Old book good read for autumn in Minnesotaby Phil Picardi, Minnesota Public Radio
Read any good books lately? Essayist Peter Smith has -- and not just a good book -- a good old book about Minnesota that just might be perfect for this time of year.
Something about this time of year makes real Minnesotans want to go take a nap. The cool weather comes. The birch trees go yellow. We are summoned to snooze, extra blankets from the foot of the bed pulled up to our chins.
Deep naps. Rich naps. Naps that leave you chenille-dimpled, and disoriented when you wake up in late afternoon twilight. Such a delicious little autumn vice. And this fall, I've found a delicious book to add even more guilt to the pleasure.
It's "Old Rail Fence Corners." - a collection of Minnesota pioneer memories first published in 1914 - a series of short pieces where people well into their nineties back then recall Minnesota as it was when they were young.
The industry with which they built the state fuels a Minnesota autumn napper's sense of decadence. Here are St Croix Valley loggers and Red River-bound ox cart drivers. Farmers. City builders-all of them hard at work while you lie there and fight the urge to drowse.
Here are our foremothers and fathers, immersed not so much in history as in the business of being human.
Familiar street names appear as real people. On Election night, 1843 in Saint Paul, a drunk August Larpenter opens the spigot on the barrel of whiskey in Mrs. Jackson's kitchen, loses his balance, falls over and lays laughing as whiskey flows onto the floor.
Whiskey on Election Night in Saint Paul. Imagine that.
The building boom is on. Sawmills are going full tilt. The town of Saint Anthony is laying wooden sidewalk by day. Thieves are stealing the boards by night.
Cultures-Ojibwa, Dakota, and European-clash and coexist. Steamboats race. Big Cigar politicians establish borders. The state assumes its now-familiar shape.
All told in wonderful anecdotal detail and that "back in those days..." tone senior citizens acquire. Read this book and you start to see Minnesota history everywhere.
It's "Old Rail Fence Corners," published by the Minnesota Historical Society-the perfect Minnesota autumn read. Check it out. I'd lend you my copy, but I feel a nap coming on...
- Morning Edition, 09/21/2010, 8:45 a.m.