Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Long Journey of Awakening (Part One)

They say you arrive in this world kicking and screaming, yanked from your mother’s womb, held upside down and smacked on your bottom, and then wrapped up and deposited in a little glass covered coffin called a bassinette in a room full of other strange little beings which is called a nursery, watched over by a few huge beings called nurses.

I don’t remember any of that. Maybe, like Rip Van Winkle, reputed to have slept through a revolution, I just floated through all the trauma of being born in a state of unconscious bliss. I do, however, have a vivid memory of being yanked out of my comfortable extended family cocoon at age four, when my mother arrived with a husband, dragged me into the back of his ’40 Ford blue coupe, and drove me from Charles City, Iowa to Minneapolis, whimpering on the floor of the back seat every inch of the 120 or so mile journey. That was what you might call an awakening, a rude awakening.

I fell into my new environment, or was dropped into it, and had to sink or swim. I learned to float. It was World War II, and my stepfather, Floyd E. Hamilton, soon to be known as “Dad,” having been rejected for military service as “4-F,” went to work for Northern Ordinance Company, making munitions for the war effort. All I knew was that we moved several times and that Floyd was gone all night and slept all day. He worked the graveyard shift for the duration of the war.

I survived the transition and kindergarten and finally settled into my next comfort zone in North Minneapolis, beginning first grade at John Hay school and remaining in the same upstairs apartment of a four-plex and at the same school for the next six and a half years. I gathered around me all the comforts of childhood. My best friend, Gary Lundquist, who was three years older and had a glass eye, which I often watched with fascination as he removed it and dropped it in a glass of water. The neighborhood became part of my extended family. The Fitermans across the hall, Plymouth Avenue containing every business required for daily survival, especially the Homewood Theatre and Brochin’s Delicatessen, the synagogue where I used to sit outside and listen to the singing of the cantor and the prayers in Hebrew, and my school, where I found acceptance and encourage-ment from teachers and friends, and where my first real girl friend appeared. Twyla Holznagel and I were 6th grade hall monitors for the whole year, capped off by my first real date, all the way to the Orpheum downtown on the streetcar, with hamburgers and malts at Bridgman’s after the movie. My dad gave me $10 which covered the whole event. I had it all. Now life was really going my way.

Then came 7th grade at Lincoln Junior High. Yanked out of my comfort zone again. The regimentation, having to swim naked in gym class, the one-way traffic to get to classes, the kids from other grade schools, especially Skip Lindsey whose hand I accidentally sliced with my pocket knife, all combined to bring about little cracks in my universe. Midway through 7th grade, in the middle of winter, I was picked up and deposited in New Brighton, near my dad’s work, for almost the remainder of the school year. This would have been a total loss, except for the 4-H Club I joined—and Karen Kota. Or maybe it was because of Karen I joined 4-H.

By Easter I was, miraculously, back in Charles City from whence originally yanked, living in a house which my parents and maternal grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma Williams were buying together. I was again deposited, parentless, but with my favorite people. All my cousins, aunts and uncles, and both sets of grandparents were close by. Small town life suited me. So I quickly adapted, did well in what was left of 7th grade at CeCe High, spent the summer working in a local nursery and other yard jobs, and went into 8th grade with gusto. A full sports agenda, football, basketball, track, along with lots of friends, especially Gary Hawbaker and Tommy Wick, made for a well-rounded year. And of course there was omigodgorgeous Donna Beasley, in whose notebook was slipped a gushy valentine from a “secret admirer,” after which I endured her sitting with her girlfriends whispering and all of them throwing giggly glances my way, followed soon after by a “visit” from her 9th grade boyfriend, who wanted to make sure I was clear on the consequences of any future advances I had in mind.

Yes, 8th grade was a year of finding my comfort zone again and re-establishing my roots in family and community. I went to confirmation class at the local Lutheran church, hung out with my uncle Wayne, who was three years ahead of me at CeCe High, frequented the Dairy Queen and the A & W Drive-Inn, located strategically at opposite ends of Main Street, and made good but not great grades. Then came the fateful summer of ’57.

My parents and grandparents on both sides had planned this once-in-a-lifetime cross country trip to the west coast. My Uncle Wayne was going too. This was going to be great. Grandpa Hamilton had just purchased a shiny 1948 Plymouth and my dad a 1946 green Chevy. Uncle Wayne was the designated driver for the Plymouth and my dad commandeered the Chevy. We piled the luggage in racks on top of both cars and headed out. We must have looked like the Clampetts, the only thing missing a sign saying “California or Bust.” We did it all that summer. Mt.Rushmore. Yellowstone. Reno. Beverly Hills. The Redwoods. Las Vegas. We stayed with my uncle Bob in Portland and visited the famous rose gardens, where I remember encountering a fawn lying in the grass, who allowed me to pet him for the longest time. We spent a couple of days with distant relatives in Merced, California, and with my Grandpa Williams’ sister Mattie in Pomona. That was just about the most wonderful summer ever. Almost all of it.

As we were preparing for the return trip back to good old Charles City my dad and Grandpa Williams got into this horrendous argument, which resulted in the two of them not speaking to each other for the balance of the journey, as well as for the next four years. Another by-product was the severing of the agreement to purchase the house in Charles City, which was now my home, and another abrupt “yank” out of my beloved surroundings back to Minneapolis. Déjà vu all over again. Oh well, at least we moved back to the old neighborhood and I dropped back into Lincoln Junior High just in time for 9th grade.


CeCe 8th Grade Basketball Team (minus yours truly who was taking the picture).  That’s Gary Hawbaker & Tommy Wick in front on either side of the big guy.


  1. Can you send me the "Reader's Digest" condensed version? I'm into short abridged stories .......

    Other than that .... good story M.

  2. What in the world is left to say in Part Two. I must be in the stages of rememberance where you remember now, but nothing before, and you have reached the stage of long term memory. Good for you.

    Keep up the good writing, compile it into a book and be a millionaire.

    I am learning a lot about my family I have never known.