Who says you can't go back? An evening in Gaylord

In my circles I am known for always accepting a dare, my fondness for food and drink, and repeating this mantra often: All roads lead to Gaylord (and wherever you are, someone in the room knows your mom, so always be on your best behavior). I grew up in Gaylord, at least for a few formative years. As a kid my days were spent riding Marvel the Mustang (a faithful, beautiful steed who retired years ago to a calm life up on a shelf in our garage) in front of our house up and down Main Street.

Our house was right in the middle of the street, and I knew every neighbor along our block as well as across the street. My best friend Shelly lived on the corner, and my other best friend Lila lived across the street one block over. A cool but older girl lived two doors down and she patiently allowed me to hang out with her when she didn't have other plans. Across the street from us were the Mains. Their dad was the high school football coach, and their house was filled with what seemed like an endless parade of gorgeous blonde girls. The youngest was Jenny, and I loved playing with her as if she were my own living doll.

Summers were filled with swimming lessons in the morning and free swim all afternoon. We played for hours in the park, singing "SWING-set, SWING-set" to the rhythm of the glide. We fought the mean boys to sit on memorial war tanks permanently affixed to concrete.

As autumn cooled the air and when I was too little for school, I watched my sisters walk to Gaylord Elementary every morning. I was envious, and couldn't wait for the day I finally started kindergarten. I was sure that the teachers would see how clever I was, far advanced for my age, and let me skip all the way to second grade. Instead, I was selected to be class monitor while our teacher ran occasional errands. I took that opportunity to leap onto our shared table and sing cowboy songs while tap dancing for my classmates. These shows went on for a few weeks until the morning our teacher returned to the classroom mid-performance.That halted my path to leadership and I was forever doomed.

When we moved away from Gaylord, I was heartbroken to leave my dear friends. Before the Internet, Face-time, and Skype, there weren't a lot of options for staying in touch. Long-distance telephone calls were reserved for birthday chats with Grandpa Johnson, certainly not an every day occurrence. We friends threw ourselves into the pen pal thing, but after a few months the letters petered out.

As I grew up and away from my Gaylord past, I began to notice how many people I met who had ties to the town. The clerk at our local mall is cousins with my buddy Lila. I went to elementary school with the sports guy on our local CBS television station, and there are countless times when chatting with strangers we will realize our mutual connection to Gaylord. Two of my four sisters continue to make Gaylord their home, so I am lucky to return occasionally for family parties and holidays.

Last week I was invited to the Gaylord Library to speak about my book "Jul." It was pretty cool. Before the program my sister threw a party for her friends, and asked me and T. to join them. We snacked on meatballs from the book and the ladies enjoyed Gamle Ode dill aquavit and tonics. Another sister joined us, and then we gathered at the library where I saw familiar, beloved faces of neighbors and friends I haven't seen in decades. They greeted me with warmth and smiles.

We don't always get to go home, and seeing these people from my past was nothing short of amazing. I wrote about the adventure at Called to the Table this week, and included a recipe from the firm where my dad worked for many years.


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