Behind the Victory Flagpole – WWII grads

Graduation time has just passed! These are happy days and happy times. But not so when I graduated from Patrick Henry back in 1943, as WWII was going on and we had to watch our classmates leave school early and go to war. A lot of those fellows were boyfriends of classmates and there was a lot of crying and kissing going on. It’s amazing how many students were couples in our class!

Fast forward 50 years. We are now at the Sheraton Minneapolis Metrodome Hotel having our 50 year class reunion. In a booklet containing the dinner’s menu, are pictures of classmates and a story written by one of our own, name unknown. It is titled “Our Places of the Heart.” Here it is:

“It is gratifying and noteworthy that so many of us should remain interested in a gathering of classmates even though a half-century of turbulent years has slipped away. The content of our lives, and often far-flung places we’ve lived them, distinguish us for we are not nearly the persons we were. Still, we clearly respond to voices that call us to gather again … somehow to grasp the threads of a rapidly disappearing common origin which remains part of us.

We are in truth rooted in North Minneapolis. It is our place where, for most of us, the Swedish and Norwegian immigrants and numerous first generations largely defined our neighborhoods. Where our houses were modest, money was scarce, work was hard, pretensions few, and we wore honest overalls, not jeans. We swam at the Webber Park Baths and at Twin Lake, trundled and swayed on the streetcars on the Fremont and Penn lines, exalted at the Saturday matinees at the Camden and Alhambra and sometimes at the Paradise. We followed the Millers by radio on steaming August afternoons, stole more apples than we could comfortably eat, roller-skated over cracked sidewalks on iron wheels and bucked our brothers or sisters on our bikes because there was only one bike between us.

Invariably we knew the names of the local pastors and their kids, shopped at the corner grocery and were well served by nearby drugstores, filling stations, bakeries, hardwares, shoemakers, butcher shops and elementary schools. Leimandt’s surely made the best ice cream ever and there were band concerts at Farview and North Commons. The old fire barns were still there, though the horses were gone, wooden paving blocks still washed out on Lowry in heavy rains and the aroma of vinegar from the pickle factory near Washington permeated the air even as they geared up to make the year’s lutefisk.

Lilac Way became Highway 100 but not before many had collected a first kiss at a wiener roast somewhere along that route. Loves and friendships blossomed, some to be remembered fondly, others to endure and grow. Inevitably, in our eager shaping of student traditions at Henry we discovered the joys and identities of tribal bonding beyond our families. As fledglings we were sure we were free only to spread our wings in the midst of an ugly war.

We have lost too many friends from those student days, and also our neighborhood worlds which will not appear again, and our innocence for which we are all the richer. We are older today than we were in all of our yesterdays. We are younger than we ever will be with the time and the occasion to celebrate each other and the receding places of our hearts.”