School Supplies?

I missed out on the entire last-hipster-weekend-of-the-summer. Just think, I could have waited around smoking cigarettes in my apartment each night until I was forced to call random skinny people around 11 p.m. to half-gripe/half-ask, “God, I’m bored, is there anything going on tonight?”

Instead, I went to Staples, MN. No, not to get school supplies, smartass. Staples is the small railroad town where my daddy grew up. Officially, we were there to celebrate my cousin Eric’s secret wedding–last fall, he eloped to Madeline Island with a red-headed woman. Eric and the red-headed woman’s secret love aside, it was Labor Day Weekend, and my family went up to Staples like it does every Labor Day. Every major holiday in the summer, really. Because Staples is the home of the Marsh Family Compound. Our patriarch, Monroe Marsh, was a hunter and trapper and carpenter and live auction pack-rat. He spent every other year building God-knows-what in Greenland. He worked for the railroad for some time. But in 1953, he bought 280 acres next to the Crow Wing River, most of it the hardwood forest of Central Minnesota– prickly ash and red oak and maple broken up by white pine and popple–and clear cut a portion of it for a small farm. Red, or Monk, as he was known in greater Morrison and Cass Counties, passed on in 2000 (and if this shit isn’t too boring for you, I have a literal murder ballad to sing regarding his funeral weekend on some future blog). Anyway, each summer, Monroe’s seven children, of whom my father is the eldest, bring their offspring and their offspring’s offspring, and their offspring’s husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and drug buddies and various and sundry hangers-on, up to the muddy banks of the Crow Wing to smoke cigarettes, drink windsor and pabst blue ribbon, fall in the campfire, bleed in Uncle Dave’s garage, sing, toke, play guitars, argue, fight, and most importantly, tell stories.

A lot of southern writers, from Faulkner to Joseph Mitchell to Howell Raines, credit the story-telling traditions of their families when explaining how they became writers. I don’t have the gift those guys do, but the reasons why I write can probably be attributed to my family and those 280 acres in Staples. They’re not southern, but they’re close enough. We even have a longrunning feud, for instance, between us and the tangentially-related family across the road from us, The Cramptons. My grandfather married Alice Crampton, my grandmother, the sister of the rival Patriarch across the road, Bob. Over the years, tension ran high between the families with duelling “NO TRESPASSING” signs and barb wire fences and an infamous incident where my grandfather aimed a rifle at my great-uncle. In fact, before he died, Grandpa Marsh donated 140 acres to the Minnesota DNR, not out of some desire for a civic legacy, or any gratitude to the state’s husbandry of our shared natural resources, rather to piss off Uncle Bob by putting a public access, the Alice B. Marsh public access, and all the empty beer cans and broken glass and trash that comes with a central Minnesotan public access, just yards from Bob’s property.

Of the remaining 140 acres, each of the seven siblings was given a 20-acre lot. A couple of them live on their land–Aunt Cindy has a trailer on the high banks, my cousin Holly is living on her daddy’s land, my Uncle Tim’s, with her boyfriend in a converted trailer/deer-hunting shack back in the woods, and the youngest sibling, Uncle Dave, was bequeathed my grandpa’s house and tool shed. Last year, he built a big garage where he runs a small inner tube rental/engine repair business.

I missed Cat Power at the Varsity on Friday, but I think the musical highight of the weekend took place in that garage. Several of my cousins are gifted musicians–they sing at all of our weddings and funerals, and play guitar around our campfires in Staples (The Eagles “Seven Bridges Road” is a perennial high-harmony highlight). Eric plays guitar in a local metal-ish band, Dayfeed, and my cousin Angie is married to the bassplayer in another local band, Ginger Jake. On Saturday, both bands combined with the rest of my singin’, pickin’ cousins, for an all-star lineup that covered an aggressive set list of 90s AOR–Weezer, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Jewel, Joan Osborne, etc.

So you’re asking: “where’s the story, you self-indulgent prairiebilly raconteur?” Here’s one, hopefully indicitive of the tenor of a holiday weekend on the compound. Late in the evening, the lead singer of Ginger Jake, the petite brunette who covered “Who Will Save Your Soul” earlier in the set, was dancing with a friend of Cousin Holly, a 6’4″ tattooed motorcyclist from Rapid City, SD, with a Road Warrior handle, “Dog.” During one of the groovier numbers, Dog drunkenly lost his balance, falling on top of the brunette; he only avoiding crushing the girl with his full weight by breaking his fall with his head, crashing his face into the polished concrete floor of Dave’s garage. He got up, dazed and bloodied, his nose crooked as a snapped basswood branch, and stumbled into the shadows. When everybody rushed out of the garage to attend to him, he told the mob to “Stay the fuck away from me!” and appeared to clutch at the buckknife strapped to his belt. Before anybody tried to forcibly disarm Dog, my Aunt Colleen screamed, “Only Cousin Danny can talk to him! Only Danny!” Danny came over and calmed Dog down, getting him to actually heel before the floodlight by the kegs, in order to get a look at his disfigured nose and the nasty gash in his forehead. Aunt Colleen cleaned him up and ushered him back to Holly’s trailer in the woods. Evidently, the next morning, Dog still didn’t know the name of his wife.

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2 Responses

  1. Funny that I would read this trying to locate my cousin Tim Marsh.

  2. Hi,
    I stumbled upon your entry looking for that inner tube rental place in staples. I’ve rented from that garage before, but I don’t remember where it was… Could you email me the address by any chance? I can’t find it anywhere.

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