My mother had 12 siblings. They were all married and some married twice. So I had 28 aunts and uncles on my mother’s side.
Today I only have three aunts and one uncle left, each so special to me. My Uncle Joe and his sister-in-law, my Aunt Ruth, live in Rochester. I hadn’t seen any of them in a few years and my heart ached to be with them, so we decided to take a road trip to Rochester. I turned to the internet to search for activities of interest in the same vicinity.
We packed some clothes, water bottles and lunch and headed out. We stopped at Cannon Falls around noon to eat our picnic lunch at a gazebo facing the Cannon River. After eating we took a walk along the river and enjoyed watching people go tubing, kayaking and canoeing.
Unbeknownst to us, my cousin Dave and his extended family were among the people on the river that day. Dave paddled out the back of the canoe for 12 miles, while his 92 year old mother, Aunt Ruth Squillace, sat up front with her paddle!
Ruth is 100% Finnish and very proud of her heritage. She was born Ruth Kangas and grew up in Hutter. Today, with the help of her family, she can live independently in her home. Ruth has many interests and talents. She taught at school and now loves to travel. She is skilled with needle and thread, including hardanger embroidery, and paints beautiful landscapes.
After checking into our hotel in Spring Valley, we attended mass in a nearby town and had a lovely supper. Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park was first on our agenda for the next day. We had bought tickets for a visit to the cave at noon. So in the morning, we walked around Forestville, which features buildings from the mid-1800s, including a large house, barn, general store, and school. There were no tours that day and all the buildings were closed so it wasn’t really exciting. We went to the other end of the park to prepare for our visit to the cave.
The cave, at 13 miles long, is the longest cave in Minnesota. The cave was discovered in 1937 and became a national park in 1963. We entered the cave through a door in a small room and then descended a steep staircase.
We had chosen the Lantern Tour, so named because everyone carries a lantern since there is no other light in this end of the cave. The ranger asked us to turn off our lanterns for a minute so we could enjoy the total darkness. We tried to take pictures in the cave, but four lanterns and the ranger’s flashlight didn’t provide enough light for good pictures.
I had read that the cave hike would be a bit difficult, but I didn’t know that some parts of the rocky ground would be steep and slippery. I was wearing old sneakers with worn soles and I slipped a few times. Luckily, I had a cane that helped me stand.
Parts of the cave were narrow and we had to walk sideways. In other parts, the ceiling was so low that even I, at 4ft 11in, had to duck my head.
The reason we were in this cave was because I had seen a photo of a beautiful turquoise pool and I had to see this pool! Finally we reached the pool and although scenic it was not as breathtaking as pictured. The guard explained that the water appears more colorful in the spring when the water is deeper.
The Lantern Tour is three-quarters of a mile long and takes about an hour. The cave passages and formations were interesting and the ranger was informative. It was a good experience. If you like caves, you might consider a trip to this park.
The day was still young so we rushed to Austin to visit the SPAM® Museum. SPAM, Hormel pork and ham packaged in a box, originated in Austin in 1937 and most of it is still produced there.
The country where SPAM is most popular is Guam, and the US state where it is most popular is Hawaii. Whether you are a meat lover or not, the museum is worth a visit.
There are lots of fun facts about SPAM, free samples, great exhibits and friendly SPAMbassadors to answer questions. You can even measure your size in SPAM cans. I learned that during WWII the US military purchased 150 million pounds of SPAM for our troops. Another interesting fact is that SPAM is sold in a 12 ounce can as this was considered enough meat to feed a family of five. Today, Hormel manufactures 15 varieties of SPAM.
We spent the night in Rochester and the next day we had our family reunion. My cousin Mike kindly made all the arrangements for us. We joined Mike and his father, Joe Squillace, who is my uncle, on the terrace of the building where Joe lives. We were soon joined by Mike’s wife, my aunt Ruth, and his son Dave and his wife.
Joe is 97 years old. He has a soft voice and he is a very gentle man. At the age of 18, he was drafted into the army and served in Africa, Italy and France as a combat engineer during World War II. For many years Joe taught math in Virginia and often worked summers as an assistant gardener at Olcott Park. He loved to play bridge and he and his wife were avid golfers.
This spring, Mike helped Joe plant tomatoes in raised beds and petunias in pots on the patio. We all oohed and aahed about Joe’s garden. Mike served us drinks and snacks as we shared memories, stories and laughter. Joe and Ruth are both wonderful seniors and my heart was filled with joy to be with them.
When Joe and Ruth got tired, Joe went to his room and Ruth was taken home. The rest of us went out for lunch and carried on the conversation. There is something so special about being with people who share the same blood, the same grandparents, the same ethnicity and the same family histories. It was so much fun!
We checked into a motel near Minneapolis and spent the evening visiting dear friends who were struggling with health issues. It was good for all of us to be together and talk and cry and laugh.
In the morning we went to the Interstate State Park on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s a park, but we had to pay to park on the Wisconsin side and pay again to park on the Minnesota side. GRRR!
The park is spectacular! As we walked around Lake O’ the Dalles, Randy explained to me that eagles like to make nests in the tallest pine tree. We looked for the tallest pine and sure enough we spotted a nest. With binoculars we could see an eagle perched on a branch near the nest.
From the cliffs, we enjoyed a fabulous view of the Sainte-Croix river. Unique to this park, over 200 potholes were created thousands of years ago by glacial water swirling with rocks and sand to break through the rock. (I know you can come across many potholes as you drive through any town in the Iron Range, but these potholes are much more interesting.) The potholes in the park are round and of various sizes, including one 60 feet deep, which is believed to be the deepest glacial pothole in the world.
There are 66 state parks in Minnesota, each of which is special in some way. Any nature lover would appreciate the Interstate State Park. We are happy to have included it in this little mini-vacation.
Betty Pond lives in Mountain Iron with her husband, Randy. She is a frequent contributor to Hometown Focus.
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