Monthly Archives: January 2012

To Be a Shoe-Shine Boy in Little Falls & Camp Ripley

My first real paying job was shining the shoes of National Guardsmen in Little Falls and Camp Ripley. I was about 10 years old and the process was pretty simple: Build a shoe-shine box, buy a brush and some polish, get a few rags, and go downtown to compete against other kids for the nickels, dimes, and quarters from the soldiers.

The only problem shining in town was too many kids – as a result, too little money.

The next step was going into Camp, where the customers were congregated. Since it was about 8 miles, that meant that one of the moms would drive us to Camp, and another would pick us up. Sometimes we walked through the gate; sometimes we climbed the fence, but there were riches to be made.

I shined shoes, combat boots, and jump boots. If you could do a spit shine, you were in demand. There were times (1950-51) where, as a 10 or 11-year-old, I made as much money in a long day as my dad did in 2 weeks. After one of those “big money” days Dad offered to trade jobs, but he couldn’t do a spit shine.

– S. W.

Date of Essay: October 24, 2011

To Be a Car Hop

Okay! I was a car hop at Sammy’s Drive-In in the ‘50s. We had “good” customers and some that weren’t so good, but “had” to treat them all the same. Well this was a Friday night and I was the only car hop on duty, even though Marilyn said she was working. I don’t think so! I was very busy when a car with 2 guys came in, and, I knowing the guys, and I DID NOT have time for them, so I didn’t go out to their car right away. They were leaning on the horn so I finally went out and got their order. I delivered the order, and the driver gave me a $20. Sammy would put the change under a mug and yell, “Change up!” but I didn’t have time to get it back to the car and put up with “them!” So they started to lean on their horn again. “Bring our change out.” And I said, “Get it yourselves!” they did. Then it was, “We’re done,” and I said, “Take it up yourself!” They did.

Then as I was waiting on another car, I looked up and went “Ah!” because there was this “Big Ape” like guy coming toward me!!! He came over, picked me up (I was under 100 pounds all through high school), spanked me, put me down and walked away! With that, I kept working. And he had to pick up his mom from work at Victor Clothing Company at 9:00. She already had heard about it.

I got even. I married that guy!

And when I went to formally meet his mom, that was the first thing she said to me … “I’d never go with someone who spanked me.” I didn’t tell her I was getting even!

Sammy’s Drive-In was just south of Little Falls by Twomey’s, where the Benson Radiator Shop is now. Sammy Winger from St. Louis Park owned it. And he always had a big cigar in his mouth. He’d smoke it until it “died” then chew the rest of it.

-D. W.

Date of Essay: October 24, 2011

To Rake Leaves

Living at home entails participation; no, it requires one to help with chores around the house.  Raking leaves was one task I was looking forward to, as I had not done it for four years.  As the fall leaves started changing colors, a certain wistfulness hit me as I recalled the timeless activity of raking the leaves into a pile and jumping into them as a child.

Thankfully, our suburban yard is not large, although most of the leaves had blown across the road from the majestic oak trees.  This particular Saturday morning, with the October sun shining brightly, I look forward to working outside and breathing the crisp fall air.  I head outside to find my parents and suddenly the ridiculous roar of lawn machines meets me.  This leads me to think the whole neighborhood is doing their leaves, but I soon find out it is only the neighbors to the north.  They have two riding lawn mowers and are using a leaf blower to collect their leaves.  I walk to our shed to grab the old-fashioned tool, a rake.  My rake, unlike my parents’, has a metal and plastic end.  While raking, I find the metal rake works better than the completely plastic ends, or perhaps it is my commitment to gather every single leaf littering my yard.  The rake I am using may have worked the best, but was bested in terms of a cool factor by another.  The plastic rake my dad is using has a handle long enough to fit Paul Bunyan.  My family and I joke that we could stand in one spot and rake the whole yard and, if we stretched our arms out, the neighbor’s yard too.

To further divide the gap between the technological neighbors and ourselves, once our leaves are raked in piles, my parents and I pull out the old-fashioned tarp to move the leaves.  Our dog enjoys a ride as we pull the leaves across the yard to the trailer.  At least our system of raking leaves does not use fuel or pollute the atmosphere with noise.  It was quite peaceful when the neighbor’s machines were off and I could joke with my family and appreciate the crunch of the leaves.


Date of Essay: October 24, 2011

To Be an Emigrant

We searched online (the Internet) for job postings within my husband’s company that would locate us north of I-94. Living in Red Wing, Minnesota, was nice, but my husband was ready for a job change, and we wanted to live where it was colder (Yes, colder! We really did!). We were tired of traveling through the Twin Cities to visit his family, to get the family cabin, and to see lakes and trees. A smaller town appealed to us.

There were several choices, including Wadena, Fergus Falls, and Little Falls. “Where is Little Falls?” my husband asked. After I printed out the map and the research I had done about the town, we decided a trip was in order.

I had driven through Little Falls once in the late-70’s when I lived in St. Cloud. This time, however, Highway 10 skirted the town, and we had to deliberately drive into town.

Little Falls certainly had the Lake Wobegon feel to it. (That’s from the Prairie Home Companion series by Garrison Keillor: “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” ) The traffic was minimal, the houses looked cozy, there were parks and historical sites. Downtown had small businesses, restaurants, banks and a bakery. And the population was only 8,000!

It was October 2005 when we visited. The air was chilly and the trees were in fall colors. We stopped to see a realtor, and took a tour of the town.

The day before Christmas Eve, we moved into our home, just six blocks from downtown. It was really cold and there was six inches of snow on the ground.

K. Olsen

Date of Essay: November 14, 2011