It’s one of those years. (Well, hopefully it’s just ONE YEAR with no repeats, ever.) The options for vacation are pretty limited, so I decided on a day trip, since the car we’re leasing gets turned in soon and we have a lot of unused miles on it. I decided to go to Mankato, Minnesota, a 90-minute drive south, and asked my daughter Gennie to come along. I was so happy she said yes. The corona virus and quarantining has changed the kinds of interactions I have with people, and I relished a whole day to spend with her, all the talking and laughing and sharing we would do.
For those who don’t know, Mankato is the home of Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, who wrote the 10-book Betsy-Tacy series about her life growing up in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The books cover stories about her and her friends from age 5 until they get married. Maud fictionalizes her experiences, renaming the town to Deep Valley, renaming herself to Betsy, changing names of people and locations. I fell in love with these books when I was a kid and reread them a lot. Then I grew up and found hundreds of women and some men who loved them too, and we’ve formed a great online community since the 90s.
So the last Sunday in July I picked up Gennie (who turned 29 today! along with her brother Leo). We began our lovely drive and the mood was festive. Gen is alas, not a fan of the Betsy-Tacy books (though I tried and read the books to her and her brothers) but she knows a lot about them and my passion for them. Besides the BT sites, I also wanted to visit the grave of my great aunt/Gen’s great-great aunt, Sister Eulalia. She was a School Sister of Notre Dame and lived for many years at the convent on the hill in Mankato. Sister E’s birth name was Genevieve Luberda – yes, Gen is named after her. My great aunt was a very positive influence on my life when I was growing up, and we wrote letters to each other regularly from the time I was about 11 until she died at 91. Gennie was 9 when Sister died and barely remembers her, but loves to hear stories about her
So we had our lovely drive through the leafy greenness of a Minnesota summer. We wore our masks in the car and had a breeze coming in the window, which is what I’ve been doing when I’m with people in the car ever since I talked to a doctor when I got tested for COVID. He recommended it, and it eases my mind to have some protocol. Along the way, we stopped in the cute old-timey town of St. Peter’s for coffee.
When we got to Mankato, we first stopped at Sister Eulalia’s grave in the small convent cemetery (which had old graves of sisters with some of the MOST UNUSUAL names I’ve ever seen. I want to go back and write them all down so I can use them in writing!). We realized belatedly that we wished we’d brought flowers, so we decided that we’d come back again after doing so– and I wanted to visit Maud’s grave too, and get her flowers too.
Then we were off to town, to Center St. and the BT houses, which are just like old friends. Over the last many years, the Betsy-Tacy Society has purchased the girls’ childhood homes and been working diligently to historically restore and furnish them. The extra nice thing was getting to show them off to Gen, who was impressed by all the work that had been done (we hadn’t arranged any tour, so we just appreciated the the exteriors). I told her stories and showed her the memorial brick pavers people can purchase and have engraved as a fundraiser for the Society. I know so many of the names on those pavers. More old friends. We took photos and sat on the Betsy-Tacy bench and drove up the Big Hill.
We drove around some of the other BT houses (Tib’s house is always so impressive), then went off to my fave coffee shop, the Coffee Hag, for nourishment. Next we stopped at a grocery store for flowers (no flower shops open). We went to visit Maud’s grave next, driving all around that hilly cemetery until I spotted the grave. We saw a momma turkey and her babies walking around the graves, which was fun. We put some begonias on Maud’s grave, and I pointed out Cab/Jab’s grave nearby. It was also fun to see the remains of a flower and chewed up pencils at the base of Maud’s headstone! I wonder which fan put them there. Betsy was always chewing on her pencils as she wrote. How appropriate!
Our next stop was Minneopa Falls, with its two water falls, several miles out of town. “The Crowd” in the books used to picnic there. It’s such a pretty park. That Sunday was really hot and humid, so being by the falls was nice and cooling.
Then it was back to town to find the pie-wedge-shaped Lincoln Park that the girls in the book would walk to when they were little. Gen was amused by how small it was for a park. It’s pretty, with a fountain and memorials to the Civil War. We got out and read the signs, like the one about the cannon incident, and I told her how it fit in with Betsy and her friends.
Next we grabbed some take-out dinner and had a picnic at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater, which is a cool place to go for a concert with its large slabs of rock. I once saw the Indigo Girls in concert there on a beautiful summer night. It was a nice place for our picnic. (Picnics are very BT, always mentioned in the books).
Our last stop was back to Sister Eulalia’s grave. We gave her a begonia and some roses, and that felt nice. On our way out, a sister was walking out to say hi and to see if we found what we were looking for. We asked if she’d known Sister Eulalia and she had… she said she had known most of the sisters in the cemetery. Very sweet.
And then it was our drive home, and just enjoying having so much time to talk and share. I had such a good time! It did feel like a little vacation. Considering our strange and unstable times these days, I appreciated the heck out of it.