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The Devil's Music
Liz and Faux run away
My best friend from age 2 to 10 was my little sister Liz.
We did everything together.
I still remember the day we sneaked into the attic crawlspace and unrolled some sleeping bags while our mom was busy in the garden. We got out our parents clarinets and a bunch of other stuff and pretended we were camping and having a concert.
It was a great day of play.
Our three older siblings were at school.
Eventually Mom found us and rolled her eyes at the extra labor breaking down our camp site entailed.
A smooth spanking may have been administered.
After dark, three-year-old Liz would sneak into the bedroom I shared with our older brother Tad. She’d crawl into the lower bunk with me and we’d discuss our grand plans for a train we were going to build to convey ourselves around the neighborhood.
She always insisted that she wanted to paint the motor.
I close my eyes now and I can see a metallic blue motor inside a wooden train.
Steam granola as opposed to steampunk?
Though Liz was my bestie, as the young people say today, all five of us siblings were good at banding together to drive our parents crazy if the situation called for it.
I recall all of us sitting on a bed together at 5 AM on Christmas morning trying to figure out how to secretly wake up Mom and Dad who’d been up past midnight wrapping presents.
I was sent on a mission to move the alarm back an hour on the little electric clock that quietly hummed on the parental bedside table.
Our victory was thwarted by some snooze button finesse.
One day in the summer of 1974, Liz and I resolved to run away from home.
I actually took a check from my mom’s checkbook and wrote “bus to grandma’s house” on it.1
Liz on her tricycle and me on my little tot bike, newly free of training wheels, we rolled down Woodland Avenue and veered right onto Fourth Street; we got almost 2 miles away from our house at 701 Woodland Ave.
We turned back in fear when we reached Avenue Market on 14th and Fourth Street.
Things just seemed extremely foreign for our tastes.
Liz cried each time we came to an intersection & I would have to get myself across the street, leave my bike there, and then walk back and return to help her off the curb, across the street, and onto the opposite sidewalk.
There were no wheelchair ramps in those days.
I recall a rear wheel falling off her tricycle several times. She cried each time.
Eventually we were so exhausted we gave up trying to find home. At the intersection of 21st and Woodland Avenue we plopped down in the grassy traffic triangle there and worried about our fate.
Thankfully our mailman passed by and recognized us and escorted us home back to 701.
The little rats who had stolen a check and run away were welcomed back to the safety of home.
A smooth spanking may have been administered.
I think we both realized how scary it was to be lost in the world and how safe it felt to be back home.
I didn’t know about the word privilege at that time, but I did feel lucky to feel safe again.
In retrospect, we were very lucky: we eventually all had our own bedrooms; we had a nice supper every night at 5:30; we got to go to the Twin Cities and stay at the Normandy Inn every once in a while, and we went on these amazing family camping trips in northern Wisconsin.
Despite this, Liz would sometimes say “We’re so unlucky.”
This would make me writhe in anger and disbelief.
I’m not sure why she thought we were unlucky; was it because we didn’t have cable TV? Because we didn’t have a microwave oven? Because we didn’t have air-conditioning and we drank powdered milk?
It really tore me up inside when she would say that we were on unlucky.
Our parents really created an environment where we felt safe and loved.
The first time I ever felt unsafe, outside of running away from home, or that there were sinister forces in the universe, was a couple years later when some kids from Woodland junior high started cutting through our elementary school (Chester Park) and stealing kids’ down jackets.
It turns out they were setting them on fire in the woods behind the baseball field. Apparently the puffy coats looked really cool when burning.
“Who are these sick fuckers?!” I thought to myself.
Though I would never have said such a thing in fourth grade.
Every year, if you were lucky, you’d get a new winter jacket.
In Duluth, Minnesota, it was very cold and if something happened to that jacket you’d probably be in trouble.
(Maybe Liz got a hand-me-down down jacket one year and that’s why she felt unlucky.)
Anyway, these junior high kids had peach fuzz mustaches, mullets and Pink Floyd shirts.
They smoked cigarettes, of which they stank to high heaven.
They were burnouts.
We all walked home from school without our parents in those days so we were kind of free to roam a bit and if someone said “Hey, let’s go sledding behind the dunes,” you could go do that.
One day Liz and I saw some of these junior high burnouts going into the woods off eighth Street and Garden Street near our house.
They had something in a bag—was it stolen puffy coats?
We hung back a little bit and followed them without being noticed.
They climbed into a little almost kind of cave made out of gabbro rock.
Some gnarly dude was in there already with a small fire going, smoking a cigarette and playing guitar was fingerless gloves.
One of the heshers pulled out an orange puffy coat from the bag and he threw it on the fire.
This is the song that the guy was playing on his guitar as Liz and I ran away to the safety of our home:
I remain your humble servant,
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I believe this was because Liz and I had spent a weekend at our paternal grandparents’ farm near the Apostle Islands and wanted to go back there.