Mankell Family History

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A Conversation and a Connection

My father, Orlynn Mankell, lived in Minnesota his entire life, except for his stint in the army in the early 1950s. And he talked like a Minnesotan, in his vowels, inflections, and familiar euphemisms. This became evident in 1985 when Mom and Dad visited Jim and me in Bloomington, Indiana. This was one of their first visits after our 1984 marriage and our move to southern Indiana. This visit connected me back to my Minnesota roots in a way I hadn't expected.

To maintain a connection back to my Minnesota roots I regularly listen to A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio. Jim and I have listened to PHC for many years, actually decades, enjoying Garrison Keillor's stories about my home state. These stories bring back memories: Norwegian bachelor farmers, lutefisk, hotdish, church basement dinners, the importance of Jello in a meal, and a community "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average".

In 1985 PHC presented a series entitled: "Minnesota Language Systems." These fake commercials, which explained how to speak proper Minnesotan, were written by Howard Mohr, an English professor. Mohr later wrote a book based on these observations on local Minnesota language. Garrison Keillor introduced these 26 commercials with this statement: “This portion of the show brought to you by Minnesota Language Systems, the simple cassette tape and study guide for people from out of state.” These commercials covered a variety of topics, including the long goodbye, hotdish not casserole, refusing food three times before accepting, Minnesota body language, and the subtle differences between "lunch," "dinner," and "a little lunch."

One of the more interesting ads about how to speak proper Minnesotan involved speaking in the negative to state something positive. Examples of THE POWER OF THE NEGATIVE included "Not so bad", "Could be worse", and "Can't complain". When A Prairie Home Companion featured these POWER OF THE NEGATIVE commercials in 1985 Jim and I laughed because it was such an accurate description of normal conversation. Fast forward a few weeks and my parents, Orlynn and Vivian, came for a visit. They stepped out of the car and conversation began. Jim asked them how their long drive was and Dad's response: "Not so bad". And within minutes of their arrival we heard Dad speak each of these phrases during our conversation: "Not so bad", "Could be worse", and "Can't complain". It was difficult not to laugh.

And in our restrained laughter I felt connected to my home state in a way that I hadn't expected when they first arrived at our apartment. With this connection, I felt sadness and a longing to be back home in the state I love. Our lives together meant Jim and I would not live in my home state--maybe never again. I am thankful for my strong roots in the great state of Minnesota. I am thankful that Garrison Keillor and his talented actors on A Prairie Home Companion keep me connected to Minnesota--with laughter and tears.

Family Stories

Orlynn and Vivian Mankell

Webmaster: Carolyn Mankell Sowinski
Last updated: June 21, 2015