|Como Park Zoo|
I have just returned from a 12-day vacation. I knew ahead of time that it would be complicated; it involved some intricate travel arrangements, more than a dozen other people and a highly sentimental journey to the place I’d spent much of my childhood.
We landed at Wold-Chamberlain Field, more commonly known as the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. As a child, it was not uncommon for my family to return from church, the wonderful scent of a roast in the oven heralding the imminent arrival of our big Sunday meal -- which we knew would be followed by a ride to the airport to watch the planes land and take off. Air travel was still new and fascinating back then. Now only the name, Wold-Chamberlain, remains familiar though those long-ago memories remain sharp and dear.
Securing a rental car, we headed to Como Park Zoo, another childhood haunt only blocks from the brick and stucco house that I had called home for so many years. I audibly gasped as we passed familiar streets: Lexington, Larpentuer, Snelling, Hamline. I had often traveled these streets but now only the names were familiar -- the other landmarks long gone or changed beyond recognition. The zoo itself is now an animal sanctuary, educational center and amusement park. Blessedly gone were the tiny cramped cages that defined zoos of the 1940s and ‘50s where a solitary bear would circle in bored captivity or the monkeys would screech and hurl food or feces in frustration.
Not everything about “the good old days” was good though; I was too young and ignorant to see the cruelty that existed in this place that had been my backyard and playground. In this particular case, I was thankful that only the name was familiar. And, yes, I have recollections of a happy childhood walking daily and blissfully to Como Park unaccompanied, it was a time when kids were safe to roam unencumbered and unclouded by adult concerns.
Now, clouded with the adult concern about whether or not I’d be able to walk the long distances on a hot day that a thorough visit would require, I sought refuge on a bench in a cool, breezy corridor between the amusement park and the zoo – and I was not alone.
As I “people-watched,” I saw blonde pigtails on little girls that must have been the Nordic grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my peers. Surely they carried names like Anderson or Erickson, Peterson or Pederson, Lindquist or Sandquist. But I saw something else too. I saw families of every color and ethnicity.
A tall black man wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the printed message “I’ve had enough adulting for one day.” A few minutes later, a slight, grandfatherly man who appeared to be of Asian descent ambled by clad in the identical T-shirt -- how universal a sentiment that phrase is some days! Another memorable passerby was a tiny boy with caramel-colored skin whose shirt declared the ultimatum: “Only Good Vibes Today.” I could only guess at the complicated, meandering paths that brought this mix of color to what I remembered as such a historically white state.
While this made it markedly different than it was when my memories were first formed some 70 years ago, what hadn’t changed at all was the fact there were families enjoying a day outside – and together -- trying to create memories that would sustain them over the ensuing decades – just as mine had sustained me on this sentimental journey. If I knew where to buy one, I would have purchased a T-shirt to match the one worn by the little boy with the caramel-colored skin!
Sitting on that bench, seven decades into my journey that brought me back to where I grew up, my head began to spin. There would be many more observations and complications to be sure -- I was only 12 hours into my vacation after all -- but already I found it hard to believe that joy and sadness could simultaneously occupy the same space in my heart.
A Little Boy and a Hummingbird
On Readin' and Writin'