Monthly Archives: March 2011

To Be a New Dog Owner

“I am not a dog person.”

That’s what I wrote in my journal on December 7, 2009. Less than a year later, I became a dog person.

Our family adopted a dog – a German Shorthair/Black Lab cross – from the Morrison County Animal Humane Society after hearing a three-hour car-ride cajoling from our youngest child on why we should have a dog. Not least among his arguments was that he had wanted a dog for a long time, years and years, back to the time when he was in kindergarten, although he had never asked for a dog then.

We chose a puppy from a group of three siblings. There were two males and one female in the pen, all of whom were black but had slightly different fur and ears and personalities. We were later introduced to another sibling, who looked nothing like the other three in terms of coloring. He was white with the typical black spotting of a German Shorthair. We let our son have the final say and he chose one of the all-black males, the one called Tom who didn’t have a collar. Tom was named Aleksandr by our son, who insisted on the Russian spelling of the name.

Aleksandr is the first dog we’ve had that I have formally tried to train. We had previously adopted a dog from the Humane Society in St. Cloud when our daughter was a toddler (before our youngest son came along), but we didn’t have the dog long because it was a biter. Between owning that dog and getting Aleksandr, we went from not having cable television or internet in our home to cable with hundreds of specialty channels and high speed internet. With dog training shows such as “Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Millan and “It’s Me or the Dog” with Victoria Stilwell, along with the ability to search for dog training tips online, my knowledge of dog behavior has increased. These resources allow me to find solutions to any dog-related problems that arise.

We have long owned cats and currently have three of them in the house. The difference between interacting with cats and dogs is immense, with dogs taking much more time. The most labor intensive task is walking the dog, which we do twice a day because Aleksandr is a high-energy breed. I do the bulk of the dog-walking in our household (hmm, who asked for the dog?), which has allowed me to see things around Little Falls that I never used to see.

Our dog is skittish around unfamiliar dogs and people, so I’ve gotten to be very good at reading dog signs on our walks. Scouting for paw prints, dog scat, and barking from backyards or in houses makes me feel like an urban naturalist. Based on what I’ve observed, there are lots of dogs in Little Falls. What surprised me, having walked Aleksandr almost every day through this very long Minnesota winter, was how few dog owners I saw out walking their pooches. I heard some awfully deep dog woofs coming from inside houses. Surely, those big dogs need exercise, even in winter. Now that it’s warming up, I’m seeing more dogs and their owners out for a stroll.

Another thing I do while on our walks is study the architecture of homes. I can spot older houses tucked among newer homes, which makes me wonder about the timing of development. Roof details, siding, windows, yard art, and exterior buildings pique my interest. My husband and I walked by a building that on first glance looks like a house, particularly the siding, but a set of double doors with a red warning sign and some odd vents and roof equipment made us pause. If this was a house, there were strange things going on there. A search of the Morrison County government’s property records online revealed that it was one of the city’s municipal buildings. Ah, the stuff one learns while walking the dog!

One thing we don’t have in Little Falls is a dog park, a neutral, fenced ground that allows dogs and their owners to meet each other while the dogs are off-leash. Dogs in the city are to be on a leash or behind an enclosure at all times, which is a good thing for keeping dogs from rushing up to other dogs or people, but not so good from a dog socialization standpoint.

The other thing I haven’t pinned down yet is whether there are dog obedience classes available in Morrison County. There are a number of things Aleksandr still has to learn, like how to properly meet people and dogs and how to stop pulling on the leash while we are walking. He’s a good 60 pounds to my 110 pounds, which means he can pull me wherever he likes. As a new dog owner, I still need help with certain training techniques, but it appears that the closest place to get that help is St. Cloud. With all the dogs in Little Falls, surely there is a market for some enterprising dog trainer.

We adopted Aleksandr on October 7, 2010, and have had him almost six months. In that short time, he has completely upended our household routine. In so doing, he has turned me into a dog person. I’m blaming it on his beautiful brown eyes and soft, floppy ears.

-Mary Warner

To Be Transgendered

Looking at me you wouldn’t be able to guess that I am a minority. A white female between the age of 18-35 living in Central Minnesota. In fact, I am part of a minority that is still legal to discriminate against. There may be laws protecting transgendered people, but they do not protect those who have not yet acquired sexual reassignment surgery and are considered lax at best. There is no way to prove discrimination against me if I am refused work because of who I am, and it is not considered a hate crime to beat me because of who I am. Like one in every couple thousand of people, I am transgendered.

I was born in the Little Falls hospital and my birth certificate says 7 lbs 6oz, Female. Despite having been born biologically female, my whole life I knew that this was wrong. As a child I was frequently bullied because I was very meek, but generally I got along well with both boys and girls. When I got older and everyone around me and myself began puberty the differences between boys and girls became terribly evident and I knew that my body was changing the way it shouldn’t have. Instead of my voice getting deeper and muscles developing, I began bleeding and my chest started swelling. I was revolted with myself. I found myself growing increasingly depressed every time I was called “she” and discovered how little I had in common with the girls around me. I wanted badly to be “one of the guys” when in the company of my male friends despite my best efforts to fit in, I was always treated like a girl.

Having never heard of transgendered people before, I kept my feelings hidden. I grew up with a very Conservative, Christian family and was denied any knowledge of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. Only when my best friend in Middle School told me that she was bisexual did I start thinking that maybe my feelings were legitimate. Throughout High School, I discovered that in fact I knew a number of gay and bisexual people and eventually felt that I would be accepted. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I came out as transgendered to my peers. The fellow gay and bisexual students who learned of my being transgendered were fearful that not only would I be in danger, but that they would be put in danger as well because transgendered people are an unheard of concept in rural Minnesota. My coming out bonded the LGBT people of the school together to protect each other and report any negative incidents to prevent danger.

I was intrigued at the reactions I got after my coming out. When I told my best friend, she was not surprised. She told me, I always figured something like that. Turns out nobody was really surprised, which confused me because when I was hiding my identity I tried my best to be a girl. Maybe I failed so profoundly at it that my friends knew it was a façade. Most people treated it as though it were no more interesting than the fact that I have brown eyes. Not that people disbelieved me, it just wasn’t a big deal despite my condition being so incredibly rare. I like it that way. I don’t want to be treated differently, just be treated like a guy.

Of course, I was met with some amount of ignorance, but it was merely ignorance that comes from a lack of information regarding transgendered people and I took no offense to it. Many people insisted on referring to me as a “she” despite my insistence to be called “he”. Only on two occasions has anyone been hostile or even rude to me because of my gender identity, but neither of those people were even from Little Falls. This fact made me think very deeply about the people in this community. As anyone who has spent time in Little Falls would know, we are not a very diverse community. This is a heavily conservative Catholic community with an incredibly surprising tolerance for the LGBT community.

Though my coming out to my peers went more smoothly than most anyone can imagine, I still struggle with fear of coming out publicly which is why I am writing anonymously. I fear for my significant other who would likely be disowned if discovered that he has a relationship with another man. I fear for my parents being accused of failing to raise me as a “normal” girl. And I fear the life changing results of transitioning from woman to man.

Doing research on the history of transgender issues and rights would show tragic stories about men and women like myself, men and women who were born the sex the didn’t belong, being violently beaten and killed. For someone who is not transgendered it is impossible to understand the feelings that come with being in the wrong body and the incredible persecution and suffering we face.  No matter what I say, no matter what I have to go through,  there will be people who refuse to believe that my feelings are real. While so far I have mostly received acceptance, there will always be people who think I am wrong. I can’t stop people from feeling this way, nor do I think I can.

My only hope is that when I get out into the world, go to college, start a career, and fully transition from woman to man, that I will have the same amount of acceptance that I got from this amazing city. I love Morrison County and the people residing within it. I hope for people to become aware that people like me have real feelings and deal with serious problems. The number of transgendered people who deal with suicidal feelings and drug addiction is astronomical, with at least 50% of transgendered people attempting suicide by their 20th birthday, and the root of these problems comes from feeling the need to escape the bodies they hate living in. You don’t have to understand, approve of, or even believe what transgendered people feel. All we want is for people to accept that our feelings are real, and that we are just as human as the rest of the world.

This is what it is like being transgendered in Morrison County, Minnesota.

-Anonymous

To Be a Volunteer at Church

Little Falls is my husband Ben’s hometown. We moved here in 1997 after living on the east coast for 42 years in a much larger area. I love this town! There is so much here for people to do. I know, I know, you are going to say what? Besides all the attractions here, including the Weyerhaeuser Museum where Ben and I work part-time, there is a lot to do at a church.

I joined Bethel Lutheran Church August 15, 1999 after Pastor Carl Larson became pastor. I wanted to attend a church that was close to our home and that I liked. When I joined, leaders of different groups approached me to join their quilting, visitation, and craft groups to name just a few. I hung back for a while just getting used to things…deciding whether I wanted to get involved. I asked questions of other members as to what they belonged to, just what goes on when you join these groups, etc.

I’m not sure who was first to announce this upcoming event, pastor for sure was one of them. Their fall rummage sale was coming up in October, and besides asking the congregation to donate any gently used items; they were asking for help to sort and organize what would be donated and to bake or those so talented, to make something.

When I lived in Baltimore, I was a member of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church and was a greeter, usher, donated baked goods and clothing, but I never gave it a thought to jump in and help, always some excuse or another…too busy with work and other things. When pastor made the announcement of the rummage sale, it just seemed like something I should check out and just see what I could do to help. Surely I could find some time in between remodeling and working part-time.

The Bethel rummage sale is held twice a year, in May and October, and runs from Wednesday afternoon to Friday. Preparation for the rummage sale starts on Monday, arriving around 8 a.m. (some come earlier) hauling all the items from where they are stored to the respective areas where they would be sold. It’s a lot of walking back and forth but we’ve got this thing pretty well organized and most chip in to help get everything emptied out of the area in short order. A few stay behind to start on the sorting after large amounts are put in areas where they remain until sold. You can take a break anytime you want. We have nice lunches, homemade or bought to share. After the first time of helping, I joined in on the next event doing the same.

It all felt very strange to me the first time, but it didn’t take long for me to get really gung ho about helping. My mom always told me if you’re going to do a job, do it to the best of your ability. I took pride in sorting through the clothes, where I helped out the first time, but there are many areas to help organize – house-wares, holiday, books, toys, etc., or a little here or there. We have to check out each article’s general appearance, which includes spots, rips, lost buttons or broken zippers when handling the clothing. When we have questions as to whether an article of clothing should be sold, Dorie (the gal that heads this group) says, would you buy it to wear? I think Bethel has good rummage sales, others agree.

Some put in long days working until closing at 5 or close to it on Monday and Tuesday, but you don’t have to work that long, even an hour is always welcomed. By the second day things are well organized and you may have to wait around for more donors. Wednesday you hurry to sort anything that came in late the day before so all is ready for the opening that day. Some stay to help where needed, while people search through neat piles…well they were neat when we started. Volunteers straighten piles or help take things to check out. It all starts over on Thursday. Friday, anything that fits into a bag you get for a $1.00. Some volunteers work all week, others as long as they want. We have lots of fun and it feels good to be able to help people in the community find what they need and at very low prices.

Bethel also has a Christmas Bazaar in November and I help there as well with setting up and selling, same with the Lutefisk Meatball Supper in December. It’s fun to roll the meatballs and kibitz with the other volunteers. All volunteers are welcome for as many hours or days you want to help out. If you don’t want to roll meatballs, you can donate baked goods, help serve, clean off tables or help with cleaning up after closing. They always have something you can do.

Other places I volunteer at church are folding the newsletter once a month, along with the bulletins that day…easy volunteer job. The copy machine sorts the pages, all we do is fold, tape and attach address labels. We also volunteer for any other large mailings that need to be done.

Being a Greeter/Usher during service is something I help with. My name is on a list and we take turns. I usually partner with my friend Ardys. Meals on Wheels, is another way to help out. I join with my friend Ardys to deliver while Ben drives us to our destinations on the northeast side of Little Falls. This happens every couple months and, depending on how many people you have on your list, doesn’t take more than an hour and a half. It’s very rewarding to be part of delivering these much appreciated meals. Plus, we get to shop or go to lunch after returning the insulated bags to the kitchen of the Buckman Apartments in downtown Little Falls.

I volunteer along with Ardys to bake/buy goodies for fellowship time after church service or just help with serving. A cup of coffee, milk, juice and snacks go nicely with conversations.

We’re cataloguing the church’s old records on Tuesday mornings to present to the congregation for approval to donate to the Weyerhaeuser Museum for safe keeping.

There are other areas in the church to volunteer and I’ve done some of these…Valentine’s party at Pine Grove Manor, birthday party at the Lutheran Home, Altar Guild, giving someone a ride to/from church, delivering envelopes, visiting homebound members, serve as Lector, delivering poinsettias at Christmastime and more. How do you do this? Just offer to do something, it’s a good feeling…and a big help to others.

-Ali S.

To Be a Dancer

What is it like [to be a dancer] in Morrison county is a good question. Well here is the answer for you. To be a dancer in Morrison County it is very fun because there is not a lot of dance studios in Morrison County and so we just band together to find space. Dance is also very cool.  For me dance is very expressive because you can dance to so your feelings or you can also dance with your friends to have fun.  In Morrison County there are very few dancers so we all become a big family that is amazingly awesome. It is so cool when I go to dance camps and find who is all from Morrison County.

Some of the bad things is that there are few resources here in Morrison County.  When you live in Morrison County you don’t get support as much as you should as dance being a sport. You don’t get as much space like you should. You don’t get as many styles of dance as other towns do. You most likely have high kick and jazz funk.  You don’t get new uniforms as easily as other counties. To get new uniforms your team would need to do fundraisers to raise money.  Sometimes the school will pay for new uniforms every so many years. So these are some of the positive and negative things about being a dancer in Morrison County.

-Kyra E.

Your Stories Are Needed

What’s it like to live in Morrison County, Minnesota? That’s what we want you (former and current residents) to tell us. Rather than collect your stories through traditional oral histories, we are interested in gathering them via short, focused essays (“mini memoirs”). Our goal is to collect a minimum of 100 essays, which will be posted on this blog and added to the collections of the Morrison County Historical Society.

The title of our project provides a clue as to how to proceed. The brackets sandwiched between “What’s It Like” and “in Morrison County” are to be filled with the topic of your choice.

Examples: “What’s it like [to write a poem] in Morrison County?” — “What’s it like [to pick up mail at the post office] in Morrison County?” — “What’s it like [to be French-Canadian] in Morrison County?”

The topics are only limited by your imagination. (See the Suggested Topics tab at the top of the page for more ideas.) We’re looking for between 200 and 1,000 words on subjects ranging from the mundane to the sublime. We’re more interested in the history than the grammar, so don’t let the mechanics of writing hold you back. (We’ll help with editing, if needed.)

For a complete description of the “What’s It Like” project and submission guidelines, check out the tabs at the top of the page. Send your essays to weymu@morrisoncountyhistory.org.

We look forward to your contributions.

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Continue reading to see examples of essays that have been submitted.

Disclaimer: The views expressed within the essays are those of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of the Morrison County Historical Society.