August 28, 1995

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen

"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages - "

                         Canterbury Tales


Chaucer knew there was adventure in travel.  Or should I say in a pilgrimage.  Most people partake in a pilgrimage at one time or another in their life.   Sometimes it is a major undertaking to your family's homeland or a childhood place of memories.  Some people invoke the analogy that all of life is a pilgimage.  But I will leave that up to the philosophers.  My recent pilgrimage took me from the top of the state to the bottom.  It is one that we have taken yearly for as long as my kidlets can remember. 

Down at the bottom of the state is a little city that is just as lovely as Ely.  Thirty or forthy years ago most of my father's family lived in this small county seat called Jackson.  My father and mother, who lived in the "big city," made the pilgrimage to Jackson with their kids in tow.  After driving for hours past flat farm land, the road took a turn down a valley into the town of Jackson.  The first stop was to the grandparents where we feated on homemade breads, hot soup and cookies.  Then an hour later it was time to drive over to one of my two aunts for a twenty course dinner.  Back then, having at least three or four kids in each family assured that you had plenty of cousins to play with.  The grownups would always be amazed at how much I had grown since they last saw me.  I never could understand that until I reached adulthood.  Adults measure the change in their body by decakes and kids change ever so fast in thie course of a year or even months.  Life's yardstick is not constant.

After I started to go to college it as a long time before I returned to Jackson.  During that time several relatives faded form the scene.  Jackson changed.

By the time I was wise enough to realize the beauty of Jackson, most of the aunts and uncles were history and the cousins had all fled to the big cities of the world; LA, Seattle, Minneapolis and San Diego.

Six years ago, when the kidlets were still half my height, we packed up the minivan and headed on our way on our first family pilgrimage to Jackson.  By this time, there was only my Aunt Evie and Uncle Lloyd left.  We still snacked on homemade bread, cakes and pies when we pull in.  Then a huge dinner followed that included fresh Minnesota sweet corn, summer potatoes, and garden grown cukes and tomatoes.

We always go during the Jackson County Fair.  I can't miss that tractor parade.  Nor can I bypass the steam trashier and the historic building collection.  The kids still enjoy the small carnival rides.  Snow White enjoys petting all the sheep at the 4H building.

On Saturday mornings the Soap Box Racing Club always runs races down the street right in front of Evie and Lloyd's home.  We bring out lawn our lawn chairs and sit back and watch.  the streets are blocked off.  Old tires are placed by each corner.  The officials hand out free pop and caramel corn to the small crowd.  Then the boys and girls of Jackson don on their racing helmets and rattle down the hill.  Spinouts at 3mpg can be very exciting in Jackson.

While the kidlets enjoy the toys upstairs in the old playroom, Snow White and I enjoy talking to the relatives about life - both past and present.  If we are lucky, some of the old photo albums come out.  Jackson becomes filled with the memories of family.

This year the pilgrimage will be slightly different.  Uncle Lloyd is gone.  Aunt Evie has moved out of their big white house on South Street.  She is the only one left in Jackson of a once large clan.  Luckily, her new home is just one house away from the old homestead.  We will still admire her garden, watch the races from the curb, and enjoy the tractor parade at the fair grounds.

Pilgrimages are good for adults, but they are especially good for children.  Someday I will not be able to make this pilgrimage, for after the last of the family is gone, Jackson will fade away like Brigadoon.  I hope my children will always remember the fun, the food and the love we had in a small farm town nestled in a valley in southern Minnesota.  I hope, if you have children, you can take them to someplace where they can learn about what really matters in life.


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