After taking in the sights and the food of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis, it was time for us to Ease Along on some of the roads less traveled. We checked out of the North Country Lodge and worked our way over to Highway 10 which would take us on a northwestern route to our next destination—Grey Eagle, Minnesota. This was doubly exciting for us because not only were we eager to see some beautiful country, but we were also going to reunite with some friends of long ago.
In 1972 Helen (adorable wife) and I had just moved to Wurzburg, Germany where I was assigned to the United States Army’s Third Infantry Division as a newly commissioned second lieutenant. Our sponsor had worked hard to find housing for us in a small German village near the post. Our new home was on the second floor of a three story farmhouse converted to apartments. The landlord was a German lady who spoke little English but was a nice person. She kept a cow in a barn under the apartments, but except for the copious amounts of flies drawn to the barn (and our apartment); the cow was of little consequence.
Helen and I had never spent much time away from family and our home town friends, and were really looking forward meeting new people and making new friends. Luck was with us because one floor above us lived Rod and Sally, a lovely young couple about our age who came from Nebraska. I can’t remember exactly how we met, but we took a liking to them both immediately and spent many an evening together grilling hamburgers in front of our apartment, or out and about at a local wine fest or German pub.
Rod was an excellent photographer and I was fascinated to know someone who could develop his own pictures. Sally and Helen worked together as assistants at the nursery school on post and shared a lot of laughs at the antics of a roomful of children. We enjoyed ski trips to the Bavarian Alps along with Paul and Dayna, a couple from Colorado who lived next door. I have some pictures from one of those trips posted below. Those truly were some of the most enjoyable times of our lives.
About a year after our arrival in Germany, it was time for Rod and Sally to say goodbye and return to the States. They settled in Kansas where they raised a family and prospered professionally. Fortunately for us, they kept in touch over the next forty plus years and all four of us held the hope that we would be able to reunite at some time in the future. Our trip to the Heartland finally gave us our chance.
After we made our plans for this trip, Helen contacted Sally and asked if they would be in Kansas during the time we would be passing through on our way north. She replied that they usually spent the summer at their cabin in Minnesota and asked if we could meet them there and stay in their spare cabin. They didn’t have to ask twice. Big cities have much to offer, but a cabin on a lake with old friends was an offer to good to let get away.
Neither Helen nor I had ever been to or through Minnesota, and the drive along Highway 10 was a real eye-opener. I had always heard that Minnesota was the Land of 10,000 Lakes and we passed by a number of them as we drove. More impressive however, were the enormous fields of corn that stretched across miles of land as flat as a dinner table. This was not small farming; this was agri-business on full display. The fields were green and the roadsides were manicured. I thought it was very beautiful and remarked at what a tremendous national resource this is for our country.
We made our way to Grey Eagle and to Rod and Sally’s cabin after missing one turn (we had been warned that it was easy to do) and were greeted warmly. It was difficult to avoid the urge to begin immediately making up for forty years of lost conversation, but we paused long enough to be shown to our room. We walked to the charming cabin that Sally had decorated with her discoveries found through a lifetime of browsing for antiques and furnishings. Helen and I dropped our suitcases, gave each other a high five, and walked back to the main cabin where we jumped right in to the process of catching up. Several hours into a non-stop conversation we paused long enough to enjoy two treats; a delightful dinner of pork tenderloin and an incredible sunset over Big Birch Lake. I have pictures of both below.
On our next day we were given a tour of the town of Grey Eagle, MN (pop. 337). This quiet village was platted in 1882 and, according to reliable sources, was named for the fact that an early settler shot an eagle there. No one disputes this. The town has one short main street (State St.) that extends for about four blocks and several side streets. I don’t remember seeing a traffic light but, if there was one, it wouldn’t be of much use. I would imagine that traffic jams are somewhat rare in downtown Grey Eagle.
The city hall was a small but beautiful stone faced structure. It was constructed in 1934 during the Depression by laborers in the WPA. Over the front door, a five foot eagle stood handsomely while watching over the citizenry of the small town. The type face for the name of the hall had been carved, Art Deco style, into a massive stone below the eagle. Near the town hall was a monument to the fallen heroes of previous wars. Everything in Grey Eagle seemed tastefully done and added to the charm of small town living. Nevertheless, I’m not certain that I would last very long there—the average daily temperature in January is 4° with the average low temperature -33°.
That evening, the four of us ate dinner in a local saloon known as the Double R Bar and Grill. Surprisingly, the place was nearly filled with patrons, and was quite lively. My only regret is that I didn’t have my camera and was not able to take pictures of the interior and of our meals. I have no memory of what everyone ordered except for me. I am able to do this because it was the best tasting fried walleye sandwich I’ve ever had. My hat’s off to the chef. This was a great way to cap off a marvelous day and a splendid trip.
Sadly, we had to depart the next morning after a fantastic breakfast and some long goodbyes. We made a promise that we would not go as long between visits, and we expect to keep that promise. We made some great memories, but it was time for us to be Easin’ Along.
Next week, Grand Forks, North Dakota…see you then.