To Minneapolis/St. Paul, for Art and for Friends

Artist Tom Wolfe and “Winter Cabin”

On June 7, I zipped up to Minnesota to (finally) retrieve “Winter Cabin,” the painting I bought at the Minnesota State Fair art show almost ten months earlier.   I had e-mailed the artist that it might take awhile – I just don’t get to my native land as much as I did in the past.  On the flight north, the young working-class parents seated in the row in front of me and holding twin 10-month-old daughters reminded me, as above, of another joy of working in the airline business: during my 25-year career we have democratized a transport mode once reserved for the well-to-do.  They made me smile.

We landed about ten, and I couldn’t pick up the rental car until the weekend rates kicked in at noon.  I put the two hours to special use, riding a light-rail train one stop west of the airport and walking across 34th Avenue South to the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where my dad – and thousands of others who served – are buried.  I normally visit by car, but the walk was better, because I saw lots more evidence of the enormous debt I wrote about in the Memorial Day blogpost.  I walked through a whole section of graves of men and women who did not come home from World War II; for example, a marker identified the final resting place of Private First Class Freeman C. Reum of the 320nd Medical Battalion, 95th Infantry Division, who died 18 December 1944 at age 23.

As a sidebar, when I got home I did a little Googling and learned that Mr. Reum’s division arrived in France about nine weeks after D-Day.  They began moving east toward Germany; on November 22, they secured Metz, a city on the Moselle River that had withstood all military attacks since AD 451.  Private Reum’s 95th Infantry earned the nickname “Bravest of the Brave.”  It appears that Freeman was killed during the battle for Saarlautern (today Saarlouis).  He died one day before the bridgehead over the Saar River was secured, another important step toward victory in Europe.  Elsewhere on the ‘net I learned that his parents emigrated from the Trøndelag region of central Norway.  Tusen takk, Freeman.

When I got to Captain Britton’s grave, I bowed my head and gave thanks.  As often happens there, I then looked up and saw the rows and rows of white gravestones.  They were marching together, proud, standing tall.  Give thanks each day for what they did.  My last act was to find some stones to place on my dad’s graves.  It’s a Jewish custom; on a helpful website, a Rabbi Simmons in Jerusalem verified a practice I have long admired; he wrote:

We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. However, even if a tombstone has been erected, we can participate in the mitzvah of making a marker at a grave, by adding to the stone. Therefore, customarily, we place stones on top of a gravestone whenever we visit to indicate our participation in the mitzvah of erecting a tombstone, even if only in a more symbolic way.


I headed back to the airport, picked up a sweet new Ford Focus (as I’ve noted before, Ford is building some great cars), and motored east into St. Paul.  I had 45 minutes before my lunch date, so I motored into downtown, then up onto Summit Hill, a neighborhood of wonderful old houses, mostly big ones.  We lived nearby for almost a decade, but whenever I go back I am always amazed by how pleasant that district is.  Just lovely.

Along Summit Avenue, Saint Paul

At one I met David Herr, one of Linda’s law school classmates, an interesting and hugely accomplished trial lawyer.  And, yes, he’s a conservative Republican and has taken some pro bono cases on “the other side,” but he is still and will remain a good friend.  To repeat: political belief and friendship are separate things.  We had a great meal and a great yak – we had not seen each other in more than five years.

Next stop was the Wuollet Bakery a block from our old house, for a dessert of their sensational raspberry and cream cheese Danish.  Oh my.  Ambled across the street and at three met friend #2, Ann Hathaway, a former colleague at Republic Airlines and person about whom I have written (her dad Don Miguel was my first Spanish teacher, via televised lessons 1960-63).  It was great to catch up with Ann, who now works in marketing at the Mayo Clinic.

Then it was west to the Mississippi and up the east bank, past my beloved University of Minnesota.  Parked and paused to chat briefly with a consulting client, then continued north into northeast Minneapolis, or “Nordeast” as its historic Slavic-immigrant residents called it.  Motored past several large Catholic and Orthodox parishes that were historic anchors of the neighborhood, and parked in front of the California Arts Building, a former grain mill recycled as artists’ studios (the name comes from the street.  Walked in and tracked down Tom Wolfe, the creator of “Winter Cabin.”  We had a good yak.  He’s three years older than me, and grew up not far from where I did.  He showed me some of his other work, introduced me to a few other artists, and treated me to two Grain Belt beers.

Sketches on Tom’s studio workbench

He also provided some background on the artwork.  For three winters he was caretaker of some property on Nym Lake in northwestern Ontario, about 80 miles northwest of where we spent lots of summer vacations.  The cabin he painted, which was on an island in the lake, was not winterized, so the scene is fanciful, but I welcomed his artistic license, because it looks so cozy.

I also enjoyed visiting with Suzann Beck, a portrait artist whose studio is a few doors from Tom’s.  Suzann has enormous talent; though she has a degree in fine arts, she had only been doing portraits for two years.  I have long appreciated the interpretation that portraitists can supply that simply does not exist in a photograph.   More broadly, the visit was a great immersion into the creative process, something that has long fascinated me; creative expression was everywhere, even in the stairwells of the building:

Along the floor of Suzanne Beck’s studio

In the stairwell of the California Arts Building; creativity was everywhere

The Minneapolis Skyline from the parking lot of the California Arts Building

It was after seven when I departed, pedal to the metal south to friend #4, Steve Elkins, in suburban Blooomington.  Steve, his wife Judy, and I had a lively conversation across a number of topics – he’s moved from airline exec to public servant, serving on the local city council for years and now a member of the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council, a highly-regarded regional planning organization – but by 9:45 I was plumb wore out.

Up at 5:30, out the door just after 6, north through Edina.  I paused to snap a picture of the new house built on the site of one of the places I lived as a child; the house where I lived exploded and burned in 2009, then headed for a tub of coffee, then toward downtown Minneapolis on local routes, including a splendid run along the shores of Lake of the Isles.  As you may know, it’s called the City of Lakes, and for good reason.  I parked the car on the edge of downtown and walked to the Federal Courthouse.  It’s about a decade old, with imaginative design and landscaping, including a whimsical set of sculptures set around a set of small ridges resembling the glacial landform called a drumlin.

The new house at 5000 Arden

A small portion from “Rockman,” Tom Otterness’ whimsical collection that rambles across the courthouse plaza

At 7:30 I met friend #5, the Honorable Michael J. Davis, Chief U.S. Judge for the District of Minnesota. But for almost four decades he’s just been Mike, a terrific guy and dear friend (Linda met him when she was an intern for a poverty-defense law practice and he was a new lawyer).  We had a great chat and a big breakfast.  He loves his work.  Just before nine, we headed up to his chambers briefly and separated.  His assistant Gerri escorted me into the courtroom, where I watched him give instructions to a jury about to begin deliberation after a nearly two-month trial involving a $194-million Ponzi scheme.  It was a complicated case, with charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion, and more.  Whew.

At 11:20 I waved goodbye to Mike, zipped out of the courthouse, drove to the airport, and flew home.  MacKenzie was on the leash by 5:20.

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