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Welcome to The Lexington

October 1968

I clearly remember the first time I crossed the river to Saint Paul. Dad had sent a cab to my dorm so I could join him at The Lexington, where they were already celebrating. It was my eighteenth birthday.

I was a new student at the University of Minnesota, a small-town kid trying to navigate a stony city. Our hometown was a hundred miles and an era away from this ritzy restaurant.

Dad had discovered it while traveling to the State Law Library in Saint Paul. He had been researching a project, and a lawyer agreed to help.

The doorman welcomed me while trying to take my coat, but I didn’t understand the coat check protocol and pushed my hands deeper in my pockets. He pointed to a booth in the back. There was Dad waving a long piece of paper at me. My older brother Karl was there, and Mom, and the lawyer I had heard about.

“Katy, bar the door,” Dad hollered across the lounge. My name isn’t Katy, but Dad wasn’t referring to me. It was a favorite expression of his, one he would shout out when something remarkable happened.

I could tell this was Dad’s kind of place—mahogany paneling offset with soft gaslights, a long robust bar, and “the best damn martini in 500 miles.” Dad had been a salesman before the accident. His job had taken him to upscale restaurants in Chicago and New York.

Something about this tableau in the corner booth made me feel at home. I took off my coat. Dad placed the legal-size papers in front of me, pointing to my name in the guardian section. My parents were designating me the guardian of my ten younger siblings.

It was their last will and testament, an unusual birthday present for a college freshman. With the stroke of a pen I became an adult.

Sort of. I couldn’t vote or drink alcohol, but I could legally parent a house of kids if called upon.

You see, five years earlier a brutal car crash had sent my parents to the hospital and my siblings and me to separate foster homes. There were twelve of us kids, the oldest fourteen, the youngest a baby. Our mom was not expected to survive the night. Dad’s back was broken.

Month after agonizing month we lived with strangers, separated from each other. They called it a miracle when Mom recovered enough to leave the hospital and Dad found a way to bring us all home. “Katy, bar the door,” Dad shouted that first night of our reunion. “Nobody’s getting past me again. I promise.”

But the reunion felt fragile. Our parents were now considered disabled, and caseworkers would come to the door of our home checking, monitoring, judging. Dad’s obsession to keep his promise kept him up at night. He needed to formalize a will and nominate a guardian. But who could be trusted to keep twelve children together? In the middle of a sleepless night, he found his answer.

Minnesota State Statute, Section 517.02. There it was: Children were considered minors until age twenty-one, with a curious exception. A girl could get married at eighteen without her parents’ permission.

Dad pounded out this theory on his trusty Royal typewriter with its temperamental keys. It followed logically, Dad typed, if a girl could get married, she could be a parent . . . so why not a guardian? My brother Karl was older by a year, but in 1968 the law wouldn’t bend for him. He was about to be drafted into the Army but legally was still a minor.

Dad raised a toast while the lawyer leaned over and whispered to me, “You’re a loophole adult and it might get challenged in court, but I promise to fight for you.”

I held the document up to the gaslight and stared at my name. “Sleep well tonight, Dad. No one’s getting past us again.”

Story: PATSY KAHMANN lives in Minneapolis but has called many places home. Born in Kansas City, she and her family came to live on a farm near Granite Falls, Minnesota, in 1962. Her memoir, House of Kahmanns, is about forged and fractured family bonds. Her 2014 story was chosen for the ten-year retrospective. She is retired from the University of Minnesota, where she worked with student athletes and coaches in the women’s basketball program.

Photo: Courtesy of THE LEXINGTON.


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