Sunday, March 30, 2014

Leaving Home

See that picture at the top?  That's the township of Swatara in northern Aitkin County, Minnesota.  And I mean, that's the whole township. My mom and brother Rolf and I lived there in 1954-1956.  The picture was taken in 1947 and the only difference when we lived there was that the road you're looking at was paved all the way to the top of the small hill you see, when the crossroad became gravel again.  The road coming at you goes west three miles over forested hill and dale until it meets up with US 169.  I walked that three miles many times because I could catch the bus to Aitkin at 169 and ride it the thirty-two miles into town to see my friends and my uncle.  Unfortunately, I also had to walk the three miles back home, usually at night, usually in winter. The last time I walked it in June, 1956, leaving my mom and brother behind, I caught the bus and rode it 2500 miles to Los Angeles to live with my dad and stepmother.  I never walked it back home again.

But I digress.  The house that you see straight on is the house where we lived for two years with the 5-8 grade teacher, I forget her name, even though she was my teacher.  Mom taught the 1-4 grades, and was therefore Rolf's teacher.  I don't know why either of them was hired, especially Mom.  Anyway, after their first year there was a trial of sorts and they were both fired for, I think, incompetence.  I can't think of any other reason.  The new 5-8 teacher that I had wasn't any better than the old one.  The school I refer to is in the second picture. You're looking at the back door.  To the left of that door were the two classrooms; to the right was an auditorium/gymnasium where dances were held and where we had recess if it was too cold or wet to play outside.  I don't think I was ever upstairs. This picture was taken before all the windows were broken.  The last time I saw it was on the occasion of Mom's funeral in '04 (which was in Aitkin, thank Minerva, not in Swatara; it was bad enough living in Swatara, no one should have to die there), all the windows were broken out.  Not a shred of glass left.   I have no happy memories of my two years at that school, but it was still sad to see the shell it had become.

But I digress again.  Back to the house.  The bottom right window was the living room, where the heater was.  The bottom left window was the kitchen without indoor plumbing; we had to catch the water from the sink in a pail and empty the pail down the two-hole toilet, which was out of sight to the far left.  The upstairs windows were our bedroom, where the three of us slept in the winter to stay warm.  Directly across from us was the bedroom where the other teacher slept.  To the left of those bedrooms was an attic with just a bunch of junk in it, where my mom hid her money in a coffee can.  The front of the house also had two windows, one on the right which looked into a small closet usually full of cat turds, as well as a very small room where I slept in all seasons but winter.  The window on the front left was the one Mom and Rolf watched and waved from and cried as I left Minnesota for California to live with my Dad.  For the full story on all of this, go to the Family label of this blog and look up--in this order--Mom and then Dad and then Rolf.  You'll be able to read all about it.

The store/gas station to your left also contained the post office, and was where we bought groceries and where I bought cream-filled cookies and milk to have while reading the science fiction library books I brought home while Mom and Rolf were still in school.  The building across the street was a small eatery where I would sit at the counter for hours, drinking cokes and rotting many of my teeth (with help from the cookies, of course).  I sat there and talked with older guys who smoked and  worked and who could drive. (They made me want to smoke, too, so when I graduated high school in Cali, I started to smoke and continued to do so for the next 54 years). All my school friends lived out in the country and came to school in buses so I never saw them outside of school.

So I have no happy memories of the township, either, much less the school.  It was especially sad seeing my brother cry as I walked away that June. 

But it was with a light heart that I caught the bus at Hwy. 169 headed via Greyhound for Aitkin and then Minneapolis and then Los Angeles.

I was thirteen.