Weeds: The ‘home’ in hometown

I went to visit an old friend the other day. It was the beginning of the end. We go back as far as I can remember. You might think I’m getting to be a sentimental old cuss, but I’ve been a sentimental cuss my whole life. This one literally “hits home” with me.

There are dozens of clichés and idioms for house and home. “Make yourself at home.” “Close to home.” “The comforts of home.” I love that baseball has a home run and a home plate which originates from home base.

Towns are made up of houses that become homes. Many houses have character, and many homes have characters. Multiply this by all the friends that grow up under the tutelage of the other moms and dads in your life, and maybe you can “go home” with me for a moment.

If you’ve moved away from your “hometown,” you can appreciate when I describe a couple of Sleepy Eye’s storied dwellings that I spent time in as a kid.

The Heymans’ “mid-century modern” house was designed by John Randal McDonald, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. It rests along Highway 4 and is home to breathtaking picturesque sunsets over Sleepy Eye Lake. It was family built and owned for 57 years by Phil and Betty, home to their eight children.

Charles and June Haug had a brownstone house. Charles was a WW II veteran who was in the Battle of the Bulge where he fought for our every freedom. He came home to a career in banking on main street Sleepy Eye. They raised their most cherished possession, their family, in that brick abode for 63 years!

Next, the tan English Tudor stucco house where the six Woessner boys grew up. Picture a few decades worth of “neighbor-hoodlums” shooting hoops at the alley side basketball court adorned with a parking lot of bicycles. Dad, F. George Woessner was another WW II veteran who brought his dental practice to town.

Small towns, country roads and big city neighborhoods are littered with these places and stories.

My “old friend”and I shared many birthdays and holidays together. My friend kept me warm and safe. I loved to just hang with my 125-year old friend.

Norwegian immigrant and bank President Hans Mo built the three-story grand Victorian structure in 1895 at 110 Burnside SW. Structurally, it is part of Sleepy Eye’s historic pride.

The stone wall foundation supports its ten-foot basement ceilings. From the outside it stands tall, stately and castle-like to a child. Everything about this old friend of mine is vast. Inside it is adorned with spindle design entryways and ornate dove-tailed wooden floors. Craftsmanship caresses every corner and decorates its aging beauty. It is inadequate to describe it as “majestic.” Board for board, stone by stone it would be extremely difficult to reproduce today.

In 1964, Rex and Judy Beech purchased this mansion and moved in with their newborn Greg and three-year old Jay. A few years later, daughter Linda was born. In the early Seventies, they adopted daughter Young Sil and “that’s the way they became the Rex and Judy Bunch.”Their foundation was built on laughter, song, tears, love, and strong Christian family values.

I never lived there, but I spent many nights. The Beech house was my first “home away from home”. Greg and I were best of friends by age three.

Waking up from a sleepover meant completely different things. “Cap’n Crunch!Are you kidding me? I don’t get that at home?” Meals were preceded by a Lutheran blessing of grace.

The movie “Toy Story” must have been watching us to steal ideas. Hot Wheels and Matchbox got along better than Ford and Chevy. Mattel and Hasbro would be proud to see how Malibu Barbie, GI Joe and Big Jim lived in one big diverse toy city there.

We used to “play house” in the Beech home. The toy chest full of outfits dressed our imaginations. Baseball cards were traded and played with on the floor. We cleared out the living room, using the furniture and walls to recreate sports stadiums.

Our air guitar band, The Psychedelic Bugs, entertained Rex and Judy with supper time concert performances. As grade school rock star wannabees, we lip synced groovy hit records from The Monkees in those cavernous basement confines.

In the winter, rosy cheeks and icicled noses came inside to unwrap and thaw out over the cast iron floor heat grates as the warmth blew upwards from toe to head. Minutes later being replaced by our ice stiffened mittens, scarves, stocking caps and boots. The warmth of hot chocolate sliding from throat to stomach felt like coal being stoked in the furnace of a youthful digestive tract while our skin returned to normal color and temperatures.

Outside were our stadiums and a driveway basketball court. They had the “south side’s” biggest sand box and swing set. Strategic game planning occupied the front yard and was “home base” for “ditch,” our version of hide-and-seek. They had a three-level metal “Ranger” tower for climbing, jumping, and falling from. It was equipped with sliding pole and a chain ladder for climbing and slicing fingers on.

I returned to say goodbye to my old friend. The house was sold after being the Beech house for 56 years.

Jay and I walked through every level and bare room. I pictured everything where it used to be, seeing the events that shaped and molded my growing years. I closed my eyes and inhaled the unique fragrance, a redolence of my youth. I wasn’t aware that I was smiling until I noticed a mirror.

Before walking out of my old friend, I couldn’t help but think of Rex and Judy now in their eternal home. Oregon, Iowa, and the Twin Cities now house the Beech siblings.

Here is the sad part. The surnames of the aforementioned houses, Beech, Heymans, Woessner, and Haug are all gone from Sleepy Eye. The Beech family name settled in Sleepy Eye around 1908. Gone after 112 years.

These names were the heart and soul of our town’s businesses, civic, church, social, sports and educational organizations of the past. They made up our town’s fabric. The names may be gone, but their impact on our community remains, part of our foundation.

On his final trip home to finish up last projects and sign the paperwork, Jay said to me. “I felt like I was driving home for a funeral.”Linda cried for a long time before she walked out for the last time.

After all, “Home is where the heart is.”

I found that I was not only saying goodbye to the rich history and beauty of the grand old house but more importantly to the home it had become. The wonderful souls, memories, and friends had shaped and molded my structure and foundation, the fabric of my life.

Perhaps the best idiom for last. It is an expression of pleasure upon returning to one’s home, especially after an extended period away from it. “Ah, home sweet home.”

You can sell the house, but you cannot sell the home.


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