Posted in Commentary, Growing up/old, Lessons Learned

What I did on my summer vacation: The Final Chapter

Welcome to the third and final installment of what may well be the world’s longest, most drawn-out travelogue of what was, admittedly, a rather pedestrian vacation outing, however personally meaningful.  And it was.  Having moved around so much as a kid, I feel these places and spaces are the closest thing I ever had to a hometown, and that does mean something, even to a gypsy like me.  So…where were we?  Ah yes…

After the Brule cabin, we headed into town for lunch. We spent the rest of that afternoon visiting various family landmarks in the East End of Superior, and Allouez, where my Polish great-grandfathers built businesses and fostered a growing Polish community by sponsoring other Polish immigrants. They were in the saloon business, although my great-grandpa Coda moved to working on the railroad (all the live-long day) during Prohibition. I can only assume my great-grandpa Nadolski stayed in the biz somehow, because his son Ed was still running a bar in East End years later. St. Adalbert’s Church and School was built with my great-grandfathers’ help. It used to sit on this lot, empty since the church and the school were razed after my Uncle Ed died. The house beyond the lot was the rectory and connected to the church where that big square window is. My parents were married in that church and like to joke that now that the church is gone, and the records with it, they are living in sin.

St. Adalbert's Church used to stand here.

My dad attended the school (which sat across the street to the south) as a boy, and stayed after school at his grandmother’s house, which was at the south part of the block beyond the school. It was the Nadolski family home, which later became Ed’s home until he died. I don’t remember a lot about my Great Uncle Ed. He was a quiet man, but he always had Crunch bars for us kids. He ran the bar, along with my dad’s younger brother (once he was of age), in East End until he died, and I remember going there with my parents. It’s Mr. B’s now; I haven’t been in it since it was sold, but I remember it clearly. Ed always had a 7-Up and a candy bar for me, and occasionally a few quarters for the pinball machine. I had such a supple wrist, for a 5-year-old. There is nothing there now, but these shrubs framed the front door of the family home once upon a time. Seeing them like this, they are like ghosts. It made me kind of sad.

The lot where the Nadolski family home used to be.

A couple of blocks to the south my mom pointed out a tired old building as the police station where she got her first driver’s license.

Old police station in East End...

Another two blocks to the south and we were at my father’s childhood home. It looks nothing like it did when he was growing up, or when I was growing up, for that matter. Since my grandmother passed in 1997, it’s been resided, the front porch enclosed, and the tiny old garage replaced with the big one you see in the back there. There was one bathroom on the second floor, and my dad had 3 siblings, plus his parents, to share it with. The back door was never locked in all the years we visited; I marveled that we could just walk in anytime. My grandmother wouldn’t even lock the door when she left. The kitchen always smelled of strong coffee and cigarettes, and the “beautiful music” channel would be playing on the transistor radio. My folks have moved many times, to and within many states, since before I was born. Their most recent move was to a house just 6 blocks from this house. It still blows my mind that after all the moves, and all the years, my dad is back in his old neighborhood.

Coda family home in Superior, WI.

We crossed the bridge to Duluth to have dinner in Canal Park, and passed by these ore boats docked in the bay as we went over the high bridge. The local young men take summer jobs working on the ore boats. My dad thought his elder brother had worked on the Ryerson (on the right) as a young man; my dad worked on the Edmund Fitzgerald. My mother still swoons when she remembers the tan, the muscles, and the money my dad was sporting that summer.

Ore boats docked

After dinner, we made our way back to the Solon cabin, just my folks, their dog, and us, as everybody else had gone home. As our eyelids began to droop, and the camouflaging of yawns became impossible, we said our goodbyes, hugged and kissed, and headed back to the inn for another night of somewhat restless sleep. Our flight was scheduled to leave Minneapolis at 2 p.m. the next day, and we had to get up early and drive down to the Cities beforehand. Having been stuck in insane construction traffic for an hour and a half on the way up, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time.

Traffic backed up from (and beyond) North Branch, MN

But before we called it a night, we made our way to the small bank of videogames outside the pool at the hotel. They were probably originals, bought new when the hotel was built, but I was excited, because Scott had informed me on the first night we were there that they had both Ms. Pac-Man AND Centipede. It just so happens that in my younger days, these were the very 2 games I regularly and mightily kicked ass on. I was frequently a high scorer on Centipede, and lined up enough fruit on the bottom of the Ms. Pac-Man screen to constitute a satisfactory buffet. Throughout the trip, I’d wanted to play, but never seemed to have any quarters on me, so, it being our last night and my last chance, I went to the bar to get change for a dollar. I hit the Centipede game first, and found that the years (years that included grocery checking and daily computing) had made me a bit rusty on the ol’ rollerball. I probably haven’t played Centipede in 20 years, so the first quarter was merely a warm-up, and I acquitted myself reasonably well, all things considered, with the second one.

My favorite video game ever

I switched to Ms. Pac-Man after that, and it was there that I shone. Not only did I shine, but I even impressed my hard-to-impress geek-gamer-hubby, who had no idea that I was capable of such evil strategizing when it came to gobbling ghosts and nomming fruit on walkabout. I was plenty pleased that my skills had remained mostly undiminished, at least for this game.

Me, kicking ass at Ms. Pac-Man

I gained my Ms. Pac-Man prowess the summer before my sophomore year of high school. My family was in the process of moving from Minnesota to Nebraska, and had driven down to look for a house to live in. The hotel my dad’s company put us up in had a Ms. Pac-Man machine at the end of our hall by the ice machine. A hotel room gets really small, really quickly, when it is shared by 4 people, two of whom are children of the teen and ‘tween age. My parents, being possessed of a fair amount of brains between them and no little amount of self-preservation instinct, gave us as many quarters as they had, and no doubt heaved a sigh of relief as we toddled off down the hall. The font of quarters was not endless, however, and we knew we had to make them last. Best way to do that was to get better, and pretty soon we could make a dollar’s worth of change into a half-hour of entertainment.

After I blew my dollar, though, my aged wrists, unused to joysticks, demanded a break, and we went upstairs to pack and sleep. We rolled out of town at 7 a.m. sharp, which was an amazing feat if you know me because a) I loathe 7 a.m. as a matter of principle, and b) I am constitutionally incapable of promptness. We didn’t stop for breakfast until Hinckley, where I got a disappointing custard-filled long john. The good news, though, was that we could already pick up KQRS on the radio, and we settled in for the morning show.

Years ago, my dad introduced me to Tom and Dan in the Morning. Now it’s the KQ Morning Show, populated by Tom Barnard, whose voice you may have heard most recently on Home Depot commercials, (I don’t know what ever happened to Dan) and a cast of characters seemingly unchanged since we lived there 11 years ago. The schtick is that the bunch of them sit around in the studio and bullshit. The key to their success and longevity, though, is that they are generally politically incorrect, and are equal opportunity offenders.  Despite this, they are frequently hilarious.  Listening to them, you find yourself laughing at jokes you know you shouldn’t laugh at, and then your eyes widen as they push the envelope well beyond that into “Oh no. No. That is so very wrong” territory. Tom Barnard pulls no punches, and he does it all in a classic radio voice—all deep velvet and gravel—so you let him get away with it.

On this particular Wednesday morning, they were ragging on the poor benighted citizens of Red Wing, Minnesota, (home of Red Wing Shoes) who had all turned out to see the moving of the world’s largest boot, which is 16 feet tall and 2300 pounds.  They were playing soundclips of people saying, “Oh my gosh, just the laces are huge!” (People in Minnesota actually do say “gosh.”)


Evidently the Morning Show gang thought they were a bunch of hicks. I turned to Scott and said, “I’d totally go out to see the world’s largest boot. I mean, it’s the world largest boot, for Pete’s sake!” I am also the girl that made us stop in Kansas to see the world’s largest hand-dug well. I have an appreciation of fine Americana and a deep and abiding love for a tourist trap. People say “tourist trap” like it’s a bad thing.

However, my hubby was right there with the Morning Show gang, laughing at the hicks with their long Minnesota vowels and their appreciation of extremely large footwear. Clearly, he was deranged. There’s nothing wrong with simple pleasures, and if the fine folk of Red Wing get their kicks watching a big boot be pulled down main street behind a tractor, who were we to judge? If you can only be pleased by a big production, your opportunities for pleasure are going to be far fewer in this life. Personally, I believe the more easily amused among us have happier lives in general. Which is why I smile a lot, and Scott is a big grump.

For example, while waiting in an airport, I can find plenty to do to amuse myself, like make new friends. Here you see me, hanging out with Snoopy, a genuine smile on my face. It’s a giant Snoopy!  In his aviator kit!  What’s not to love?

Me and Snoop-Dog in the Lindbergh terminal

Here we have my darling husband. Same Snoopy, but the smile on his face says, “Oh Jesus, kill me now, right now, why did I have to marry someone whose total lack of embarrassability embarrasses the hell out of me???”  That said, he WAS a good sport.  I mean, I have the picture, don’t I?

Scott and Snoopy at the Lindbergh Terminal.

( Maybe you don’t see that, but if you knew Scott like I do, you’d totally know it’s there.)

I also can enjoy the airport shopping. Some lovely jewelry went home with me. This chapeau, fetching though it is, did not. But it’s a hat! Made out of fake cheese! What’s not to love?

Cheesehead, born and bred

The last highlight of the trip was our layover in Denver.  Ordinarily, a layover is no cause for celebration, but this one was different.  My beloved adopted brother Shenry, who has been my friend since our paths first crossed in the blogosphere over 5 years ago, braved the awesomely craptastic Denver traffic—at rush hour, no less—and came out to the airport to hang out for a little while and receive a long overdue hug. It was our first in-person meeting, but it was hard to remember that, because we’ve corresponded for so long. I can report that Shenry is as cool as you think he is, and has ridiculously beautiful eyelashes for a man. I know women who torture their eyelashes with all manner of implement and chemical just to achieve a fraction of what he has naturally. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

After we said goodbye to Shenry after too short a visit and he was on his way, we of course learned that our flight would be delayed a half hour, then an hour, than an hour and a half. Figures. But eventually we made it home, had a snack and a shower, and dragged ourselves to bed, which felt like heaven. I really think the purpose of travel is to make you appreciate home so much more than you would otherwise. Your bed. Your stuff, right where it’s supposed to be. Your toilet, and your magazines. Ahhh.

The End. Finally.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “What I did on my summer vacation: The Final Chapter

  1. There’s a lot more to traveling than most people consider. Your trip to your home territory certainly has been fascinating to me. Not only did I learn more about your life growing up but also your thoughts about the then-and-now of it all–I love stuff like that. The photo of Scott posing with Snoopy is an absolute hoot and who knew there are such things as cheese hats? How awesome that you got to meet Shenry; he is indeed ever so cool and those eyelashes of his out to be outlawed.

  2. Sounds like your trip went far beyond a typical vacation. Your journey was part spiritual and emotional.

    It was great meeting you and Scott in person. Wish we had more time. After reading this, I went straight to the mirror to peep my lashes. Ha.

  3. I’m a little late for a comment but here goes; as a Wisconsin native I’m here to tell you all….it’s a Cheesehead, not a cheese hat!!!!

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