My friend Kelly's family bought a house on the river in my hometown this spring.

I approved of this move. Half a dozen years ago or so, when she moved out of her childhood home — the home she and her husband had bought from her parents — I wasn't so happy.

Mostly because I have almost as many memories in Kelly's childhood home as I do in my own. "You're selling your house?" I'd said to her at the time. "How could you do that to me?"

I'd just gotten over it when Kel and Jason decided to move again, to this house on the river. I was actually in town the weekend they moved in, and when I saw the gorgeous yard they'd bought into, I forgave them for selling their country home those years ago. One look at that deck overlooking the river and I knew we were going to make more memories there.

We already started. When I was up in Thief River Falls a couple weeks ago to see my parents, I asked Kel if she was free to meet up. She suggested I stop over for a pontoon ride. Um, yes.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Kelly and Jason had just bought the pontoon a week and a half earlier. When I arrived at her house, she added gas to the tank and steered us away from her dock like she'd grown up on the water.

I hadn't been on the Red Lake River in decades. But as we navigated between its banks, I could see that not much had changed. We cruised by the boat landing. Under the bridge near my Grandma Haugen's old house. The fishing dock where I once wished on a penny that a boy I had a crush on would have a crush on me back.

The farther we went, though, the more disconnected I felt. "Where are we now?" I'd ask Kelly. "Back behind Taft," she'd say. Or "just behind the neighborhood by that pool." I'd try to picture it, but couldn’t. Guess that's what 30 years away will do.

We'd turned around and were heading back down the river when the pontoon's motor began to sputter.

I made a joke about how it was lucky that we'd brought oars … when it turned out the joke was on us. Because that's when the pontoon died. In the middle of the river. A half mile from Kelly's house. We'd run out of gas.

Kelly's daughter, Jenna, and I paddled while Kelly steered and daughter Jillian offered moral support by saying things like, "I can't believe we ran out of gas!"

We didn't set any speed records, but at least we were moving. And then we heard a motor approaching from around the corner.

"It's a boat!" I said.

"Hide the paddles!" said Jillian. "It's so embarrassing!"

Which is a ridiculous thing to do when you're stranded on a river and help comes around the corner — to smile and wave and pretend that you actually mean to be adrift. But that's exactly what we did.

"They probably would've helped us," Kelly said as we watched the two men cruise away.

"Yeah, probably…" I said, as Jenna and I resumed paddling. And then the universe gave us another chance.

"Do you need help?" a man called from his backyard.

"Yes!" we yelled. He told us to paddle over to his dock. I've never paddled with so much purpose in my life.

And that's when the connection to my hometown returned. Because as our rescuers, Tim and Michelle, gave us a fuel refill and helped Kelly restart the motor, we learned that Kelly's mom had a connection to their house. That they knew my dad. That Michelle rode my school bus when I was kid.

Rochester is my home. It's my place. My connections here are deep and meaningful. But it's reassuring, too, to still feel that connection to my beginnings. No matter how long I've been gone.

Jennifer Koski is associate editor at Rochester Magazine. Her column appears Tuesdays. Send comments to