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Heading west, after a year of Minnesota goodbyes

When saying goodbye to a place where one has lived (off and on) since university days, one sort of wants to do so at much-loved shrines and spots from days long gone.

As one who has come and gone from Minnesota at least four times in the past 17 years, it might be thought I never believed in the idea that “you can’t go home again.”

Mary Stanik

Of course, it took quite a while to fully realize that for most of those years, I did not think of Minnesota as home. It was a place of many friends, a measure of career success and a reasonable cost of living. It also was a place I always wanted to get away from in order to be somewhere containing more of that elusive quality known as excitement. Somewhere populated with more single people my age who would not ask if I went to high school in the area (I did not). Somewhere promising even more career success.

Through all my moves both painful and exhilarating, I eventually understood that excitement is not confined to swish bars, stores or miles of museums — and that career success is not always defined by a job title conferred by someone else. In June 2014, not long after reaching that level of hotdish comfort, my previously outstandingly healthy mother had a stroke and I had to hasten to Arizona to care for her and sell her house. I’ve written about this for MinnPost, including the excitement I felt one year ago at having talked my mother into leaving Arizona and my two Midwest weather-averse brothers in order to go back home with me to Minnesota.

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I know you know the rest of my story. You can even tell me you would have told me so. Yes, Mum did not take to Minnesota. And I soon knew that for as much as I thought things would be so much better when I was “home” again, being back home as a solitary caregiver (and especially in a place where one’s parent has no friends or relatives) is far from hotdish comfortable. Soon after getting back, I knew I had made a mistake — but perhaps only of sorts. Since I left Minnesota in 2014 as fast as a drug smuggler wearing a blaze orange cloak, I came to believe I had this past year to say a proper goodbye to friends, places and to Minnesota itself before I haul my mother and myself back to Arizona.

The thing is, when saying goodbye to a place where one has lived (off and on) since university days, one sort of wants to do so at much-loved shrines and spots from days long gone. So I drove to Duluth last July and was happy that the Pickwick’s walleye remains as tasty as I’ll never find in Arizona. Lake Superior was as cold and rippled with whitecaps as ever. I thought about how often I used to go there to get a fresh air refill and an attitude adjustment, especially when I encountered death on a regular basis when I was a spokesperson at the University of Minnesota medical center.

The U of M campus is one place that certainly has changed a great deal during the past 25 years or so. But when walking near Dinkytown one day, I still found the former house of a boyfriend I’d dated for years. He’s been married to someone else for a long time. But I occasionally hear from his Minnesota-born wife, who is a big fan of my book. She’s always effusive in her praise of my writing, though every once in a while she’ll mention the fact that her husband and I were not well suited. I guess that is what some call Minnesota Nice. I wrote her a Nice note while stopped in front of the old boyfriend’s old home.

Two friends I’ve known for years recently took me to another place of yore, St. Paul’s famed Mancini’s Char House. I hadn’t been there since another former boyfriend took me there to ask me what I might think if somehow he became ready to ask me to be his wife. I don’t know if it was the char, the cocktails, or the relief that the boyfriend never became ready, but the fact that I hadn’t seen these friends in years did not matter. They said they will definitely visit me in Phoenix. I actually think they’ll do so.

Now, as I pack my desert-bound caravan, trying to be as optimistic as John Derek was while portraying the Exodus-organizing Joshua in the film “The Ten Commandments,” I am happy I had this year to put my affairs in order. And without making an overly emotional fuss one might expect of someone from, say, Milwaukee (my native home), I shall say goodbye. And thank you.

Thank you, Minnesota, for becoming my home.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lived in St. Paul until heading west with her mother this week. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.” 


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