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Friday, June 14, 2024
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The Long Way Home

At dinner last night, our conversation turned to vacuum cleaners. The bohunk runs a vac­uum cleaner at least once each day. We have dogs that bring in debris from outside, shed like strippers, and find their way onto fur­niture. Even the cat leaves some of his fur around.

So, finding a proper, long-lasting, and reli­able vacuum cleaner is a constant search for her and periodically a topic for dinner conver­sation with our son, one of the inheritors of her vacuuming predilection.

Since I’m the old man at the dinner table, I lead the conversation toward reminiscence with a “remember this” bit about the good old days.

Sitting with the bohunk on one side and our adult son on the other, I looked to Becky and said, “Remember the Kirby vacuum we bought?”.

We were much younger when that encounter happened—an upwardly mobile young cou­ple with several young kids. The Kirby sales­man back then came to your living room to demonstrate the rather incredible product and destroy any argument you may have had about paying three to four times what a Hoover costs at Sears. But the shiny aluminum body and its ability to bring dead skin cells and other strange things out of the mattress in our bed­room won the day.

For all the stereotypical door-to-door sales­man aggravation we endured that evening, that vacuum cleaner performed well for several years. There was even a repair shop in a strip mall at France Ave. on Old Shakopee Road we visited once or twice.

When it was time to replace the Kirby, we re­lied on department store vacuums with brand names—even two, like the Kirby, named after its founder, Dyson and Shark.

We probably still haven’t paid the price for a new vacuum cleaner that we did for the Kir­by back then. Regardless of the brand, we only get a few years before the damn thing breaks down and shopping for a new one begins.

To my surprise, the Kirby company is still in business more than a century after founder Jim Kirby built his first cleaner in 1909. And they still do home-based demonstrations and sales calls.

As I tend to do, the Kirby story got me think­ing about the days when I grew up in suburban Minneapolis and the things we experienced that seemed so familiar then that don’t exist in those places today.

There were the Fuller Brush and Watkins peddlers. Guys with a fedora perched perilous­ly on the back of their heads, a sample case at their feet, a streak of mustard in the middle of a paisley tie, wearing a dusty sport coat and nico­tine-stained fingers.

The Avon ladies always came by, ringing the doorbell, “Avon calling.” They always looked stylish and professional.

The young Dr. Lindblom actually made house calls early on. Otherwise, we saw him at his office near Roith’s Pharmacy at 72nd and Chicago.

The postman came by, sometimes twice in a day, and dropped our mail in the slot by the front door.

A milkman stopped by a few times a week. He left our milk order, sometimes cottage cheese, and even butter in a metal cooler that sat on the back stoop.

I kind of miss those days, but I don’t miss the growing pains, acne or puberty. Instead, I deal with the growing old pains and the wind chill.

Always a new normal.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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