Behind the Victory Flagpole – the good and the bad

By Barbara Meyer Bistodeau

Everyone has something they are really good at, right? Maybe even better than anyone else! I don’t mean like singing or dancing–anyone can do that. I mean something really special like thumping My Country ‘Tis of Thee on your cheek. Well, that’s pretty rad!

You wouldn’t believe the one and only thing in this world that I could do well was being the log-rolling champion of Twin Lake Beach! Yep, that’s the only thing that I could ever do well. As I spent my childhood at Twin Lake Beach, summer after summer, I became pretty proficient at it. I would ride my bike to the beach, pay the man 25 cents (oh, he started letting me in free I came there so much) and the first thing I spotted was the log, sitting there free and clear of any competitors. It was a nice big log, maybe 7 or 8 ft. long and tethered by a chain to a pole. This allowed it to be rotated as fast or slow as you wanted. When one person hops on, it attracts more people right away, to compete with each other to see who could stay on the longest. It would get to spinning and spinning, one direction and then another, and people would be laughing and screaming and falling off like crazy! I couldn’t figure out why everyone was falling off. After all, we were only sitting on it, not standing like lumberjacks.

You weren’t supposed to sit tight on the log. You were supposed to sit a little above it, but still in the water, and let the log roll underneath you. But no one caught on, and down they went. So whether or not they liked it, I declared myself the unofficial “Log Rolling Champion of Twin Lake Beach.” And to prove it, I had one holey bathing suit after another of which my mother wasn’t so keen about having to buy me two new bathing suits a year.

Now comes the bad part. What could I do that was so terrible? Work downtown in a department store! This is when I was about 16, on school vacation in the summer. My mother told me I should try finding a job instead of hanging out at the beach. Well, I applied at Donaldson’s and strangely enough they hired me. The first place I worked was in the shoe department. Mr. Shussman put me behind a desk as a cashier. All you had to do was take the money, make out a sales slip and send it down to cashiers in the basement via a noisy vacuum tube. When the receipt came back, you wrapped the shoes, or were supposed to, if you were a skilled magician. I evidently had no magical skills as shoes those days didn’t go home in a box, but wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string and I could never get it right. So Mr. Shussman had me transferred to another department.

Of all places to send me was to the eerie tube room downstairs where all the cashiers sat, hour after hour counting money and sending the receipts and change back up those octopus-like vacuum tubes that made huge slurping noises when fed. They didn’t know I had skipped a grade in school, being transferred from Loring to Twin Lake School, missing some basics and was mathematically challenged. This was a disaster, so they transferred me again.

The next place they sent me was to the shipping department. They already knew I was lousy at wrapping. The packages came in on a long conveyor belt like the chocolates on that old I Love Lucy episode. You grabbed a box, wrapped it up, sealed it with tape and labeled it. You were supposed to be fast but that was just not my forte, so again they chose to transfer me.

As patient as they were–and I give them a lot of credit–they evidently couldn’t wait to get rid of me because they shipped me miles away from the downtown store to Donaldson’s Garden Center in south Minneapolis. This entailed taking the streetcar far away, with me barely getting there on time and having to work with unknown plants 1 had never heard of. I had to dish out plants into little containers like “give me 12 of those and six of these,” meanwhile spilling half the soil on the customer’s and my shoes. The worst part was having to answer the phone when no one was around and deal with some of the unanswerable questions to which I had no knowledge. Someone would say, “I would like to buy enough eugenies to cover a lot line 280 ft. long, so how many would I have to buy?” About then I knew this was not for me and 1 wasn’t cut out to work in the Donaldson’s fine family, then or ever. I hopped on the streetcar and headed for North Minneapolis and home, thinking about my fun days at Twin Lake beach and being the log rolling champion.