Day 437: Slut

As the sound of exploding steam told Laetitia that the coffee pot’s brew cycle was nearly finished, she was deep in thought in the library of the Emerald Victorian about the day’s tour. She thought she might visit a typical Scandinavian community, based on the common assumption that most Minnesotans are of Scandinavian descent. When she checked the year 2010 census results, she found that, indeed, 16.8 percent reported Norwegian ancestry and 9.5 percent reported Swedish ancestry. There are smaller percentages of Danish, Finish, and Icelandic, bringing the total Scandinavian population to 32.1 percent.

Laetitia decided to check the Bailey and Hurst books to see if there were any Minnesota communities with Scandinavian names in Rude World. She didn’t find any. What she did find, however, was a place in Ekerö, near Stockholm, Sweden called Slut. She poured a cup of coffee and returned to the library to plan the day’s tour.

Laetitia met her group in Skandihoovia, Minnesota, a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, mostly of Scandinavian descent. The town’s ethnic heritage was evident in its five churches, the Finnish Lutheran, the Norwegian Lutheran, the Swedish Lutheran, the Danish Lutheran, and the Icelandic Lutheran. She and her group toured the town, with its picturesque buildings decorated with traditional Scandinavian facades and murals from fables of Hans Christian Anderson. On the courthouse square was an old-fashioned office where the county newspaper, The Skandihoovian Sun, was published. Near the town there was a replica of a typical Scandinavian village, featuring a stave church, dancing in costume, and a staged wedding where lefse, lutefisk, and aquavit were served as refreshments.

After wandering through the town with her group, Laetitia stopped at a local drinking establishment, where the bartender told her an interesting story about Sven, who came to Skandihoovia from Slut in Sweden. He had broken up with his Swedish girlfriend before he came here looking for work. He found a job and a wife in Skandihoovia, but things didn’t work out, and he returned to Sweden and his erstwhile girlfriend. His former wife, who was a bit vengeful, faked a newspaper headline in the style of the local paper and sent a copy to Sven. The bartender also had a framed copy on the wall. The story became the limerick of the day.

When Sven was young, there was a glut
Of men in the place known as Slut
Making jobs hard to find
And a financial bind
That made his life seem in a rut.

So he left Sweden on one fine day
And moved to the U. S. of A.
Where he had a few kin
In the State of M. N.
And he married a wife on the way.

Soon a column appeared in The Sun
That said that the two were now one
At the start, things were bright
But then they would fight
And their marriage was no longer fun.

But alas, as a matter of course
Their quarrels led to divorce
And a court case ensued
That was nasty and rude
Leaving Sven feeling only remorse.

So he quit his new job in M. N.
And he went back to Sweden again
Where to his enjoyment
He soon found employment
And made up with his former girlfriend.

Sven’s new life was wonderful, but
His ex, who is kind of a nut
Faked a headline for fun
In the style of The Sun

Day 436: Elk River Flivver

Laetitia and her group drove along Highway 10 on the northeast side of the Mississippi to Elk River. Zebulon Pike traversed this route when he explored the upper Mississippi River valley in 1805. Many of its residents commute into Minneapolis or St. Paul to work, but it with only 16,000 residents, Elk River has a definite small-town feel. The big event today was that one of the Minnesota Model T Ford clubs was on tour and was spending the day in town displaying their rebuilt classic cars in one of the town parks.

Several of the local civic groups had turned out, and there were food stands and displays of collections of early Ford memorabilia. Laetitia especially enjoyed a collection of black-and-white photos loaned from Gustavus Adolphus College. One of the featured photos was entitled Amelia and her Flivver, referring to the common nickname of the Model T. Pictured was a woman in a long dress and hat cranking her Model T Ford touring car.

Laetitia spent a good deal of time talking to Clyde, who lived in Elk River and owned one of the cars on display. He was a retired widower, and the zenith of his week was when he took his girlfriend, a widow about his own age, out for a spin in his Model T followed by the Blue Plate Special dinner at a 1940s-style diner. Clyde’s story became the limerick of the day.

When Clyde drove about in his flivver
With the dowager queen of Elk River
The highlight of their date
Was the diner blue plate
Which on Friday was onions and liver.

Day 435: Anoka Polka

Laetitia had just finished touring the United Kingdom and was returning to the United States. This time she and her groups would tour the states east of the Mississippi River. She had done the part of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River the last time she toured the United States, so would start the next series with places in Minnesota east of the Mississippi. She thought about touring Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor’s putative hometown, but she couldn’t find it on the map.

As she went over her email, Laetitia found a message from from Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours headquarters—wherever that is—saying they had received emails from Prairie Home Companion fans requesting a trip to Anoka, Minnesota, Garrison Keillor’s real hometown. The Keillor fans didn’t want to just go to Anoka; they wanted to go there in the 1950s, when Keillor lived there as a teenager, to see if they could catch a glimpse of what inspired Lake Wobegon. For most tours going somewhere in the 1950s is out of the question, but for Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours, it isn’t difficult, so Laetitia chose 1957.

What Laetitia’s guests found striking about 1957 Anoka was the lack of the now-ubiquitous fast food and motel chains. One guest eyed a nearby securities brokerage firm and wondered if he could buy some stock and benefit from over 50 years of appreciation when they returned to 2013 at the end of the tour. The group went into a nearby drugstore that had a soda fountain, and each of them got a double-dip ice cream cone for a dime. They didn’t find anything that they thought might have been the inspiration for Lake Wobegon’s Chatterbox Café, Bertha’s Kitty Boutique, or The Side Track Tap, but they did find something interesting.

“Look at that,” said Dan, one of the members of the group. “It must be a joke.” It was a poster announcing a performance by Whoopee John’s Polka Band. Whoopee John was a well-known polka bandleader around Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest from the 1930s through the 1950s. He and the band recorded more than 1,000 songs. The poster gave Laetitia her limerick of the day.

Dan thought that it might be a joke, a
Sign aimed at those folks who love polka
As he read with a start
“Whoopee John Wilfahrt
And his band will perform at Anoka.”