Over Thanksgiving 1970, my mother took me and my brothers (three kids all under the age of 10) to the Twin Cities on a Christmas outing. With increasingly serious talk about the end of passenger rail service to our small town, my mother had decided we should ride on a train before they disappeared forever; Christmas was simply a reason to make that trip.
My father was already in Minneapolis, so we met him downtown. My brother tells me we would have arrived at the long-gone Minneapolis Union Depot.
I don’t recall that, but I do recall the excitement of Christmas in a place so entirely different from my small town. It was exciting.
I clearly remember shopping at Dayton’s (the building houses Macy’s today) and Donaldson’s flagship stores and I still have the necklace I bought for myself at a glittering jewelry counter. These big department stores were glamorous and exotic places with mirrored walls and glittering decorations. They also had dramatic escalators. Despite never having seen one before, I made sure to swallow my fear and approach it as casually as all the other shoppers, as if I did this all the time. I’m sure I also pretended not to know my youngest brother, who initially viewed these moveable stairways with sheer terror. I most definitely wanted people to think that I was sophisticated enough to belong in a place like this!
The rest of our time downtown is a blur of tall buildings and Christmas lights. All that has stayed with me is the sense of energy and excitement I felt, as if I were in at the heart of something so much bigger than myself. Looking back on it now, I realize that the downtown I saw on the trip – a downtown that was still the commercial and retail heart of the state – is gone. A surprising amount of it no longer even exists physically, either demolished or remodeled beyond recognition. But more importantly, the glamor is gone, as is the sense of being in the heart of everything. After years of disinvestment and ill-conceived redevelopment schemes, Minneapolis is again a vital, energetic city. But during those years the role of cities change and today it is a very different place than what it was in 1970. It has a different kind of energy these days. I’m not sure that is good or bad – it just is, but I’m really glad I got a taste of what cities were like once, before fear and crime and neglect took their toll.
We also took in a holiday show on that trip, attending the Ice Capades, which was doing a Disney-themed production that year. (A low-quality snippet of which is available below. It is the only evidence I've found indicating that there actually was an Ice Capades show in 1970.)
While I have a vague memory of this show, of swirling figures moving in deep darkness, what has firmly stuck in my memory is the group of black kids (a few about my own age) seated in the row just behind us.
A big fan of the TV show Julia, I was fascinated with black people, sure they would all be as interesting and fun as Julia’s son Corey on the TV show. Not having ever actually seen a black person, I was really looking forward to seeing some while we were in Minneapolis. Having these kids seated so near was both thrilling and terrifying – could I actually get up the nerve to talk to them? Fortunately for me, the dad accompanying these children must have seen my interest in them and had them share their popcorn with me. This started an exchange of treats and simple conversation. Thanks to him, I not only got to see black people, but got to meet some. That seems like a good first step in moving from TV-inspired stereotypes to actual understanding.
It was a good trip, a travel experience that let me learn a little about other people and places. Isn't that why we travel?
I really appreciate the effort my mother put into bringing three little kids to the city.
I wish I could find some pictures, but thus far no luck – if I do I’ll add them.
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