Jeb Monge: Early adventure highlights changes in small-town life
I was born Sept. 8, 1939, in Northfield, Minn. In October 1941 my parents, brothers and I moved to southwestern Minnesota to the city of Tracy. At the time, during World War II, Tracy was 3,100 population. It was a farm community and a railroad center.
I loved growing up there. When I was a teenager, I was conscious of being a small-town boy and wished I lived in a big city. Having lived most of my adult in metropolitan cities throughout the United States, I have come to cherish my 16 years in Tracy. I loved the people I knew and appreciate that I also was loved so much. There is nothing more important than that experience.
Tracy was small enough that I was able to participate in many activities in school. We did not really have any activities in the community except junior league baseball. Other than that, we picked up games everyday: baseball, basketball, football in the park, swimming, summer band. Our church welcomed us into the adult choir when we reached ninth grade. Organized activities were not available, so we did our own creating.
The rest I will mention in this memoir. I think you will see that we kids in the rural area in the 1940s and '50s had rich and fulfilling life.
My first adventure
My best buddy was Curt Jette who lived two houses west of me. He and I lived very comfortably in our yards. There were no warnings about being afraid of strangers or of life beyond our homes. Without knowing it we felt safe and comfortable.
When we were 4, the sun was bold and hot, and we decided we needed some pop or soda as some of you call it. Curt's dad worked at the Seven-Up Bottling Company, and we thought it would be fun to have a bottle of 7-Up. We had no idea of where this business was. All we knew was that our fathers walked to work going south on Fifth Street. Obviously, we did not know that that way was south. In the morning they went that way and a noon came home from that direction for dinner.
In the '40s and in a small town, fathers came home for dinner. The noon meal was the big meal. In the evening we had supper. I have learned that it is best to eat the lighter meal in the evening.
Curt and I did not think twice about leaving the boundaries of our home yards. We just went. Thinking back on that journey, I was amazed at how safe we felt. We did not worry about who we might meet. We knew every person was safe and nonthreatening. What a blessing!
What also amazes me is that we did not worry about getting lost. Neither of us had any idea of how to get to my dad's store or to the bottling company. We knew deep down that if we did get lost, somebody would help us. Even if we did not know who was helping us, we realized that they would be kind and helpful.
You might wonder where our mothers were when we left. During World War II only fathers worked. My mother was an English teacher, but she had to make room for fathers who needed the work. Also, our mothers realized that they did not have to worry about us when we were outside. They, too, knew that we would be safe.
This may sound strange to young people today. But it was a common and safe attitude in those days. Imagine being able to live that way in 2009. Feeling safe wherever we are is a tremendous blessing. And the feeling was not naiveté. My wife grew up in Robbinsdale, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. When she was 12, she and her friend took the bus to downtown Minneapolis. They, too, did not worry about their safety: two young girls out on their own in the city.
Curt and I kept walking south (that way) until the street curved to the east (another that way). Soon we saw the sign for the bottling company. Without hesitation, but not boldly, we climbed the steps to the office. In those days, we had not considered how impossible it was for some people to have to climb steps. When we opened the door, we received a warm smile from a nice woman. We did not distinguish between young, middle-aged or old. All we knew was kids and grown-ups.
"Hello, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"
Curt responded: "We want to see my dad."
At that time Mr. Zender came out of his office.
"Well, hello, boys. Who is your father?"
"What is his name?"
"Come on, boys." He placed his hands gently on our shoulders and led us out into the bottling area.
"Orville! You have visitors."
Mr. Jette looked shocked. "Boys, what are you doing? Where are your mothers?"
Curt blurted, "We want some pop."
Mr. Zender chuckled. "Young men, we can do that for you."
He disappeared for a few moments and returned with two bottles of 7-Up with the caps off.
"Here you go."
Mr. Jette tried to look stem, but he had a half-smile.
Mr. Zender consoled his employee. "Come, boys. We'll call your mothers."
We could hear him chuckle in his office.
"Mrs. Jette. We have two boys down here looking for some pop."
Our mothers walked in the door several minutes later. Mr. Zender and the nice lady entertained us while we waited. Back then, most everybody walked. It was a small town, and the soldiers needed supplies for the war. Not many people had cars.
"Mom!" we both shouted when our mothers walked through the door.
They, too, could not look stem. They were a little worried. But mostly they were relieved that we had been found - and that we had some pop from Mr. Zender.
This first journey was typical of my experiences growing up in Tracy. We were safe. People were friendly. And we did not know what it was not to have freedom to explore our worlds. Gradually, as our worlds expanded, we carried that same attitude toward the rest of life.
Gerald C. "Jeb" Monge dedicated this memoir to his children and grandchildren and to remember his brothers who lived through events like this with him.