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Column: You can, too, go home again

News of Tim Russert's sudden passing brought shock and sadness to my house last week. Over the weekend, I watched news reports and special features about the amiable, spot-on political analyst and Meet the Press host. Every segment called attention to Russert's love for his hometown, Buffalo, N. Y.

It wouldn't make a good movie. Hollywood would have the successful newsman arrive in the nation's capitol and shun his roots. A big time journalist should hail from the Big Apple, not Buffalo. Yet, Russert spoke often about the strong foundation laid for him in the city of his birth.

When my husband and I moved to the East Coast in the early 1970s, we didn't think to be embarrassed that we hailed from the Minneapolis area. But we quickly learned we had to educate New York and New Jersey natives about the Mini-apple. Everyone we met wondered how big our parents' farms were. What crops they raised and how many cows were in the barns. No one wanted to believe Minnesota had many large farming communities but also sophisticated cities. We explained that we shared the same strong values as our state's agriculturists but shopped at major department stores and had never purchased bibbed overalls and plaid shirts from mail order catalogs. By the time we moved back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes two and a half years later, they still weren't convinced.

I wonder if my own children stand up for where they're from. Do they tell people they grew up in Bloomington? Do they mention the old Met Stadium and all the Twins games they attended? Surely, they boast about the excitement of afternoon home openers and being excused from school early so they wouldn't miss the first pitch. Do they remember the also defunct Met Sports' Center where we watched ice extravaganzas and hockey games?

In an interview, Luke Russert spoke of his dad's love for Buffalo's ribs. How he had them flown to Boston for tailgating parties at Luke's college. For my family, it was burgers. We never had the means or reason to fly them anywhere, but every patty from Andy's Tap on Old Shakopee Road was juicy perfection. Andy's was the venue for many family celebrations after a sporting event or school performance.

Just as, in my childhood, my parents took us kids to the Hasty Tasty restaurant not too far from the east shore of Lake Calhoun. The white stucco building had a pointy roof and good old-fashioned food. My sister and I loved their mashed potatoes, but it was ice cream we craved when Mom and Dad offered a treat after the long, drawn out ceremony of our Confirmation. The sundae was reassurance that, as we had memorized in case the bishop asked, "God loves us."

Where are you from? Retrace its streets and avenues. Relive celebrations and milestones. Picture a smiling neighbor, best buddy or a teacher who encouraged you. Revisit the sites where you ran the bases or ice skated. Even if it's from memory, savor the taste of a hot fudge sundae or cheeseburger from a favorite eatery.

Unlike Russert, my hometown will never name a park for me or dub me a favorite child. But, still, I feel its warm embrace as I travel down Memory Lane.

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