My childhood memories of growing up in Wadena are fond. I could not imagine a better place. The pool, the city lot called "The Village," summer rec, harassing student drivers on our bikes. Even Officer Henrickson and his hard-nosed lessons in bike safety. Every water fight, football game, parade and June Jubilee was timeless.
Perhaps the most sacred of my memories lie behind the doors of Stern and Field. A simple men's clothing store, nothing more. But what a glorious place, and for the most part the memories have nothing to do with the clothes.
The store was a staple on Wadena's main street since the early 1930s. At least one Phillips rang the till every year it was open. I remember it as a bit of a Mecca for shoppers. Well, not always shoppers. Let's call them visitors or regulars. It was a natural stopping off place in the center of downtown. You could always find lively conversation and gossip. It had to happen somewhere, the Boondocks hasn't been around forever.
Mrs. Quincer shopped with her dog, Jasper. Whitey Aus ran all his crazy game brackets and dollar gambling boards. We traded haircuts for jeans with Morrie Bounds. Eva would sew; Gen ran the books and Don, Jerry and Dad sold the suits. At an early age I washed the windows -- every day. I am pretty sure they were not that dirty. It just kept me out of the way.
Dad's Partner, Don Schleoder, taught me how to run the shoe buffer. That was hours of fun as a kid. Jerry Orr would sometimes let me assist as he made the banners and signs. Jerry was responsible for the awesome window displays too. All three men eventually honed me into a rag peddler. I could tell a man's suit coat, pants, shoe and hat size just by looking at him. Well, at least I tried, but I could never hold a candle to any of those guys. They were just too good.
One of my favorites is the saga of the TV. Every year there was a big Super Bowl board behind the counter. Dad would always ink Joyce Kopp and Mike Carr in the first two boxes. I guess he thought that having the Police Chief and Sheriff on board would quiet any uproar about illegal gambling. The grand prize was a TV from Bob at Curries. He would always buy one year in advance. The winner would get the TV we had watched that year at the store. Pretty good deal, we got a TV for free ... for a while at least.
I never really got to participate in the famous New Year's Eve party. I was too young and I think the booze flowed pretty freely. It started humbly enough with Sandie McDonald and Luther Nervig coming in to have a bump after a very long day on Dec. 31 long ago. It grew to a pretty big deal. Many Wadenaians have fond memories of all those parties. I just had to clean up the mess on Jan. 1 every year with dad and the dog.
The economy of rural Minnesota changed and so did the store. In the mid 1980s, both Dad and Jerry had to find work outside to supplement their income. Don had said goodbye to the ways of the rag peddler several years earlier. Jerry helped Dave run the films at the theater and dad was counting pills in several pharmacies. That left me alone on Thursday nights. It was usually slow around seven so Ray Brink would slip in and watch "The Cosby Show."
Stern and Field closed its doors in February 1990. It was a tough call for dad to give up the family business, but it just wasn't viable anymore. I did get to help dad close that chapter in his life. At seventeen I worked side by side with him through the going out of business sale and clearing out the store. As a final tribute Jerry, Dad and I wrote a note and signed it. We sealed it in one of grandpa's old whiskey bottles and hid it in the rafters. It was a fitting way to move on, for all of us.