car pulled up again about five minutes later. The front seat people had assumed I was in the back seat, and vice versa. Of course I was too short at the time to be seen over the top of the seat. I gather that they made it to Lake of the Isles before discovering their omission.
Later on the way to South Dakota, a highway patrolman pulled Dad over for speeding. It was a part of the outskirts of a town so it may have been unclear what the speed limit was. Dad had a way of trying his best to impress people with his status of being a doctor and a professional, which he hoped would save him trouble when it came to traffic tickets. The first thing he said to the trooper when he came up to the window was, "I'm a doctor," a stunningly irrelevant thing to say. I don't think this impressed the cop very much. He looked over the car with three boys in the back and a ton of camping equipment tied to the roof, and said, "You're not on a call right now, are you?" "No," Dad admitted. "Well, you should watch your speed, then," he finished with a smile, issuing a simple warning ticket. Dad must have felt pretty foolish, but he did stay under the limit the rest of the day.
This reminds me of another time we were all in the car on a trip somewhere, maybe to Colorado, another memorable camping trip we took when Mother was still alive. After Evelyn came into the picture, we never camped as a family again. Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and we were able to get the radio station that broadcast a network kids show, called something like "the Saturday morning story time." I remember listening to that show on many previous Saturdays at home. This time, when the show ended, there was a long pause, and then the announcer said, "Are we off? That ought to hold the little bastards for a while!" Then there was silence as the mike really was cut off, followed in a minute by a profuse apology, explaining that he thought the mike was off, etc. Finally he invited us to tune in next week! I felt wounded, and cried a little because I thought he was a nice man up 'til then. And I didn't even know what the word 'bastard' was, but I could tell by the way he said it that he wasn't really a friendly guy after all. Disillusionment!
The most traumatic event of my childhood was the death of my mother when I was eight. I was very ill-prepared for it, having never been warned that it was coming, due apparently to the idea that I needed to be protected from that stress. I'm not sure that was the right thing to do in my case. I think it would have been healthier to have had a chance to talk to her with the knowledge that she would be dying soon. I would have been able to cope better, likely. Apparently many other people knew in advance; certainly my father was aware of it. It is still unclear to what extent the other family members knew it was coming. She had been fighting cancer for many months prior to her death, apparently. I do remember being alarmed by her being in pain. She would bend over in an odd way sometimes even as she continued to prepare the food for supper, for example. I showed my concern more than once but she kept reassuring me that she was okay. Possibly she was one of the main 'protectors' of my finding out about her cancer.
I remember well attending a performance just a little more than a month before her death. We three boys and Mother went to see a short modern Christmas season opera designed for children and adults called "Amahl and the Night Visitors," about the Three Kings, on their way to Bethlehem, stopping off to rest at the home of a poor widow shepherd and her crippled son. Menotti wrote the music; it has been a special favorite of mine ever since. We sat in Northrup Auditorium and listened to the great orchestra and the fine singers, including a little boy about my age. There is one spot in the opera where the kings are asking about where they might find a special boy, the Christ child they are looking for ("Do you know a child?") and the mother of the story sings to herself that she knows where to find such a unique, special child, that it is her own son. While this song was being sung I noticed that Mother was crying silently and looking at each of us in a very tender way. I don't think the others noticed, but I did, and I put my head on her arm. It was a memorable moment of connection that we shared before she died, although I did not know she was in any danger.
I felt quite at sea for the longest time, and thought that Dad's interest in a lady doctor that he worked with was a really good thing for us. They began going out with each other in the spring of 1955. We three boys were sent to stay with our mother's siblings in Canada, first about a month with Uncle Ethridge on a farm near Winnipeg, then another chunk of time with Aunt Alice in a Winnipeg suburb. It was here that I once was caught walking through a huge garden nearby that was private property. I had been through it before with my cousins and thought it was okay. But the time I was caught, I was alone, about two blocks from Aunt Alice's house. The angry woman came out of the house and wanted to know what I thought I was doing. I was still reeling from my mother's passing, and felt vulnerable and unable to explain why I was cutting through the garden. I said I didn't know anyone cared. Then she demanded to know where my mother was and I could only break into tears, saying, "I don't have a mother." The lady softened then and said she wanted to talk to who was taking care of me. Later that day the lady and Aunt Alice, who recognized each other, I gather, had a cordial enough talk, which resulted in all the kids being told to stay away from that garden, and take another way after this.
So when we returned to Minneapolis, it turned out that Dad had decided to get married again. I was so emotionally needy that I thought this was a great idea. She seemed nice enough, and professed at least to like us, and in her own way she probably did. But once she moved in it was very rough for all of us. We had never encountered someone so authoritarian before, someone so rigid and set in her ways. She was already in her mid-forties and never had been married before. We had some very strong run-ins with her about everything we were used to that she disapproved of. I remember that she thought it was vulgar to squeeze the juice for our grapefruit halves into our bowls. This was the way we learned to do it from day one. She also had a very controlling way a dealing with especially me, I think, because I was the least able to defend myself. I recall one year in junior high school having to go through the humiliation (among many) of having only three different shirts to wear to school, two of which had the same design, but differing colors. "Warren has wash and wear and wear and wear shirts," I heard too often at school. She thought the shirts she chose for me (I had nothing to say about the choice) looked good and I thought it would be safer not to rock the boat, so I went along with her. I didn't have the self-confidence to speak up at all, being just a helpless kid. We had our moments of fun and contentment, but generally all three boys were at odds with her much of the time. This was not how she had envisioned things were going to go, so that made her even more sour. Dad was stuck in an awkward position too, not wanting to displease her but also recognizing how hard things had become for us. Only rarely did it seem that he stuck up for us. Even after we all grew up and Dad and Evelyn moved to Arizona to retire, she still had a very controlling way with Dad, setting the rules for everything, and he, not wanting to cross her, acquiesced to her and maintained an equilibrium that way. More about this major troublespot in my life later.
Across the street from us at Humboldt and Summit lived two boys in wheelchairs, one after the other. Billy Engdahl lived there first, then the Sam Build family, who had just emigrated from Norway. Their older boy was also wheelchair bound; I got to know them all in passing. They were a nice family with a girl my age and another son who was younger than me. The father soon started a home based business with a delivery truck: the Bisam Drop-In Diaper Service. He would bring home big bags of dirty diapers from people's houses for his wife to wash in their basement. I remember once talking to the three kids from Norway, new to the country and the language (they did remarkably well I now realize), and straightening them out about the sound of the mourning dove's call. "My dad says owls go 'hoo, hoo', those are owls, right?" "No," I said to them, "The owl's call is different. Those birds on the wire there are mourning doves. That's their sound." The younger boy was the first on our block to start wearing his hair in a duck tail, sort of like Elvis. Evelyn was shocked by this and thought it was just awful. Once James was cutting my hair in the basement (we all were taught by Dad to cut each other's hair, not always very successfully) and I said to him, rather loudly, "No, leave it long". I didn't like anything close to a "heinie," a really short haircut that I had to put up with a lot when I was even younger. Evelyn up in the kitchen overheard me and yelled down the stairs, "You're not having a ducky haircut!" Both James and rolled our eyes and called back saying that's not what I had in mind, just a longer cut.
After our step-mother Evelyn joined the household, only a few months after Mother's death, Betty and Murray and Linda moved to an apartment nearby (compelled to, as I understand it) which led to a succession of cook/housekeepers living on the third floor. One was a nice older woman from Norway or Sweden with a very strong accent, named Mrs. Glime. From her we first heard things like 'strawberry yam,' 'yinyer ale' and 'oof da.' Evelyn had her do most of the cooking and housekeeping which she didn't want to be bothered with much. She wasn't a good cook at all when she did try it. I remember James sitting by the bay window in the breeze a couple of times looking green from the smell of cooking shrimp that we were having for supper. I happened to like shrimp and still do so, I don't understand that problem. It seems to me that James had a few other food she couldn't stand the smell of, but I forget which. Liver I think was one of them. These were all new things, as I recollect it, that never had been served before Evelyn's time. She used to make this awful Finnish soup which tome seemed to me to consist of too much water, with a layer of grease on the top and some chunks of beef and vegetables on the bottom. Years later at a special dinner on the North Shore for Erkki's Finnish church club in Duluth, I was served the same traditional Finnish soup and it was just as bad then. Erkki was a Finnish doctor in Duluth who married Evelyn after Dad died in 1985. More details later.
Evelyn had been a young medic in Finland during the second world war and had some really scary experiences with bombings in and around her town. In Minneapolis, in the mid 1950's, she was still jumpy when the new sonic booms hit the area, making the dining room glass doors rattle ominously. They really did sound like bombs dropping a few miles away, and more than once she panicked at the sound, yelling, "What's that?!" We told her about the new jets now flying over the speed of sound causing those booming sounds. After a few years the sonic booms were outlawed in the city, so they stopped happening. Evelyn finished medical school after the war was over, graduating from the University of Helsinki. Her father was a Lutheran pastor in Finland. Her brother and his children and grandchilden still live in Finland. She brought to the family an entirely different type of person from our mother Catherine. It really took some getting used to. This, along with the Scandinavian housekeepers, was quite a switch for us. But I do remember the first housekeeper we had after Evelyn moved in (maybe it was Mrs. Glime) who actually gave me some consideration and comfort, but I think the other boys would have been too old to be receptive to it. A couple of times I recall feeling very lonesome for Mother and this kind old lady, with much more genuine sympathy than Evelyn ever could display, would give me a sweet hug as she said, "A little boy needs his mother. I'm so sorry for you," which made me cry but it was healthy and cleansing, and I appreciated it.
One other remarkable incident that very few people could ever tell about happened to me in 1959, or 1960, as a young teen-ager. I walked over to parade stadium to watch the torchlight (night time) Aquatennial parade. As I watched the huge colorful floats go by, I found myself standing on Wayzata Blvd., just outside the stadium, where the parade really got going on its trip through downtown Minneapolis. I happened to be standing next to a very fat middle-aged woman who was remarkably pregnant. Her husband stood closer to the parade about ten feet away. Suddenly, I heard this crying sound and I looked around only to discover that the sound was coming from under the lady's dress! She looked at me with the most shocked expression on her face. "Did you hear that?!" I said yes, and smiled. I felt quite clueless about this and didn't want to get wrapped up with it at all. Besides, I was too dumb to know that that sound could not have come from within the womb, so I wasn't sure what was happening even then. I walked off as she called to her husband and lay down on the grass nearby. Five minutes later an ambulance (standing by anyway) arrived and I saw in the distance that same lady on the grass being ministered to, and then placed on the ambulance cart. Someone said that a baby had just now been born. So somewhere out there, someone about 41 or 42, is that baby who's first cry I heard from under that woman's dress. She must have had several babies before for this one to fall out like that with her hardly even noticing! Wow.
There's much more to tell, but for now it will have to be a summary of the vital statistics and such. I will elaborate and expand on my life's experiences much more in the future.
I went off to college at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, for my first two years. This was my first time away from home and I learned a lot about the world in a couple of years. I returned to Minneapolis with a new wife, Doris, and soon afterward we had a baby daughter, Catherine, born in November 1966, when I was 20 years old. In 1968 Doris, Catherine and I lived on a rented farm in Buffalo, MN with a herd of dogs and many other animals. Some of the experiences from that time will be worth a couple of fat chapters in this memoir. I continued at the U of Minnesota for three more years, taking class underloads, which allowed me to earn a BA in Philosophy and Music in 1969. I stayed on to study composition of music off and on for three more years, with my favorite professor, Dr. Paul Fetler, an established composer I admire very much. I took a memorable trip to Alaska for the whole summer of 1969, and another great trip to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in 1972. More about those experiences later.
In 1970 I founded the West Bank School of Music which is still in operation, now in its 31st year. I was the director and taught music at the West Bank School until 1984. At the same time, in the early 1970's, I apprenticed with a piano tuner guy I knew for a little while, then practiced a lot on tuning of pianos. I learned a great deal about piano repairs as well over the decade of the 1970's.
I split from Doris after basically three years of marriage, then married Patty in September of 1974. We bought a house together by Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis where we still live. Catherine lived in this house much of the time she was in junior and senior high school, switching freely back and forth with Doris' place on Nicollet Island next to downtown Minneapolis. Jonathan was born in 1978 and Daniel in 1980. Jonathan died in 1995.
After graduation from college I worked as hard as I could (and had time for) on developing my skills as a pianist and composer. I have written a number of pieces that have been performed out and about professionally, and I continue to write even better music now. I have been active with the music program at my church, First Universalist, where several of my compositions have been performed. I recently have been part of a community writer's group in the Powderhorn neighborhood, which has published some interesting books and magazines featuring area writers.
I continue to tune pianos and to recondition and resell pianos in my shop in the warmer months. There is a great deal more to relate but this will be all I have to offer for now.