Note: I wrote the first part of this post as a draft, while in Cambodia, and then forgot to “un-draft” it. So I just realized four months later that it has not been finished or published. I will finish and publish it now.
Some of my earliest memories are of a small house in a small town in Southwestern Minnesota in the late 1960’s. My Grandma Sundahl lived in this house. As you came in the side door, you could turn left and go up a few stairs to the kitchen, or straight down the stairs to the basement. The basement had three rooms, a laundry room off to the left as you went down the stairs. I remember big crockery bowls on the counter in that room and a big black adding machine that we could play with endlessly. To the right was a cinder block room with a cement floor. Grandma had painted the walls and decorated them with big posters of the Campbell Soup kids. There was a ping pong table at one end. As far as I can remebmer the other end of that room was open for us to run around in. Straight ahead as you reached the bottom of the stairs was the big dark scary room. there was a shower in there, that I never really wanted to shower in. This was also the room where Grandpa Sundahl’s tools were.
In the kitchen the sink was straight ahead as you entered with a window to the back yard yard. I remember using the hand mixer in that sink hundreds of times to make more bubbles out of the dish soap. To the right of the sink was a stack of shelves. The third door down was the magic drawer. There was always a package of M&M’s for each of us, and this was where Grandma kept the matches for her cigarettes, which we hid endlessly. Behind the sink was the gas stove and refrigerator. A felix the cat clock was on the wall over the small kitchen table.
In the living room was a black and white television. If we wanted to watch Rocky and Bullwinkle we would have to turn the rotor to point the antenna towards Sioux Falls in the west. Sadly, Lawrence Welk was non-negotiable and required the rotor to point the antenna towards Mankato in the Northwest.
The upstairs was my personal kingdom. The stairway divided the small dormer style upstairs room into two halves. There was a half-wall around the stair to keep you from falling, and we would endlessly pile up grandma’s pillows on a blanket that we stretched across and over the stair. We would call grandma to come upstairs and then drop the pillows on her. Amazingly she never caught on.
In Storden we were allowed to walk anywhere on our own. We could go to Witt’s grocery store and get groceries for grandma, and of course a pushup, or some other ice cream treat for our efforts. As far as I remember no money was exchanged everything was done on account. Down the road from the grocery store was the elementary school with swings, teeter totters, and of course the tall metal slippery slide with a big hump in the middle. Nothing was made of plastic in those days, there were no soft recycled bits of anything to land in at the bottom of the slide.
You may be wondering why I’ve just written four paragraphs of memories about small town Minnesota life in the late 60’s when I’m in the middle of Cambodia. Actually I’m a bit surprised myself, but once I started, the memories kept following one after the other, and it seemed right to get them down. Maybe this blog needs a good editor! Still, its a valid question.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those early days as I’ve been traveling through Vietnam and now Cambodia these last few weeks. Its not a conscious effort on my part, the memories just keep arising as we drive around.
My learning style is to make connections between things I know and the things I’m learning. I find patterns, and make associations. You may be wondering what connections and parallels I see between Southwest Minnesota and the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam and Cambodia. To me the parallels are obvious.
For me, these memories of my childhood represent a simple “make do” style of living. We had fun, but it wasn’t expensive and it wasn’t complicated. Later in life I learned that my Mom, the oldest child, and grandma and grandpa had lived in the basement for a period in order to save the money to build the rest of the house.
### Here we pick up the thread several months later
After four months in Malta and around the Mediterranean, I think I understand why I was writing a lot of what I wrote. I comes down to thinking about your own lifestyle. The stark contrast in January between my own lavish lifetyle and the lifestyle I’ve lived in Malta these last four months is pretty amazing. I have learned to live with a lot less than I do at home, I have learned to enjoy cooking and eating even without my gourmet kitchen, I have accomplished a lot of development work on projects that I am truly passionate about with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection.
The flat we live in was built in the 1950’s probably a decade after the house in Storden was built. There is almost nothing in common between this long narrow limestone flat, and the house in Storden other than the shared experiences of the members of the generation that built each structure.
One of the interesting things about Malta is that the tension between the generations is more evident to me on Malta than it is in my own country. There is a real sadness among the older generation about how the island has changed in the last 30 years, and i guess I honestly can’t say how the younger generation feels, but I can observe their actions as they overbuild, and overuse the limited resources available to them on the island.