I guess she could best be described as this mirage I can’t get out of my head. But not really! And homage is probably a bit overblown for someone I hardly even knew. Nevertheless, Gladus (last name unknown) was one of those iconic figures that came into my life for a very brief period of time then disappeared just as quickly.
She was a woman far removed from my social-economic-educational background and career aspirations. Yet for some strange reason during those early cold months of March and April, we connected on a level quite different from my old romantic entanglements that I used to bench-mark as true love.
Even though she was ten years older than me, I found in Glady a kindred soul on a level I hadn’t experienced before with other women. The sad thing was that Glady had dried up and aged well beyond her years. Her eyes were a sometimes sad brown and there was a hint of early onset gray in her hair. It didn’t help that she favored thin cotton sweaters, even in the summertime, and thought of herself as long past a favorite with the boys.
It was spring of 1967. I had just returned from my short expat life in Europe. I was living in a depression era hovel on University Avenue, driving a used VW and had just started my first real job as a writer at the Minnesota Department of Public Health on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus.
Glady was the first woman who made me feel mature. She was attractive even for a middle-aged matron and we could talk easily about almost anything and everything. The problem was that in our office setting it was always awkward for casual chats under the constant radar of our boss, the notorious Dr. Marie Ford. Dr. Ford, was always on the lookout for fraternization among the troops.
On the University campus, Marie Ford had a storied history as the wife of a renowned college professor. She would occasionally talk about their life, living in Prospect Park, attending University functions and traveling with only the most accomplished of other college couples. It was after the war and the University was a buzz with ex-service men anxious to get a good education and ready to absorb all the information her husband could throw at them.
Marie had a stellar career in public health and held her own prominent place within their circle of intellectual health professionals. She and her husband were one of the post-war golden couples at the University.
Sadly, by the time I arrived on scene in early 1968, Marie’s husband had long since passed away. Marie had become an old, tired, chain-smoking relic of an era long since passed. She seemed to regret its passing and, almost like Glady, she had seen her future slowly come into focus. Both knew what the next decade held instore for them. An enthusiastic, energetic young man suddenly in their midst didn’t help when thinking about the future.
The fact that Glady was ten years older than me didn’t seem to matter to either one of us but our background did. Glady had grown up in a world totally different from mine. I was from tony Highland Park. She was from Northeast Minneapolis.
Around the turn of the century, the community of Northeast Minneapolis began to grow as an ethnic enclave supplying workers for the factories that lined Central Avenue and batched them in clusters throughout the neighborhood. There was a strong Eastern European influence in religion, social standing in the community and family obligations.
I knew little about Glady’s background growing up other than she had graduated from high school in NE Minneapolis and gone to work immediately. Like almost all of the young women her age, Glady still lived at home with her mother and would eventually became her mother’s primary care giver. There was never any thought as to her moving out and living on her own.
Her Eastern European roots and upbringing meant she was locked into a lifestyle she couldn’t break away from, even if she wanted to. It was understood that she would never leave home until both her parents had passed.
And I thought to myself: what then with little education and marginal secretarial skills? Glady was probably destined to spending the rest of her life in the secretarial pool at one University department or another.
In retrospect after reflecting on our casual verbal encounters, I think perhaps Glady was living her life vicariously through my many inane, sometimes sophomoric antics with fellow hippies, college dropouts and wandering young adults still unsure of themselves and their future endeavors. I remember she asked me a lot questions about living in Europe, my time in the service, who I was dating and other general ‘get to know you’ probes. She seemed to really care and that just fed my expanding ego.
One Monday, Glady told me in confidence that she had gone to the Triangle Bar and thought she might run into me there because I had talked about it so often. It never occurred to me that her venturing so far from her comfort level was anything other than a bar visit. What were her real intentions, if any, I have no idea?
I only lasted about a year and a half at the Health Department before getting my dream job at KTCA and ‘getting out of Dodge.’ I never saw Glady again. Her image and memory slowly faded away until some fifty years later when Sharon began taking art classes in Northeast Minneapolis. Once again I found myself in the neighborhood where Glady used to live.
But this time it was different than in 1968. Fifty years after the West Bank of the University of Minnesota harbored the disenfranchised, the hippies and other malcontents of a similar ilk; their decedents had now migrated to the Northeast part of Minneapolis. In an unplanned, almost organic metamorphosis of a cityscape, this unwashed morass of creativity had moved west. Old Nordeast, an eclectic enclave of blue-collar Eastern European nationalities, has become the new West Bank. It felt like Deja-vu all over again.
As I once again drove past those tired old dilapidated houses in a neighborhood with a church on every corner, I thought about Glady and whatever had become of her. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume she continued on as a secretary at the University and eventually retired to her mother’s home in NE. Perhaps she became the classic ‘church’ lady or ‘cat’ lady and lived out the rest of her life as her heritage had dictated.
There’s a part of me that would love to believe that she finally found someone, after her mother passed, and she created a new life for herself outside of the drab, dreary lifestyle handed down to her by past generations. I guess I’ll never know. But I can imagine.
Of course, I’ve already outlined a story about Glady. It could be a play, a novel or a short story. It involves a man much younger than her. They fall in love but things don’t turn out as they had planned. The story is, at once, happy and sad, poignant yet realistic. A slice of life that might have occurred in a tired old building on the University of Minnesota campus between two lost souls; each seeking clarity in their patchwork lives.