New day in Northfield

Bonnie Obremski/RepJ

Josh and I puttered into Northfield, Minn. in my Subaru Legacy from the east on Route 19 on a clement Thursday afternoon. I had traveled to the city from the Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass., with side trips to a sailboat in the Caribbean Sea, Chesuncook Lake in northern Maine and my new employer’s summer retreat in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Northfield’s emerald sign sprang into view like a leggy stalk of corn. We drove several feet beyond it before we halted short, came about and wedged our futon-laden station wagon beside the curb. We scampered in front of the sign for a photograph, and Josh held my reporter’s notebook high alongside the part that said, “POP 17,147.” On the notepad I had written, “+ 2.” We smiled, and my knees trembled in a way they had not done even when a squall had chased our boat past the Turks and Caicos islands at 3 a.m., or when my boss Leonard Witt had sent me down a backwoods trail on a mountain bike. This was Minnesota, it was unfamiliar ground and it was home.

We scoured the city for an apartment, or at least a place to dry out the ill-fated futon, which had weathered two Midwest downpours. We first met local technical whiz Nathan White who, among other tasks, helps direct, an “electronic commons” designed to strengthen the “fabric of the community,” according to the site’s mission statement. Nathan showcased the sunny two-bedroom apartment in the top half of his duplex a few blocks away from downtown. Still, the siren of Division Street seduced us closer to the city’s hub.

We dialed the first phone number we found pasted to an apartment door. Norman Butler answered and, in minutes, he swung his Volkswagen into the lot behind the Contented Cow pub and wine bar where we were staving off dehydration, low blood sugar and general exhaustion with slugs of Wisconsin’s Sprecher Brewing Company‘s root beer. The icy tonic refreshed us but Norman clearly drew his energy from a more potent source. The U.K. native, who appeared to be in his 50’s, leaped up staircases and sped across sidewalks as he showed us several of his apartments across town. He even pointed out a few of his competitor’s flats. We were only stopped short once when we attempted to pop into an apartment complex a few blocks southwest of Division Street.

“This is a secure building!” a tenant said, holding fast to the entrance door handle, unmoved by Norman’s charm.

In addition to Norman, a few other local professionals joined our housing expedition including Katharine Kuyper of the Re/Max Results office, a dairy farmer named Janet who manages an apartment complex off Union Street, and Aaron of the Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House, who doled out solid advice and use of the phone book. My new employers and the administrators at offered similar support. Tracy Davis, for one, sent us to Froggy Bottoms River Pub and Suites to ask the owner for a room. The proprietor was out of town but, it was after that final inquiry that Josh and I began to appreciate what it could mean to live so conveniently close to a bar. One of Norman’s apartments sat directly above his restaurant, “The Cow.” So, we found Norman immediately and took the place.

That night, Josh and I reclined on the pub’s patio and savored liquid indulgence and three cartons of hot buttered popcorn. Upstairs, a 20-inch fan purchased at Econofoods diligently aired our soggy bed. I also bought a flowering plant there, a hot-pink kalanchoe, which a young supermarket employee brought to my car after I forgot it at the checkout. I named the plant Helga and put her on the windowsill so she can people watch. I think she likes her new home.

Bonnie Obremski/RepJ


  1. Jerry Bilek said:

    already blogging. welcome to town!

    July 12, 2008
  2. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Thanks! I hope to get down and dirty working on the Representative Journalism project soon. On another note, for anyone out there with extra living staples (i.e. silverware, chairs) we’d be glad to swing by and take/buy it.

    July 12, 2008
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Dat dere’s a dang good piece a writin’ Miss Bonnie.

    So you could use some silverware and chairs, eh? Let’s see what folks can find.

    July 12, 2008
  4. Welcome to town. Best place for browsing for living staples is the Used a Bit Shoppe, 624 Water St. S., donations from the public, profits to the Senior Center. Wonderful volunteers, ready to help you, great prices.
    Hours are 10-5, Mon-Tues-Wed-Fri-Sat and 10-7 Thursday.
    My brother David owns Froggy Bottoms Pub and River Suites and will be sorry he missed you. Check out the website for all things froggy in Northfield. I returned to Northfield (St. Olaf is my alma mater) after 29 years as a free-lance writer and researcher in N.Y. and have not regretted it. Just be glad you are arriving in the summer, not the dead of winter…Many delights await you. Oh, and a better photo op for welcome to Northfield is near the sign, “Cows, Colleges and Contentment,” our town’s slogan, on Route 3 north.
    Be sure to check out the Northfield Historical Society at 408 Division St.
    Tours are given every day, including Sunday aft., of the famous bank robbed by Jess James and his gang in 1876. You cannot even imagine what Defeat of Jesse James Days are like Sept. 3-7 here. Incredible, largest all-volunteer festival in Mn.
    And do pick up a Northfield Entertainment Guide available in many stores downtown (and at NHS and at the publisher’s office, By All Means Graphics,
    17 Bridge Square). And not just because I write a column for it. It is the best way to find out what is happening in this amazing town each month.
    Best wishes.

    July 12, 2008
  5. Jessica Paxton said:

    Welcome Bonnie & Josh! Very much looking forward to more of your posts (although, I gotta admit, it’s also kinda weird to have someone East Coaster descend upon us formulating anecdotal essays on our whos, whats & wheres. I feel like my downtown cronies will soon seem like characters in a John Cheever short story or an essay by E.B. White. Then again, that’s a good thing, right? Many colorful characters and passionate and intelligent voices in this town.) Anyway, ditto to Susan Hv’s post and advice — great suggestions. (And the fact that you’re shacked up above The Cow means you’re already tapped in — by default).
    Best to you both.
    P.S. If my gravatar worked (not quite sure what the issue is but I’ve given up) you’d recognize me as the gray-haired person working at Digs when you inquired about the apartment upstairs. Glad to know you found a place so quickly and easily.

    July 12, 2008
  6. John Thomas said:

    Coming from someone that migrated here from CT almost seven years from now… WELCOME…

    You know what they say about folks from Mass… Not all of them are bad… some are Wos-ter… 😎

    Again, welcome to our humble city by the river.

    July 13, 2008
  7. John Thomas said:

    er.. from now… should be ago… I think I lost my mind along the roadside while making trip. I surely am not going back. I love it here.

    July 13, 2008
  8. Mona Obremski said:

    Jessica Paxton: I feel like my downtown cronies will soon seem like characters in a John Cheever short story or an essay by E.B. White. Then again, that’s a good thing, right?

    Anne Betts: Journalism matters, it just doesen’t pay.

    Mona: If money were no object, and Bonnie had complete creative freedom, I’m thinking that the product would a lot like the George Plympton model of International Geographic magazine. That’s a good thing! I’d pay for that.

    July 14, 2008
  9. Mona Obremski said:

    Correction: George Plimpton not Plympton. (well that’s how we spell it in Boston)

    July 14, 2008
  10. Nathan White said:

    Hi Bonnie and Josh – mattress dry yet?

    I’m glad you found a place. I guess coming from the East coast the gritty intensity of Division provided the right feeling of “home.” I hope you get some time to experience the charms of the west side, even though I won’t be able to share the secret handshake with you.

    Welcome to Northfield. 🙂

    July 14, 2008
  11. Nathan,

    Is that what you’re calling it? A “secret handshake?”

    It honestly felt just like all the other times you’ve punched me in the stomach, but, oh well, glad I know the secret handshake now.

    Bonnie and Josh,

    Welcome to Northfield. Do either of you act? I’m always on the prowl for more talent for my perverted plays. I guess I should ask if either of you act naked, but my lawyer (Britt Ackerman, LLC, DDS, PhD, BYOB) has advised me to spring that on my actors during the first rehearsal.

    July 15, 2008
  12. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Thanks everyone again for the welcome! Yes, our futon has dried out and we’re slowly settling. I’m looking forward to seeing more sides of Northfield in the future, especially the ones where handshakes are required.

    July 15, 2008
  13. Liz Reppe said:

    Welcome to town! I’ve been trying to get a Northfield Newcomers group started. Our 2nd meeting is July 24 at 5:30. Loin us at the Tavern Lounge (not the restaurant in the basement). Patio if nice, inside if not. Hope to see you there!

    July 15, 2008
  14. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Liz, thanks! Hope to see you there!

    July 16, 2008

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