Hugh’s 51 Weeks: 51 Songs From the Past

BJ Thomas was an American pop singer best known for his hits of the 1960s and 70s. Mighty Clouds of Joy was released in 1971. While it has religious connotations, that has nothing to do with why I love the song, not being at all religious.  I went to a small high school in northwestern Minnesota. Attending sports was an important part of the high school experience.  In 1972, our basketball team won the district championship and made it to the regional finals. I am a bit sketchy about which of those games this memory applies to. One of my friends’ boyfriends loaded us into his car, and we went to Grand Forks, ND, to attend a game. We were elated when the Pirates won (so probably the district tournament). On the way home from Grand Forks, ND, this song played on the car radio. I will always think of it in terms of meeting a challenge and winning, even though all we did was watch and cheer.

MIghty Clouds Of Joy

Join Hugh’s 51 Songs: 51 Songs From The Past Week:Week 8


Connections at a Crossroad

Connections at a Crossroad

I have been thinking about connections a lot this week. Recently, the moderator of a Facebook page for current and former residents of my hometown, Crookston, Minnesota, posted a link to a page on my blog. He said he believed the author had a connection to the town. He probably would have recognized my last name (I have a bunch of siblings; one of them must have been close to his age), but I don’t mention it my posts. I realized, however, that in another generation, very few people in Crookston will have any memory that my family lived there for thirty-four years.

Crookston Water Tower, though not the one from when I lived there.

Crookston Water Tower, though not the one from when I lived there.

Neither of my parents were from Crookston. My mom grew up near Minnetonka, Minnesota. My dad grew up on a farm near Breckenridge, Minnesota. They met on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota and married in 1952. My dad worked for the Department of Agriculture, and the move to Crookston in 1960 was his fifth transfer in eight years. Prior to that move he had worked in Milaca, Roseau, Bemidji, and Warren, all small towns in northwestern Minnesota. My older brother and I were born in Milaca. The next three kids were born before we moved to Crookston. My three youngest sisters were born there in St. Francis Hospital. Crookston became my hometown by chance. After I graduated from high school in 1972 and left for college, I only returned home for holidays and special occasions. My brothers and sisters also moved away, eventually following their dreams and aspirations to distant corners of the U.S.

Hwy 2 heading into town. Limitless horizons.

Hwy 2 heading into town. Limitless horizons.

After my dad died in 1986, I know there were times my mom thought of moving closer to her family but she stayed, partly because the house was home for us. When she passed away in 1994 and our house was sold, Crookston ceased to be home—there was no home to go home to. When I went to my 40th high school reunion in 2012, I realized it was more than just the lack of a physical home that had weakened the connection over the last forty years. The anchors that tied me to Crookston were gone. Both the grade school (St. Joseph’s Academy) and high school I attended had been torn down. The Catholic church my family attended was gone, and the Cathedral we moved to when St. Anne’s closed now sits empty and deteriorating. I have deep memories of St. Anne’s Church—I went to mass every morning during the school year for eight years. The Carnegie library I spent hours in was replaced years ago, though the building is now being lovingly restored. The retail stores I remember have long since closed. There is a Chinese restaurant downtown and Crookston now has a McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. My only remaining anchor is the Dairy Queen, which is only open in the summer and hasn’t changed much.

The Dairy Queen

The Dairy Queen

I have fond memories of growing up in Crookston. It isn’t a bad place to be from. Even the frigid winters make great story telling. Today, however, my connections aren’t strong. Both of my parents are buried there, but a cemetery where people I loved are resting is not my favorites places. and it won’t draw me back. Our family has a dear friend and extra sister who still lives in Crookston. Luckily, I see her at family events and can keep in touch on Facebook. Two of my oldest friends are high school classmates. And through Facebook I’ve been able to reconnect with and keep in touch with old neighbors and friends, some of whom still live in Crookston. And the Facebook page, Crookston Connections, has brought back places and names from fading memories. When I’m asked me where I’m from, I always say Minnesota. And if asked for a specific town, I always say Crookston. It’s my hometown, even though it hasn’t been home for a long time.

Travel Theme: Statues – Where I Come From

I always loved this statue of Joe Rolette (sometimes spelled Roulette). As an employee of the American Fur Company in the 1840s, he helped mark out the Pembina Trail, on which ox carts transported furs and other goods between Canada and St. Paul, MN. From 1853-1857, while the Pembina area was part of the Minnesota Territory (it later became part of North Dakota), Rolette represented the district in the territorial legislature. Apparently he was a happy man; his nickname was Jolly Joe. He died in 1871.


Pembina Trail Memorial, Crookston, Polk County, Minnesota

Joseph Roulette, explorer, adventurer, pioneer, American Fur Company,

Joseph Roulette, fur trader, pioneer, legislator

The Hawken Type Plains Rifle Roulette carries is being restored.

From the Crookston Daily Times:

For nearly 50 years, the lofty Pembina Trail Memorial gracing the lawn of the Red River Valley Shows has caught the eye passers-through and local residents traveling along U.S. Highway 2 West/Highway 75 North in Crookston. The three-piece monument made of fiberglass, concrete and steel pays homage to pioneer Joe Roulette, along the Red River ox cart and Pembina Trail, which he was credited with originating in 1843. The trail, running from Pembina at the Canadian border to St. Paul, unified the valley and opened it up to commercial use prior to construction of the Great Northern Railway. The monument stands a few miles east of the trail, remnants of which remain today.

The monument has fallen into disrepair and a group called Save the Pembina Trail Memorial Association was formed to get the wheels moving on refurbishing it. While the statue of Rolette, the ox and the base can be rejuvenated with a few touch-ups, the ox cart replica, which is larger than an authentic ox cart, needs to be replaced, said committee member Bonnie Christians. A descendant of Roulette (on his wife’s side), Ed Jerome, constructs ox carts.

The Ox Cart move goods up and down the Pemina Trail

The ox cart move goods up and down the Pemina Trail. The carts were smaller than the statue.

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