My first childhood home was in South Minneapolis, just a half a block away from the Crosstown highway which separated our neighborhood from the Minneapolis International Airport. I don't know how old I was when we moved there, but we moved away when I was five. I know that much. My earliest memories are associated with that little house on 40th Avenue South.
There was a girl who lived a couple houses down, in a white house with a front porch, who's name was also Anne. She was older than me. Old enough to babysit me, but young enough to play with me. We called her Big Anne and they called me Little Annie. I liked it when Big Anne babysat my brother and me because she would bring us bags of candy to bribe us. One time, while she was babysitting, she dished us out bowls of ice cream. We ate it and then licked the bowls clean. She decided that we had licked them so clean that she put them back in the cupboard without washing them. The next morning I giggled to myself when Dad had his breakfast from the same bowl we'd licked the night before.
We lived in that house on 40th when we were sitting at the table and I told my parents that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. When we lived in that house, we went to a church that met in a school. Outside the school were crab apple trees. The pastor's kids and I would pick the crab apples and eat them with puckered faces. My uncle went to that church and would bring his guitar to my Sunday School class to lead us children in songs. Every week I raised my hand high when Uncle David asked us if we had any requests. And every week I would ask to sing "Jesus Loves Me."
It was a small little house, though it didn't feel small to me at the time. My bed was a roll-away tucked into a room along with my brother's crib. At night my mom put some sort of paste on my forefinger in hopes that I would stop sucking it. It tasted awful, like earwax. Don't ask me how I know that. I just endured the earwax paste until it was gone, then kept sucking my pointer finger.
I remember one night when my parents had a bunch of friends over. They had set up several card tables in the living room and at each table was a different game. After a set time, people switched tables. I was especially interested in the table where the Waterworks card game was being played.
It might have been that Christmas, too, that I found the pile of Christmas presents in the back of my parent's closet. They were wrapped, but I managed to peek inside and see a Barbie doll. Somehow, that Christmas was not as magical as when I didn't know what I was getting. I never peeked at my presents after that.
There was a boy who lived right across 40th Avenue who was about my age. His name was Mike and I called him Mikey. Every time I saw the Mikey commercial for Life cereal, I thought of my friend Mikey. We wasted the afternoons playing in each other's backyards, imagining all sorts of things to play. There was a round screened-in gazebo in our back yard which was a perfect little fort.
There was another Mikey in the neighborhood who my mom babysat. One time I came home from morning kindergarten and she was playing Waterworks with him. I was so jealous. I didn't like that Mikey.
My parents were convinced that I was ready for Kindergarten even though I was only four years old and the cutoff was, I don't know, well before October 25th. The principal obliged my parents by giving me a test to see what I needed to work on to be ready for Kindergarten the following year. The principal never made exceptions. Apparently, however, not only had I mastered all the things that Kindergartners should know, but I was also very inquisitive throughout the process.
When my kids were little and drove me crazy with their constant questions, I reminded myself of that. Questions are good. They're how I entered Kindergarten a year early.
Before taking the big Kindergarten Readiness Exam, I had to learn to tie my shoe. That was on the list of things a Kindergartner should know how to do. I practiced it and when the big day came, I had mastered the bunny diving through the hole. I don't remember much about Kindergarten itself, except for the blue mats we were to nap on and that I had to help some of the other kids tie their shoes.
In the mornings, I walked to Morris Park Elementary with Big Anne, Mikey and the other neighborhood kids, then I would walk home alone after morning Kindergarten. That was an era when young mothers let their young kids walk through South Minneapolis neighborhoods by themselves.
I walked to my friends' houses to play, or to walk with them to the neighborhood's corner store to buy some nickel candy. Now those corner stores have been transformed into ethnic restaurants. I drive my kids through my old neighborhood and point to the latest version of the ethnic restaurant and tell them, "I remember walking to that store with Grandpa John to buy milk and Copenhagen." They groan. They've heard it many times before. Sometimes they'll even beat me to it, saying, "We know. That's where you bought milk with your Grandpa."
That wasn't the only time I did that. I remember one time walking to a friend's house on the other side of the highway. There was a walking bridge over the highway on the way to her house and I thought it was really fun to stand in the middle of the bridge and watch the highway traffic. This time, before I took off for my friend's house, I smeared my mom's red lipstick on my eyelids with the Mary Kay lipstick brush. The old pink lipstick compact was like a painter's palette. When I arrived at my friend's house, her mom asked me if my mom knew where I was. Perhaps my lipstick application gave it away?
As I drive under that walking bridge now, on the way to a baseball tournament or another function that brings us up to the Minneapolis metro area, I look over to the north, counting the Avenues. 45th, 44th, 43rd, 42nd Avenue! "There's the house that Oma grew up in," I say out loud. Then, quickly, 41st, 40th Avenue! "There's the house I lived in when I was little," I say to anyone who's listening while I try to catch a quick look myself. "Who wants to drive by it?" I ask, knowing the answer. Even so, I turn into the neighborhood and take a drive down memory lane.