The three kids and I went to Minnesota for my dad’s brother Vince’s funeral. We left Thursday. The funeral was Saturday. We drove home on Sunday.
It’s 622 miles from Hysham, Montana to Park Rapids, Minnesota. That’s a nine-hour drive — unless you’ve got a 23-month-old, a 4-year-old, and a 6-year-old in the car with you. We stopped often to use the bathroom, to buy snacks, to jog/toddle around the car, and to seek out the buffalo visible from the interstate.
We four Blakes were in the car with my dad, my mom, and my sister. Our corps drove Mom and Dad’s Ford Explorer, which has exactly seven seat belts, so the car was full to capacity… you might even say past capacity. My husband Beau, as well as Sue’s husband and kids, opted not to go on the trip because of various commitments and also because there was no more room in the car. With future family road trips in mind, we think we’re in the market for a shortbus.
Uncle Vince had been sick for a while now, so the trip back for the funeral wasn’t completely unexpected. We are thankful that Dad and Mom had the chance to visit Vince a few weeks back. So this past weekend marked their second trip to Minnesota in a month.
You can probably tell by the photo in the obit that Vince was a pipe-smoker. It was his trademark.
I very much love this photo of Uncle Vince as a young man:
He was a lifelong teamster, just like Grandpa Arvik was.
Grandma and Grandpa Arvik raised their three kids — Arlene, Vince, and my dad, Harold — on a farm near Dorset, Minnesota. This past weekend we cruised the overloaded Ford Explorer by both the original farm (no longer in the family) and the Dorset School where Grandma Arvik taught as a young woman.
Grandma, Betty Borg (a full-blood Swede), finished high school in three years and normal school in one year. She started teaching at the Dorset School when she was just 16. That’s where she met my grandpa, Alvin Arvik (a full-blood Norwegian who came over on the ship as a babe in arms), who drove the (horse-drawn) school bus. Wagon or sleigh, depending on the season.
Their oldest boy, Vince, grew up and never strayed far from the farm where he was raised.
Their youngest boy, my dad, left for Montana right out of high school with dreams of being a cowboy… and he never looked back:
But that’s another story for another time.
The real story I’m telling today is, of course, about me. It’s the tale of how my little kids and I traveled to and from Minnesota in less than 80 hours.
Thursday morning as I was racing around trying to pack snacks, coats, jackets, activities to keep the kids busy for 1,044 miles (ha!), swimsuits, pajamas, funeral clothes, and traveling clothes (I did limit us each to only the shoes we wore)… it became apparent that, no doubt due to my non-attention, the 23-month-old, Marsielle, had once again inserted a foreign object into her nostril (check out I never knew these things happened in real life for more on our recurring problem). I stretched her out on the floor and with a flashlight was able to discern the foreign object was a “gold coin” from her big brother’s Playmobil collection, about as big around as a pencil eraser. Thankfully, with the help of the snot-sucker bulb and the tweezers, I was able to extract the mini coin. Thirty minutes later, we took our show on the road.
Our stops on the way out to Minnesota went like this: Hysham to Forsyth to fuel up. Miles City to pick up Aunt Sue. Wibaux to get snacks. A rest area to, well, use the rest room. Another rest area. Bismarck, North Dakota for the night. In the morning, another rest area. Then to Hawley, Minnesota for lunch. And finally to Park Rapids.
Spending the first night in Bismarck was a treat because we’ve been studying Lewis and Clark in our homeschool. Their expedition, of course, spent its first winter in a Mandan village right near modern-day Bismarck. Our stay in Bismarck was also made memorable because, before we left town, we ate Second Breakfast (we’d had First Breakfast at the hotel, because by golly we’d paid for that “complimentary” meal and we intended to see it through) with my old schoolmate, Mike Greer, and his sweet wife Chettie. Mike grew up just down the road here. I threw his cap out the window of the school bus once and the bus driver sided with me. (!) These days Mike is an engineer for the city of Bismarck. He’s still just good ol’ Mike as far as I can tell… except he’s a government employee now!
(I think it’s fun to pull into a town and look up an old friend in the phonebook and just call out of the blue and say, “Guess who this is? Can you meet me for breakfast?” We should all do that more often. It would make the world a more pleasantly unpredictable place.)
In other road trip news, my mom and my sister think a lot alike. They just look at the world through the same kind of glasses. Which is totally unfair to me, because it only encourages both of them in their thinking that I am totally radical, goofy, and only joking about most of what I say. Because it just so happens that there are two of them and one of me, they conclude that they’re the normal ones by the world’s standards and I’m the weird one. While I conclude that I just happen to be stuck in life with two weirdos, and all the other people like me are somewhere else.
One reason they think I’m crazy: I took my Trim Healthy Mama cookbook on the trip. I am bound and determined to use that book to put my family on a healthy, wholesome Monthly Shopping Plan, and I figured I’d use all my spare time on the car trip mapping out the plan. But, as usual, it turns out I didn’t have as much spare time in the car as I might’ve liked. When I wasn’t driving I was either reading with a big kid or handing back important pieces of my life, one a time, in a desperate attempt to distract the baby for another five minutes. I gave her my wallet to rifle through. I can replace everything that was in it… right? I passed back my wedding ring for her to examine. Surely we’ll find it under the carseat later… right? I handed over my cell phone. We can just get another one if she snaps it in two… right?
One reason I think they’re crazy: Sports. My sister, especially, is a nutty sports fan. She busied herself on the trip using her iPhone to check results from the Class C Divisional Boys Basketball Tournament going on in Miles City as we drove. She hates to miss a tournament. I think it must be because tournaments take her mind back to one of her happy places: the good ol’ 1980s. You might think that only homebound convalescents and alcoholics (thinking of Hoosiers) listen to high school basketball games on the radio, but I can attest that other people do, too… people like the family from whence I came. When she’s not jeering the refs from the backseat, she’s sending and receiving texts pertaining to her own kids’ sports calendars. I can’t keep up.
Dad mostly ignores the rest of us. In the car he alternates between dozing, emitting dramatized grunts of disapproval when Mom’s driving, and answering the occasional well-thought-out question from me or Sue.
As always, we stayed at the C’Mon Inn in Park Rapids — the original of all the C’Mon Inns! We Arviks have been staying there for about 20 years now during our visits with Minnesota family.
In the hotel swimming pool my kids and I encountered the inevitable 13-year-old-girl-whose-parents-(?)-apparently-paid-for-a-room-and-left-her-at-the-hotel-by-herself. She fancied herself quite a swim instructor, and took it upon herself to teach my 6-year-old and 4-year-old the finer art of underwater swimming. The lessons were rigorous. I watched anxiously from the hot tub for signs from my gasping, red-eyed little girl that she’d had enough of the 13-year-old drill sergeant, who at some point during the weekend offered to meet us at the pool every Saturday for continued instruction at the awesome price of just $5 per day. I never saw her again after we came back to the hotel from the funeral, so I do hope a responsible adult showed up and took her to a safe home. She was nice, just… overzealous.
Uncle Vince’s funeral — nay, the celebration of life — started at 1 p.m. on Saturday. As our full-to-the-top carload departed Park Rapids for the 17-mile drive to the Lutheran Church, I spotted Girl Scouts selling cookies on the side of the road. I expressed my opinion that we should pull over and support the girls. No other adults in the car sided with me. (Once again, I’m sure, my mom and sister thought I was kidding.) They said we were gonna be late for the funeral, blah blah blah. I argued that it’s not often that a Montanan encounters the opportunity to purchase authentic, coconutty, chocolaty shortbread delights, otherwise known as Girl Scout Samoas, especially on the side of the road… but my arguments seemed weak in light of the circumstances. Wouldn’t you know it, when we pulled up in front of the church 17 miles to the east, my two little girls were fast asleep in their carseats. Everyone knows you never wake a sleeping baby, so I quickly offered myself up as a self-sacrificing mom. I told everyone else to head in to the church and that I would “cruise” in the car with the girls to keep them asleep. The rest of the family streamed through the front doors with the crowd. As for me, I got back on the highway and headed right back to the Girl Scouts, from whom I purchased two packages of Samoas, one of Thin Mints, and one of peanut butter cookies. Then I sampled all the flavors as I cruised with my sleeping girls back to the funeral. Once at the church, I packed the girls inside and took part in the big visit. I had forgotten to hide my evidence, though: when we all got back to the car to head back to the hotel, Dad opened the passenger door and said, in an authentically startled voice, “Well, somebody left several boxes of cookies in my seat!”
At the funeral, Sue and I shared in a photo with all our first cousins on the Arvik side:
The first cousins left to right: Me, Sue, Charlie, Steve, Mike, Joanie, Dave.
Asher got to take a picture with his second cousin Austin (my cousin Charlie’s son), who spent a week with us while hunting this past fall. Asher thinks Austin is super cool:
And Dad took a photo with his older sister, dear Aunt Arlene. They’re shown here with my kids and with Arlene’s granddaughter Stella:
Here’s another picture of Dad and Arlene (this one was taken about 70 years ago). Awwww:
The funeral was Saturday afternoon. On Sunday we pulled out of Park Rapids at 3:15 a.m. Montana time, headed west. I had convinced the rest of them that the only hope of driving all the way home in one day with my kids in the car would be to leave and try to drive as far as possible while they were still asleep. The front desk, as requested, called to wake me at 2:15. I showered, gathered our stuff up, and got Asher dressed. The girls we loaded still in their jammies, and they wore their jammies the whole way home.
The return trip went like this: Park Rapids to Jamestown, North Dakota for breakfast. Jamestown to New Salem for a snack. New Salem to Medora to stretch. Medora to Glendive, Montana for pizza. Glendive to Miles City to drop Sue off. Miles City to Hysham.
There were many Arvik-typical hitches in our trip. First off, my mom was/is convinced that there is a dead mouse, and possibly a live one too, in the car. None of the rest of us can smell the dead mouse exactly, but she is convinced. Our imaginary mice made for lots of good ribbing along the road! Second of all, the car heater started misbehaving outside of Fargo on the way to Minnesota. (We think the imaginary mouse is somehow to blame!) Traveling with Mom in the backseat is not easy best case scenario because she is either WAY TOO HOT or WAY TOO COLD back there. The sad part is, we couldn’t tease her about her issues after a certain point because it was apparent that the heating/cooling system of the car was in serious disrepair. As in, the heater was much more willing to blow cold air than hot… and it had a strange clicking thing going on too. We never slowed down long enough the whole weekend to have the problem fixed, which made for a pretty darn chilly 4 a.m. drive through Fargo on a Sunday morning in March. We were all wishing we had our gloves and hats on in the car there for a while. But eventually the sun came out and our combined body heat made the rest of the trip bearable.
One more hilariously ironic moment that sticks out in my mind: we had stopped in New Salem and everyone, including Asher, used the restroom. We fueled up, we picked out snacks, we laboriously reloaded everyone, going through all the motions of strapping three kids into their seats while opening their Lunchables for them, inserting straws into Capri Suns, and yet again bending our stiff and sore adult bodies into a jam-packed mid-size SUV. We gained the interstate on-ramp and were halfway down when Asher, from the far back, said quickly, “Stop! I need to use the bathroom!” The car stopped. “You just went to the bathroom,” I reminded him. “I need to go again,” he replied. “Poop or pee?” I asked. “Poop,” he mouthed back. “How long can you hold it? It’s only a hundred miles to Medora,” I bargained. “It already came out,” he answered. So. After a quick scan for what 4-year-old Emi’s taken to calling “The Poepoe,” we backed up the interstate on-ramp, unloaded in a precise reverse of everything we’d just done, and went back into the convenience store restroom.
All in all, I am proud to say that our kids were so good on the road trip. Asher even garnered a couple marriage proposals thanks to his good manners, his gentle treatment of his little sisters, and his suspenders (more on those in a future post!). As for Emi, she doesn’t want to be the center of attention in any room. Instead, she has — has always had — this way of singling out one person, usually an older person, who needs a friend like her. And she quite purposefully spends her time making friends with that person. Marsi (Asher and Emi call her the Abominable Baby) is… what can I compare her to?… a lot like a baby mountain lion. She is so cute and adorable and deceivingly cuddle-able in appearance that everyone wants to pick her up and squeeze her cheeks. Problem is, once she’s in your arms, she’s as likely to claw your eye out and bite your ear off as she is to do anything else.
Everyone took to calling Marsi “the Queen” during the trip. And some family members suggested that she might get her unruly nest of hair (see Exhibit A below)…
… from Grandpa Arvik:
Grandpa Arvik is pictured here circa 1945 with his wife, with his mother-in-law, with a young Vince, and with baby Harold (my dad). The story goes that there was a certain door frame in the house by which Grandma would measure Grandpa’s hair; when his hair brushed the top of the frame, it was time for a trim.
Grandpa Arvik’s great-granddaughters, Emi and Marsi, were, as usual, showered by most folks we met on our trip with compliments regarding the perfection of their facial features. Their beauty stuns me, too, and I’m not just saying that because I’m their mother. Here they are with their grandpa and their brother on the lane to the farm where Dad grew up:
(It’s still cold in Minnesota!)
Asher wielded the camera at this point to take a few pictures of the road, of the headlights, of Grandpa’s hat, and finally one of the original Arviks:
One thing I was reminded of on this trip — I am incredibly proud of being from Montana. Call me a snob. But something inside me truly believes that Montana is the very best of the 50 states and that I am superior because I am a Montanan. I always assume, when I tell out-of-staters that I am from Montana, that they burn with envy and longing. That my proclamation only reminds them of the aimless bucket of slop life lived out in any other state is sure to be. I mean, you have to admit, there is a certain allure associated with the Big Sky State. Life here is not just existence but an almost-indescribable series of sunsets and sunrises in God’s Country! Yes, folks: I am a daughter of Montana and I hope to die here. Betcha wish ya lived here too. Please, please, don’t cry in front of me. Not everybody is chosen and that’s just the way life is. Here, look at some pictures of Montana and that will have to be good enough, because we aren’t taking any new residents, so please, just try to make the best of the state you already have. We’re not all lucky enough to live in Montana. Sorry ’bout yo’ bad luck.
(Just kidding. Kind of. I hope that, wherever you’re from, you take great pride in your own state like I do in mine. M-O-N-T-A-N-A! Montana, I love you!)
For all my joshing, I gladly acknowledge that Minnesota is the land of my ancestors. The road going there is one I know well — we traveled there most every summer, as I was growing up, to visit family. Later, when Sue attended the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks for medical school, we drove that way even more often.
As for us Arvik girls, there are reminders everywhere back there that Minnesota is our mother land. The ice-cream-bar vending machine we encountered in Park Rapids was just further proof, yah know:
You betcha. We women shared a lot of good laughs on our trip.
It was a fun journey… but I think I have more gray hairs than I did when we left. (Asher wielding the camera again here, at the original Arvik farm:)
Now that we’re home, Beau is able to get some rest. Poor guy says he doesn’t sleep well when we’re not home because the house is just too quiet. That, and it looks like he had to do a couple loads of laundry to fill the lonely gaps in his 80 hours of torturous down-time — no wonder he’s worn out. Now that we’re home, everything can just get back to normal.
© Tami Blake