Hallock Is Where I Am From, Not Where I Am

Thanks to a Town

Hallock Elementary

Hallock Elementary

As Dad gets more frail, it’s clear that he won’t be living much longer. He has very little strength to take care of his own basic needs. He can barely muster the strength needed to breathe, let alone shift positions even slightly in his easy chair without some assistance. He needs assistance with nearly everything, and each meal has a 50% chance of being vomited.

I sat with him yesterday and last evening, and he often nodded into a short nap while in mid-conversation. His condition is not curable because of the multitude of problems his body is presenting. His kidneys and his heart are the main issues, but they lie on top of an underlying diabetes. He is hanging on to get as much life out of his tired body as he can, but he knows that he is near the end and accepts that he has had a good life.

The kids and I each wrote him a note yesterday, a goodbye and thank you note for being such a good man and a great teacher, for being supportive of me and loving towards the grandchildren. It was our way of telling him while we still had the chance that he has been very important to us. We wanted to say it now rather than regret when he dies that we had not done so.

Friday, he asked me to wash his car because there was some mud residue on it from this summer. I asked him to come with us, and he decided it would be nice to get out of the nursing home for an hour or so. We got him into the car and drove up to the car wash in Hallock. When we got there, the owner was working on an electrical short and so the wash was closed. He told us it would be ready in about an hour. So I asked Dad if he would like to go back to the nursing home, and I explained that I would wash it for him on Saturday instead.

He told me he wanted to drive around Hallock for an hour so he could look at it, and remember. So we did. We went out south of town, and he wanted to show me two huge grain bins that had just been built. And huge they were. It seemed to me that they could each store as much wheat as an elevator. They are at least 30 feet tall, with 25-foot diameters. I asked him how much they could store and he guessed at about 100,000 bushels each. Then he fell asleep in the car, so I drove around town some more.

I drove by the park in which I used to play as a kid. Some of the playground equipment that was there when I was six was still functional. The park picnic shelter had been replaced. The ground, instead of dirt and grass, was now gravel. The softball field had been updated and new turf laid. The swimming pool was still there and looked much like it did in 1967 when it was finished. Then we no longer had to swim in the river, which was rather dangerous because of the dam’s currents. When the pool was completed, the city relandscaped the beach so that the reeds grew back as they had been before the dam was built.

I drove around to the north end of town, saw that the roads which had been converted from gravel to concrete in the 1970s and 1980s were cracked and worn. The school had been modernized and updated to accommodate the consolidation with other towns in Kittson County. The hockey arena, built in the early 1970s, had been laid with the cooling mechanisms to create artificial ice.1

I drove around up north of town, to a former town called Northcote. Northcote was between Hallock and Humboldt on Highway 75, where James J. Hill built a summer mansion to supervise the construction of the northern tracks of his railroad. The marker for Northcote was taken down a few years ago, and only a few people live there anymore. It was never a thriving community when I was growing up. I drove through Northcote and headed east towards County Road 1, where Julie Holmquist had been abducted and murdered in 1998. My mother was at that time the town librarian, and Julie had been a frequent visitor. It had been very upsetting and unnerving for a small town, because it had destroyed the perception that Hallock was a “safe” place to raise kids.

County Road 1 was closed to through traffic because of some construction, so I turned around and headed back to Hallock through Northcote. Dad woke up from his nap and asked where we were, and I told him we were just getting back into Hallock and we could see if the car wash had been fixed yet. He went back to sleep. Ella was napping in the back seat.

I was able to wash the car and get the mud off of it. While the spray shed the dirt of Hallock’s surrounding farmland, I realized that the only thing left to tie me to this small town in the Northwest was my father. I grew up here, but I have moved on. Except for 1999’s 20th anniversary class reunion, I have only come back to visit my parents since I left here in 1981 and for no other reason. I don’t have any remaining friends here from high school. Kristen Eggerling and Paul Bloomquist are here, but they are people I came to know through my parents. I was surprised to find that Matt Entenza buys his cars here from Paul’s Ford Dealership, but that isn’t enough for me to come back often to Hallock.

No, as I was washing Dad’s car, I realized that I was also saying goodbye and thanks to Hallock. I was raised here, and the town shaped me to a certain extent. But I have grown and changed in many ways since I left here for good when I was twenty-two. It is my heritage, but it is only a factor and not the whole of what shapes me. I have been moving farther from my roots with each passing year.

One of the things that I noticed when I was driving Dad around last Friday was the trucks and cars. When I come to town, I think that my Focus is the only small car here. The town is dominated by big American cars and crew cab pickups with dual rear wheels for hauling. This is a change from when I lived here, because in the seventies we had a true fuel crisis and the price of gas got more and more expensive. The crisis in 2008 with extraordinary price hikes was based on pure speculation, and people didn’t have the sense that fuel would stay so expensive. They didn’t downsize their vehicles as they had in the 1970s, and there are relatively few economy cars in Hallock.

Last night, after sitting with Dad while waiting for him to fall into a troubled sleep, I decided to stop at the Caribou Grille for a beer and to see whether there was anyone there I knew. I ordered a beer from a limited selection, choosing the hip “Blue Moon” as the best of a bad lot of selections. There was only one group of people there; no one that I knew at all was in the bar. I didn’t feel like striking up a conversation with strangers, so I finished my beer quickly and came back to the house.

There was a time a few years ago when I considered moving up here to live with Dad. I had thought about building a corporation to take advantage of the potential for wind electricity generation and finding funding for the town to build it. I had thought of it as a way to say, “Thank you,” but now I don’t think I will be able to pull that off and I am not putting my resources into it. I have other things to do, other fish to fry and other plans for where I want to move when my kids are out of school and out of the house.

After Dad dies, I will likely only becoming back for the funeral and the closing of the house and the estate sale. I don’t think that I will be back after that, except for the possibility of coming up here with the grandkid(s) to show them where they have some of their roots. It will be time to say goodbye to Hallock.

Hallock will survive me, I am sure. There is enough of a mixture of family and corporate farming in some of the rich Red River Valley clay and silt to supply food, sugar and sunflower oil so that there will always be an economic need for towns like this one. It may get smaller, but it will be here for many years to come. I will have the memories of walking to school with a ski mask in temperatures close to -40°.  I will have memories of delivering the Grand Forks Herald on Sunday mornings when it was still dark and quiet.  I will have memories of cool autumn days back in the woods with a Crosman BB gun, shooting at (and missing) squirrels.  I will have memories of tromping through the woods with my friends and building forts.  I will have memories of standing on the banks of the South Branch of the Two River, casting a spoon and hoping to snag a small northern pike to catch and release.

I will have memories of sitting in class on September 1st on a hot autumn day, both excited about starting school with a new teacher and wishing I could be out playing “army” with Greggy Rosten and Todd Roach.  I will think about riding my yellow banana bike to the store with my friends, to read comic books and buy a Coke from a returnable bottle for a dime.  I will think about sliding down the hill in the schoolyard, playing “Kick the Can” with the neighborhood kids, and Frisbee football in the snow in our backyard.

I will remember walking on the ice on the river and looking through the cracks to discover the ice two feet thick in places, while at the same time being careful around the bends because it was less than two inches thick and couldn’t support my weight.  I remember starting the snowmobile and the throttle freezing, which led to a runaway Ski-Doo that ran into a house.

There were some great people here when I was growing up.  Mrs. Johnson, while a bit strange, was a fantastic algebra teacher.  She is now up at the nursing home and doesn’t recognize me when I say, “Hello.”  Mrs. Mattson, who encouraged me to write outside of class assignments. Mr and Mrs. Peterson, two teachers who loved to share their enthusiasm for science and Native American cultures.  Mr. Money, Mr. Klenken, Mr. Doppler, Mr. Olson, Mrs. Anderson and all the teachers who gave me the tools to think and learn.

I also want to remember and thank the non-teachers who influenced me, such as Gary Melin, who hired me for my first part-time job.  He spent a lot of time talking about politics from a libertarian perspective, and if I hadn’t respected him, I would have dismissed such politics outright. So I tend to listen a little more closely before rejecting libertarianism and conservatism, willing to give some people the benefit of the doubt before ridiculing their politics.

Hallock is where I am from, but it is not where I am.  I have moved on, but my roots there give me a basis for maintaining a larger perspective on the world.  Yes, I have mostly lived in cities since I moved away from here.  I romanticize small-town life, especially when I am in a traffic jam on I-94 in Minneapolis, but I know that I am not suited to return to it.  There is too much to life in the city that I don’t want to give up, and one item in particular is the greater variety of good-tasting beer available.

I was talking to the chair of Senate District 51’s DFL, and he has been considering the 2010 campaign plan to doorknock for our candidates for legislature and the governor.  One of the problems we have had in the past campaigns is that when the DFL in Minneapolis sends volunteers, they have been sent to the outer suburbs and people in those towns seem to be more rural and have rural attitudes.  Some of the volunteers from Minneapolis have encountered racism, sad to say.  His plan is to have the volunteers come up to campaign in the inner ring suburbs such as Mounds View, Fridley, Blaine and places where people don’t have as much hostility and distrust towards “city folk.”  He wants those of us who live in these towns to do the campaigning up where the urbane ends, because we won’t be such “strangers.”

I’ll volunteer to go to the wilds, because I can relate to those people due to my roots in Hallock.  I may not like the reason for it, but I understand the political necessity.  I can thank my upbringing for knowing how to present my candidates so they will be appealing to the people in the outer rings.  Hallock will never completely leave me.

The sad fact is that when I say goodbye to Hallock after Dad is dead, I will really be saying goodbye.  I will also be saying, “Thank you.”

  1. Artificial ice is real ice. What I am referring to is that the building can now be heated and the refrigeration system that keeps the ice cold is in the floor. Someday I will write about playing trombone between periods when the temperature inside the arena was below zero–Fahrenheit. []

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13 Responses to “Hallock Is Where I Am From, Not Where I Am”

  1. October 19th, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Trish Lewis says:

    As you know, Mike, I feel exactly the same way about St. Vincent, Hallock’s long-time ‘arch-rival’! I will never forget St. Vincent, and the deep roots it has in me. I cannot go back, but it will never leave me. It’s an almost haunting (literally) feeling to go back and visit those places, because they have changed so much, just as we have. Not only can we not ‘go back’, but neither can they. That’s the way things are supposed to be. Yet they still draw us back. I’m not sure what it all means or what we are supposed to get from it all, but it definitely does make a person think. Thanks for sharing some your thoughts with us…

  2. October 19th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Yeah, I’ll never forget the time that the raiders came in pillaging from St. Vincent to Hallock and nearly took the flag from City Hall.

    Good times, good times.

  3. October 19th, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Alden says:

    It certainly is a great place to be from. For a small town (I didn’t realize it was as small as it was for many years) it had a lot to offer, including an incredible school system. We were lucky (I laughed when you mentioned Doppler – wasn’t he a kick? I remember getting a quarter’s grade from him my senior year by decorating his classroom with my paintings.).

    It’s always sad when I go back – to realize the Bears with their ugly orange and black colors are no more. But, the weekend I was home Kittson Central beat Stephen-Argyle (homecoming weekend), and the people were just as proud. Good people. I had strains of Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” playing in my head as I walked around, but I’m not sure that sentiment is accurate – except for those of us who have left.

    I wonder if I’ll ever go back after mom is gone, which hopefully won’t be for a few years. We still own the farm, such as it is. The house is gone, and renters have left the carcasses of old cars and machinery all over. I think of Hallock always with mixed emotions.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mike.

  4. October 19th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Kristin says:

    Mike, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sorry I missed you the last couple of times you’ve been home. Call if you come up again. We can go out for a beer. They do have Summit and Newcastle just not on tap!

  5. October 19th, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Mike, you’ve done an amazing job of capturing how the places we stop living become a little lost to us. It amazes me that there are any places from my past that are still “mine,” but there are. I took Ben to one just a few weeks ago.

  6. October 19th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Mike Haubrich, FCD says:

    Thanks, everyone. And Kristin, I apologize because I always seem to spell your name wrong.

  7. October 19th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Keith Finney says:

    You put your thoughts and feelings together well. I did not know Harold was in the nursing home. It is funny you mention Mrs Johnson as well. I was up there last friday and sang at the nursing home. (My son coaxed me to do it) It was fun as it put some smiles on some faces and put a little tap in a few toes. It can be kind of frightening though. Or should I say enlightening that I found I knew more folks at that nursing home than if I would have stopped at the Eagles or the Caribou Grille. Thanks for sharing this.


  8. October 19th, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Hey, I didn’t know you were in that group, Keith. I only stopped to listen in passing, but you guys sounded great.

  9. October 20th, 2009 at 6:22 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    You brought back so many memories, though “my” small town was Park Rapids. I went back years ago while camping in the area to show it to my kids. I’m not sure which of the people had changed, as I was so disappointed that my favorite landmarks had changed, that I didn’t want to linger and find out. They moved my church, closed down the city park with the best swimming beach ever, and put in town houses. I’ve never wanted to go back. As far as I’m concerned, my home town exists only in memories.

  10. October 20th, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Hallock has so far been immune from townhouses, fortunately. One of the strange things was that a new water tower has been put up, while the old one remains.

  11. October 21st, 2009 at 6:03 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    It costs money to demolish old infrastructure. Why spend it unless the old tower becomes a hazard? Old water towers can still be useful, or even become decorative, such as the one in Lindstrom, now a “Swedish coffee pot” lending charm to the area.

  12. October 21st, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    lori says:

    Hi Mike — I am actually a cousin of Alden’s (hi Alden!) who found your blog via Trish Lewis’s. (Funny, but whenever I am in Hallock, I can hear “My Little Town” in the background too!) I did not grow up in Hallock but I spent a lot of time there, especially in the summers, visiting my grandparents (Bo & Clara Gamble). I have been back a few times in the 10 years since my grandparents died for family reunions, etc. In some ways, it is much the same; in other ways, it is all different. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

  13. October 22nd, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Hi, Lori, thanks for stopping by. Any friend (or relative) of Alden’s is bound to be a friend of mine.

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