I am posting some excerpts from my memoir about growing up in Minnesota, titled Minnesota Boy: Growing Up in Mid-America, Mid-20th Century. This post is about Minnesota American values.
See below an announcement about the book and then three of 82 sections (64, 61, 13) appropriate for this theme.
Lee Foster Literary Book Minnesota Boy: Growing Up in Mid-America, Mid-20th Century Published
The book was originally published in 1970 with the title Just 25 Cents and Three Wheaties Boxtops. Foster wrote the volume in the late 1960s when he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Stanford, studying writing and American Literature under Wallace Stegner, eventually receiving an MA Degree and completing ABD (All But Dissertation) on his PhD. Stegner liked the book and assisted Foster to get it agented and published. Stegner went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1972.
Minnesota Boy conveys the experience of growing up in a Minnesota mid-America that produced the sensibilities of people like Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Garrison Keillor, and Bob Dylan.
The book is not a standard chapter-by-chapter memoir. Rather, it is a collection of imagined conversations and recollections of what life was like in that Eisenhower Era 1950s, just as the times morphed into the Vietnam War and Protest 1960s. The book has 82 literary selections and 67 photos.
Minnesota Boy addresses a perennial and enduring question: What is it like growing up in America? The answer depends partly on the time and place.
The book informs about the strong hunting and fishing outdoor culture, Catholic religion sinner-can-be-saved ethic, egalitarian and inclusive all-children-are-equal spirit, progress-through-education-and-hard-work ideal, and optimism-about-a-better-future mindset that pervaded life in Mankato, Minnesota, in the 1950s. There was always, however, a nervous background worry about Nuclear Annihilation.
Black-and-white photos created by Foster in the 1960s, as he was beginning his writing/photography career, catalogue visually the now-vanished world of the child and family in that era in a Minnesota America. Visual details in the photos now have substantial archival value, with captions such as “My father’s fishing tackle box,” “Artifacts from a boy’s life in Minnesota,” “The garage at my family’s house,” and “A confessional at Saints Peter & Paul Church.”
The printed book ($14.95) and the ebook ($3.99) are available wherever books/ebooks are sold. ISBN for the print book is 978-0976084327 and for the ebook 978-0976084334.
The Amazon link is at
and on Lee Foster’s Amazon Author Page among his 19 books at
Bookstores and libraries can order the printed book through Ingram and the ebook through Smashwords.
This popular memoir book received a positive response from consumers on the day it was launched. The book ranked in sales as #65,318 of all the millions of books on Amazon, and #80 among books in a category Biographies/Memoirs.
For further information, contact:
Foster Travel Publishing
1623 Martin Luther King
Berkeley, CA 94709
Here are three of 82 sections (64, 61, 13) appropriate for this theme.
Minnesota America values
Slowly he learned to talk. To be heard, he soon discovered, it was necessary to speak in superlatives. His countrymen understood no other language.
Thomas Hughes, in his History of Blue Earth County, wrote about the first superlatives describing the new wilderness area. In 1850 an advertisement indicated that Mankato “for home seekers and fortune hunters…was the land of promise…a paradise of beauty.” In Minnesota this myth was supported by a rich black loam soil and woods bursting with wildlife. What struck the boy, as he learned more about America, was that this tendency toward superlatives was not a provincial trait, but ran wild all over the country. A high school girl in California found her date simply “fantastic.” A Gallup Poll discovered that a higher percentage of people in America, more than in any other country, believed in God. All America was one massive superlative, speaking in the boasts of Mike Fink, fantasizing about life in a manner best expressed in the tall tales of Paul Bunyan.
The highest gross national product of
the First National Bank or
the First Church of Christ in
God’s own country.
and vastly increased productivity
with promises of the brightest future
and A-I Sauce on A OK Grade AAA Eggs.
Some of the finest best, most amazing,
ranked near the top in
a tip-top record year
with satisfaction guaranteed,
highest quality at lowest prices.
Mickey Mantle hit 60 home runs and
shopped at the Super Value in America,
land of the greatest atomic arsenal and
James J. Hill’s feats of monumental proportion.
Be the first in your neighborhood to
break the four-minute mile.
You look like a million
on your happiest red letter day
in the key city
in the best American traditions
in terrific extraordinary technicolor.
Wondercycle bicycles, Superfreezer freezers are
All American with miracle ingredients
How are you? Excellent, stupendous, magnificent.
The most valuable students
with the highest ratings
in the best schools with buildings
the largest ever,
the highest skyscraper in the
darndest dingdangest damn best top drawer
plus mostest world.
Put your best foot forward and
hear the most prosperous greatest
KTOE, the All American Sound.
In America, he concluded, the strength of the human spirit, like the dollar, was subject to the constant pressures of inflation.
Mankato was a small city of 30,000—too small for slums, too new and egalitarian to have a sharp division between the rich and the workers, too obscure to claim itself as the birthplace of a famous man, diverse enough in industry and agriculture to avoid booms and escape slack times. It was dominated by no ethnic group, intimate enough so the boy knew most of the families he wanted to know, so close that all joy, grief, and shame—births, marriages, deaths, and run-ins with the law—were dutifully reported in the local paper and immediately became common property. Anonymity was impossible.
Sinclair Lewis, in a burst of generosity he usually forswore when speaking of the Minnesota towns of his day, insisted that Mankato was not another prairie town, “but in its garden sheltered streets and aisles of elms is white and green New England reborn.”
Always ready to get down to the brass tacks of everything, the city had its annual Clean-Up Fix-Up Paint-Up days to remove leaves that had blown in among the evergreens and to sand the scraped paint on the back of the garage. The annual Crazy Daze street celebration consisted of bazaars where the citizens, washing down gallons of ice-cold slush, hunted for special bargains, and the merchants, disguising white elephants in a carnival air, pushed everything they couldn’t otherwise sell.
The city’s bookstores sold two kinds of reading material—“books,” which meant hardbound, and “paperbacks,” which meant sleazy sex thrillers. Some of the more righteous citizens continually tried to get the latter removed from Eckland’s Drugstore.
The small city knew the drama that comes from being a soybean capital. It was proud of the title “Shopping Center of Southern Minnesota.” The local phone directory waxed heroic: “Southern Minnesota is an empire in itself and Mankato is its capital.” Local descriptions frequently crept toward the superlative: one of the finest agricultural areas of America, colleges with a combined total enrollment over I0,000, 38 churches representing all denominations, over 25,000 phones in service, 3 movie theaters with a total seating capacity over 2,736, paved federal and state highways in all directions.
Soon the city acquired its own TV station and a TV cable to pick up all the channels that were, until then, nothing more than snowflakes on the screen. Houses sprawled out into suburban hills. The boy’s city, like his country, could not resist the chance to change the landscape; land was meant to be developed. Because history weighed so lightly on the city, most of its energies were directed to the dreams and promises of a rich future.
Physical distance blunted public trauma like the Korean War and World War II, which lived in the boy’s memory as a few meat ration tokens in the utility drawer. When inclined to discuss foreign and domestic problems, the city talked of far off matters only vaguely and remotely its own.
He grew up in a region of unshaded whiteness, where black and blue had nothing to do with Blacks, a bare-bosomed race that existed only in the National Geographic and later, occasionally, as the rock singers who entertained him at the Kato Ballroom. He read Little Black Sambo without considering it a racist classic.
Population explosion and urban decay were abstract problems suffered somewhere out in the world, surveyed at a comfortable distance through the filter of newspapers and the first TV sets. Large families—some rural Catholics had 10 to 15 children—were considered a pride and a blessing. Because sons and daughters drifted off to New York and California, few parents in Minnesota saw their fecund procreation as a disaster and a curse that was disturbing the ecology of the planet. Before each celebrative bedtime conception, the boy later wished, a Minnesotan should be forced to walk across Los Angeles.
He came from an America of hometowns where neighbors wished each other well. And neighbors were anyone from your geographic region. Total strangers, meeting in Killarney or Athens, became fast friends on finding out that they had come from Minnesota. As a people they didn’t wait to find out where you were from; they asked. Where-you-came-from indicated an important part of who-you-were. Where was not a geographic accident but a community, an extended family that embraced everyone from the locale.
When the boy moved to California he lived in an apartment with 600 people. A year later, when he moved out, his entire residue of human contact with the place was: no friendships with those who lived there, and one relationship with those who owned the apartment—he paid his rent.
Language and the entire range of feeling seldom strayed far beyond the small city’s primary concern and most absorbing activity: business. He knew a world that never stopped delivering the goods, always came through to meet payrolls, inquired about the exact price of everything, and saw at the end of every vision a super value.
Prose conversation had the staccato bursts of good office memoranda that absorbed all areas of life: How do you spend your time? Life is full of opportunities. I am eternally in your debt. I don’t buy that talk. That’s a sound venture. Good deal.
“Developed” and “productive” were automatically synonymous with progress; “undeveloped” and “unproductive” smacked of neglect and foolish laziness. Nothing stirred the little city so profoundly as the prospect of a new shopping center or housing development.
The hometown paper, The Free Press, in an annual 120-page Sizeup Edition that served as the town’s yearbook, celebrated the year’s commercial advances, what had been built and bought, importance equated with the dollar magnitude of the transaction. Plunging headlong into the future, not interested in seeing progress by any other than the production yardstick, the city accomplished what it felt it had to do, no other alternative possible.
Even the church sermons were repeated pleas to reduce interest on immense debts for all the new buildings.
His parents’ generation in Mankato saw their lives as a positive arc moving ever upwards from the trauma of the Depression, an arc increasingly secure, healthy, and stable, making fortunes from small percentage points. After the hunger of the Depression, they spent much of their lives celebrating the pleasures of good food. Their women were exceptional cooks.
The city encouraged Junior Achievement, each youngster setting up his or her own little company, financing, producing, and selling their birdhouses, potholders, and cutting boards, then liquidating at a profit. What was made was not so important, as long as each child had the archetypal American experience of capital initiative in some microcosmic way.
He found himself caught between Main Street and Fortune magazine.
An elaborate system of competition, rank, and reward prepared him to live in a society held together by a vision of individuals always at war with their fellows. Gold stars in grade school, merit badges in Boy Scouts, transistor radios for paperboys who found the most starts. Later, debating trophies in high school and scholarships in college.
Virtues in this world were precisely defined. They were hard work, solid responsibility, an ability to organize, and a knack for administering. The quality of life was always identified with visible, measurable activity and its tangible rewards. Life in his city, like the history of his country, was a success story of unreflecting labor. Only in productive jobs did the people feel they could find happiness; leisure bewildered. Everyone worked feverishly to provide themselves a life for which their virtues were peculiarly and unequivocally unsuited.
The time was one generation after Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” Rural trappings were missing and the Fundamentalist fires somewhat banked, but a similar spirit, like the unchanging Midwestern terrain, lingered on—steady and flat, dependable and humorless, enduring rather than ecstatic—for the builders of long chains of coin-operated laundromats.