Tag Archives: International Falls

Childhood Homes – Part 2

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.

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More on Music

Today, as I fixed an error in my posting (somehow, the music post didn’t have “draft” selected when I wrote it, though I swore I selected it, so it posted when I meant to save it … so when I did post it, instead of posting third in the series, as I had planned it, it posted as the second), I was struck by another memory involving music.

International Falls is a very small town on the American/Canadian border in northern Minnesota. We moved up there in March 1997 so my father could be a pastor to a church up there, but then left a little less than two years later. I turned 10 years old just two months after we moved there. We had a party at the local McDonald’s because they had a pretty awesome play place.

I made a few friends there, though none I’ve kept in touch with. One in particular I used to have quite a few sleepovers with and we enjoyed playing and hanging out. She also helped introduce me to secular music. Her parents went to church, but they didn’t seem to be overly religious as they had no problems with watching TV and listening to a variety of secular music. I also know that her father smoked. I don’t know about other Christians, but in my flavour of fundamentalism, smoking was a big no no. Though, now that I think about it, I don’t remember actually seeing him at church. Perhaps only her and her mother went.

Anyway, I remember holing up in her room and listening to Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and the like. These days, I don’t particularly like pop music in general, but at that time I loved it. It was so different than anything I was usually permitted to listen to. I loved the beats and the different instrumentation. It was so catchy and infectious. Unfortunately, at that time, it was more difficult to copy music than it is today, so unlike with my best friend when I was 14, I was unable to make copies for myself to listen to in private. If I could have, I definitely would have, though.

I had another friend I hung out with quite a bit. We’d ride our bikes to this little park area where there was a small amphitheatre. I remember that we’d take turns suggesting songs to sing, and I was always embarrassed because I had never heard of the songs she was suggesting. I don’t remember any of the titles she would throw out, but I’m sure they were popular songs of the time. We ended up just sort of going along with the other when we traded off lead, because the only mildly secular songs I knew at that point were old country songs and some Elvis, and she didn’t know any of those songs at all. I always wondered if she thought it was weird that I hadn’t heard any of the songs she knew. Then again, I wonder if any of my friends noticed the little fundie differences that came through like that. I wonder if they gave it much thought or just shrugged it off. I honestly couldn’t say. Curious.

Memory Triggers – Cedar

So, one post in and I already have followers. I wasn’t expecting any aside from family and friends, but I’m more than happy to share and am grateful. Thank you. 🙂

Last night, I bent over next to my cedar-lined hope chest and got a whiff of the distinct wood. Immediately I was drawn back to the attic of a house my family lived in for a short time. It was Wausau, WI. 1999. I was 11, going on 12 that year. We had just moved there from International Falls, MN, in the dead of winter. I’ll always remember the temperature when we left, though I don’t know why…it was -34, felt like -42. Fahrenheit of course, because America uses the Imperial system. Bad weather delayed the truck in Duluth, so we had to stay at a hotel a day longer than expected. It was bitter cold when were unloading, so cold the men’s beards started forming icicles from the condensation of their breath. I huddled in a back room –  my room – with our dog until it was all over and done with and we could turn the heat on without wasting it.

I ventured up to the attic the first time that day, excited at the prospect of such a space. I’d never lived in a house with a proper attic before, so I was eager to see it. Why, I’m not sure. It just held a certain allure to me. The house in International Falls had no attic, and the only other house I’d lived in – in McDonough, GA – had a little utility attic that was only good for storage, not for doing anything with. I’d spent some time of my childhood wondering what that attic had looked like, what it held. I’d wanted to go up there, but my parents forbid it. It was probably for the best, as I likely could have gotten hurt, but it didn’t stop me from wondering. And now, in that rental house in Wausau, I was finally able to see what I hadn’t seen before, what had previously been verboten.

It was pretty nondescript, as far as attics go. It was just an open space with a built-in cedar closet. I’d never smelled cedar before, and it was very strong to me. Almost repulsive at first, though I eventually learned to like it.

I don’t remember how long I spent up there at first, but it probably wasn’t long. We had just moved in and there was lots of unpacking to do. But I visited the attic in play. At one point, I set up my little microscope kit on a desk. I even had Barbie dolls kept up there, but I’ll go into more detail with that later, as I’m now starting to get off track from the point of my post.

The point being that certain triggers can set off a cascade of memories. All of this came back from simply smelling a scent. Scent is regarded as a strong memory trigger, but there are other things, too. Voices. Songs. Even simple phrases. The more I write and write this post, the more I keep thinking of to write, so I think I will break it off here and put other memories into other posts. There’s so much that comes flooding in, it’s hard to separate everything and concentrate on a category, or even contain the category I’m in and condense it and I don’t want to turn this into a huge wall of text. If you’re still reading, thanks and congratulations for making it this far.