Tales of St. Olaf
Rose's incredible stories of her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota.
Rose: I remember when I was a little girl back in St. Olaf. There was this old lady who lived up the street. She never smiled. I mean, she always looked angry. The kids said she'd kill anyone who even stepped on her property. We called her Mean Old Lady Higgenlooper.
Blanche: Yeah, kids can be pretty cruel.
Rose: No. That was her name. Mean Old Lady Higgenlooper. She had it changed legally 'cause everybody called her that anyway.
Blanche: Then how come your name isn't Big Dummy?
Rose: Well, there were already three other people in town with that name. But that's beside the point. One day I got up the courage to go up to Mean Old Lady Higgenlooper and ask her why she always frowned. Well, she had been born with no smiling muscles. I pointed out that a frown is just a smile turned upside down. So from then on, whenever I'd go by, she'd stand on her head and wave.
Rose: Well, it wasn't unnatural in St. Olaf. We not only took care of our old people, we revered them, honored them, put them on a pedestal. 'Course, that's how we got to be the broken hip capital of the Midwest.
Rose: Oh, good, you're home for the Festival of the Dancing Virgins. The sauce is almost ready.
Dorothy: I'm not staying for dinner tonight. There's a meeting at Mensa. That's the organization for people with high IQs like mine.
Rose: You know, in St. Olaf we had a chapter of Mensa, and across the room was Girlsa. No, wait, those were the bathrooms at St. Olaf's only Italian restaurant.
Rose: Therapy's a wonderful idea. Oh, I remember St. Olaf's most famous psychotherapists, the Freud brothers, Sigmund and Roy. You may have read their bestseller, "If I Have All the Cheese I Want, Why Am I Still Unhappy?"
Rose: That's a St. Olaf war bond. Charlie bought us those in '42. I didn't realize I still had those.
Blanche: Wait a minute. Are you telling me that St. Olaf printed its own war bonds?
Rose: Yes. Oh, we were very patriotic. In late '42, we wanted to fund the development of a top-secret weapon that we were sure would end the war. Attack cows.
Blanche: Take me now, Lord.
Rose: No one expects trouble from a cow. The plan was, we would drop these highly trained killer cows behind the enemy lines. It wasn't till they were airborne that we realized a cow can't pull a rip cord. Well, the project wasn't a total failure. If there's one thing the Germans hate, it's a mess.
Rose: Oh, speaking at Career Day is quite a responsibility. I still remember Career Day back in St. Olaf.
Sophia: Check, please.
Rose: Gunther Hanchap, St. Olaf's leading shepherd and notary, came to speak. It was so moving when he talked about his solitary existence with the sheep. No human contact for months at a time. Ugh. Just building a special relationship with God's simple creatures. I really wanted to help.
Blanche: So you decided to become a shepherd?
Rose: No. I decided to give Gunther a case of Scotch. And he really appreciated it, until he discovered what mean drunks sheep are. They're kind of like cows when they're drunk. You know what I mean?
Dorothy: Look, Marguerite is a lovely person. She just cannot do the job.
Rose: [sighs] I hate to admit it, but you're right. We had a similar situation back in St. Olaf, with Mrs. Gunderson, our grade school teacher. Oh, she was the nicest woman you'd ever want to meet, but as the years went by, she got her facts a little confused. In biology class she started telling kids that the human body was made up of 80% Ovaltine. While we were studying WWI, she told us mustard gas was something you got from eating too many hot dogs. That's why to this day in St. Olaf, everyone celebrates the 4th of July with a thin omelet on a bun.
Dorothy: What do you say after we fire Marguerite, we each chip in and get Rose a CAT scan.
Rose: I sure miss a traditional St. Olaf Christmas.
Dorothy: Excuse me, Rose, do we have time to run out and get hit by a bus?
Rose: First there'd be the Christmas pageant, with the shepherds and the angels and the two wise men.
Blanche: There were three wise men, Rose.
Rose: Not in St. Olaf. Then we'd all go down to the town square and try to form a circle. And then we'd all go home and smoke kippers.
Blanche: Why, Rose?
Rose: Because it's the best way to get your house to smell like kippers. And then in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, it was traditional to let all the animals sleep inside that night. And then, the next morning, the rumors would start. And they'd continue until New Year's, and we'd all make resolutions that it would never happen again. But then, the next year, all it took was a little eggnog and one wise guy saying, "What the hell! It's Christmas."
Rose: Dorothy, in times like these, you have to hold onto your faith, just like Hans Gluckenflunken, St. Olaf's greatest explorer.
Dorothy: Rose, please, let me have a little recovery time before you start a St. Olaf story.
Rose: You see, Hans Gluckenflunken set out for Florida to find the Fountain of Intelligence. Unfortunately, when he got to Duluth, he took a left instead of a right and he wound up back in St. Olaf. That's how he got his nickname, Wrong Way Gluckenflunken.
Dorothy: Rose, how is this a story about faith?
Rose: Well, when he got back, it was the dead of winter. Tired and hungry, but still clinging to his belief that he would find the Fountain of Intelligence, he saw the miracle water trickling out of the ground, and he fell to his knees and tasted it. Unfortunately, it was a broken sewer main. Two days later, he died of cholera.
Dorothy: What is the point, Rose?
Rose: He was positive he had found the Fountain of Intelligence. In fact, his dying words were, "I think I've learned something from this."
Rose: Please, Blanche, please. I'm too scared to go back to my room. This kind of thing has always frightened me, ever since I was a little girl, when I first heard my parents whispering about the St. Olaf slasher.
Rose: Yes. Oh, he terrorized St. Olaf for months. In the dark of night, he'd sneak into an unsuspecting farmer's field and mercilessly slash his scarecrow to shreds.
Blanche: He was a scarecrow slasher?
Rose: Primarily. Although he was suspected in the disfigurement of several whisk brooms. Oh, I was so scared at night, I'd sleep in the closet so he couldn't find me.
Blanche: Well, all right, Rose, how does it make you feel?
Rose: To be honest, a little bit like Mr. Snuffles.
Sophia: Blanche, would you mind? You're closer to the knife drawer.
Rose: One summer, when I was a little girl, Henrietta, our pig, gave birth to a litter of six. And the next day, my father won the annual St. Olaf watermelon-seed spitting contest and he brought home a prize piglet.
Blanche: Mr. Snuffles.
Sophia: You're listening?
Rose: Anyway, I loved Mr. Snuffles. I watched him grow. I suffered with him. The way Henrietta's brood made him feel like such an outsider. It was an awful thing to see.
Sophia: Hey, hearing it is no walk in the park.
Rose: Mr. Snuffles never did get over his feeling of alienation. He grew fat and despondent. The last report we had on him, he stowed away in a truck to Chicago and tearfully surrendered himself to the Oscar Mayer people. I don't want that to happen to me, Sophia.
Rose: We had a Festival of the Dancing Virgins in St. Olaf, too. Every year, we'd go down to the lake, and they'd be flopping around on the dock. Oh, no, wait. That was the Festival of the Dancing Sturgeons.
Dorothy: What is wrong with you, woman?
Rose: I think it's great that you want to have your baby here. Boy, in St. Olaf, the mother was always with the daughter when she gave birth. And if the mother was out of town, then the mother of the father was there. And if she was out of town, then we'd call Lucky Gunther.
Dorothy: Oh, what the hell. She has a birthday coming up. Why, Rose?
Rose: After the thresher accident, they replaced Lucky's arm with a forceps. Yep. Lucky Gunther. He was in charge of delivering babies and handing out corn at the Rotary picnics.
Dorothy: Shut up, Rose.
Rose: The reason these confidence men don't get caught is because people are embarrassed to come forward and admit they were conned.
Blanche: I'm sorry, Rose. I just can't.
Rose: Well, perhaps this little story might make you change your mind. Back in St. Olaf there was a shepherd boy who tended his flock on the hill above the town. A wolf kept coming down and stealing his sheep, but the boy never caught him doing it. Because he never saw it happening, he became known around St. Olaf as the boy who didn't cry wolf. Anyway, one day the townspeople heard the boy on the hill yelling, "Wolf, Wolf. " Well, they all figured, if the boy never cried wolf when the wolf was there, if he yelled wolf now, it stood to reason the wolf wasn't there.
Sophia: Boy, nothing gets by you people.
Rose: Damn straight. It was a bear. A huge, ferocious, grizzly bear.
Blanche: What happened to the boy?
Rose: He became known as the boy who cried continuously.
Rose: I can relate to the festivities part, Sophia. All our children were conceived on special St. Olaf holidays. Adam was conceived on the Day of the Princess Pig when they had the pig crowning, and Jeanella was conceived on Hay Day. That's the day we St. Olafians celebrate hay.
Dorothy: Rose, do you think you could wrap this up before Rebecca goes into labor?
Rose: Then there was the Day of the Wheat when everybody came to town dressed as sandwiches. Charlie and I forgot to put cheese between us and before I knew it, there was Kirsten.
Rose: Well, is everybody ready for a spirited game of Googenspritzer?
Blanche: Googenspritzer? You said we were gonna play Monopoly.
Rose: I said it was like Monopoly, only instead of Atlantic City, they use St. Olaf geography.
Blanche: Well, I'll be the bank.
Rose: Oh, good. There's the cashbox.
Blanche: Well, honey, this is empty.
Rose: Oh, I know. The St. Olaf Bank was one of the first savings and loans to go under.
Dorothy: Bad management?
Rose: Bad contractor. They built the bank on marshland, and it sank. All that was left were a few deposit slips and a pen with a chain attached to it, floating in the muck.
Blanche: I guess it's just like that old saying: opposites attract.
Rose: Oh, that's very true. Back in St. Olaf, Ollie Canudenspringle and his wife Bridget were opposites in every way. I mean, he was fat, she was thin. He was neat, she was sloppy. He was tall, she was short. He was cheap, she was extravagant. He was...
Sophia: Opposites. We get the picture.
Rose: Well, anyway, I'll never forget the time they sang at our annual talent show, right after the herring juggling act.
Blanche: You mean to tell me that somebody actually juggled herring.
Rose: No. It was the herring who did the juggling. Tiny little Ginsu knives. Really very dangerous. I mean, one false move, they could have filleted themselves.
Rose: Well, you were one of the lucky ones. It doesn't always work out that well. It sure didn't for Olga Fetchik.
Sophia: Just a minute, Rose. [puts on a pair of headphones and plays a tape recorder] Somebody give me a hand signal when she's finished.
Rose: Olga Fetchik was our town beautician. And one of God's most unattractive creations since the aardvark. Anyway, over the years, Olga had been secretly squirreling away money for plastic surgery. Well, one day she left without telling anyone, had the surgery and didn't return for months. Well, nobody could believe their eyes. Olga Fetchik had turned into a stunning beauty. Every man in town wanted her. She ended up marrying St. Olaf's most handsome and eligible bachelor, dance instructor Adolph Step. The two of them moved back to Norway, decided to get into show business, and they became the internationally renowned Scandinavian dance team of Step and Fetchik.
[A long period of silence follows as Dorothy and Blanche stare at Rose in disbelief]
Blanche: Rose, not that I care, but since you've already gone to so much trouble, just how did having plastic surgery ruin Olga's life?
Rose: Oh, it didn't ruin her life, it almost ruined St. Olaf. I mean, after she left, the town didn't have a professional beautician for years. Women started giving each other home perms. Pretty soon, everybody looked like Art Garfunkel. Husbands stopped sleeping with their wives, the population started to go down. Well, the town would have gone under if Oslo's most famous hairstylist, Vidal Sassbogadotter hadn't relocated his shop in St.
Olaf because of our more favorable tax laws. Now, you see why I don't like plastic surgery?
[Dorothy stands up, walks over to Sophia at the kitchen counter and turns the volume way up on her tape recorder]
Sophia: Ow! What did you do that for?
Dorothy: Why should we be the only ones in pain? You were saying, Rose?
Sophia: It's not that easy to make new friends.
Rose: It sure wasn't for the first Eskimo family that moved to St. Olaf. Especially after they sawed a hole and went salmon fishing in the middle of the local ice skating rink. And then there was the Halloween they gave all the kids whale blubber. And then there was the time they borrowed every ice tray in town to build an addition over their garage.
Dorothy: What was the point, Rose?
Rose: I guess after the baby came, they needed more room. The point of the story... Well, gradually they were able to make friends, and they ended up the most popular family in town.
Blanche: But only because they went out and met people. Isn't that right, Rose?
Rose: No. It was because in the drought of '49, their house melted and kept the town from dehydrating.
Dorothy: Oh, now, that is really odd. I mean, if he's selling encyclopedias, why didn't he try to sell us a set?
Rose: And you know what else is so strange about it? He didn't bring them in.
Blanche: Rose. No encyclopedia salesman lugs around 26 volumes door-to-door.
Rose: Are you kidding? In St. Olaf they carry 52.
Dorothy: Rose, why don't they just carry 13 in each hand?
Rose: Excuse me. I have to make a phone call.
Rose: I haven't been this scared since 1952, when St. Olaf's most active volcano threatened to erupt. Luckily, there were some Druid priests who were in town for the opening of Stonehengeland. They said they could stop it if they could sacrifice the town's dumbest virgin. I don't know why I raised my hand. It must have just been the excitement of the moment. But they said the only way to prevent the eruption was for me to crawl through their legs, up the volcano, while they gave me my birthday whacks. Well - and you're not gonna believe this - it turns out they weren't Druid priests at all. Just a bunch of Shriners looking for a good time.
Rose: Don't you think it's crazy that Blanche is actually gonna marry Jamie?
Dorothy: Why? They practically grew up together. Rose, they've known each other most of their lives so it's very comfortable. He's like an old friend.
Rose: But he's her late husband's brother. I remember back in St. Olaf when Inga Engstran married her late husband's brother Lars, and the whole town was shocked. Of course, that could've been because at the time Inga was on trial for her late husband's dismemberment.
Dorothy: It was probably a factor.
Rose: The trial went on for months. Attorney's fees cost her an arm and a leg.
Sophia: Rose, get to where they steal the brain out of the dead body and sew it into your head.
Rose: So anyway, she got a suspended sentence.
Sophia: They let her go?
Rose: No, they hanged her.
Sophia: I'm going to sleep. I don't know how long I've got, but I deserve better company in my final years.
Rose: I have to get a horse in this picture while it's still fresh in my mind. I don't know whether to paint Old Silver, the horse who brought the news to St. Olaf that the British had no intention of coming or Old Brisker, the horse who, because of a printing error on the ballot slips, was elected water commissioner for six months.
Rose: Sophia, I can't believe you're doing this. You know, this reminds me of the story of Gunilla Ulf's daughter, St. Olaf's very own angel of death.
Dorothy: Tell it, Rose. Tell it.
Rose: Really? All the way through?
Dorothy: All the way through. But please try to make the end come as close to the beginning as possible.
Rose: Well, Gunilla Ulf's daughter was a nurse at Cedars of St. Olaf Hospital. One night she was taking care of Sven Bjornsson, and he asked her if she would get him some more mouth moisteners and then kill him. Gunilla brought the mouth moisteners right away, but the killing thing seemed to go against everything she'd been taught.
Dorothy: You're doing beautifully, Rose.
Rose: He begged and he begged, and by her coffee break, she couldn't stand it anymore, so she pulled the plug and he died. Well, she was racked with guilt that night. Not only had she parked her car in a doctor's spot, but she was never sure whether Sven's pleading was the pain talking, or the medication talking, or the guy in the next bed talking! You see, the guy in the next bed was Ingmar von Bergen, St. Olaf's meanest ventriloquist.
Dorothy: Rose, we are going somewhere with this, aren't we? I mean, if not, I'm gonna cut out your tongue.
Rose: Yes! Sven came back to haunt Gunilla. Since then, every Tuesday night at ten. Nine, Central time. She hears noises. Some say it's the wind, but some say it's Sven's voice whispering back from the other side, saying, "Turn around quick. His lips are moving."
Rose: I know what it's like to trust somebody who's betrayed you. You're not gonna believe this, but I have a St.
Olaf story about this.
Dorothy: I believe you. I just hate you.
Rose: Well, Gunilla Bjorndunker, St. Olaf's tallest woman - of course, nobody ever made fun of her for that. Anyway, when Old Space Needle was in high school she drank some cherry herring and made love in the backseat of a Fjord Fjairlane. Local car. And she got in trouble, if you know what I mean, Dorothy. Knukendup und schvingle.
Sophia: She knows what you mean.
Rose: Anyway, her boyfriend, Yutz Hernsberg, St. Olaf's only bald high school student, had to marry her.
Blanche: But why would she marry a guy like that?
Dorothy: Because I was young. I- I'm sorry- I'm sorry, Rose. This is your story. Go- Go on. Go on.
Rose: Well, anyway, after 38 years of marriage and a painful divorce, he finally came back, having invented Hernsberg's Press-on Warts.
Dorothy: Who bought those?
Rose: Hags, mostly. Don't you see? He was successful and he wanted Gunilla back.
Dorothy: Well, what happened to her, Rose?
Rose: Skylab fell on her.
Dorothy: What is the point of this story?!
Rose: Be thankful for your health.
Rose: Don't worry, Dorothy. Maybe Jimmy'll come around.
Dorothy: Oh, I wish I could believe you, but, Rose, I have been there. I mean, after a while you feel you're just in this gigantic black hole.
Rose: We had a gigantic black hole back in St. Olaf.
Sophia: Oh, God.
Rose: On Main Street, right in front of the courthouse where Charlie and I got our marriage license and our permit to have kids. Oh, it was a lovely hole. Everybody in town would stand around and look in it.
Dorothy: And they say Hollywood is the entertainment capital of the world.
Rose: Well, we didn't just look in it. Sometimes we'd point, too. Or spit and time it. Then there was always that wise guy who'd have a couple of drinks and unzip himself and-
Dorothy: It's official. I hate her.
Miles: The point is, it all would have been behind me, but he escaped. The government had to put me in the Witness Protection Program. Gave me a new name, new job, whole new identity.
Rose: I don't know what to say. I can't believe this story you're telling.
Dorothy: But you can believe the story about Henrik Felderstuhl, St. Olaf's half-man, half-grasshopper?
Rose: Dorothy, I'm telling you, when he rubbed his legs together, you'd swear you were on a camping trip.
Rose: You know, Blanche is right. It doesn't matter how good your product is, you have to know how to promote it. That sure was the case with Fritz Vanderhoeven, who owned the St. Olaf Motor Coach Company.
Blanche: They built a car in St. Olaf?
Rose: They sure did. The Vanderhoeven Rocket. Oh, it was a beauty. Fritz really had vision. Actually, he had double vision, which is why it had eight tires.
Dorothy: So, uh... What happened?
Rose: It never got off the ground. Bad promotion. Which was a shame, because it's the first car to this day that ran on free fuel. It was totally powered by cow manure. I think a lot of people were turned off by the ad: a cow sitting on a gas tank, reading the Farmers' Almanac.
Rose: You know, people in St. Olaf are lucky. We all had the same family tree. You can trace each of us back to the same brother and sister.
Dorothy: Well, I think that completes the puzzle.
Rose: Oh, this is gonna be great. I love charities. In fact, I helped establish the Henry Fjord Foundation.
Dorothy: The Fjord Foundation?
Blanche: Yes, Dorothy. You know, that's the man who built the Fjord Fjalcon.
Rose: Henry Fjord was a saint. He dedicated his whole life to eliminating pond scum from Lake St. Olaf. His son, however, was a big disappointment. Henry Fjord Junior. He didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps. He thought scum was beneath him.
Sophia: You know, I just realized the best reason of all to join this walkathon.
Dorothy: What's that, Ma?
Sophia: I'd get away from this ditz for a whole day.