So, I’ve been in Fargo, North Dakota.
My uncle — my mother’s younger brother — died suddenly, so my mother and her sister, my two cousins and I all traveled back to Fargo for the funeral.
I wish I’d remembered my camera, but I didn’t.
I grew up spending every summer of my life there, mostly at my grandparents’ lake cottage just over the border in Minnesota, so in a certain sense it feels more like home than anywhere.
My grandfather was one of nine who all grew up in Fargo. He and his three brothers inherited the family construction and hotel empire and stayed in Fargo, while his five sisters all moved away, mostly to St. Paul. I love their names. There was Francis Urban, Thomas Lawrence, Joseph, and Edward Patrick. The girls were Elizabeth, Eloise, Ann, DeRicci and Ruth. Now that my uncle is dead, only one of the third generation lives in Fargo, my mother’s cousin Young Eddie. Eddie’s daughter, little Ann, and her family live there, and from the looks of it will stay, and there are other cousins not too far away, mostly, again, in “The Cities.” My great-grandfather’s construction company still exists, although I don’t think anyone in the family still works there. My Uncle Joe did, but he is long since dead, and Eddie did, but he’s long retired.
The story is that my great grandfather came to Fargo as a bricklayer from St Paul right after a huge fire wiped out most of the city and from that built his construction company. Most of the buildings downtown, in that upper midwest way, are made of dark brick.
Strangely, also, the downtown, which was really dead 20 years ago, is hopping again. The town feels prosperous — or comfortable, anyway.
Lilacs were blooming everywhere.
My uncle, it turns out, had made a sort of specialty of selling houses for people who lived way out in the small towns — mostly for older people who were selling and moving into town. It seems that no one else was really interested in doing that, but he was in no particular hurry, and didn’t really need much money, so he would do it. He lived a pretty modest life, in a small apartment with some of the Roman posters from our old lake cottage on the wall, and the two leather armchairs that used to flank my grandparents’ fireplace in his living room, and a lot of camera equipment. He took a lot of pictures. He was a sort of quiet guy, and that’s pretty much what he did.
Eddy told me about my uncle’s life. I mean, I’ve known him all my life, but he was a very quiet guy. Eddy was the wild cousin who drove cars too fast and drank too much. They weren’t close, he said, although they were pretty close in age, but they would call each other every week or so. Eddy told me about Larry’s real estate business with some respect and said, “He had a very very lonely life.” I get the impression that while there were benefits to being one of my mother’s and Larry’s and Eddie’s generation, there were things about it that weren’t so great.
I remember going back when my grandfather died, which was about 25 years ago. My Great-Uncle Joe was quite ill at the time, lying in a hospital bed in the sun room. Unce Joe and Aunt Kate had a marble floor in the dining room of their little Fargo house, which incensed my grandmother. As long as I’d known him he’d had very white hair and a round pink face. We went to see him. I don’t even know if he knew who we were. He was crying, and quite upset, and he kept saying, quite loudly, “I’m the only one left. I’m the only one left.” He could not be consoled.
It really ought to be a novel