By Ryan Honl 

The Supposedly "Insignificant" People Make the World Go Round


April 13, 2024

Paul and Herdis reese

This week I won't spend my time with politics other than to say that you Democrats and other Godless Communists can enjoy a cooling off period this week. You know you read my opinion columns because you're reading it right now and send in plenty of Letters to the Editor decrying my existence while thanking the Lord, or rather Stalin below, that Jeff's opinion column will surely give you some comfort.

You conservatives will have to wait for your red meat another 7 days.

So here we go.

Back in the day there were Five and Dime stores on nearly every street corner across America. Roseau had one. It was right across from what is the Chinese restaurant now. For those of you youngsters that live in a world without those stores it was a place for the whole family where kids could buy baseball cards and adults could buy, well, whatever adults bought, probably boring stuff like fabric for dresses and blankets or something. I didn't really care about that adult stuff of course. Getting a pack of wax baseball cards were only 35 cents and you got a ton more than you get nowadays. For you elderly and wiser gents from the 50s they were a mere one cent in those days. If you happened to get the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle for one cent and kept it in great condition instead of riding around with it in the spokes of your bike and then throwing it in the trash, you'd currently be sitting on $12.6 million. Google that. I'm not making it up.

I'm not even sure Walmart in Thief River sells baseball cards in a physical store anymore. A whole box back then was a mere nine or ten bucks and I'd pretty much blow every penny on them at the Five and Dime and G.I. Joes at Ben Franklin after working like a child in a sweatshop greasing bread pans at the bakery next to the oven that you could fit ten coffins in. Maybe Helgeson's ended up with that. There mustn't have been child labor laws back then or the FBI would surely have raided Honl's Bakery and arrested my dad and two uncles and closed the doors on the place.

A truly wonderful human being ran that Roseau Five and Dime. She was my third grandma. Herdis Reese. It's a different kind of first name. I've never met anyone that's got that name these days.

You couldn't buy anything there without getting a Bible verse and a hug walking out. In the days of Amazon and Walmart those days are long gone. It's unfortunate because today's kids lost in their smart phones would certainly benefit from having even a short conversation with Herdis. She was right in the middle of walking home from school and I was drawn in by the magnetism and Willy Wonka feel of the place.

She was a humble woman in a small corner of the world. She never became a President or Pope. She never made it into the New York Times. She never made it on the evening punditry of cable news and quite possibly not even this newspaper. But she was important to me. And now she is in this newspaper forty years later because she made a positive difference in the lives of so many that she is not forgotten by me.

In the toughest of times I've always wished I could parachute into her Five and Dime and just hang out in the warm glow of the place getting a hug and some assurance that life ain't so bad like after I'd get beaten up by a hockey player. She'd probably say, "Ryan, God loves you. Go down to the river and catch some crayfish. It'll all get better. Trust me. Besides, those hockey players are at the rink right now."

I had a recurring dream in Iraq that I would fall through the ceiling of her store, gear and all, and be with Herdis. Life doesn't work that way though so we're left with the memories of the simple wisdom of hanging out with a very wise woman who tutored countless kids while selling her wares. You know them. Those kids who became the teachers, police officers, pastors, politicians, and farmers later in life. Whenever life hits you over the head with the inevitable struggles of life like it says in John 16:33, I'm sure they remember Herdis as well. Or at least should. I'll leave it up to you to look up John 16:33 but it's gotten me through more tough times in life than I can count, like literally wanting to jump in front of a train, than anything else. The Bible has that effect and Herdis knew it. She might have shared that exact verse with me but it didn't show up in my head until I really needed it.

I thought it was especially cool that she would let us use the back door of the place. She had that probably misplaced trust that we wouldn't grab something back there on the way out. Names will not be mentioned. Many of my Roseau classmates are still here and in case the police department is bored and the city prosecutor doesn't have anything on their desk I wouldn't want to cause any trouble.

Herdis lived in a tiny house by the railroad tracks near where we lived. Every once in a while you'd see her tending the flower beds around the house. It reminds me now of the scenes of the hobbit town in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. Everything I touch turns brown in a garden so she certainly had the magic touch unlike me. Her flower beds looked like the colors in a Van Gogh or Matisse painting.

I started looking up to see if I could find any information on Google about her. Sometimes thing will pop up from even before the internet age. I couldn't find a thing. Then I thought, "Wait, I just got a heritage book at the museum for 25 bucks. Lemme check." And there she was. Page 567 of a 700 page hardbound book available at the museum as you read this right now. She's with her husband Paul. There are a few paragraphs about her and I knew nothing about her past. "Herdis dedicated her life to serving the Lord," it says. "She loved people and found joy and satisfaction in counseling and helping anyone in need." Apparently there was a magazine called The Aglow. It references her as the "Dime Store Missionary." Wish I had that. Aglow actually has a website and it looks like it's a religious organization run by women today. Herdis taught Sunday School for 50 years in Roseau while running her Five and Dime for nearly all that time. I was lucky to have gotten to know her. Three years after we moved from Roseau, she died in 1990. Her simple life's mission complete; to share the Gospel with even the annoying kids with no attention spans popping in and out of her store.

I remember the "old folks" who talked about the "good old days" when I was a kid. It was boring talk for a kid just like this opinion column I'm sure would be boring to today's kids. But it seems once you get on the other side of life's bell curve you start thinking about such things. I might still be on this side of life's curve but that would mean I'd have to live to 104. And that ain't going to happen. I hate exercise and love bacon. But hey maybe there's hope. George Burns smoked cigars to his dying day and you hear stories of people who live to 100+ that just don't care and live the way they want to live, whiskey and all. Maybe that's actually the secret to longevity. Probably not the whiskey, but being at peace and happy with who you are and just simply appreciating every day on earth just like Herdis did. She was more significant to the world than most of us will ever be. And if you think you don't mean a damn thing to the world and think it would be better without you, just have a simple encouraging conversation with a kid that will impact them for the rest of their life. Oh, and don't forget the hug and a Bible verse.


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