Memory lane leads to Renville

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2011 - 11:12 PM

Visiting a college hunting buddy's parents brought back warm recollections of their kindness, generosity and chili.

RENVILLE, MINN. - You had to be tough to settle in this part of the world a couple centuries back, whether you were a fur trader leading an ox cart among its thousands of wetlands and marshes, or a Sioux trapper snaring muskrats and beavers to swap for trinkets and annuities.

Renville County -- a land nearly barren of water today, save for the Minnesota River, and nearly barren, too, of grasslands -- once was as wild as any place in North America. Part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it was governed first as part of Michigan Territory, then Wisconsin Territory, then Iowa Territory and finally Minnesota Territory.

The other day, I was highballing out of country west of here, headed home, the South Dakota border not too far distant in my rear-view mirror. Snow melted on both sides of Hwy. 212, exposing tilled farmland that a week ago seemed locked forever in winter. The blacktop was dry, traffic nearly nonexistent, the radio played. Nowhere were the bison and elk that once roamed hereabouts, nor the grasshoppers, prairie fires and mosquito clouds that took their measure of men, and ate them up.

I was running behind. But Renville has been a part of my life for a long time, and there were friends there I wanted to see. A quick right, then, off the highway, a few blocks south, a few more east, and there it was: Ren Villa, part nursing home, part assisted living for seniors.

When I was in college in Morris, now many years ago, I met a fellow student who also hunted and fished. Like me, Willy Smith didn't have any money. His waders were patched and his old Remington scoured of its bluing.

But he had a dad, Bill, who owned a Renville hardware store full of outdoor gear, and a mother, Mary Lou, who liked nothing more than to make chili and bake pies. Both indiscriminately distributed their largesse. Food for Willy was food for me. Ditto fishing lures and shotgun shells from the hardware store. They really couldn't help us enough, and were happy to do it.

I walked down a few hallways, and down a few more. Bill and Mary Lou reside in the assisted living portion of Ren Villa, and their kids -- Willy has two brothers and a sister -- have decorated their apartment to look much like the home not many blocks away that they lived in most of their married lives. The same curtains and the same couch. The same photographs of grandparents, parents, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.

For as long as I've known Willy, his family has owned hunting land not far away in the Minnesota River Valley, a backwater tangle of cedars and oaks. Every opening day of duck season while Willy and I were in college, and nearly every opening day since, we've hunted there.

The early years were pretty good, and we'd finish the day with a few mallards, wood ducks and teal. Bill hunted with us then, and after we cased our guns, Mary Lou would be waiting in a shack on the land, ready to dish up chili. Afterward, she cut into freshly baked pies. Good times, these, and any birds we had in the hand were an afterthought.

I hadn't called, so Bill and Mary Lou didn't know I was coming. They were watching TV. Bill moves more slowly than he once did, and Mary Lou doesn't see so well. But they're the same people.

We told some stories. I could have recounted the one about Willy and I cleaning out Bill's hardware store on our way to fish one spring on Kabetogama, on the Canadian border. We left Renville with rods, reels, even a boat and motor. Mary Lou packed sandwiches for the trip, and through Willy's car window slipped him some cash for gas. "Make sure you share it with Dennis,'' she said.

So, time passes. Now, Willy's kids and my kids make a big deal of the duck opener in the Minnesota River Valley. Grandma and grandpa don't make it to the shack anymore, but they're waiting for us when we gather at day's end in Renville. Some things don't change, and you really don't want them to.

We talked until the shadows outside grew long against the melting snow. I really needed to be on the road. Bill and Mary Lou were doing fine, I left knowing that, and they made me feel better about the drive home.

They always did.

Dennis Anderson

  • related content

  • Minn. moose numbers continue to decline

    Friday February 18, 2011

    Not only were moose numbers down from a year ago -- 5,500 to 4,900 -- but an aerial survey showed the proportion of cows accompanied by calves also fell.

  • Arrival of the red-tailed hawks

    Friday February 18, 2011

    During the third week in February and on into early March, red-tailed hawks arrive and begin their nest-building duties.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 7 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 1
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Houston 85 FINAL
Miami 90
Indiana 89 FINAL
Minnesota 107
Utah 105 FINAL
Oklahoma City 91
Portland 93 FINAL
Denver 75
Phoenix 114 FINAL
LA Lakers 108
LA Clippers 107 FINAL
Golden State 125
San Jose 3 FINAL
Boston 5
NY Rangers 4 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 3
Toronto 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Detroit 1 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 2
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Nashville 4
Carolina 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
Philadelphia 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Dallas 6
Florida 4 FINAL(OT)
Colorado 3
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(OT)
Calgary 1
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question