(Editor's Note: The following article was submitted by Brady Norby, a former Becker resident. This was part of his email message: "Up until a couple weeks ago, my mom had been a Becker resident for 30+ years. As I was helping her pack and go through things to move (to Big Lake), I started thinking about my childhood and growing up in Becker. I wrote a piece with memories and my feelings about my hometown that I would like to share.)
For the month of April, on at least one of my days off each week, I've been helping my mom to pack up and go through things to help her move. Last night I helped my sister load up and move the last loads to both our mom's storage unit, and her new little house just outside of Big Lake.
It was in the back of my mind for most of the month, and it kind of started to really sink in as I pulled the door shut to my mom's apartment for the last time, which struck me as odd as I didn't ever live there. It was my mom's apartment, my sisters grew up there, I was already grown. It didn't really hit me until I passed the McDonald's that I was leaving Becker for "the last time."
I assume by now it's common knowledge for most people who know me that I'm a pretty sentimental guy. I feel things a whole lot deeper than most people, especially for being a guy. I'm both blessed, and cursed, with a big ol' heart that I wear on my sleeve; try as I might to not.
When I was growing up, the water tower said "Minnesota's Best Kept Secret." That could not have been any more true. I absolutely loved growing up in Becker. For the last three decades, until yesterday, the Norby family's roots were planted firmly in Becker.
We moved to a house in the country in the summer of 1991, I was just about to turn three years old. I drive by that house every once in a great while. I can still tell you inch by inch, room by room, what that house looked like, who our neighbors were, and I can still tell you the phone number (263-7934). I have so many memories there. I remember getting my first pet, a German shepherd/wolf mix I named Jake after WWF wrestler Jake "the Snake" Roberts, and later my cat Felix, named after the cartoon cat. I remember the enormous bull snake that Jake caught that was longer than my dad was tall, I guess I picked the right name for him. I remember renting movies on VHS from the APCO gas station in Orrock that I called "The A Store." I remember becoming a big brother for the first time in that house, then later, being woken up in the middle of the night to learn that my twin sisters were on their way. I can remember sitting on my dad's lap while he "mowed the weeds" on the riding lawn mower. I remember making friends with a couple kids a few houses away and spending a lot of time over there. I remember being babysat by my neighbor Ray, whose name was actually Nicole. I remember my first day of school when the bus drove right passed me standing at the end of my babysitter's driveway, apparently my "Power Rangers" backpack and lunchbox weren't a good enough indicator to stop? I remember thinking the old gym with the stage in the elementary school was the coolest thing. I remember Italian dunkers were my favorite school lunch. Nothing could seem to beat melted cheese on a hot dog bun; so simple, yet so satisfying. I hope those are still on the school menu today. I remember the fort my dad built instead of a tree house because we had absolutely no trees in our yard. I remember being scared of the basement of that house. I remember my cousin Jeremy from Minneapolis staying and babysitting me one summer and asking him to read everything that was on the TV because I didn't know how to yet. I remember decorating our huge bay window in the living room with various window clings to celebrate all the different holidays. I remember "helping" my dad in the garage with the wood stove while he worked on whatever vehicle he had at the time. I never realized that there was more than likely a shop light hanging from the hood of the car shining the light where it was actually supposed to be, I was just happy to be spending time with my dad. I remember crying in my bedroom because my dad sold his uncle Kaius' 1959 Chevy Biscayne that I affectionately called "the Batmobile" (that's how we know I'm actually my dad's 😂). I remember hating the sand burrs or "stickers" in our yard and jumping off my swing set and landing in a patch of them. They were everywhere.
In the spring of 1999, towards the end of my 4th grade year, we moved into town to a house at 12164 Hancock Street (that was a popular street when I hit puberty), across from the fire station and next to the elementary school. That house, the one I consider to be the house I really grew up in, was Becker's general store back in the early 1900s. My friend Danny lived next door and I was really excited about that. My parents say we moved into town because we were already going into town three or four nights a week anyway due to my growing involvement in activities like baseball, cub scouts, and karate. I say it was so I didn't have to ride the school bus anymore due to my getting picked on relentlessly. I remember the day we moved in. We put our mattresses on the floor in the living room, plugged in our TV and watched "Father Dowling Mysteries" and "Diagnosis: Murder" on PAX-41 and ordered Mastoni's Pizza from a block away. The workers there would get to know my brother and I by name in no time. I remember needing to share a bedroom (and for a time, a bed) with my brother while our dad built an addition onto the house that would be a new bedroom for me, a new bedroom for my parents, and a bathroom that never did see the light of day. I remember finally being able to get cable TV for the first time. I rode my bike everywhere. I rode my bike to karate class way at the edge of town at Starz Dance Studio. I'd ride my bike to Jubilee to sell brats and hotdogs for my boy scout troop or to get something my mom forgot to grab for lunch. I walked to school across the street for about a month or so, then all the way over to the old middle school for 5th grade. I got my first job, for six months, at Tom Thumb (it’ll always be Tom Thumb). I learned how to drive a car. I fell in love with music. I remember riding my bike to Starstruck Video, back when it was in that strip mall with Subway, to rent movies on Friday night. I remember my parents letting my childhood best friend Zach sleep over on a school night because he was moving to Sartell after we got back from Valleyfair on the last day of 5th grade and I was worried that I would never see him again. I remember becoming friends with guys that twenty-plus years later are now like brothers to me; since Ms. Stoermann’s 1st grade class, a la "Stand By Me," they’re the best friends a guy could ever want or be fortunate enough to have. I remember the fire station used to wait to turn their lights and sirens on in the middle of the night because they knew that we were so young, my being 10, my brother 6, and my sisters just 1 year old. I remember, in a cloud of dirt, scoring the winning run for my Red Wings baseball team against the Monticello Orioles during my first year of Pee Wee Reese summer baseball. I remember thinking I would never get used to the trains blowing their horn through town, then when I moved out the first time, I couldn't sleep without them. I remember birthday parties at the community center and doing the library's summer reading program. I remember thinking how cool it was going to be having Freedom Days in my front yard every summer. I remember the teachers that would impact my life in one way or another, even 16 years later. I remember the Friday night football games that I looked forward to because I got to play in the pep band. I remember my dad being the first person I saw after I left the gym on graduation night, he had tears in his eyes, he shook my hand and patted me on the back guiding me outside to celebrate with my friends.
As an adult, on my own, whenever I was having a rough go of things, I would decide that I needed my mom and off to Becker I went. I could feel myself relax the closer I got to town. I could take a little bit deeper of a breath. As soon as I passed either the Welcome to Becker sign on Highway 10 or the city park, I knew I was home and everything was going to be okay. I remember so much about growing up in Becker that this could turn into even more of a novel than it already has. I remember all the things that I can because they helped to form me into the man that I am today.
I was talking to an old friend earlier and he said to me, "your roots are always there man. You can always come home." He's right. I know he is.
I know that Becker will always be home. I can't change where I came from, nor do I want to. Roots have always been important to me. I know that home isn't a town or a building, I know that it's where you feel loved. As happy as I am for my mom on this next chapter of her life, it still feels weird to not have a Norby living in Becker for the first time in thirty some years, Becker is in my DNA.
As I passed McDonald's last night and saw Becker in my rearview mirror, I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat, the physical roots were gone. Becker was an amazing place to grow up. I’m so glad that I got to and I love that it’s my hometown. It's a great community; not a real small town and not a big city. It was absolutely perfect, “Minnesota’s Best Kept Secret” indeed.
Besides, I'm no Hornet. I’m a Bulldog!