I finished a pastoral call at Episcopal Homes and turned on to University Avenue to return to St. John’s. Memories were everywhere I looked. Before I moved from St. Paul to Minneapolis when I was 25, University Avenue was my Main Street.
University Avenue was the home of Montgomery Ward , the retailer as famous for its catalog as for its stores. As a child, the arrival of the “Ward’s Christmas Catalog” signaled the time to start thinking about the holiday – or at least which toys would be requested from Santa.
My aunt Elva worked at Ward’s for forty years. She worked in the Complaint Department, which amazes me now. Forty years of hearing from unhappy, distressed customers, all day, every day! She became a supervisor early on but after that nary a promotion in 35 years, although many male bosses rotated through above her. She told me that one day she was so bored going to work that after her husband dropped her off, she walked up the front steps backwards.
Sometimes we shopped at Wards as a family, pursuing a new suit for my dad, or a blouse for my mom, or shoes for my brother and me. We weren’t a wealthy family, and housing clothes under the same roof as washing machines and electric drills seemed normal to us – even handy. The exclusive shops along St. Peter St. in downtown St. Paul were not for us, although my mother and I would make our own trips to the Emporium and the Golden Rule.
In high school, there was the Prom Ballroom! I went to school with Bonnie Herman, daughter of Jules Herman and his wife Lois (Lawrence Welk’s first “champagne lady”). Jules and his band were the house musicians at the Prom, so Bonnie often got free passes.
The thing about the Prom was a certain anonymity. Few people from Sibley High went to the weekend “teen” dances and so you could go there without the baggage of your school reputation. My friend Pam and I would often take the bus from West St. Paul, transferring downtown to the University Ave. bus, and get off right in front of the Prom’s lighted marquee, anticipation building each time it came into view. We loved to dance and with live bands, it was heady stuff. There were red “leather” semi-circular booths to sit in between dances, nursing your Coke. (Of course, leaving with any new male acquaintances was out of the question since one of our parents picked us up promptly at 11:30. No one in our circle had their own car and borrowing the family car to go to the Prom Ballroom would have been a laughable request.)
Porky’s Drive in was in its heyday. One of my boyfriends had a convertible and going to Porky’s for the burger basket was the height of Cool.
Wow, this seems innocent now.
For a year or two, my dad had a fruit store on University, near Porky’s: Midway Fruit Mart. I think he thought that Minnesotans would go to a separate store for fruit – ala New York – but that wasn’t the case and it closed. I worked there for a while.
Finally, I drove University Avenue to the University of Minnesota where I commuted for four plus years. I didn’t use the new Highway 94 because my dad thought that none of the junk heaps I drove were safe for the Freeway.
And today? My two daughters both work at the U of M, and I drive University regularly to shop in Midway, go to Metro Dental, and to visit people at the Church Home. Some times it seems I never left.
For the 25 years when I lived in Minneapolis, this street was irrelevant in my new, larger world, but there is comfort in having the Avenue a part of my life once again, even though I know its limits now far more than I did earlier, when I thought it was the only street in town.
Time changes our perception of what exists “out there.” Writer Susan Sinks observes: “’To the ends of the earth’ in Biblical times meant a few thousand miles, the province of a few empires, and most people didn’t travel more than a hundred miles in a lifetime…. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul has reached Rome, at that time the center of the civilized world. His mission to bring the Gospel ‘to the ends of the earth’ is complete….”
The Bible is also a road, a path, a means of travel and there are new maps available! The St. John’s Bible, being created at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, is the first hand-written Bible in 500 years. Its creator Donald Jackson points out, “This is the first handmade Bible to feature the earth as it is actually seen from space. The earth is shown suspended in the expanding universe, the African continent of our origins clearly defined.” Far from what they knew of the world in Paul’s day ….
In some ways, the St. John’s Bible brings Scripture “up to date,” at least visually. A speaker from St. John’s University will be here on November 9 at seven. I’m going to keep nagging you to come.
University Avenue is dear to me for its memories of who I was in earlier times, but today I travel more often by freeway, plane, and internet. Our Bible holds for us the basic stories of the faith, most written 2000 years ago, and the St John’s Bible will take you on new roads to places of faith and insight that are more than worth traveling. You gotta take this trip ….
See you in church (and on November 9).