Notebook Recollections: Soap bubbles for the Angels
Local staple Tim Rumsey walked to work most days from 1987 to 2000. He began as a form of exercise but kept at it for his love of local lore harvested through his interactions with people on the street. He began documenting his musings and eventually filled 53 pocketbooks with his observations. Here is just one tale.
By Tim Rumsey, MD
Mr. Positive’s Big Ben thermometer read 93 degrees at 5:30 p.m. today. His house was decked out in Fourth of July glory. We were in the middle of a five-day West 7th heat wave. Mr. Positive slept in a little blue pup tent in his backyard the last three nights.
The late local historian Frank Heller said there was a nasty stretch during the 1934 dust bowl summer following the Saint Stan’s fire. The temperature didn’t get under 100 degrees for over a week. West Seventhers slept outside on front lawns with just a pillow. Fully clothed, shoes and socks on with rolled-up sleeves. If not front lawns, it was basements, sleeping porches or tenement house rooftops. Families with cars took windows-down 2 a.m. rides. You could also swim in the river or Crosby Lake. Everybody full- housed the Gem Theater at 7th and Smith, the future Salvation Army chapel, more for the air conditioning than the cinema. Frank remembers newspaper ads and outdoor signs for the Gem’s “cool mountain air” with color pictures of polar bears and icebergs.
On Michigan Street, Mr. Pesek installed the first domestic air conditioning unit in all of West 7th that summer. It was a large, noisy desk-sized beast set up in a shed alongside their house. The machine is long gone but the shed is still there. It’s been aluminum-sided and used for tool storage.
Tex Dubois, West 7th cab driver all-star, had air in his cab. He was OK when he was by himself without AC if he had regular access to the balm of a Dairy Queen.
On Fourth of July evening, my wife and I and our three girls watched a 360-degree display of fireworks around St. Paul from the sidewalk on the Interstate 35E overpass. There were 20 other people there including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, the camper–biker. He had a can of Pig’s Eye going and chatted with the folks like he was one of the neighbors, which I guess he really was. I walked over to him.
“Good evening, sir, “he said to me. “It’s a fine night isn’t it.”
“Yes, it is,” I answered.
There were too many people around to ask the questions I really wanted to ask him, so we just kept things at hello.
As the fireworks petered out, our family crew walked down Saint Clair to the West 7th Dairy Queen. On the way, I gave them a little tour of my walk. They liked Mr. Positive’s house and the guitar neck nailed to a tree at the Bongs. The pink rock failed to generate the enthusiasm I had hoped for.
So many amateur fireworks were going off on lower Saint Clair, there was a street-level blue cloud of smoke. You could smell the gunpowder. An occasional boom from a late, professional far away display thundered in the distance. Bottle rockets whistled over rooftops.
There was a crowd of Hmong children and adults on the side lawn of their home by the Bongs. Just as we approached, a police helicopter swept by low and loud and swung its searchlight on the rooftops. Adults frantically collected the children inside.
I remember when I first came to my West 7th home in 1975. There was a Hmong family living in a fourplex by United Hospital when those adults would’ve been kids. I’d see sidewalk chalk drawings of B – 52s dropping bombs on a jungle below.
Dairy Queen was excellent. There for us on the Fourth of July or the fourth of March. Mr. Positive would have approved.
toward Maria’s house.
Halfway down the block I turned around and saw Maria’s stretcher come down the front steps. Goodbye, Maria.
Back at the office Aleda said we should blow bubbles for the angel, Maria. Dr. Ravi always had a bottle of soap bubbles on his desk that he blew outside whenever the winter temperature got below -10 degrees (they freeze into cellophane balls).
At least 50 bubbles, backlit and rainbowed, drifted around our work area for a good nine seconds before silently popping.