We drove it one time.
One time and one time only. As far as I can remember, it was the only time we decided to hit the highways instead of airways. We might’ve made the drive when I was a lot younger, but if we did, it was probably from a lot closer.
We lived in central South Carolina at the time. We wouldn’t move to North Carolina for another six years.
Why we drove it, I have no idea. I’m not sure if my dad remembers why. All I know is we never did it again.
It took us two days. I can remember both days’ drives beginning in the dark and finishing the same way. I don’t know how many miles it covered, or if we tried to take our time or what. I just remember Mom and Dad taking turns at the wheel.
South Carolina to Minnesota. In the summer. To visit family.
Both of my parents were born and raised in Minnesota. High school sweethearts on the Iron Range north of Duluth. Two hours’ drive north of Duluth, in fact. No surprise, they got married and took off for California. I never lived a day of my life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and Bitter Winters.
But when I was growing up, with much of parents’ families still living in Minny-SO-TAH, we’d make the trip to visit the extended family. See the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins.
We usually made this trek in the summer. We did Christmas a few times, but after the year it was 20-below on Christmas Eve, Dad said never again. But he made me go outside to see what 20-below was like. Told me to make sure not to lick the zipper tag on my coat. He forgot to tell me, though, that my eyes would water and might freeze shut if I closed them for too long. Or maybe he didn’t forget.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t mind the summer trips. Summer sunsets in Minnesota don’t come until 10 p.m. on some nights, and despite the mosquito being the state bird, spending days on the lake on an uncle’s pontoon boat make for great memories.
Summers also meant the chance of taking in a Twins game at the Dome. Grandpa and Grandma Monson lived half an hour south of the Cities. Grandma Monson made her famous fudge for my Dad, made sure we had Twins tickets for me. Saw my main man Don Mattingly play in the Dome. Saw him homer.
All because of Grandma Monson.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Grandma Monson wasn’t the cute, plump, All-American image of the doting grandmother. Sure, her potato salad and aforementioned fudge were legendary, but she didn’t spend all day in the kitchen, unless it was to sit at the table, smoke her cigarettes and listen to Sid Hartman on WCCO radio.
Loretta Monson was a fairly hard woman, quick-witted, but sharp-tongued, too. That she died of Alzheimer’s before I finished high school was criminal to a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.
It wasn’t a stretch to say that, at times, Grandma Monson could strike fear into even her grandkids — and definitely her sons-in-law.
Or the Minnesota Twins. Though they may have never known it.
I still remember that summer evening, sitting outside Grandpa and Grandma Monson’s house on the patio/driveway in the backyard. Our drive complete, our bellies full from supper, it was time to unwind outside on a July day that didn’t feature humidity.
It also didn’t feature Grandma Monson.
The Twins had started their game. We were outside, the TV was inside. So was Grandma.
But we didn’t hear much from in there, and so when my dad hollered out, “Loretta, where are you?” the answer came thundering back through the open back window.
“Bed!” she bellowed.
“Bed?” said my dad, incredulous. “It’s 7:30.”
“The Twins gave up five in the first. Good night.”
It may sound strange that that is my fondest memory of my grandmother. But it tops them all. Even all the games she brought me to, or finding out that she once took a whole pad of contest entry forms to fill out at home and bring back to stuff into the box at the local restaurant that was giving away tickets — tickets that she needed because my cousin and I were coming to visit. Or even the original 1987 Homer Hanky she got just for me, the one I still have.
I think about her every time the Twins do, well, anything. Winning a dramatic play-in game over the Tigers that rekindles a nation’s love for baseball, a gut-wrenching extra-inning loss to the Yankees in the playoffs, or anytime the Cubs give up five in the first and make me slam the remote into the cushion of the couch and storm away from the living room. They all remind me of Loretta Monson.
Dad got her daughter and the fudge from her.
I got my mom and my passion for baseball.
Not to mention a soft spot in my heart for the Minnesota Twins.