by Bob Sparrow
I had the pleasure last week of traveling to Minnesota for the celebration of Warren & Phyllis Barnes’ (Linda’s parents)70th wedding anniversary. Yes, 70th!! Just to put that in perspective, they were married between the surrender of Germany and the surrender of Japan during World War II; and so it was on June 15, 1945 that Warren surrendered to Phyllis. Most of you young ‘whippersnappers’ reading this weren’t even born yet. The anniversary celebration took place in the city of Rochester, which, as home to the Mayo Clinic, has a lot of big city amenities, but has still retained its small town, rural charm.
Warren and Phyllis are a treasure. Warren, who is 91, has an easy smile and while he may have lost a step or two, he still has a vice-like handshake, thanks to 20 years of milking cows on their family-owned dairy farm. Phyllis, who just turned 89 last Friday, is as sweet and sharp as ever and stays up on family news on her iPad Facebook account. On the evening of our arrival she prepared, unassisted, a delicious chicken casserole, corn and fruit salad dinner for eight – their three children and we significant others . . . OK, maybe we’re not that significant. I learned a couple of things about a Minnesota home-cooked meal, 1) you WILL have seconds of everything, or you’ll insult the cook, and 2) you WILL save room for desert. I happily made room for Phyllis’ homemade, blue-ribbon rhubarb and/or apple pie . . . ala mode, of course. The dinner conversation moved from reminiscing about the old one-room schoolhouse (called the‘Cigar Box’) that the kids all attended to Phyllis’ wheeler-dealer grandfather, ‘John Mac’, to a discussion of what is‘Minnesota Nice’?
I learned that Wikipedia actually has a definition for ‘Minnesota Nice’: ‘the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered’, but I wanted to ask several Minnesotan family members what they thought it meant.Denise Cobb, grand daughter to the honored couple, offered an example where she was called ‘Connie’ by a fellow worker, but initially was too afraid to tell him he was calling her by the wrong name and then after several weeks of being ‘Connie’, was too embarrassed to tell him that he’d been calling her the wrong name all this time. Denise’s husband Gene, leaned over to me and said, “Minnesota nice is about how long it takes for people to say good-bye, just watch. From the time a Minnesotan says they’re leaving to the time they actually leave is probably somewhere around 40 minutes. People will follow you to the door, follow you to your car and still be talking to you as you’re pulling out of their driveway. You’re not really gone until you are in your car several miles down the road.” I checked that theory out over the course of my time there – he’s absolutely right.
Phyllis’ birthday dinner on Friday took place about 15 miles from Rochester in the bucolic town of Mantorville at the historic Hubbell House, a restaurant that’s been in continuous operation since 1854. Their guest list includes a variety of celebrities from Ulysses S. Grant to Mickey Mantle, so we know they’ve served alcohol throughout their entire history.
The ‘family only’ anniversary celebration on Saturday was in the community room at Warren & Phyllis’ senior apartment complex. They weren’t all in attendance, but their extended family now consists of: 3 children, 12 grand children, 27 great grand children, 2 great, great grand children. I was able to corner Phyllis for a few minutes to ask her the secret to a 70-year marriage. She seemed kind of surprised by the question, like she wasn’t really keeping a secret, but she smiled and said, “Always kiss and make up before you go to bed.” It has been clear to me for many years that their ‘secret’ is in their positive attitudes; they always seem to find the best in people and believe that good things will come their way – and they have. They have nurtured a great family, they have their health and they still laugh a lot.
On the airplane ride back home, I felt very fortunate to be part of this amazing family and realized that while I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I had just personally experienced ‘Minnesota Nice’.