Sunday, August 14, 2011

The guy who taught me to fight City Hall

When people grow up in New York and then move to Minnesota, they sometimes can't avoid stepping on people's toes. New Yorkers are used to interrupting, moving fast, talking loud, and having a certain boldness that Minnesotans often perceive as pushy and arrogant. 

If they use these traits well, they can get a lot of things done. In the recent past, two such men became mayor of St. Paul, one was chosen as president of the University of Minnesota, two went to the Senate, and one saved a historic carousel whose horses were already removed and scheduled to be sold at auction.

Peter and Augie at Cafesjian's Carousel, 4/2008
The latter is my husband, Peter. He used his New York skills, occasionally tempered by my "Minnesota nice," to negotiate the purchase on behalf of our nonprofit organization. Then he used his story-telling talents to raise nearly $3 million to pay for the carousel, restore it, and get it situated in St. Paul's Como Park. We were not rich, famous, or powerful. Instead, we did our research, made proposals, forged partnerships, drove the message through dozens of media interviews, and took on a huge amount of volunteer work while doing our regular jobs. I would have given up several times; his will-power kept us going.

Eventually, the New York-born mayor at the time tried to wrest control of the carousel and place it downtown, where it would have died a lonely death. We fought City Hall, and we won. Among the things that made us effective were Peter's vision, determination, intense preparation, hard work, and, oh yes, being willing to offend a few people along the way. He told people the truth as he saw it and did not worry about being liked. When the mayor summoned us to a meeting, rolled out maps of a revitalized downtown, and waxed poetic about his vision (for which he intended the carousel as a centerpiece), Peter said, "Well, Mr. Mayor, not everyone shares your vision." There were gasps around the table.

As a Minnesotan raised to be a people-pleaser, I learned from Peter to speak up for myself and to take a few risks to accomplish something important. As I became braver and more confident, he smoothed his rough edges and added new strategies to that of confrontation. Collaborating on one cause or another, we get a kick out of how well we work together. We call it "Being Peter and Nancy."

Augie learns to love stories 12/2007
Way back when we were getting to know one another, he told me, "Lots of adults don't like me much, but children love me." Well, lots of adults like him, too, but he was right about the children. At Saints' games, for example, children would regularly come to chat and ask him to read them a story. He always obliged, only pausing to mark each batter's activity in his scorebook.

Maybe all of that was practice for being a grandpa. He is a great one. It was his idea to provide daycare until the grandkids are in school. As with the carousel, I took my cue from him and now we are a great team. Peter and Nancy. Pa and Grandma.

In the summer, when the kids are not here every weekday, it's Pa that they ask to see. For example, just the other day ViMae was getting weepy at the breakfast table. "Mom," she said, "I miss your dad." (Yes, they've been working on figuring out extended relationships.) They called so Vi could talk with her grandpa, and then they came over for a play date. 

Pa and ViMae swim together 8/2011
When Peter was 19, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Doctors told his mother she'd better have his big "turning 21" party a year early because he wouldn't live to 21.

Today, August 14, 2011, he turns 63. Or, as he put it the other day, three times the age he wasn't supposed to see. It turns out he didn't have lymphoma at 19, although he did have it at 58. We were lucky; surgery took care of it. I'd like to say I hope we have at least another 21 years together, but we are a little superstitious about "watching what we wish for," so I won't say that.

Happy Birthday, Peter. I'm so glad I met and married you...glad we are Peter and Nancy, Pa and Grandma. I hope you and I have many more years together, and that we enjoy them all. It's because of you that I am a blissed-out grandma.



 

24 comments:

Sharon Longworth said...

Nancy, I'm so glad I decided to read one more blog post before getting dressed this morning - this was just lovely.
Happy birthday to Peter, and if you're superstitious about what you wish for, I'll wish it on your behalf - very many happy years ahead to you both.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh, Nancy,this is so moving. I'm in tears. A love like this is what makes me still believe in it. You do make quite a team and will for many years to come. A kind, good heart, mixed with the ability to tell the truth, is a good combination. You both have this in spades.

Happy Birthday to Peter.

Jeanie said...

The balance and determination you and Peter have found together is inspiring. Wishing Peter a very happy birthday and many more years with new stories to tell.

DJan said...

I agree! Such a lovely post about a lovely man, one who marches to his own music, and great music it is! I wish him a very happy birthday and many, many more!

Dee Ready said...

A lovely love story. Thank you for sharing Peter's birthday with us.

I've met that carousel at Como. I'm so grateful that Peter saved it. A friend of mine helped paint the horses.

As Sharon said in her comment, I wish you many more wonderful years of love.

Emma said...

How sweet! Though born and raised in MN, I have a bit of the get-things-done attitude, and it's definitely a quality I admire in others. It sounds like you two make a great match!

Daughter Number Three said...

It's a gift to be able to write so clearly of how you feel about the people you love, so that they can read it and know that truth.

IndigoWrath said...

Hey Nancy! This is a lovely post, very reflective and loving. I'm delighted he's so far tripled his expectancy. Take care, both of you, Indigo x

Deb Shucka said...

He sounds like such a wonderful man. I love the picture of him reading to Augie. This is a lovely birthday tribute. Adding my best wishes for a happy birthday to Peter.

Retired English Teacher said...

Peter is a man I am sure I would like. I like people who aren't afraid to fight city hall. I like people who are honest about who they are. I like people who love children and interact with them well. I really like people who think it is important to same a carousel. Peter didn't just say, "Oh isn't this sad news?" when he read that such a treasure was going to be destroyed. What would we do without people like Peter?

You are both blessed to have formed such a successful and endearing partnership. Happy birthday to Peter!

Lo said...

I love you both and am so grateful for people like you.

Congratulations for.......well.... everything.

Linda said...

Nancy, this is such a great birthday tribute to your husband. I so much admire people who can speak their mind when they believe in something and don't worry about what others think.

400 Wakeups said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PETER!!! It's so very lovely to be married to someone who makes you a better person. This is clearly true for both of you. He could have fought City Hall without you, but he would not have gotten very far without your Minnesota charm. And you could keep those grandbabies by yourself, but he sort of looks like Santa and well, that's just magical all by itself. I just love a man in a white beard...so Father Christmas.

May you be blessed with perfection on as many days as you are meant to have. And congrats on making the past 63 of them count!

Grandmother said...

What a great tribute to a great man. It's the first post I've read since returning my long absence. You make me glad to be back! Congrats to Peter and to you for forging such a good marriage.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Happy Birthday Peter! What a lovely blog post Nancy. I like a man with a dream and a plan and one that doesn't move over for anyone. Gosh I so need a person like your Peter at the museum:)

Leah Rubin said...

Happy birthday to Peter! He sure is a great guy-- not because of the wonderful things you tell us (well, yes, because of that, too!), but when ViMae gets weepy over breakfast and wants her grandpa-- well, that tells me a lot!

Congrats on the carousel! Great work, and it could NOT have been easy! We have a great one here that was saved (no thanks to me) about twenty years ago. It's in our Faust Park in Chesterfield.

injaynesworld said...

I love this. Congrats not only on the carousel, but on a life supremely well lived and well loved. Happy Birthday, Peter.

gayle said...

What a wonderful birthday tribute you have written about your husband. He sounds like a great guy,husband, father and grandfather! You are both very lucky to have each other!

Linda Myers said...

What a lovely tribute!

Jeanie said...

What an amazing human being Peter is! I think your family is a lucky one indeed!

krouth said...

Great post! I saw your link on 'BPOTW'. Happy birthday to your Peter - he sounds like a great guy. :)

Kristy said...

That was wonderful! What a great man and grandpa.

Lola said...

I am so happy that I found this post on Best Posts of the Week. It made me cry because it was that beautiful. We should all be so lucky to have such a great partner. -Lola from Lolarati and Buddhatropolis

Thom Brown said...

He's four days younger than I, and his lymphoma was diagnosed two years before mine!

This is a wonderful tribute to a life well used.

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