The Lives We Led

The house was built in 1939. Although it stands out a little bit from the others on the block thanks to its stucco exterior, flat roof, and distinctive shade of grayish blue paint, it fits the neighborhood. There’s a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, and living room with a fireplace downstairs, and three bedrooms upstairs. It’s the sort of place where a local businessman and his wife—let’s say, for example, that he owns a furniture-and-appliance showroom and she clerks in a department store—would raise their kids and be happy doing so. It’s not perfect; it’s located on a busy street, and the grade school is several blocks away (although the high school is much, much closer). But a young Minnesota family of the 1940s and 50s would not be so bold as to expect perfection.

This is not just any random house, of course. Although it is long since out of the family, 2425 7th Avenue East in Hibbing, Minnesota, was once the home of Abe and Beatty Zimmerman. They bought it in 1948 after moving from Duluth with their two sons, Robert and David.

The ambivalent relationship between Hibbing and its most famous son, the erstwhile Robert Zimmerman, has been well-chronicled over the years. In 1965 he famously said, “I knew I had to get out of there and not come back.” When he returned for his 10-year class reunion in 1969 as one of the most famous people in the world, he and his wife left early after a few of his classmates told him they disapproved of his presence. (He was invited to his 50th reunion in 2009 but didn’t attend.) Today, the local public library has put together a walking tour of Dylan landmarks and has an exhibit of memorabilia, but there’s no historical marker, no statue, no annual Dylan festival, no businesses borrowing his name (although there used to be a bar called Zimmy’s.) If you didn’t already know Bob Dylan was from Hibbing, it wouldn’t be obvious from visiting. —although in recent years a small “Bob Dylan Drive” sign has been posted on the 25th Street side of the former Zimmerman house, and a local group is working to find an appropriate way to honor him. Attitudes have changed in a half-century, but when young Bob Dylan was ready to leave Hibbing, Hibbing was ready to have him gone.

As I parked across the street to snap my picture of Dylan’s childhood home, I couldn’t help thinking about my own. My parents moved into their house in 1959, shortly after they got married. They’re still there, so I can return anytime I want. I can still sleep in my old bedroom, eat in the same kitchen, noodle with the piano I learned on. If you were to ask me where my home is—and if you wanted the truest possible answer—I would tell you that it’s there, on Melvin Road, even though I have had 10 different addresses since I moved away in 1980, and I’ve been at my current one nearly as long as I lived with Mother and Dad. It is the place that most strongly reminds me who I am and what I am supposed to be.

Despite what he said in 1965, Bob Dylan has been back to Hibbing a few times over the years, reportedly going incognito. But whether or not we actually return to the places we remember, we never entirely shake the lives we led there. Hibbing aside, Minnesota is still very much a part of Bob Dylan—he once gave an interview in which he talked about the influence of his home state, and he has owned a farm just west of the Twin Cities for over 40 years. The places that call to each of us—the places that help define who we are and what we value—needn’t be old addresses. Yours might be a school, a workplace, a city you visited, or the site of some formative or life-altering experience. Each of us knows where our places are, on the map and in the heart.

One response

  1. […] —We watched some TV, including the unlikely Starland Vocal Band Show from 1977 and a radio sitcom that predated WKRP in Cincinnati by a decade. We watched some Elvis movies. We read some books, including one about the impact of drugs on the Beatles and another about the secret history of 1968. We listened to American Top 40 after having a few beers. We traveled a bit, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Bob Dylan’s childhood home. […]

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