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My Nickel’s Worth                                       by Randy Ooney

Poor Boy

The earliest years of my life, learning to walk and talk, were spent in a brownstone fourplex, a couple of blocks from Plymouth and Lyndale in North Minneapolis.  We didn’t have a sand box, but the cinder pile of spent coal in the back provided a play area for us.  Many people of color lived in a neighborhood north of us along Broadway.  My mother taught me that they were to be called “gentle people”.  These were the days when George Mikan was the tallest player in the NBA, Jackie Robinson and Luke Easter were the only African American players in the major leagues, and American Bowling Congress had not yet opened the membership door to black bowlers.

In the 50s, my family moved to Hopkins, and growing into the exploratory age, my friends and I located the two dumps in the city.  There was the Red Owl dump, full of plywood and pallet wood great for making treehouses.  The Hopkins city dump had a myriad of treasures.  We once got an old bicycle frame, pedals and sprockets, a couple of wheels with only a few spokes missing, and with a couple of bucks at the hardware store we added tires, a few bolts, and a lot of oil and rebuilt a bike.  Add a clothespin and a Bill Tuttle baseball card and we could make it sound like a motor bike. 

A little older and us poor but honest white kids found we could earn money picking raspberries or carrying golf bags at the local country club.  Once a couple of black kids came to the caddy shack but they were turned away.  The caddy master said he already had enough caddies, but we knew it was a lie.  We knew the real reason, but we were 13 and our opinion didn’t matter.  In 1967, my old Plymouth and Lyndale neighborhood was ravaged by protests and rioting.  I didn’t agree with the methods, but I did sympathize with the cause.  Later I was drafted and spent several months at the Army Hospital in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, about 40 miles north of Nashville, TN.  I had many new friends of all races and creeds who each were serving our country as best they could.  It was there in April of 1968 that I came to really understand the ugliness of racism.  Many of my aforementioned black friends wouldn’t speak to me for weeks after that dark April 4th day in Tennessee.

Some wounds take time to heal, and I’m not sure if this one ever totally will.  But as we have upgraded ourselves from the city dump in Hopkins, to the high speed internet of today, we find ourselves forty years later welcoming Barack Obama and his message of change, ironically to the “White” house.  As for me, I never would have dreamed in my lifetime that the United States would elect a president with a bowling average of 37.  God Bless America.    

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