So, continuing in my series. 🙂 The home in McDonough, GA, was the first home I ever lived in. It was the only home I knew until March of 1997, when my family relocated to International Falls, MN so my father could take over as senior pastor at a church up there.
It was quite the culture shock. Even in March the snow was hip deep on me at 9 years old. We had visited there once before as a family, so I was familiar with snow, but the fact that this was now where we would be living started to set in as a reality.
The house we lived in for almost two years was a rental that was owned by one of the members in the church. It was a two-story (my first and only) with an unfinished basement. I remember being really excited that my bedroom was upstairs. I don’t know what it was, but I’d always had the childhood fantasy of having at least a two floor house and having a bedroom on an upper level. I’m not really sure why. Maybe the allure of the unknown? Nowadays, screw it, let everything be on one level. Fuck stairs. But back then, it was a new experience that I embraced wholeheartedly.
My room actually changed after we were there for a little while. When one walked up the stairs and went down the hall, there was a bedroom at the near end of the stairs, one in the middle, and the end of the hall terminated into the master bedroom. I initially had the middle bedroom, which was smaller but had a closet. I later moved into the other spare bedroom because it was roomier. The middle room was okay, but I really preferred the one on the end anyway. It had a window that looked out onto our postage-stamp sized backyard and garage, the back alley, and then a neighbor’s backyard and further still the neighborhood as a whole. The middle bedroom window just looked across at another house. No real view. The only nice thing was there was a tree beside it where a white-throated sparrow lived. I loved hearing the sound of its call. But I still preferred space and a better view.
The switch meant that the study was moved from the end bedroom and to the middle bedroom. That was where the computer got moved. By this point, we had internet, but I didn’t even know how to use it other than e-mail. And I didn’t know anybody’s e-mail address, so it didn’t matter anyway. We had a family Juno e-mail address but I can’t remember exactly what it was. To me, computers were only good for tetris, pinball, and paint. The most fun thing in paint I did was a basic basket weaving design, going pixel by pixel to create the pattern. I never saved it, I have no real clue why I did it. It was just fun, almost relaxing. I was an odd child. 😛
The kitchen, while small, had a sliding glass door that opened up onto a back porch. We loved cooking on the grill out there and the door was convenient and also provided a nice view for us. Another first for me, along with window blinds! The house in GA never had any blinds while I was there, only curtains, and I gotta say I really fell in love with blinds after that.
The garage sat directly in the back of the house, separated from the structure by a miniscule yard area (another first, again). There was an attic storage space in the garage, but I was scared to go up there because it was high up and the space between the creaky wooden steps did not help my vertigo. I remember, after a while of living up there, somebody broke into our garage and stole the CB radios my parents had in their cars that we had used for the cross-country move (since nobody in the moving party had cell phones). It was the only crime I was ever aware of living up there, so it was a bit startling, but it soon passed. We never really had any news coverage, so it’s hard to say what the crime was really like, but it was a quiet town with the feel of being stuck in the 50’s. We used to joke that if the world ended, it would take ten years for us to hear about it. At the time, International Falls didn’t even have their own news or radio station, we had to go on a station out of Duluth – three hours away! International Falls isn’t just a small town, it is very remote. But it was lovely.
It was the kind of town where I could ride my bike to the library and back alone with no fear. Or down to the grocery store to run an errand for my mother. I think the only actual grocery store was Super One, and it was about five or six blocks away from where we lived. It was in a plaza with an ice-cream type of restaurant, a sit-down restaurant, and a theatre that had a grand total of three screens, that I remember. Looking it up via google, it looks like they’ve likely expanded to five screens since then, as I honestly don’t remember it being that big. I only remember two or three screens at the most. Slightly aside, but I remember going to see Flubber and the reel messed up about halfway into the movie. We got free tickets to another showing of it for our trouble.
One thing that people probably wouldn’t expect when visiting is the smell. There is a paper factory in International Falls – Boise Cascade – and also another one on the other side of the Canadian border in Fort Frances, Ontario. The smell is … unique. It takes some getting used to. The closest thing I can use to describe it is the smell of cooking cabbage. Once you get used to it, you barely notice it, unless the smell happens to be particularly strong, which happened once in a while.
While I was up there, there was a lovely little store that I loved to go to. I can’t remember the name of it, unfortunately, and from what I hear it was closed down years ago. It had a wonderful variety of things from all kinds of winter wear, supplies, a large wall stacked to the brim with moccasins, and various and a sundry little toys. I got most of my beanie babies from there as well as my first pair of moccasins. I’m not sure why, but the way they are made make them excellent for warm house footwear, which is very useful when anything over zero Fahrenheit is considered a heat wave.
That was obviously the biggest difference between Georgia and Minnesota: the weather. We had to learn how to layer (and learn fast!). As southerners through and through, we really didn’t understand the concept of layering for warmth. Long underwear? Unheard of, except in maybe movies or the like. And at that level of cold, gloves and a hat are a must, not a maybe. I’ve also lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and while it gets cold in the winter, hats and gloves aren’t required winter wear. In Minnesota, they definitely are.
There are also little differences that one probably wouldn’t expect. A “casserole” is a “hot dish”. Milk is available in bags. It’s customary to ask someone if they want something three times. And, of course, the long Minnesota goodbye, where guests and hosts can spend literally hours preparing to leave each other. There’s a German/Polish/Eastern European influence in International Falls that just isn’t quite present in rural GA, so the cuisine can offer different things as well. We had pierogies for the first time (and loved them). If one ate fried fish, it was a good chance it was walleye (which has a very good taste to it and is a plenty in Northern Minnesota). Brats and sauerkraut was a thing. Jell-o salad was a go-to for gatherings. Soft drinks were referred to as “pop” and not “coke” as they are commonly referred to in the Atlanta area of Georgia.
Overall, it was a wonderful place that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the freedom I was allowed and the places I could go just all on my own. I loved the large and spacious library that was mere blocks away. I loved the little park area that I could visit and where the Fourth of July festivals were held. I loved the quaintness of the town. I’m not sure I would like to live in a town that remote again, the kind where almost monthly trips to a city three hours away to do any decent shopping are required. But I have lovely memories of it and it certainly has quite a few high spots, despite our short stay there. It was my first glimpse into the world outside of the house on the little dirt road, and I was fascinated.