Fancy Pillows

While I’m a child of the city, I was fortunate to have grandparents that lived out in the country. One set lived on a farm, and the other lived 3 miles away in a very small town, where they were related to almost everyone there and had a town motto of “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much”. (Don’t worry, I’ll get mileage out of that someday!) My mom’s dad was a real corker, even taught me a curse word in Dutch when I was little (“tsk, tsk Grandpa Cornie, you should have been ashamed of yourself.”)

Beth and Grandpa Cornie

Me and “the corker”, about 1963

My dad’s parents were a bit more on the stoic, German side. Kind of the no-nonsense, hard working farmers you expect to find in the midwest. Growing up we called them by their last names to differentiate which grandparents we were talking about, but as we became adults and the grandchildren started having children, somehow they picked up on Grandpa’s nickname as a child. His first name was Albert, but his nickname was Abby and somehow, he and my grandmother became Grandpa and Grandma Abby, probably because our last name was a long, difficult German name to pronounce.

I remember some of the stories from Grandma Abby, although not as many as I’d like and now that I’m older, probably not nearly as well as I’d like either. I’m a little hazy on the one about how and why she caught her bloomers on a fence, and I seem to recall something about a finding a rattlesnake in a bale of hay when she took lunch out to the men one day during hay baling season. I remember too, Grandpa Abby saying how proud he was that he paid cash — cash (can you just imagine?) — for everything, except for the time he bought a cream separator on credit, for which I think he paid a nickel a month, and it bothered him so much he never bought anything on credit ever again.

Beth w Grandpa and Grandma Abby

Me with Grandpa and Grandma Abby, about 1962

I do remember, very well, grandma telling me about the fancy pillows they used. She said that they had every day pillows on the bed, with regular pillow cases, but that when company would come to stay they would take the everyday pillows off the bed, and put them aside, take out the nice pillows and put on the really nice, embroidered pillow cases with the hand crocheted lace edges on them. They called them “fancy pillows“, and those were the ones that would be out for guests. I always kept that phrase in my head, and knew I’d write about it someday in a book or blog.

I thought about all this tonight when I was talking with my mom, after I had asked her what she remembered about some places in downtown Minneapolis that were tickling in the back of my memory. The area is called “The Theater District”, and I believe I’ve also seen it called “The Lower Loop”. My dad worked downtown near 13th Street and Hennepin Ave for a number of years, and the two places I remembered were the Gnostica Bookstore and the Pink Pussycat. I asked mom what she remembered, and she thought the Gnostica might have been an occult bookstore but she wasn’t sure, but she laughed when I brought up the Pink Pussycat. With a name like that you can take a wild guess what kind of business this place was, and you’d probably be right! Apparently his employer had purchased the land that the building sat on, and was going to use the building for something else. Some of the ahem – dancers – lived upstairs, and my  dad was given what he saw as the less than desirable job of telling these lovely young ladies they had to move out. Imagine in the late 1960’s, a 28-30 year old, ultra conservative young man going to tell strippers to move out of their apartments. He wasn’t terribly keen on this assignment and ended up taking a co-worker with him to get it done.

Speaking of downtown Minneapolis, my mother also told me a funny story about coming into downtown with her dad and mom, and younger sister. Her father owned a general store in that small town I mentioned, and came into Minneapolis from time to time to buy dry goods. Apparently they arrived late and when they got to the Hotel Andrews, it was full. Well Grandpa Cornie, the aforementioned corker, has them get ahold of his friend who was perhaps the manager, they find a room for them and get settled in with a second floor room facing Hennepin Avenue in about 1945. (If you ‘re unfamiliar with Minneapolis , Hennepin is the main drag through downtown, and has always been the central street for the bars, theaters, bums, pandhandlers, etc. It’s much better now, but always has been the focal point of downtown, and a great place to people watch.) After dark, on a rainy night. Across from the Gay 90s.



1958 Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society









While today it’s most well known for being a gay bar, back in the 40’s  the location was first a restaurant called The Casablanca, then Shanghai House before becoming the Gay 90’s in 1948, and turning into a “striptease and jazz music” bar (info courtesy of Jeanne Andersen).  So my mom would have been 8, her sister 6, and she said she and her sister just sat and watched, and watched and watched for hours, all the drunks coming and going from the bar, their eyes so wide they about fell out of their heads!



I’m so glad I found the time to have that conversation with my mom, and to remember the stories from my grandparents. It’s sad when we don’t capture those moments and they’re gone.  I stumbled on some incredible resources tonight, with old photos of Minneapolis. Historyapolis is an amazing trove of old memories, as is Thomas Lowry’s Ghost on tumblr and this Minneapolis history site on Flickr. If you haven’t sat down and talked to your parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were kids, take the time to do it. It’s amazing what you’ll learn. Go through old website archives, take a stroll down memory lane. Start a journal or blog and write it down, before memories are gone, and along with them, the stories. Shortly after my dad died, I started a journal that was for memories of him. I wanted to capture those unique things that I knew I’d forget over time. I pulled that out today and added the story my mom just told me, and was looking back at some of what I’d put in there. What a gold mine! (And rich treasure for future blogs too.)  I am so glad I wrote those things down because I had forgotten some of them, and reading them made me smile and made me feel very, very lucky. It reminded me my life was full of moments of fancy pillows, even when I forget they’re there.


6 thoughts on “Fancy Pillows

  1. Lovely memories, Beth. At family reunions, my cousins and I would get all of our parents talking about the funny stories the all knew about each other and their parents. Hysterical. And some were never mentioned around the kids. My oldest uncle would whisper to me ‘Statute of limitations.’ If the others heard him, sometimes they would burst out laughing, and other times they would all give him dirty looks. Those made me the most curious…


      • I was so little when Uncle Edgar said that to me the first time, that I thought he was making fun of me when everyone laughed. I was the youngest kid of the youngest parents, so all my cousins were ‘way older than me.

        Uncle Edgar was a decorated veteran of WWI and home from the war when my dad was born in 1918. That first time when everyone laughed, he picked me up in his lap and whispered, “Get your daddy to explain it to you when you get home, High-Pockets.” His name for all little kids. He whispered because of the mustard gas from the war. He was big and tall and old and craggy and rough-sounding even in my first memories of him, and to little guys like me, he was a pretty scary man, at least at first.

        I guess he could be a scary guy to grownups, too. Word around the older cousins was that Uncle Edgar simply could not abide drunks. Or men who were rough to women and kids. He cowboy-ed most all of his life from what I remember. Crummy wages and no benefits, of course. Work or starve was the deal. He just loved the life, everyone said. Probably didn’t care much for being around people, either, looking back.

        He came to visit us for a week or a month or so every once in a while when we lived on a farm. I was probably four or five this time, I think. His hands were bandaged when he got there. Dad had to get his suitcase out of the car for him. The bandages still had bloody spots on them, I remember. Uncle Edgar took exception to some guy’s treatment of a lady at a restaurant (one of those stand-up ones with loud music where you drink your meals) and the lady might or might not have been an actual lady. (Two versions of the story; one for little kids, one for not so little kids.) Uncle Edgar always gave the ladies the benefit of the doubt, I heard. Anyway, the first guy went to the hospital and was followed on consecutive evenings by two of his brothers, three of his cousins, and four of his buddies.

        The last episode with the buddies broke some bones in each of his hands. After a month with us, he had to go back to cowboy-ing. That’s all he could afford to be gone before the boss fired him and hired somebody else to take his place. Yeah, like anybody could.

        Along with everyone else, he had his issues, but he was always kind to me, and he made me laugh. That’s a big deal when you’re the littlest kid at the reunion. 🙂

        That guy could shoot, too! But that’s another story.


  2. It’s wonderful that you have these stories and are documenting them. I wish I’d done that with my grandparents before they died, but when we’re younger, we often don’t think to do these things. I should do it with my mom and stepdad. Get those stories while I still can.


  3. Pingback: The Deep End | Beth Younker

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