Posting 4: Picnic by the River

Chad Johnson Photo Rochester, MN

When I arrived at the coffee shop downtown, Gage was already waiting there for me. He was wearing a white tee-shirt and khaki shorts. He was sporting his University of Colorado hat. He looked more like an eighteen year old than twenty-two. I secretly wondered if he was telling me the truth about his age. I figured other than in principal, it really didn’t matter.

“Hi there.” I said

“Hey. Ready to roll. My mom wasn’t feeling well last night, so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to her too much.” He added

” Sorry to hear that. Feeling ill is the worst. We tend to only appreciate our health when we don’t feel so hot. I’m sure it is tough on you to see your mom like that. I’m sure she really appreciates you being here with her.” I said

“Thanks. I’m the only kid, and she never remarried, so we really only have each other. She’s great though, a real trooper.” He responded

Destination was 3716 Mayowood road, but there was much to observe before getting to Ivy Lodge. There was a good quarter-mile of stone wall on the right side of the road. Each stone seemed to tell its own story, so I slowed down to a mere 15 miles per hour to let Gage take in the scenery. Beautiful open fields of amber grass, a few deer on the edge of a nearby corn field, large Canadian geese flying overhead were the background to the gorgeous stone barns.

We drove on as I explained to Gage that many people now rent out the stone barn for weddings and group events.  I told him that I really didn’t know much about the barns, but always appreciated their simple beauty. I told him at one time, the Mayowood estate was home to eight different working farms.   We were both drawn a big tree in the distance. We stood in silence for several minutes admiring the way the light came through the spaces of each branch and leaf. It was absolutely stunning to witness the stillness filled with so much life and energy.

I said “You know, Charlie was an agriculturist. He  set up the first pasteurization system and dairy regulations in Rochester when he was the health officer. He did this by setting up a first class dairy farm out here. Back in the day, tuberculosis was rampant and Charlie has an idea it was coming from infected, dirty milk. He was not very popular at the time for introducing these regulations to the dairymen. However, after they perfected the process of pasteurization and general sanitation practices, it was made profitable so everybody was happy and healthy!  He also started taking garbage from the city, treating it scientifically to kill infectious disease and then feeding it to hogs. Before that there was really no system of getting the trash out of the city. People left garbage on the street corners for days rotting.  He was really ingenious, a problem solver, and way ahead of his time”

“Wow. That’s cool. I never heard that story before. I did hear the one about a cooked duck falling on the floor at a dinner party. Somebody demanded the staff to bring in another duck, but they only had one cooked and ready to be served. They took it in the kitchen, wiped it off, and served it to the guests.” Gage said.

“Ha, my kind of people!” I replied while chuckling

“I guess that’s why my mom’s favorite quote is “A little dirt doesn’t hurt”. He said

We continued on down the road. We passed the old greenhouses that were now Mayowood Galleries antique shop. There was one small cottage on the right, and then and we pulled over by the side of the bridge. We got out and stood in silence as the water poured over the dam. The Zumbro river was actually dammed for the purpose of bringing electricity to the Big House. This created Lake Mayowood.  I felt reserved telling Gage about the dream I had a day earlier about us both toppling over the dam.  I didn’t want to upset the mood we were experiencing through the peace and magic of the beautiful scenery and sounds.

Finally he said to me, “Guinn, this place is spectacular. Charlie owned all of this?”

“Yes, I believe Mayowood was approximately 3,000 acres at one point. Let me share something with you Gage. I used to live at Ivy Lodge. It was twelve years ago, but living here taught me some really important lessons in life. The main one being…we never really “own” anything. We come here with nothing and we leave with nothing but our life experiences. All we can do is enjoy the ride and do our best to make it a better world while we are living. When we hold on too tightly, we lose our grip on reality. Charlie and his brother, Will, knew this. They let go of everything with such grace and wisdom. They really were a one of a kind pair. ” I shared quietly and clearly.

“No way. You got to live out here? That is so awesome. Tell me more.”  He said enthusiastically.

“Let’s go down to the sandbar and eat. I will share some stories with you that will help you understand my connection to this place and my interest in history and healthcare. It is an amazing area. I have always loved it.” I added

“When I was a kid, my mother worked for one of the last country doctors in Minnesota. This was back in the early 1980’s when everything about health care was different from the way it is now. The Doctor’s name was Oscar S. Kultstad and he was a character. Everyone in the town has a Doc Kulstad story, some good, some bad…but everybody remembers him.  He was my only health care provider. I didn’t see a doctor from age ten until my first daughter was born. Doc Kulstad  was our family doctor. He took care of my father when he was boy. He cared for my grandmother, and the rest of my extended family. He put stitches and put casts on everyone we knew for generations.  He would call my mother in the middle of the night for her to ride with him on a “death call” I explained.

I paused  in my oration to take notice of a great blue heron flying overhead. He looked more like a 747 taking over the entire view of the blue sky. I giggled out loud remembering my dad used to call them “shit stringers”. I had never seen one poop, but I covered my head just in case.

“Holy crap. That thing is huge! What is that?” Gage exclaimed

“Shit stringer.” I said as we both burst into laughter.

“My mother was not a nurse or ever had any kind of formal medical training. Everything she learned about medicine, she learned from Doc Kulstad. I think she would agree with me that what she really learned from him was how to treat the whole person with empathy and compassion.Everything I relied on and knew about healthcare was discovered through the doctor’s office. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. Too many rules, laws and regulations. I am not saying this is wrong, it’s just the way it is. I mean people used to smoke in waiting rooms. There is always room for evolution, but I think it is a mistake to abandon completely the country doctor model. It’s really like that in all fields now, children don’t go to work with mommy or daddy anymore to learn the trade. Some of it is good and necessary, but I wonder how much is lost at the same time.” I said

“I would love to talk with Charlie and Will about some of this. I just wish I could have known them all, even Doc Kulstad.” Gage said with a long distanced look in his eyes.

 “My sisters and I went to the Doctor’s office everyday after school.We each had daily chores of filling the alcohol containers, filling the cotton ball and swab jars, washing out the old foot pedal sinks, and daily mail duty. The doctor had a little bottle filled with water and a sponge on top so we could mail out his billings without licking the envelope and stamp. We each got paid a quarter for our “work”. Then we headed over to the penny candy store or the bakery. Most days, I would buy a twenty-five cent jelly donut, in which I was never charged the two-cent tax because the bakery ladies knew I only earned a quarter per day. I miss those donuts, and those nice ladies.” I said remembering what a mess those jelly donuts could make on the long walk home!

 “We watched many procedures involving blood and suturing. My younger sister was very interested in watching the doctor treat his patients. In fact, when I accidentally smashed the top of her finger off with a hammer, she was instructing the doctor on how to handle the situation(she was only 4 years old). I cried more than she did that day.”  I said, as I recollected my thoughts.

“I only wanted to know… What did they do with the specimens? How did the centrifuge work? Why did they put the equipment in that little oven? What happened to the germs they took from the throat and put them on the red petri dish? What was the doctor looking at under the microscope? Why couldn’t I go in the x-ray room while they were working in there? I was more interested in filing the patient medical records which were all hand written by the doctor or my mother than seeing someone uncomfortable or in pain.” I remembered out loud.

“The doctor was too old and didn’t have the proper equipment, such as computers, to continue his practice. His record keeping system was out of date, so he retired from being the town doctor. It was devastating to me, because I loved the office. I loved being around the medical procedures and information. Personally, it was tough. I didn’t know who was going to take care of me when I got a cold.  It was a scary time for me, and a lot of older people too I’m sure. These older folks had relied on him to do house calls when they were too frail to make it into town. ” I paused for a few seconds.

“My mom told me years later that Doctor Kulstad refused payments from people, or wouldn’t pursue payments from patients he knew would have a hard time paying. Charlie and Will did the same. Do you know where they learned this practice?” I asked

“It’s just the way it was back then, right? A different time, a different era?” Gage questioned me.

“They learned this from their father William , the little doctor, as he was often called. It was an unwritten code for the country doctors. Monetary compensation was not the motivating factor in practicing medicine, yet not all doctors ran their practices in this way, especially ones from larger cities.  The Mayo doctors never criticized any other physician, at least not publicly. They were above that. Their humble beginnings were founded on their father’s principles. Everyone was entitled to care, whether they could pay or not. Not just entitled to care, but able to receive the same care and treatments no matter which social class they belonged to. I think this is what set them apart from others, including the fact that they were experimental scientists and surgeons willing to perform procedures that others were not. This is a foundation of care based on the love for fellow human beings, the awe of life and healing. ” I said

“From the time I was a kid, I always had a love of medical history, research, education,and  technology. Ironically, in the past 30 years, I have only been to the doctor to birth my two children. That’s it. I don’t even have health insurance. I have never broke a bone, had stitches, or any accident. I feel so blessed with good health, and it is hard for me to hear about people like your mom who are so ill.” I kept going, checking periodically to see if Gage was still listening. He was.

” I didn’t start researching the history of the this area and your family until after I started living at Ivy Lodge. I bought the only book I could find which was titled “The Doctor’s Mayo” written in 1969 by Helen Clapesattle. I read it several times. I wished there were living relatives and friends I could talk with to hear more stories, but I never ran into anyone until I met you. I heard a rumor once that the family in the early 60’s had a submarine that  they operated out here at Lake Mayowood. Things like that always made me  wonder which stories were true and which were fabricated. I guess I have you now, Gage, but it doesn’t seem like you know too much!” I said.

He laughed “Well I guess that depends on what we are talking about right? I am sorry I said that yesterday. You know, about people not caring about history. I was obviously wrong. I am the one who has things to learn. I’ll try to be more aware about what I say next time. Maybe if I hadn’t said that to you, we wouldn’t be sitting here now. Who knows?”

“Don’t think twice it is alright. Let’s get in this water and see how it feels. My feet could use a cold soak. I have to get back to pick up my girls in an hour.” I said

“One question for you, Guinn.” He looked up at the sky as if he couldn’t find the right words.

“What?” I asked

“You said your two babies were born at the Clinic, but what about the other two?” He smiled shyly.

“Haaa. That is entirely a whole different story for another day!” I laughed

“Can we come back here tomorrow?” He asked

I responded promptly ” Of course we are coming back tomorrow. You haven’t seen  Ivy Lodge yet.”

“Oh yeah. I forgot that was the main reason we came out here. Is it close to here?” He chuckled.

“Yeah,  just up the road to the right. Not far at all. It’s amazing what is behind those trees. You’ll see tomorrow. Okay?” I answered

” Sure. Thanks for bringing me here. It feels good to get out of the city. I wish my mom felt better and was able to join us.” Gage said with his charming grin

“Me too.” I smiled “Maybe someday she will.”

Here is a link to the privately owned Mayowood stone barns:




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