Bursting the bubble: Lifelong friends back home | AspenTimes.com

Bursting the bubble: Lifelong friends back home

Alison Berkley Margo
Aspen Princess

I stood and surveyed the buffet at the church, realizing it was pretty much chock full of everything I don't eat: huge platters loaded with gluten, dairy, ground beef and sugar.

Little old ladies with round glasses and puffy hair like cotton balls on top of their heads smiled at me, poised with large serving spoons in their wrinkled, delicate hands. These are the volunteer church ladies who prepared all the food for the funeral, the hot dishes and the casseroles and one bowl of pink stuff, which I have seen before, but never dared to eat. I managed to find some fruit salad and coleslaw that had been spared the mayo that almost everything else on the table seemed to be swimming in.

Sometimes you have to leave the bubble in order to realize what a bubble we actually live in.

We flew back to Minnesota to say goodbye to Dave, a close friend of Ryan's family who passed away suddenly. He'd been friends with the Margos since he moved into the neighborhood. Ryan's dad loves to tell the story about how they met, about how Dave was standing outside his new house in front of a pile of dirt taller than the roof for his wife's beloved garden.

"He can't move all that dirt by himself," Ron thought, and headed over with a wheelbarrow.

The two men became fast friends. Both were young men, recently married who had moved to the suburbs. They were both coaches and teachers. Eventually they'd both have kids around the same time. The two families would share many memories, traveling together and having many neighborhood parties.

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To hear Ron talk of these parties, it sounds like a forgotten time in a faraway place. "We didn't have a lot of money, so we'd all get together and bring food and beer and the kids would play all kinds of games, and sometimes this would go on for two or three days."

I'd heard all about this, of course. Whenever word gets out that Ryan is home for a visit, all the neighbors come by, a steady stream of giggly women and men who pat you on the back with their broad, heavy hands. Most of the kids now have kids of their own and still live nearby. They share an ease with each other that only comes from knowing people for most of your life. There are no airs, no pretentions, no superficiality and no tension. When people speak of each other's problems or challenges, it's not out of a need for gossip, but genuine concern.

No one talks about how many Bowl laps they did or how great they feel since they did their last beet juice cleanse. People look like normal people. They're not all coiffed and fit and clad head to toe in Lululemon with ageless faces and blown-out hair. You don't even need sunglasses in Minnesota's pale winter sun, which, no joke, I mistook for the moon one day.

As in, "Wow, look how big the moon is!" only to realize that's what the sun looks like when it's behind a cloud layer thick as gauze. We were on our way into downtown St. Paul to see the ice castle that is part of the Winter Carnival festivities. Yes, that's right, since 1886, the good people of St. Paul gather outside on the streets to celebrate a season that is brutally cold, the kind of cold that stings your cheeks and numbs your hands and feet and is immune to materials like down and Gore Tex. Did I mention that the festival goes on for two whole weeks? There's a whole legend behind it, with gods and goddesses and these guys called the Vulcan Krewe who run around in red jumpsuits and goggles and are supposed to represent fire. They remind me of ski patrol and are kind of hot, though I guess that's the whole point.

It was "warm" when we were there, and by that I mean the temperatures were above freezing. Still, it's not like you can prance around in leggings and boots because the wind cuts right through the material and it feels as though you aren't wearing anything. I finally got to wear the cute wool skirt I bought at Bristlecone like two years ago because my friend Sarah always wears these cute wool skirts and wool dresses with boots and matching pompom hats because that's what we wear in the midvalley — I think they call it mountain casual.

That look doesn't really work for me, I've learned, because my legs are too short and too stout and I end up looking like an elf or a horse jockey when I wear too much material with boots. But even on a warm day in Minnesota, vanity takes a back seat to what is necessary and real, and that's one of the things I love about the place.

What really moved me was watching my father-in-law eulogize his best friend in a church packed with people, with friends and neighbors whose kids (like Ryan) had attended preschool here, who had likely gathered here for weddings and services and, of course, funerals. He was articulate, humble, funny, but also strong and elegant, a rare combination I admire in him. He got a little choked up at the end, which made him even more human.

There's nothing like a little mortality to remind us all about what matters, that the time we have is limited and we might want to think about how we spend it and who we share our lives with. The good people of Mounds View, Minnesota, have that pretty well figured out. They might not worry about eating a plant-based diet that's gluten-free or whether they have an adequate athleisure wardrobe (since it's too cold for that anyway) but they know who their friends are — and it's for life.

The Princess is excited for her facial today. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.