I ended up taking lunch at the one place I had seen open earlier. The Calumet Inn was a handsome building, made up of a light quartzite (from the town of Jasper which I had passed through earlier) with pipestone highlights. I went through the main door not quite knowing what to expect. Apart from the sign showing that it was open for brunch I had no idea of the quality. A receptionist for the hotel pointed me towards the dining room and I passed by a buffet table with a modest but interesting range of dishes. I was invited to sit and have a drink (soft) and then I started working my way through some cantaloupe, pancakes and maple syrup, slabs of beef, mashed potato, vegetables, tomatoes, salads, an array of very sweet looking cakes and cheese.
The dining room was a trifle seedy and weary. The windows were high above the level of the tables. the decor was dark. But the staff were all friendly and I was left alone to get through my two meals in one. I had my ubiquitous novel with me, but I used it to disguise my people watching. I, as often is the case when I travel, was the only person here on their own. The hotel was surprisingly busy after the deserted streets. Most people were coming in from a back entrance and had obviously, like most Americans, driven over and parked up in the lot at the back of the hotel. It was predominantly extended families. A couple of tables had 10, 12 people on there of up to four generations. A matriarch or patriarch might be sitting in one seat, the dominant son or daughter would be orchestrating affairs for them and the rest of the family, the numerous offspring and beta males and females all tagged on. OK, that is a tad unfair – yes from the outside this was the makeup of the groups, but a few more minutes of observation saw that there was a friendly familial banter going on, lots of different conversations crossing the generations. I guessed from the dress of most of the families there they were either fresh out of church, or had got together for some celebration.
I do find myself a bit of an outsider in these situations. You are used to me writing about my travels where I am on my own dipping in and out of other people’s lives. Even back home, while I come from what was a tight family of four brothers and mum and dad, my parents were only children so I never had an extensive set of aunts and uncles or cousins. And because of the age of my parents when I was born, I only ever really knew one grandmother very well. I never met my paternal grandfather. So this picture of multiple levels of families all interacting as a unit was slightly uneasy and daunting for me.
Envy? Jealousy? No – it is not for me so I do not crave it. But I did have respect for it.
But it was another example of this part of the US, whether it be in Minnesota or South Dakota. Family ties run deep, there is a natural order to life that despite the harshness of the past and the economic wars of the present, the strength of those family bonds and the firmness of friendships in this area are vital. But none of these bonds are flashy or brazenly publicized. The people of the northern plains are quiet and unassuming. In that way they mirror their landscape which at one scale seems monotonous, but in fact has subtle and unique beauty.
I took a different route back to Sioux Falls, sorry that this was the last journey I would take in this environment. I had one more day of work at EROS before dropping the car off at the airport and flying back through Dallas the next evening. But I sucked in this noble land to my memory and learned the lessons of being comfortable with what you have from these splendid people.