August 14, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Sometimes, we really can’t go home again to the places we knew

Cynthia DewesHaving had time to reflect upon our recent trip “home” to Minnesota, I’ve decided that people don’t change much over time. But places do.

My hometown of Wayzata in my day was a pleasant little town on the edge of beautiful Lake Minnetonka. It was a resort area in summer, and at the turn of the 20th century it featured several large resort hotels which catered to people from all over the country. Later, my husband and I discovered that his grandparents had come up the Mississippi River from St. Louis on their honeymoon to stay in one of these hotels.

It was also the permanent home of wealthy people from Minneapolis, including the Pillsburys and the Bells and others from the milling trade. My father, and most of my friends’ parents, served the rich as caretakers of their estates, chauffeurs, gardeners and the like. Being a servant in those days was an honorable profession.

Today, big money interests from outside the state or somewhere have taken over, making the town almost unrecognizable. They buy up the older, historic buildings, tear them down and build gigantic condo complexes and a hotel whose cheapest room costs $500 per night. The local historical society is wringing its hands, and longtime residents are being squeezed out because it costs too much to live there.

I’m told that businesses are eager to locate in Wayzata because a Wayzata address or phone number assures big money clients. Even the lovely mansions of the wealthy in Ferndale, the most fashionable site in town, are falling to the wrecker’s ball in favor of ostentatious, architecturally undistinguished McMansions. There are many boutiques in town, but no groceries, hardware or drug stores to be found. Money, as usual, is the name of the game.

The people we visit are another matter. Although their surroundings have changed, they have not. They seem to be impervious to the temptations of glitz and trendy disasters that pass for progress. Maybe it’s because they’re older, or maybe the tired maxim that wisdom comes with age is actually true. Whatever the case, they’re largely the same “kids” I knew back in kindergarten.

Yes, kindergarten. So we were children of the Great Depression, among other things. Most of us were poor, but not poverty stricken. We had enough to eat, especially if we lived on a farm as I did. Once a year, my mom took me to get one new dress and a pair of shoes for school. The “dress shop” was a corner at the back of the hardware store.

Saving was a way of life, which my old (literally) friends and I maintain to this day. If ever I must throw out a leftover, or leave food on my plate at a restaurant, I feel guilty. The “starving Armenians” referred to often by my mother come to mind, although I was middle-aged before I learned that Armenians actually did starve around the time of World War I. As usual, Mom was right.

Thus, it’s understandable that “natives” of the Wayzata area who’ve lived there for generations are not very receptive to the kind of progress which is occurring there. Now, building more modern places to live is surely not a bad thing, nor is opening new shops and restaurants which feature stylish items. Inviting business investment will certainly profit an entire community.

But when history is disrespected or destroyed, and the motivation for “progress” is simple greed, maybe it is time to go home again.
 

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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