An American Family Album
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press
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My mother, Arlys, was born in 1920. Her parents, Oscar and Sarah Swenson, came from North Dakota and landed northeast of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, on one of the last patches of the Great Plains. Locally the area is called the Ponsford Prairie; geographically it has the empty feel of North Dakota...
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As she grew into her teens, my mother chafed under life on the farm and especially under her parents’ religion. The quiet Sundays. The mile, usually walked or skied, to country school. The thirty-mile trip (one way) from the farm to town. The dearth of neighbor girls with whom to socialize...
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There was never any question that I would be a hunter. My first gun was the end of a curved, wooden barn rafter that I sawed to fit my skinny arms, then painted the yellow pine wood a gunmetal gray with red accents for the imaginary trigger...
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The possibility of shooting accidents are part of the territory of gun ownership. However, for people who grow up with guns and know how to use them, the chance of a shooting accident is on the order of drawing a royal flush in a poker game. Which happens...
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My father, Harold, was born in 1913, and the summer he was eleven his life took an unlucky turn. It was August and he was doing a man’s work, kicking colter on the breaking plow. A breaking plow turns virgin soil, in this case, northern Minnesota cutover land. The big iron implement looks like a giant grasshopper with a sharp, drooping beak...
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A railroad cleaved through our family of farms. It separated Gerry’s place from mine, but the crossing, with its slivered planks and tire-burnished bolts, was a meeting spot, and the railroad bed a boy’s highway. Almost daily we walked it west a mile to our grandfather’s place and sometimes beyond, to the edge of town two more miles away...
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At the university I fell increasingly under the spell of great books, art, and ideas. This life of the mind carried me increasingly afield from hunting and the land—as did another event: I fell in love with a city girl. I met her in Shakespeare class at the University of Minnesota in the winter of 1971 on the third floor of the Mechanical Engineering building...
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My high school life in Park Rapids, Minnesota, a farm town of 2800, was a closed orbit of local girls, sports, cars, and hunting—a Springsteen song without the tragedy. I kept a shotgun in the back seat of my ’57 Chevy and a scatter of shells in the glove box (not recommended today). After school let out, my best friend, Jeff, and I headed to the woods...
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I graduated from the University of Minnesota in the spring of 1972 burned out on books. The professor and poet John Berryman, of whom I was a follower, had leapt to his death from the Washington Avenue Bridge that winter. I was sick of literature—did not want to read for a long time—and desperate to reconnect with my real life, whatever that was now...
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We spent four years in California, and in the middle of our time there Rose and I were married in a state park near the Pacific Ocean. None of our parents attended. We did not encourage them, and they did not make the long and expensive trip from Minnesota...
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During my time away at college, and then in California and St. Paul, much had changed in my small town. Park Rapids had gotten its second stoplight— and then a third. In my youth there had been only one stoplight in all of Hubbard County...
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I killed my first deer when I was thirteen, which was not remarkable by age—many young hunters nowadays begin as young as eleven or twelve, and Daniel Boone, after all, “killed him a bar when he was only three”—but in anyone’s hunting life, the first deer killed blooms unceasingly in the garden of memory...
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After my failed experiment as a gentleman farmer, it was time to get serious about career and family, which now included two children, Caitlin and Owen. I had things to teach them about the outdoor life, but first I needed a job. A part-time teaching post came open in the English department of Bemidji State University...
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In a dark corner of my heart I blamed my children’s attitude toward hunting on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Those two programs, along with public television’s kids’ shows in general. All were urban-based, urban-produced, with an ethos that had nothing to do with rural life and certainly not with hunting. Guns, if ever mentioned, were scary and bad...
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Our new house (thanks to my first novel) in Bemidji was situated on a gravel street on the west side of town. The neighborhood was mixed, with a Republican city councilman on one side and a traditional Ojibwe family on the other. There were no fences, and lawns were made for kids’ play, not grass...
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The Swenson side of the family made one contribution to the Weaver side that my father greatly admired: a recipe for mincemeat. He did not question how the non-hunting Swensons might have come by venison, which was a key ingredient, but made the preparation of the minced fruit and meat concoction a major family ritual. “Nothing better than a mincemeat pie,” he said...
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I had always wanted to take my grandpa Weaver’s Model 12 Winchester back to South Dakota—shoot just one pheasant with the old gun—but there was never time. After my father passed, the need to complete that circle became stronger and stronger. Though my literary, married, and parenting life had tightened its velvety noose ever more on my schedule, I recently arranged to meet my old friend Jack...
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Some years after my father’s death and the removal of his animal trophies, I also took his traps—a heavy, wooden box full of them. Iron of all shapes, coiled springs, and sizes. There were large, square Conibears for beaver and otter; “jump traps” with serrated jaws for fox and coyotes; coiled snares...
Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 10 b&w photographs
Publication Year: 2010