Thirty-five years ago, at Thanksgiving, I moved to Minnesota from my Philadelphia home. I relocated back to my hometown in time for Passover and Easter. In November 1988, the Twin Cities were cold and snow-covered. During my big move home, in March 2023, the Twin Cities were cold and snow-covered, making fall and spring hard to distinguish.
Youthful optimism gives way to the wisdom of age
On the other hand, making such monumental life transitions in the springtime and autumn of my own life provides a contrast that is easy to distinguish.
I arrived in Minnesota in the optimism of my golden youth and have departed in the wisdom of my silver age.
In 1988, as a 38-year-old, my career and my vigor were in full bloom. The economy was thriving, and I had accepted a position as senior vice president of public affairs in a Minneapolis-based public relations firm. I was an active member in the national and regional activities of my professional association, the Public Relations Society of America, that provided me meaningful ways to fully integrate into Twin Cities civic and social life. Making workplace friends in one’s 30s was easy. And my romantic partner from the area provided built-in family connections.
I look back at that move now with the insight gained by more than three decades of experience.
'Minnesota Nice' but often not inviting
Even with all of the social and professional advantages of youth, Minnesota’s culture was alien. My east coast friendliness and frankness were not readily appreciated. I found it all but impossible to translate my work friends into real ones.
There is a kernel of truth to the sense of exceptionalism that Garrison Keeler baked into Prairie Home Companion’s famous tagline. While it’s not entirely fair to generalize, Minnesota natives are a very insular group – whether it’s due to the Scandinavian cultural influence or flat-out wariness of anyone who chooses to settle in the land of 10,000 lakes, mosquitoes and endless winters, one saying is relevant: “Minnesotans will gladly give you directions everywhere except to their home.”
As an extrovert, who also happens to be an only child, I seek friendship and family everywhere I go. Sad to say, for the most part, my inner circle of friends in Minnesota are largely transplants themselves. And believe me, we talked a lot amongst ourselves about “Minnesota Nice” being a misnomer. Nice is as in polite, but not welcoming.
I worked very, very hard at joining organizations and performing public service; therefore, I enjoyed many sandboxes in which to play, but these arenas never translated to personal invitations to sit at the dinner table or to meet the locals closely held, lifelong circles.
Native Minnesotan crime novelist, Catherine Dang, writes of the “dark underbelly of all those polite, respectful interactions” saying, “Minnesotans might be labeled as shy for their reserved behavior, but that distance serves a purpose. Social circles are tight in Minnesota, and outsiders are excluded. People have already established their friends and family, so strangers at best are viewed with indifference. At worst, they’re viewed with caution. It’s why people new to the state will complain about the lack of meaningful friendships that they make here.”
But you seemed so happy here
And, for the most part, I was.
As a minor public figure due to my many roles which include being a columnist here with TMC Publications CO., or before that my years as a columnist for the beloved Southwest Journal and Minnesota Good Age, or as past president of the Minnesota Public Relations Society, founder and chair of the Creative Class committee for the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Executive Board member of the Seward Neighborhood, volunteer for our regional ACLU, and more – overwhelmingly it has been my “transplant” friends who have embraced me as part of their social circle. It will surprise many of my acquaintances to learn how much not ever really belonging hurt. My close friends know this about me.
Covid-19 was a deciding factor
It was really during COVID-19 quarantine time that I sensed, even with my full quarter century of skin in the “trying to be a Minnesotan” game, I never totally felt a part of my adopted state. And, honestly, that felt just awful.
Certainly, the factor of “aging” combined with the forced isolation of COVID-19 quarantine exaggerated my feeling of not belonging. During those years of pandemic loneliness and uncertainty, I grew increasingly drawn to my roots.
I formed a weekly zoom group populated with friends from childhood and my teenage years. All were high school chums, and I experienced that sense of familiarity and belonging that had escaped me during my long tenure as a Twin Citian.
Then, there’s the weather
It would be insincere not to mention that flying our famous wintertime banner – Hygge – truly is not a substitute for the lack of a true four seasons.
In the past few years, the brutally cold and long wintertime of our region began to take a decided toll on me. And I am an avid outside walker! During my tenure here, I proudly never let the temperatures, even sub-zero, keep me in. My many boastful social media posts were intended to show (and partially irritate) my east and west coast, as well as my European, friends about how glorious our frozen tundra was, how fit and hearty I was, and how utterly cozy – hygge – my interiors were. Yes, I can be that way!
However, the forbidding ice-covered streets and trails finally prohibited many outdoor winter walks. And in my early 70s, my blood isn’t as thick as it used to be, and my skin has truly gotten a lot thinner.
Even pre-Covid, I made an annual pilgrimage around the time of my April birthday to experience Philadelphia’s glorious spring. Each time I made this trip, I grew more aware of how much I missed the historic brick and cobbled streets and the overwhelming greenery of the city.
Climate change certainly has reduced the weather rewards of any geographic location to a gamble, but the season of my birth, spring, still holds court in Philly. There are the astounding cherry blossoms and foliage lining our French-inspired Benjamin Franklin Parkway – the grand boulevard that defines our Center City. Philadelphia's diagonal Benjamin Franklin Parkway stretches one mile from just beyond City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the edge of Fairmount Park, acting as the home of museums, cultural institutions and other attractions. And surrounding the art museum, gracefully situated above the falls of the Schuylkill River and the historic Water Works, is the famous Azalea Garden.
Created in 1952, this thematic garden located between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boathouse Row was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to honor its 125th anniversary. It was donated afterward to the Fairmount Park Commission, and now comprises a portion of the Schuylkill Recreation Path which parallels the Schuylkill River in the heart of downtown.
This year I moved in time to experience a glorious, prolonged spring in full bloom.
Minnesota and the Twin Cities will always be my second home
I am gratified for my combined quarter century as a Minnesotan. I marvel at the opportunities I’ve had to impact the very face of the Twin Cities, from my role in designing the Minneapolis Riverfront: Vision and Implementation project for my longtime and cherished client, Cuningham Group Architects, to creating a newspaper column and a committee for the business chamber that focused on the outstanding Creative Class at the heart of our metro area.
I have lived a full and satisfied life as a member of the Twin Cities community. I enjoy a deep and dear circle of friends and acquaintances whom I will greatly miss and will continue to stay in touch with. And while most of my innermost circle are transplants, I am sincerely appreciative to those Minnesota natives who fully have embraced me as a member of their family of choice.
It is indeed with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to these beautiful cities: to my amazing sunrise view over the majestic Mighty Mississippi River, and to my many colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.
I especially will miss the readers of this great group of community newspapers that provide a top-quality forum for the residents of Longfellow, Nokomis, Midway, Como, Frogtown and Southwest.
During my final year as a resident, it has been this role as contributing columnist that has allowed me to sample the very best of the humanity, culture and nature that the Twin Cities has to offer. Thank you for the privilege. I will be back to visit and hope you come to experience the Cradle of Liberty, this City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
Drop me a note if you. I’d like to show you around!
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