Monthly Archives: June 2018

To the Capital of the Commonwealth

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The Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson

On Saturday, June 16, Linda, Robin, and I headed south to Richmond to attend the annual “Blue Commonwealth Gala” of the Democratic Party of Virginia.  It had been 46 years since I attended any sort of political-party function.  I almost always vote Democratic, but I could hardly be counted as a party “true believer.”  That said, Linda and Robin had fun at the event the previous year, so I joined in.  We hoped to be there (it’s only 110 miles) in time for a tour of the capitol building, but jam-ups on Interstate 95 slowed us.  We dropped Robin at the hotel and motored a few blocks east to the magnificent neo-Classical structure Thomas Jefferson designed in the mid-1790s, when he was Minister to France.  The last tour had already departed, and Linda wanted to sit in the shade, so I did a quick self-guided walk through the building, which had been carefully and lovingly renovated 2004-07.  It was magnificent.  I am slowly becoming a Virginian.  Here are some scenes:

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Picked up Linda and we drove west two miles to Monument Street, a pleasant avenue of stately old homes and lots of the Confederate monuments that have caused so much controversy.  Back to the hotel, washed my face, put on suit and tie, and walked several blocks east and south to Main Street Station, the renovated railway station built in 1901 by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad; admired some wonderful old buildings along the way (the ladies drove).

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Old City Hall, and fine old architectural detail (below)

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The Blue Gala was in the historic trainshed, a perfect venue for a gathering of almost 1400 fellow Virginians.  A year earlier, Robin and Linda enthused about friendly people, and in no time I had met several, including Tom, a former law partner of our junior U.S. senator, Tim Kaine, and Levar Stoney, mayor of Richmond.  We found our table and sat down to meet our tablemates, yakking briefly before the program, which was a seemingly endless series of speeches.  The mood was upbeat, because the party is ascendant, and for good reason – inclusion, sensible gun laws, respect for rule of law, and health care for all.  Indeed, many times that evening we stood to cheer for a recent law that provided single-payer health insurance (Medicaid) for 400,000 needy Virginians. Hooray!

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Main Street Station

The last speaker was New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.  Although the Brittons agreed that he needed some lessons in speech structure and cadence, his words were welcome.  He cited the post-World War II Marshall Plan as an example of our better selves; lamented “moral vandalism” and “sedentary agitation”; and invoked a wonderful phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the inescapable network of mutuality.”  That’s pretty much one of my touchstones, manifest more simply in the phrase “we’re all in this together,” and more grandly in the name of our new home: the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I like that appellation.

Up early Sunday morning, to the hotel gym, pounded out some miles, showered, and headed west on Broad Street for a caloric Fathers’ Day breakfast at City Diner, then home fast, north on I-95 (thanks, Robin, for speedy and safe driving, itself a fine Fathers’ Day gift!).

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Fram! To Linda’s 45th College Reunion

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Holland Hall, St. Olaf College; virtually every building on campus is built of limestone; it’s a solid place

On June 1, Linda and I drove to National Airport and flew home to Minnesota (it will always be home), bound for her 45th class reunion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, 40 miles south of the airport.  Picked up a rental car and made fast for where it all began, literally: on a warm Wednesday night in May 1973, I met my beloved in Marguerite’s, a bar in Dundas, just south of Northfield.  Lunch at Marguerite’s, now the L&M Bar, thus made a lot of sense.  Tucked into burgers and fries, and I had a couple of cold Summit ales.  Memory Lane, for sure!

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Your scribe and Linda where it began, 1973

We drove a few miles north to what is one of the loveliest small campuses in the world.  I remember I was transfixed that evening 4.5 decades ago, and was once again.  We registered in the student union, called Buntrock Commons, and immediately met a couple of Linda’s classmates, hugs all around, the first of many.  Drove a couple of blocks to our dorm accommodations in Kittelsby Hall, named for an early professor, one of the many Norwegian immigrants that built the college, then and low affiliated with the Lutheran Church (our church).   The room was simple (more on that later) and not air-conditioned.  Dropped our stuff and ambled around the leafy campus, then back for a short nap.

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At 4:45, we attended a “class” on the chemistry of olive oil, offered by an enthusiastic prof.  We learned a lot, sampled a bunch, had a great time.  At six, it was time for the first Class of 1973 function, drinks and light dinner, held in the undercroft (fancy word for basement) of the main campus church, Boe Memorial Chapel.  And instantly we were surrounded with long friends; I knew tons of Linda’s classmates both from previous reunions and from my high school – and in the case of Lyn Bearinger, from Mrs. Mansfield’s first-grade class at Wooddale School in 1957.  These were quality people, abundantly decent, well-informed, and with the humane values that develop in a place like St. Olaf.  After the meal, Brenda the host asked people to stand and briefly describe their passions, which included a self-described math and physics nerd, now studying English and history and “rounding out my education”; breasts and travel (a woman oncologist); chronic diseases; quilts; motorcycle touring; nursing (the school had a highly-respected program; running a free medical clinic in nearby Red Wing; teaching English to immigrants; and, not least, “all the wonderful people I met at St. Olaf.”  It was a lovely evening.

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Friday night in the chapel undercroft

Up early the next morning, down the hall for a shower, and off to a big breakfast and a long yak with classmates (and Linda’s roommates in 1973) Janet Lund and Karen Pedersen.  Then we joined the sidelines of a lively bridge game, yakking with Judith Beck, known as JB, her new husband Doug, and old pals Jane Alrick and Sue Perkins, plus Karen and Janet.  Then to lunch and more chatter, then from 2 to 3:30 a series of talks from classmates.  The best of those was “Lessons from the Iditarod.” One of Linda’s classmates, Cindy Gallea, has competed 10 times in that 975-mile sled dog race from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome.  She is one of the toughest, most adaptable people I’ve ever met.  Her best time was 11 days, including a mandatory 24-hour rest for her 16 dogs.  She waxed eloquent about the dog named Hammer, and about the diligence of the rest of the team: “they just know what to do.” It was a reminder of one of my strong beliefs: domestic animals are one of the firmest pieces of evidence for the existence of God.

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Bridge was and remains a big pastime for Linda’s classmates

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Jane Alrick Swenson and Linda; it’s a long story, but if it weren’t for Jane there’d be no Linda!

Walking back to the term, I said once again, “You were so fortunate to have studied here.”  We took a little nap.  Linda wanted to chill a bit more, so at five I walked back to Buntrock Commons grabbed a beer, and sat in a good vantage for people-watching.  Enjoyed a nice T-t-S with Carol Anderson, Class of 1958; if you do the math, she’s about 81, and I complimented her on the longevity of Scandinavian folk!  At six, the Class of 1973 gathered in the Trollhaugen Room for a formal dinner.  More great yaks, including good ones with Lyn Bearinger and her husband Michael Resnick.

Linda complained a bit about the spartan dorm room, but I liked it’s untouched-since-1965 aspect, because 1) it was spotlessly clean; 2) it’s good to live more plainly from time to time; and 3) most important, it clearly reflects the school’s spending priorities: sure, they could get into the contemporary college “arms race” for poshest dormitories, but every dollar spent on that is a dollar foregone to tuition support for deserving students, quality faculty, up-to-date classrooms and labs, and other things that truly matter.  St. Olaf College has its priorities firmly in order.

Slept hard Saturday night.  It was cloudy and very cool Sunday morning.  We packed up, drove to Buntrock, and rejoined classmates for breakfast and more chatter.  I could talk with those folks for hours, because we conversed about things that truly matter.  Then we said goodbye, hugged a lot of people, and drove north.  Linda dropped me at the airport (she was headed to Denver on business), and I flew home.  Already hoping we’re alive for the 50th class reunion in 2023.

By the way, “Fram” is the first word of the St. Olaf motto; in New Norwegian “Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn,” is adapted from the Old Norse battle cry of King Olaf.  It simply means “Forward!”

The college excels in all of the arts, not least the visual, and here are but a few examples of student and professional art that is everywhere on campus:

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