17,000 Miles and Counting

During my final night at Mark and Jayne’s place in Eagan, a ferocious hailstorm rolled by around 10 p.m.  I had grown up in Michigan and lived in Wisconsin for many years, so I know what nasty Midwest weather can be like, but this was one of the most intense storms I’ve ever encountered – though thankfully brief; the worst of it passed in about 30 seconds.  I was fearing for my new truck, which was parked outside, and the next morning I checked it.  Sure enough, it had suffered some dents on the hood and the roof, but it could’ve been a lot worse.  Oh well, I figured those small pock marks would be a permanent souvenir of my visit to the Midwest.

Above:  I left Mark and Jayne's place in the morning and drove into Minneapolis to visit my grandmother's grave, then I turned south and drove into Iowa.  I arrived at the home of my old friend Rich's house near Oskaloosa around 7 p.m.

I said goodbye to Mark and Jayne, who were both heading to work, then I packed up and left.  My first stop that morning was the Toyota dealership in nearby Burnsville, where I got my truck serviced.  My truck was less than six months old but now had over 17,000 miles on it, which is more than my sister Doti drives in three years.  Yep, I'd been racking up the miles.  Afterwards I drove to a nearby AAA office and got stocked up with road maps for the second half of my trip, maps covering the eastern U.S. down to Florida.  I have a handheld GPS as well as GPS navigation on my dashboard, but I hardly ever use them, much preferring a paper map.  So... call me old-school; many people do!

My third stop that morning was the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, to visit the grave of my grandmother, Helga.  You remember Helga, don’t you?  Check out the stories from my drive around North Dakota on September 13.  As I described there, Helga was born in a sod house in South Dakota in 1897, graduated from Minot Teacher's College in 1920, and had been a schoolteacher in the early 1920s in a small, rural school in North Dakota before she married my grandfather.  Helga died when I was very young and I barely remember her. 

During my 2001 road trip, which I described on my website www.DelsJourney.com, I spent five months driving around America to learn about my family’s history.  During that trip I followed Helga’s journey, visiting many of the places where she’d lived.  That included the farm in South Dakota where she was born, the town of Fessenden, North Dakota where she grew up and went to high school, the elementary school near Bismarck where she taught before she got married (married women weren’t allowed to teach school back then), and the house in Bismarck where she raised my mother during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  After her husband died in 1937, Helga had to teach herself a skill (stenography), then she went to work and supported my mom and her two younger sisters – pretty admirable. 

The only significant place in Helga’s life that I’d never visited, however, was where she was buried.  So after doing a little research, I found it and stopped to pay my respects.  I was four years old when Helga died so I don’t remember her well, but now that I’d retraced her life’s history, visiting all of the places that were important in her life. I felt a lot more connected to her.

I left the cemetery in Minneapolis around 11 a.m. and headed south.  My goal that day was Oskaloosa, a town in southeastern Iowa and the home of an old friend, so I got on Interstate 35 and headed south.  I didn’t see much, just the cornfields of Iowa, until I reached Des Moines and headed east.  Then I saw more corn fields. 

Finally around 7 p.m., I pulled into Oskaloosa and took a look at William Penn University, then headed east a few miles and pulled into the driveway of my friend, Rich.  I first met Rich in fourth grade in California and we’ve kept in touch ever since.  We both attended the same undergraduate and graduate universities and, in fact, were roommates in Madison, Wisconsin for a semester.  I’ve taken a lot of road trips around the U.S. over the years but hadn’t visited Rich in a long time, given that southeastern Iowa was well off my typical course, but this time I decided it had been too long. 

Rich greeted me with several varieties of pizza, which he’d picked up on his way home from teaching high school, and we chatted for a few hours.  Then his wife Janet came home and we had ice cream – and continued our conversation.  They pulled out a map of Iowa and made some recommendations for my journey the next day, suggesting that I check out the "American Gothic" house in the small town of Eldon, an hour away, which piqued my interest.  Finally around 10 p.m., I decided to call it a night and said goodbye to my friends.  It had been nice to see them again.  And as it turned out, they lived right next to a State Park, which given their morning routine, was a perfect place for me to spend the night.

Minneapolis to Oskaloosa



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