By the way, if anyone is counting, this is page 751 of the columns I have written since last June 30. I’ve also topped 350,000 words. If you have managed to read any of the pages, you have my undying appreciation!
This morning, at about 8am, with a full tank of gas and two full cups of coffee, Cheri and I will again drive the 240 mile round trip to see her mom, up north in Grafton. We will get there a few minutes before 10am, sit and chat for a couple of hours, go out for lunch and then come back and take care of any little fix it things she needs around her townhouse, probably look at more old pictures, talk some more, turn down an exhausting load of sweets that come with a mid-afternoon coffee, and then head home to Fargo, where we will arrive at just about 5pm. It’s a full day.
Let me tell you a little bit about Grafton. It’s a town that is doing its best to survive. Actually, I should not call it a town, since all communities that are incorporated in North Dakota are officially known as “cities.” Well, this “city” has about 4300 residents, and like most cities that size in a land that sees a huge migration to the three or four main large cities in the state, it’s languishing.
It does have a nice area school, a brand new, hugely expanded regional hospital a new flood diversion, and a Carnegie library that is almost 125 years old. The town, uh city, was established in 1881, like most of the communities in North Dakota. You see, the state itself was completely platted out by the railroad before hardly anyone came to live here. So, when you come to North Dakota, outside of a few small exceptions, you will drive straight north and south, and straight east and west. It makes the farm fields easier to get to that way – and the railroads.
85% of Grafton, you might guess, is white, with about 12% Hispanics, a large portion of them working on the farms, or at the Marvin Windows factory on the west side of town. So, if you draw a line down the middle of main street that runs perfectly north/south, on the west side of the city are the 39% Norwegian population, and on the east side, you will find the 9% German, 9% French, 8% Polish, 8% Czech, and the 7% Irish. You’d have to count the number of other minorities maybe on two hands.
They used to have a State School. The huge buildings still exist on the property, and they are trying to find a re-use, but there are more empty buildings than filled ones in town. Oh, the State School – well it’s full name was “The North Dakota State School for the Mentally Retarded.” All the developmentally slow citizens of the state would find their home there for decades, during the era of institutionalizing segments of the society. In Jamestown, there is the State Hospital – for the insane. I actually visited the state school while it was still functioning, and yes, it was an institution, but it sure seemed that they were doing their best to engage and work with folks. I guess just the whole concept of gathering persons of a particular need in one place in the end just had no justification, and after years of lawsuits and millions and millions of North Dakota dollars spent, there are now group homes, with a number of them on the grounds of the school. Like I said, however, the huge brick buildings are slowly being converted to low income apartments, which also gathers people of a particular need in one place…
Many would say that Grafton has lost more than it has gained. The ShopKo closed, two groceries have closed, the Pizza Hut and the Hardees are closed, as well as a couple of the gas stations. There is a nice meat market, and a nice grocery store remaining, and a number of good and tasty restaurants that make their best living when the farmer stop in for lunch, or when it’s a rainy day.
During the “harvest,” which is when sugar beets, potatoes, sunflowers, wheat, navy, pinto and red beans, flax, hemp, corn and other crops are gathered in – usually from early August to about November, it’s a rather tricky drive around the area. The farmers are working fast and hard, and when it rains, or freezes or snows, it’s a mess. The giant semis hauling sugar beets from the piling stations to the beet factory spread a nice layer of slick mud on all the main streets of town.
There are about 9 congregations in town – mostly Lutheran or Catholic of Evangelical Free, which were originally the churches of the Swedish and Norwegian/Danish speaking churches. Cheri’s family were part of the Federated Church, which was a merging of the Methodists and the Presbyterians nearly 100 years ago. Most of the churches have shrunk and have gotten older and older memberships, just as the town itself has the majority of its citizens over 60.
Dotted all around Grafton are the even smaller – cities, like Oakwood, and Hoople and Nash, and Crystal and Park River and St. Thomas and Minto. Old, very proud communities who most likely in another 20 years will be only memories.
Cheri’s mom is 87, now living in town, having moved from the farm when Cheri’s dad began to falter, and living 7 miles away from town in the winter seemed like a million miles away from help. She’s doing pretty fine, but it does seem like the trips to the doctor and the growing number of health issues are not letting up. Cheri’s grandma lived until she was nearly 95, so the genes are good, but not eternal.
So, every other Friday we go to Grafton, where Cheri was born and went to school and where we were married, and 7 miles away from the farm home that Cheri has always cherished, but now will go to the son of Cheri’s brother, who is farming, and in a farming family, those arrangements and traditions are pretty well set, even if they are heartbreaking. We’ll take the drive and time for us both to chat and be quiet and comment on the way things look this spring, and how many semis are on the interstate that morning, and not taking time to stop in Grand Forks and buy some “chippers” – the famous chocolate coated ripple potato chips. Maybe some day we’ll swing through, but today, the engagement is to see Cheri’s mom, and have lunch and coffee and talk – and claim the time we have, now that we have the time.
I hope you enjoy your day as well.
Word for the day: conundrum. kuh-NUN-drum. You’d think by looking at the word that it must have Latin roots, but the origin is really unknown, and some believe it might have just been made up in a college setting somewhere. A conundrum is defined as an intricate or difficult problem, or a riddle that can hardly be solved, except as a play on words. We will use the word when we are beset with a decision to be made that has no good answer, or one very hidden. It’s better to think of a conundrum, however, as belonging to every dad in the world who likes to make his children grown through puns, like “Why is a good story like a church bell? Because it’s often tolled (told).” Insert groan here…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.