Those Places Thursday
By Don Taylor
There was probably no place we ever lived that was a cool as our place in Anoka. First of all, it was upstairs of a bakery, so we woke up most mornings (6 days a week) to the smell of freshly baking bread. Our apartment was smaller than the bakery downstairs so we a large flat roof area we could go out on and be outside when we wanted to. Also, out back was parking. Today, the building is gone and is a parking area for “Walker on the River” apartments.
Next door to our apartment was a vacant lot and next to it was a bar. (Today, it is Atlas Staffing.) We didn’t have a television, but my grandmother used to bring me along to the bar which did have one. I remember the awe of seeing the Tournament of Roses Parade in color at the bar. My recollection is that it was the first nationally televised, live, color television program. The bar was packed in anticipation of the Rose Bowl also being telecast.
Next door to us on the other side was a small, neighborhood drug store. I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life, but probably my biggest regret did start in Anoka at that drug store. In those days, both my mother and grandmother smoked (though my mom didn’t inhale). It was common for an adult to write a note allowing a kid to purchase cigarettes for them. Mom and Grandma wrote notes so often that the Drugstore didn’t question me if I asked to buy cigarettes without a note and just said it was for my mom or my grandma. As long as I bought Winston, they didn’t think anything of it. Sadly, that is when I began smoking. I then smoked most of the time for the next forty years. (Although as Mark Twain said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”) I quit for about ten years then started up again and smoked for another eight years. I quit smoking again last August (2016) but I still really miss it.
It was only a few hundred feet to the Rum River. The river was a great place for a 7-year old to play (albeit dangerous). There were these old stone buildings that acted as forts. I wasn’t allowed to play amongst them by myself, and I was supposed to always have a buddy with me, but… They were so much fun to play in and around. I stayed away from the river side and didn’t hang out there when the river was up. It appears that only one of them remains today. The internet suggests that the stone buildings were part of a house, but I always thought they were footings for the first bridge across the Rum River. In either event, they were a lot of fun.
One of the worst experiences in my life also occurred in Anoka. Things were always financially tight in our house. But my mother somehow found the where-with-all to buy me a brand-new bicycle for my 8th birthday. Of course, I rode it all over – around town and down to the Mississippi River, about a half a mile away. Then, after having the bike for only ten days, I failed to follow my mother’s directions; I didn’t lock it up. Sure enough, it was stolen. I was devastated; my mom was so disappointed in me. The bike theft was reported to the police, and we went to the police station a couple times to see if it was in their recovered items, but it was never seen. I don’t believe I have ever had another brand-new bicycle.
Another great feature of living in Anoka was school. Franklin Elementary School was about two blocks along Main Street from where we lived. Although Franklin Elementary was an old school, it had a modern addition that was only five years old, or so, when I attended. So, it seemed like a new school to me. My classroom and the gym were in the new section.
I’m not sure why we moved from Anoka to Fridley. I know that my mother worked as a “nurse’s aide” at the Anoka State Hospital both when we lived in Anoka and after we moved to Fridley in August 1958. The Anoka State Hospital was a huge facility and deeply disturbing. My mother never talked with me about her time working at the hospital. Years later, she did speak with my wife somewhat about her experiences. Apparently, there were several babies with extreme brain abnormalities. My mother used to hold them and cuddle them to give them peace during her off time. My mom told my wife that sometimes she felt guilty that she didn’t come home right away to take care of me, but she knew that these babies needed her so much more than I did. This story reminds me of what a wonderful, caring person my mother is and that she never spoke of it speaks volumes about her humility.