2020 Hindsight: Revisiting the future of our past, Part 3

A grainy microfilm replication of a 1998 Larry Ryan photo of the author.
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

This is the last of a three-part series. See Part 1 and Part 2.

There is no historical blind spot quite like the recent past. The living defend their memories, true or not, with self-interested passion. The recently departed are far more saintly than the long dead.

Over the past three weeks I’ve been exploring “2020 Vision,” a special publication of the Hibbing Daily Tribune that ran in 1998. The people who wrote it and most of the people in it are still alive. But this publication is also old enough to forget. And I have proof.

Last week I lamented that some of the people in the “2020 Vision” stories are saying the same things 22 years later. In fact, I would learn that I’m one of them.

In 1998, I was a senior at Cherry High School preparing to leave the region for college. I was one of several voices in a March 8, 1998 Julie Toman story about what young people imagined for the future of the Iron Range.

“If it’s possible, I will come back,” said the 18-year-old me. “I do hope to live in the state somewhere.”

Well, I nailed that one.

I remembered doing this interview but I didn’t remember what I had said. As I read on, my 2020 prognostication grew eerily familiar.

Me in 1998: “We’re mostly working class,” he said of the Cherry school’s composition. “Most aspire to work at the mines. … Generally, the people who leave, leave for a reason. If they don’t like the atmosphere, they leave.”

Me today: Several of my classmates did end up working in local mines, but more left than I had originally predicted. I missed the obvious trend: most of us work in health care.

Me in 1998: “What would keep me around is if the Iron Range becomes more open-minded, more open to change, and willing to try new things,” he said. “(But) there will be a higher percentage of older people (in 2020). The area will become even more close-minded.”

Me now: We’ve made some progress in accepting new people and ideas, but far too little. It’s true, the population skews older than it did two decades ago. But more influential than that is the “us vs. them” mentality that has come to dominate our politics and culture. Many of us, especially me, are proud of this place. To replace what we’ve lost I still feel we should welcome new people and ideas. That’s how this place will last forever.

Normally, the realization that I’ve been saying the same things for my entire adult life would be disturbing enough. But the picture that accompanies the story only amplifies the cringe factor. I’m skinnier, which is nice, but have my feet kicked up on the principal’s desk. This would normally be a badass look on my part, but the picture reveals that I had rolled up the cuffs of my khaki pants because the hems were frayed. Underneath are bright white socks that flow down into a pair of, I swear to you, brown Hush Puppies.

I have a lot to say to that young man. But the first would be to tell him that his inseam is not, nor will it ever be 32 inches. You’re a 30. Many innocent pants would have enjoyed a longer life if I could have admitted that fact then.

I also would have told myself not to worry too much about the lack of theater, music and culture on the Iron Range. The story paraphrases my concerns about these topics. In the 22 years since, I’ve come to know brilliant musicians, actors, artists and leaders making our Iron Range communities stronger and more appealing. I would tell that kid that you need to accept what you can’t change, and change what you can. What’s good in life does not come in convenient packaging.

Life is a river. Just like that stupid Garth Brooks song that you hated so much.

The 2020 Vision section was written by editor Jim Gehrke, reporters Beth Pierce, Julie Toman, Christina Hiatt, Frank Rajkowski, and Gary Giombetti. Larry Ryan took the photographs. Of these, only Gary remains employed at the Tribune. (Congratulations, Gary! You made it!)

Ironically, one of the main reasons I moved back to the region after my freshman year in Iowa was to marry Christina Hiatt, one of the writers of the 2020 Vision publication. We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary this August. Shortly after I came back, just three years after appearing in the story, I was editor of the paper. My column has appeared every Sunday since.

So, this could be just another case of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, March 15, 2020 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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