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Talk of the Town: Trick to getting somewhere is knowing where you are

The reason we are who we are can be tricky to determine.

I inherited more than a piece of South Dakota real estate from my father. But is it nature or nurture that made us so much alike? I sport the same alarmingly low blood pressure and lanky frame my dad had. On the nurture side, Dad and I shared a fondness for double crust fruit pie and watching football.

Somehow I also inherited the inner compass my dad always relied upon. His ability to stare up at the sky and determine what he proclaimed to be due north always impressed me when I was a kid. The thought never even crossed my mind that he might not be correct.

(Incidentally, when I was a kid my parents were always right about everything. However, now that I’m the parent, it feels like I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time. How does that happen?)

Like my dad, I also have an unexplainable need to know when I'm facing north. It doesn’t matter if the setting is New York City or northern Minnesota; I have to know which direction is north so I can feel that I have my bearings. I don’t know why. Maybe in another life I had to find my way across Manhattan without the benefit of a tourist map.


Now that Dad's gone, I’ve taken over the role of determining direction for my family. One of the first things that popped in my head upon my maiden voyage to Target Field was to figure out which way was north. Did it affect my enjoyment of the park or the game? Of course not, but the older I get the more I find myself considering a wrist watch with a built in compass. Is there an app for that?

Recently, a friend in Minneapolis was telling me about his teenage daughter who was learning to drive. He was frustrated that she didn’t know how to get around town and was beside himself when she admitted she didn’t know which direction St. Paul was.

"How could this be?" he exclaimed.

Maybe it’s the little screens they have in their hands or the mini-van movie screens that take their eyes off the road and away from learning their way around town. Or maybe it’s as innocent as the fact that one exit ramp looks just like the another half-dozen ramps a kid might see from the backseat. And heaven help the kid who uses Kwik Trip for a sign post in our fair city!

My friend’s troubles with his directionally challenged daughter made me wonder if my kids could find their way home. Did either of them inherit an inner compass? For my own peace of mind, I decided to test them with an offer they couldn’t refuse.

This afternoon, when we were on our way home from an errand, I pulled the car over on a residential street and told them that if they could direct me to Flapdoodles, I would buy them ice cream. They excitedly agreed, but when I asked which way to go, we hit our first challenge. After a bit of debating, they agreed on a plan and off we went.

"Can you get us home?" big sister asked little brother. "Because I can get us to Flapdoodles if you can get us home."

Ahhh, teamwork and success. And all because the little guy knew which way was north.

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