A Winding Collection of History
Full Moon Posting
This full moon post is a longer essay than I usually post here, part of this lunation’s series about where I live and this lead in is much broader than my house.
My goal was to get unstuck and this writing opened the floodgates.
This lunation began with a change in titling conventions — no longer will the moon phases lead the way in the title, but they will continue to be in the byline of my posts. This particular piece gathers together disparate interests and puts it in the context of my own history.
It is forging a new path. Doing so is time consuming.
If you are a free subscriber, you will meet up with a paywall a little ways down. I so appreciate you being here and love giving you this sense of what I am working on. If you are interested in reading a little more and supporting this work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. If anyone out there would love to read this in its messy, unfinished, postmodern entirety and can’t spring for a subscription for whatever reason, let me know and I will gift you access.
For those of you who are already supporting my work with money, I am so grateful.
I am airing the ghosts of money past today, on the forgiveness side of the Lunation. Seems right to use this blue, super full moon for letting this compilation be what it is.
One of the things I brought back from my trip out west was a copy of the divorce papers my dad had saved since 1976, when the divorce between my parents became final. The details of which I catalog below.
Mom was the petitioner and Dad was the respondent. My dad got the dining room table, chairs, buffet and the sailboat he had built. My mom got us kids.
Dad got the 1965 Chevy, Mom got the 1972 Toyota Corolla.
Our house in Mendota Heights was to be put up for immediate sale. For all my googling, I couldn’t find out how much they originally bought it for and when they finally sold it, and for what price. But I am curious and will pursue that further.
The decree goes on to say that neither were obligated to pay the mortgage after January 1, 1976, if the house was not sold before then. Mom was to make the last payment on it December 1, 1975. And Dad had the right to sell the washer, dryer, refrigerator and freezer from the house in order to make the payment.
The first things the sale was to pay off was the $3,000 loan from my mom’s parents with 8% interest, and then $1,200 to pay off my great grandma, also with 8% interest, and finally repay the $300 to Dad’s parents. After paying out those debts, in that order, they were to pay closing costs and realtor fees, the rest was to be split between them. And then Dad was to pay his other debts, one to the Jeweler, $60, and another for a $1000 “life loan.” He was also to go on and pay Mom $300 per month for child support, $150 per each of us, until my sister and I turned 18.
I find myself fascinated by this document, with its concrete financial details. The splitting of the assets. The contributions of their parents for down payment. The real complications of splitting their life down the middle. Having the numbers and items so firmly spelled out jerked traces of memory into solidity, like a forgotten ghosts springing to life. It is these ghosts that inspire the foray into this ancient history, stories from my lineage, but also the unwanted heritage of loss that permeates place and time.
Money was a loaded subject within my divorced and intermarried family. And one way I dealt with it was to not pay too much attention, so things remained faint. My intention here is to trace both generational wealth and poverty back — looking at what was passed down to my parents and me and thinking of it in a historical context. I can’t look at this writing right now without judging it, so I am passing it on in this jumbled form. Please forgive me (that is what we are doing here!)
Grandpa Ole was son of Norwegian Immigrants, growing up in a Norwegian community. He always had a strong Norwegian accent and thick dark eyebrows. I had been told that he didn’t go to school and learn English until he was 9 years old. In his teens, he ran away from the family farm in Denison, Minnesota to go work on a fishing boat on Lake Superior and his father went to find him and brought him back home. He was raised in the era of prohibition and during his teens learned to drink by sneaking across the field to steal hooch off the back of the moonshine truck at dances. He became a blacksmith just when cars were coming more into favor. He married my grandmother as her second choice, after his younger brother, her first choice, died due to complications of wounds received in a threshing accident. She said no for a long time, but he eventually wore her down after promising to never drink again. In 1943, when my dad was 3 and Uncle Chuck was 2, he went off to work on the Alcan Highway as a way to serve the war effort even though he was too old to be a soldier. It was transcribing the letters that he sent back to my Grandmother that he became the most clear to me. In them he would send money, photographs, gifts to his sons, instructions on home repair and upkeep, admonishment on spending, and lamenting of his place in the closed market of the company store. He resisted going to drink with the others, until he gave in. My dad’s cousins say he came back a changed man. His addiction was an eternal tension in his marriage and in his family. My grandfather eventually had a stroke and when I knew him he sat around my grandmother’s house letting kids play with his hair with a silly smile on his face. Eventually my sister and I learned that his “stroke” was caused by a fall of a barstool across from his shop. He is a tragic figure to me, an object of ridicule by his sons, and perhaps America.
My dad eventually accumulated wealth after a lifetime of cycling with gains and losses. He was a beneficiary of the public school system, but this only really happened after his cousin intervened, after learning about dyslexia at the University of Minnesota and getting Dad into a reading program in high school. (My husband has a similar intervention story approximately 30 years later when his brother, after attending a public university system, got him involved in an attention deficit study, which points to yet another of our public, read socialist, systems that help to build generational wealth). Dad also benefited from the GI Bill, serving in the military so he could go to college. This came at a cost as Dad never forgave the US government for keeping it a secret from him that he was participating in the war in Vietnam, therefore he was never proud of his Navy service.
My Grandma deserves to be a part of this story, she was a lifelong cook at the Bluebird Cafe in Kenyon, Minnesota and part of a clan of women and children that made the world go around for so many, but I’m following a patrilineal line of karma and I’m going to leave her part at that for now.
My mom on the other hand came from stable family and growing economic wealth. My mom’s family worked hard off the the land they settled on, using it as a resource to make the money they did. My Grandpa bought up ravine land for trapping in the 50s. Land that was hard to farm and was priced accordingly. He and my grandma and my mom and uncle helped on the adjacent family farm, and then filled in with working at the box factory, trapping mink, selling black dirt, timing tomatoes, what have you. Their wealth accumulated through living off the property they bought most likely with support from Grandpa’s family and eventually Grandpa’s auctioneering filled in too. Through those years, family farmers were failing and were forced to seek his help to sell their land and everything on it.
The family farmland that my mom grew up on, and where I was born, is still in family hands today. It’s on the other side of Mankato from my Great Grandparents home places. That land was purchased much later than the original homesteads — the early 1900s, and my grandfather bought nearby his parents when he married.
Continuing to follow the patrilineal lines backwards, we look closer at where my Great Grandparent’s came from. They met as neighbors in Blue Earth County, south of Mankato, which was Indian Territory until 1851 when the Dakota were forced to cede lands in the Treaties of the Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. Years later, after Lincoln’s Homestead Act, that land was made available to westward expansion. A series of events that paved the way for my ancestors of mostly immigrant settlers to build wealth that they could pass on to the generations that followed. Just south of the Minnesota River, my Great Grandparents grew up next to each other, Great Grandma’s parents operated the poor farm on one side of the rural route and Great Grandpa’s parents were the immigrant farmers who settled the farm on the other.
This is where Miss Havisham from Great Expectations comes in (see my previous post about cleaning cobwebs).
About 5 generations back, my ancestors, the parents of my Great Grandparents, would have been Miss Havisham’s contemporaries (of the same time period, very different locations). Great Expectations was a book that all 9th graders read at my public high school in Austin, Minnesota in 1983 and it was published in England as a weekly periodical in 1861.
That year of publication, 1861, was a consequential year in Minnesota History. The year leading up to the US-Dakota War was a time of crop failure, harsh winter, depletion of wild game, starvation amongst Dakota people, and corruption amongst US agents and politicians. The war took place all along the watershed of the Minnesota River. That year, the General Land Office of Minnesota put Dakota Land on sale for $1.25. It was a time of the building up of tensions until breaking points were to be reached, and these would have far flung consequences with outcomes that reverberate today, a great splitting of how generational wealth and poverty would be passed on.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Songs of Forgiveness to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.