Princess: There really is such a thing as Minnesota nice

Ali Margo
The Aspen Princess

In lieu of a real parade over the Fourth of July, my 5-month-old son was pulled around behind one of those drive mower things in a wagon with his cousins and his pug.

We were at the park across the street from the home where Ryan grew up in Mounds View, Minnesota. His parents still live there, and so do all the neighbors and a lot of their kids, who now have kids of their own.

So whenever we come to visit, all the neighbors come by and sit on the back porch and tell the same stories about how they used to dress Ryan up in girls clothes, the time he got his little brother drunk on peach schnapps, the time he had a party and his parents came home early or that time Ryan took out a good divot of his dad’s flawless front yard playing golf and then took off running because he knew Ron’s lawn is a church and he had just committed a cardinal sin.

And even though I’ve heard all these stories before, it’s nice that Ryan got to grow up in a neighborhood where people actually care about one another, where they grow up together, where they stay together and raise their own kids because they don’t see any reason to leave.

That was so not how I grew up.

Ryan also has a nice big family, and most of them still live here, too. Enough people were here to fill up two long picnic tables in the park across the street for the “Meet Levi” party Mimi hosted to show off the babes. And everyone showed up and brought food over. And even if I don’t like ting-tong burgers or love potato salad with lots of goopy mayonnaise or deviled eggs, I was happy. So I picked at the crudite and ate pineapple slices all day long until the roof of my mouth was puckered, and I washed it down with a cold can of Nordeast beer.

But it was still nice. It was nice because the park is nice, with big, old, shady trees with thick trunks and a playground with a decent slide and a building that’s nice and cool with bathrooms inside and a little kitchen where the little girls played “restaurant,” taking everyone’s drink orders and making handwritten menus with thick markers they hung above the counter with tape.

And Ryan’s family sat at those tables for almost seven hours because they actually like each other and because they enjoy spending time together — or at least it appeared to be so.

It was nice because it was so different from my family.

What little extended family I do have is spread all over the place, and we never lived in the same city to begin with. My only brother left the country 10 years ago and never came back. Other than prattling on about his various real estate deals on the rare occasion he does call, he doesn’t tell me much. I don’t know his friends or who he dates and haven’t met his dogs or seen where he lives. I only have a vague idea about what he does with his time, and I’ve only been to visit twice. We adored each other when we were kids, but then we grew up, and adulthood somehow came between us.

I don’t really feel any connection to the town I grew up in. I went to private school in a different city and eventually to boarding school in another state. We never knew our neighbors, and the houses in my neighborhood were far apart and at the ends of longish driveways behind tall trees as if to say, “Please don’t.” When my parents sold our house, they gave all their stuff away like it meant nothing. It’s only because I threw a huge tantrum that they saved me the 1973 vintage Eames chair. (Yes!)

What I do have are amazing parents who are still together and still in love and who would do anything for us. And that’s more than most people have.

So now I’ve married into this amazing family who live in the Land of Nice. You have never met more unpretentious, genuine, friendly people in your life. It’s like this perfect little wholesome suburban fantasy land with swing sets in the backyards and boats in the driveway.

You can literally wear sneakers all day long and be good to go for any occasion no matter what. People are just people here. I’m pretty sure they care more about their families and their neighbors than they do about how many yoga classes they took or how many days they skied. There’s no, “How far/fast did you go, and how long did it take you?”

So if my brother-in-law wants to throw my baby in the back of a wagon and pull him around the park, I’m loving that. If everyone wants to pass him around the table like he’s a basket of bread, I’m fine with that, too. He can go in his uncle’s freezing-cold above-ground pool and take a stroller cruise through the Mall of America (which has to be the most stimulating place on the planet because even I felt overwhelmed in there and I love shopping), and he can sit on Lola’s lap because she’s the nice Asian lady neighbor who brought over fresh homemade egg rolls and they were delicious.

I can’t even imagine how it must feel for Ryan to see his son sleeping in the same room as he did as a boy and playing in the same yard. What I do know is an upbringing like that makes for a happy, healthy boy because I married him. With his bright eyes and huge, toothless smile, I know my babes has Minnesota nice in his blood, too.

The Princess has been eating way too much but is trying to cut herself a break. Email your love to