My life in Morrison County began in May 1943 when I was born in St Gabriel’s hospital. Dr. GM Fortier delivered me. I have no memory of the event but I was told my mother and I had to remain in the hospital an extra day because of a spring snow storm.
My roots in Morrison County were deep. When I was brought home it was to the yellow brick house kitty-corner from the yellow brick brewery on North East 7th Street. My grandma’s father, Jacob Kiewel built both along with a couple of yellow brick buildings in downtown Little Falls.
My father, Edward A Berg Jr. was also born in Little Falls. His father had the first Ford agency in Morrison County. His grandfather had a store on East Broadway where he sold and serviced Majestic Radios. My mother recalled how although he was an old man, T.O. Berg climbed a tall ladder to get on the roof of the two story yellow brick house on NE 7th street to install an antenna.
When I was born my dad was in the army, stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After defending them, he was sent to OTS in Baton Rouge and ultimately to Europe. My mother and I remained with my grandma and grandpa on NE 7th Street, kitty corner from the brewery where my grandpa, Barney McGivern was the office manager and bookkeeper.
The war in Europe ended on my second birthday but my dad wasn’t sent home for a while. I was over three years old when my mom, dad and I moved to teeny apartment in a duplex in north Minneapolis. By the time I was four we moved back to NE 7th street. My mother was pregnant with my brother Tom and she wanted to be under the care of Dr. Fortier. After Tom was born we moved away and my life in Morrison County became limited to summers, spring break and Christmas vacation, except for when I had tonsillitis when I was six. Only Dr. Fortier was trusted for that operation.
My summer memories of the late forties and early fifties are the clearest and dearest. Tom was too little to be away from home so I got to spend several weeks in Little Falls without him. I waded in the Mississippi at the Municipal Beach, played croquet, hit a tennis ball against the back of the house for hours, and waved hello or goodbye to the National Guards on their way to the camp or home by way of the train which chugged slowly on the spur line running between NE 5th and 6th streets.
Weekdays at noon my grandpa walked from the brewery to the yellow brick house to have lunch and listen to Cedric Adams read the news. Some days he drove downtown to make a deposit for the brewery at the First National Bank. After he concluded that piece of business, he’d cross First street and walk up the block to Larson’s Market nestled between the J.C. Penny store and the Ripley Theater to pick up the order my grandma called in that morning. I seldom missed the chance to go with him. He always made sure that he walked closest to the street because “that’s what a gentleman does when he walks with a lady.”
Larson’s had sawdust on the floor and a glass meat counter. Cans of Monarch vegetables, Flame Room coffee and paper products were stacked along the walls up to the tin ceiling. Emile Larson would retrieve items out of reach with a grabbing tool on a long wooden handle. Jerome Larson was the butcher and fetched the freshest chicken, roast, or chops from the back room. With my grandpa’s approval, he’d wrap it in paper, tie it with string and drop it into the brown paper bag that held my grandma’s order. My grandma left instructions when she called that I be allowed to pick a dozen cookies from the bins in the center of the store containing fig newtons, ginger snaps, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip or sugar cookies with white icing. Fig newtons were my favorite.
In the evening we would often go for a drive. If my grandma had a letter she wanted to mail, we headed to the train station and waited for the evening train. Whistle blowing, bells clanging, and wheels screeching, it pulled into the station. A few passengers would get out and a few would get on. The black porters loaded luggage from the platform onto the train. The conductor shouted “All Aboard!~ as he leaned out and waved to the engineer. I loved standing on the platform and watching the train pull out. As it picked up speed, it felt as if it was standing still and I was moving. The train was on its way to Chicago by way of the Cities and I thought that was very glamorous.
Other evenings our after dinner drive would end up at the Dairy Queen on the north end of town. My grandma would take two dimes out of her coin purse and I would go up to the window and order nickel cones for my grandpa and her and a nickel cone dipped in chocolate for me. The chocolate topping cost an additional five cents. Sometimes she would give me a quarter and let me keep the nickel change. It would go into my Morrison County Fair fund.
When my age was in single digits, the Morrison County Fair was the pinnacle of summer. My grandpa worked in the cinderblock ticket office by the main gate. He would get me a few passes for the rides but never enough to satisfy my passion for the tilta-whirl. My grandma enjoyed the 4H, food and crafts displays and not much else. After she had taken those in, she sat on a bench by the front gate and was joined by other ladies of her acquaintance. After taking us to see the farm animals and taking us on a few rides, my mom and dad joined their friends in the beer garden. Tom and I stayed on the midway where one year he learned a hard life lesson by losing all of his money on a miniature steam shovel, trying to scoop up a pocket knife he coveted. As it got dark, we all gathered together for the grandstand show. Before it was over, I could barely manage to stay awake.
Now when I return to Little Falls, I drive by the old fairgrounds on my way to the cemetery. I think of the happy times I had there and how I used to enjoy my summer vacation in what I will always call my home town.
- Mary Berg