The Great River Road, Part 2: Grand Rapids to Little Falls, MN

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. – Dorothy Gale

August 23, 2015 – Day 2 – Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Little Falls, Minnesota

 This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! We rejoice when we wake up in a “van down by the river”…or when we’re parked between two semi trucks in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Grand Rapids. We awoke this particular Sunday morning excited to get to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Hibbing, Minnesota. It’s always fun to meet new people, especially ones who share a common faith. It’s also interesting to see how different congregations go about conducting the different elements of worship (singing, praying, communion, etc.) And, quite honestly, after 27 straight years of being in charge of something as either a deacon, youth minister, or elder, it’s refreshing to be able to walk into a service with no responsibility other than to worship our awesome God.

Our brothers and sisters at the church of Christ in Hibbing were extremely welcoming, and were excited to hear that we were full-time RVers. Although they are few in numbers (16 in Bible class and about 25 in worship), they were very friendly and encouraging. After a challenging class on 1 Corinthians 5, an older man (Gary Nading), presented a thoughtful lesson on what it means to be made in the image of God (from Romans 8:29). At the conclusion of the service, Brother Nading shared with the congregation that next year, to celebrate his 80th birthday, he and his wife would once again be riding the Tour de Togo. The Tour, a 200+ mile bicycle rally over three days, raises money for their local church camp, the Flaming Pines Youth Camp. (Note to Robert Clouse: motorcycle rally fund-raiser for Florida Bible Camp?) Yesterday, we were inspired by a volunteer making mats for the homeless in Bemidji. Today, God introduced us to a man who will, as an 80-year-old, be biking 200+ miles to raise money for a Christian camp! We love to hear about elderly Christians continuing to serve God in their later years…hope we can do the same some day. When Paul talks about fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith (2 Timothy 4:7)…I can picture Brother Nading crossing the finish line with his hands in the air, his wife riding along by his side, and a smile on his face. (Actually, I hope his hands are on the steering wheel…he’ll be 80.) We really got two sermons that Sunday morning…the one Brother Nading preached…and the one he lives.

Original Greyhound Bus Station, Hibbing
Original Greyhound Bus Station, Hibbing

Still in the town of Hibbing, we drove by the Greyhound Bus Museum, where the first bus service began in 1914. The initial bus (actually a vehicle known as a Hupmobile) took miners to the local strip mine. That strip mine would become the Hull Rust Mine, which today is the largest operating open pit iron ore mine in the world. This man-made “Grand Canyon of the North”, a National Historic Site, measures more than three miles long, two miles wide and as much as 600 feet deep. Since 1895 it has moved more that 1.4 billion tons of earth and during the 1940’s (and more specifically, World War II), one quarter of the ore mined in the United States came from the Hull Rust Mine. As mine operations expanded in the early years, the town of Hibbing got in the way. So in 1919, they moved the town! It took two years and $16M to move 185 houses and 20 businesses to the nearby area where Hibbing currently resides. And how did the mineworkers living in the new Hibbing location get to work back at the mine? By taking the previously mentioned Hupmobiles which evolved into the Greyhound buses we know today. The Visitor Center includes a video presentation, observation deck, a gift shop and mine exhibits. If you time it right, you can also witness a mining dynamite blast used to clear bedrock away to get to the iron ore. Before moving on from this quarry story, I just want to say…Yaba-daba-doo!

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Hull Rust Mine, Hibbing

We returned to Grand Rapids for one final stop: the Judy Garland Home / Wizard of Oz Museum. For fans of Miss Garland or the movie, this is a bucket list destination. Judy was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids and spent the first few years of her life in this home, which can be toured as part of the museum admission. She was a singer, actress and vaudevillian performer (along with two older sisters) from the age of 3, and had an incredible 40-year career. Her awards included Grammys, a Golden Globe, Academy Award nominations, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the motion picture industry (at 39 years of age, the youngest recipient). In 1997, she was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1999, the American Film Institute placed her among the ten greatest female stars in American cinema history. Of course, her most famous role was that of Dorothy in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

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Judy Garland’s Childhood Home, Grand Rapids

In terms of Oz memorabilia, this museum delivers big-time. Our favorite thing was the stagecoach used in the movie, which had been previously owned by Abraham Lincoln. We also toured Judy’s early childhood home because, well, there’s no place like home. (Sorry)

Abe's Carriage
Abe’s Carriage

Most importantly, I had a long conversation with the Wicked Witch of the West. I privately shared with her my disappointment over her treatment of the Munchkins, and how she and her flying monkeys had caused many of my childhood nightmares. I let go of this long-held bitterness, we made our peace, and I forgave her with a kiss. As I walked away from the exhibit and looked back over my shoulder one last time, she mouthed the words, “I’ll get you my pretty…just like I got your little dog Mandy.”

Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Forgiveness and Reconciliation

As we departed the museum in our RV heading south, we discussed something that seemed to be missing from the Judy Garland home tour and museum: the “bad stuff” from her life. If it was there, we never saw it. Despite all of her professional successes, which the museum documents quite well, she had a really difficult personal life. She had very low self-esteem as a child, which was made worse when studio executives said she was ugly and manipulated her physical appearance onscreen (they were wrong, by the way). She was financially unstable, frequently owing thousands of dollars in back taxes. Four of her five marriages ended in divorce. Worse still, she had a prolonged battle with drugs and alcohol, which eventually took her life from an overdose at age 47. Was it right to “sanitize” her life and only present the good stuff? Perhaps so, given all the young Oz fans that tour the place. On the other hand, would a presentation of some of her struggles have presented a more balanced view on her life? Could young people and other visitors possibly learn from her struggles in some way? Before answering, think about how you would want your own life portrayed if they built a museum about you some day.

After having this discussion about what should or should not have been included in the Judy Garland museum, and our (never to be) personal museums, we listened to a recent chapel talk by our son, Kyle, at Harding University. Kyle makes the point that each and every person has a compelling life story, one that is made up of both good and bad. We all make mistakes and face difficult challenges in life. That’s part of who we are, and God uses both the good and bad to help mold us into the people he wants us to be. Like the Wizard of Oz, we all have a magical version of our families and ourselves that we naturally want the world to see. But like in the movie, when we pull the curtain back on our lives, the reality isn’t always so magical. Gary Nading has struggles. Judy Garland had struggles. And Da Johnsons certainly have struggles. Perhaps when we allow ourselves to be a little more transparent, we’re better positioned to help those going through some of the same challenges.

We enjoyed our time in Grand Rapids and Hibbing. As for what’s next…well…I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers…if I only had a brain.

Big Steve

P.S. If you’d like to hear Kyle’s chapel talk, go to the following link, and his talk begins at 14:21… http://hardingtv16.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=23c3f1c9de3e7d92df9c46c81d05e2b5

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