Writers remember Love Cruikshank

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the final in a two-part article.

Kevin Sweeney, Managing editor

The Journal, New Ulm

Love Cruikshank: There was only one like her. And as she would say, &8220;It’s a good thing, too.&8221;

I came to the Albert Lea Tribune in 1976, and Love was one desk away to my right. It wasn’t long before I heard about her novel of the Irish-American family living in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

She needed an Irish phrase for her book. I had just moved from LeSueur, where the pastor at the Catholic Church was a native of Ireland. I suggested she give him a call. She did, got the phrase she needed, and immediately decided I was the expert on all things Irish.

A few days later she turned to me and asked, out of the blue, &8220;Why do you think James Joyce wouldn’t go to communion, even though his mother asked him to on her deathbed? I mean, I know he was anti-clerical, but don’t you think he’d do it for his mother?”

I had no idea what she was talking about. That was usually the case when she started talking about literature. She was a one-woman Great Books Society. She had read every book every supposedly literate person was supposed to have read, more than once.

She loved to engage us younger reporters in debates about any subject, and it was difficult to prove her wrong, even when we knew she was. The only time I can remember besting her in an argument was when she insisted that birds were not animals. They were fowl. Beasts that crawled upon the ground were animals, she said. Bill Matthews and I loudly exclaimed that all living things were animals. She fixed us with a gimlet eye and said, voice dripping with sarcasm, &8220;I suppose next your going to tell me that fish are animals too!&8221; We finally proved our point by making her look up &8220;animal&8221; in the dictionary.

I once got into an argument with Love about free will. She preferred to believe in destiny. To prove that I could make a free will decision I declared, &8220;I choose, of my own free will, that I will never read &8216;The Brothers Karamazov!’&8221;

&8220;Oh, yes you will,&8221; Love said. &8220;You’re the kind who would.&8221; After I left Albert Lea for New Ulm, she sent me a copy of &8220;The Brothers Karamazov,&8221; figuring I would be destined to read it sooner or later. So far I have stuck by my decision.

It was Love who encouraged me to audition for the Albert Lea Community Theatre’s production of &8220;Finian’s Rainbow.&8221; Even though I had never been in a play before, she said I was Irish, and I should be the Leprechaun. I grudgingly said I would audition. I wound up doing a lot of things I never thought I would in ACT, and that’s where I met my wife, Marijo.

Love was an amazing writer. Once in a while she would turn her column over to her alter ego, Sue Slette Slough, a sort of backwoodsy gal who dabbled in witchcraft. Sue Slette Slough had a boyfriend named Plushly. I posed for the portrait of Plushly, putting my shirt, tie and coat on backwards, and taping a pair of round white discs to the back of my head for eyes. Love snapped my picture from the back and used it in her column.

Love’s columns were usually about memories of her childhood, but she wasn’t afraid to tackle controversial subjects. One time one of the local pastors started preaching sermons criticizing other religions. Love, a devoted Christian Scientist, called him out for it in print.

Love enjoyed music as much as she loved literature. She started what she called the Un-Music Club. It was for people who wanted to play music, but couldn’t play very well. We joked that it was a club &8220;for people who wanted to play music in the worst way.&8221;

We would gather at Love’s house for coffee and cake, and perform our little pieces. The one rule of the club was that if you were proficient at playing an instrument, you had to play something else. I wasn’t allowed to play my guitar at the Un-Music Club, but I could stumble through a piece on the piano. My wife, Marijo, a fabulous piano player, had to play the recorder.

One time Love and her best friend were playing a piano duet of &8220;O Little Town of Bethlehem.&8221; I turned to Jim Oliver, Tribune managing editor, and remarked, &8220;It sounds like the Little Town of Bethlehem could use some urban renewal.&8221;

Love heard that, of course, and would joyfully recall it on occasion. She loved witty rejoinders and would have made a good member of the Algonquin Round Table.

The best rejoinder I heard, one that Love liked, came from a young reporter, and it may be the best way to wrap up an article about Love. Love had come to work with a terrible cough. She kept complaining that she was barking like a seal. She got her page done and announced she was going home for the rest of the day, taking her barking cough with her. The reporter looked up and said,

&8220;You picked a fine time to leave us, you seal.&8221;

Now that Love is gone, that seems like a fitting eulogy: &8220;You picked a fine time to leave us, you seal.&8221;

Wally Kennedy,

ALHS humanities and theater teacher

When I was teaching at Albert Lea High School from 1955 to 1965, Love was one of the first and best friends to Joyce and me. Joining Rudy Hanson, Mac and Win Lyon, Russ and Helen Sorenson, Phil and Peg Lewis, Orville Gilmore and sometimes others, there were years of Great Books discussions in Love’s living room. These were always thoughtful but often heated, and Love was always the humanistic liberal.

Love and I decided to have a writer’s group to meet and read our fiction works-in-progress. We two were the only consistently attending members, so it didn’t have a long life.

Even so, we had a great time reading and critiquing each member’s pieces. I fondly recall one evening when I read a short story about two boys and a girl climbing a water tower one early morning to avoid being seen and curtailed. Love let me know that the story was obviously using the water tower as a phallic symbol, an idea that hadn’t occurred to me, but gave the story perhaps more virile power. Love’s critiques were always from her own depth of reading and her daily experience as professional writer.

Betsy Hermanson, Member

Washington Avenue Writers’ Group

Every Tuesday evening a group of writers climbed the stone steps of Love Cruikshank’s white-framed house and walked in. There she was, the grande dame of the Washington Avenue Writers’ Group, ensconced in her chair and waiting. &8220;I’m so glad to see you!&8221; she would say to each arrival. The rules were simple: Bring your original writing; if you have nothing to read, cough up a quarter. A dish full of quarters was an excuse for a party. Love loved pizza.

The room was warm and a bit untidy with books piled everywhere. Once or twice an evening, all conversation stopped as a train hooted and hurtled down nearby tracks.

Love enjoyed conversational sparring; if your opinion differed from hers, you’d better be ready to defend your observation. She loved it if you joined in verbal sword-play, and matched her sharply-honed wit strike for strike. Few could keep up. Love won most battles, but she admired you all the more for trying.

In recent months, Love began to fade. At times, it seemed she had fallen asleep and wasn’t listening. But she was. As a piece ended, she would spring to life and point out a grammatical error, recalling exactly the page and paragraph where the reader had erred.

Love has left the local writers’ group, ensconced instead in a comfy chair beyond the pearly gates, joining enthusiastically in a group we can only imagine. Everyone’s writing is perfect, no one has to offer a quarter, and there is pizza every week.

Rachelle Fliehman

Washington Avenue Writers’ Group

After growing up in Nebraska and moving to Albert Lea while still in her teens, Love’s determination brought her success throughout college and her professional career.

She has been an outstanding leader and motivator in the community. Many would consider her a local icon. In addition to her career at the Albert Lea Tribune, she also focused on the youth in the community as a Girl Scout leader and Art Center charter member. She enjoyed photography during her years at the Tribune and continued to subscribe to photography magazines with thoughts of taking up the hobby again.

When she became ill a couple of years ago, Love adjusted to the situation, and even though she was hospitalized, she never missed a deadline for her Love Notes column in the Tribune. Through she was challenged with her mobility, she returned home where she persevered with the help of friends. She continued hosting the Washington Avenue Writers’ Group and entertained all who stopped by.

Love wrote: &8220;The goal is not to be a writer, but to write. If that be difficult, take heart. The writing will be done aright, if thought of as a craft and not an art.&8221;

She continued to focus on reading while maintaining a library of books in her living room and persisted in exploring possibilities for getting her book published. Love was like a book filled with interesting chapters and sprinkled with humor. The ending will be a surprise when she takes her trip to that big publishing house in the sky.

Carolyn Smith

Washington Avenue Writers’ Group

I met Love the first night of writing group. I had read her columns, so when she showed up I was interested. I kept coming to find out what she was really like. She was clever, entertaining and opinionated, but anyone who read her columns knows that. She was also honest, compassionate, generous and probably smarter than the rest of us. She loved correcting our grammatical errors. I hope I’ll be as productive and interested in life as she was. Her dedication to writing was inspiring, and she gave me a gift by encouraging me in mine.

Maren Ring

friend and caregiver for Love, manager of the Albert Lea Wintergreen Food Co-op

Love impacted so many people in so many ways, both writers and non-writers. As a writer, she observed everything. In a photo Jim Wendel took, he caught a little expression, suggesting she was enjoying the company of whomever she was with at the moment, and she was paying attention. She had been accused of being nosy, but her editor, Jim Oliver, said that’s what made her a good reporter.

I met her at the Albert Lea Art Center in 1990 when we were both on the board of directors. When she found out I played the piano, she decided we should play duets. She had this nice upright piano. She was very strict about getting together once a week for an hour.

Dustin Petersen started a writers’ group at the Gossip House, and I gave her rides.

When the cafe closed, she didn’t want to go out, so she started the group in her house and wanted me to come there. I knew how to write, but I wasn’t really interested in writing. We had to pay a quarter when we didn’t contribute. Pretty soon I had paid over $15 because I didn’t write anything for almost a year. I thought it was getting too expensive, and that’s when I started to write.

I told her in the hospital recently how glad I was she encouraged me to write. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I put all the stories I wrote in a notebook, and I just love them. I also told her we are going to continue having our writers’ group.

She whispered clearly, &8220;I’d be so disappointed if you didn’t continue.&8221; She was so generous with her approval. With the things I did for her, like shopping and errands, she always thanked me and was appreciative.&8221;

Eloise Adams

friend and owner of Adams Originals of Albert Lea

Love was a joy to be with and was always so much fun. She wrote about very serious things and cared deeply about the world. She knew how to get at an important point by using humor. She was concerned for the future and the next generation.

When we first came to town, we were drawn to the Albert Lea Art Center, and that’s where we met so many friends. I was in an AAUW writing group that Love led in her home in the late 1960s. Love encouraged us to write about what we were familiar with and our feelings.

Love set such an example. She inspired us to be ourselves and accepted and appreciated us as individuals. Her friends were all ages. She had charisma. When she entertained at her house she made each one feel unique. She knew how to be a friend, and that’s why she had so many friends. She had friends she kept in contact with from when she was a girl in Nebraska, and she was still making new friends. She was just so interested in everything. She was a gifted lady, and even though she was close to 90 years old, she was young at heart. My life here in Albert Lea is so much richer because I was privileged to have her for a friend.

When she was in the hospital several years ago, she needed a transfusion, and we were discussing politics. She was a liberal Democrat. I told her that with the blood transfusion she might have inadvertently received some Republican blood. We joked that if she did, it certainly didn’t take. After that illness she had an increased appreciation and enjoyment of every single day.