Worthington native shares memories in new book
COON RAPIDS — From putting a bucket of snakes in the ice box to summer days spent at the Chautauqua Park beach, growing up in Worthington was nothing short of an adventure for Dave McCauley.
The 1956 Worthington High School graduate recently published his first book, a compilation of short stories based on his life in this southwest Minnesota community in the 1940s and ’50s.
“A Fair in Time” begins with a series of short stories about the author’s early adventures in Worthington, told “as accurately as I can remember them.” It ends with the section “Too Good to be True,” which features five short stories of Worthington lore McCauley said are to be viewed as pure works of fiction.
McCauley’s years in Worthington were at a time when the town boasted a population of about 5,000 to 6,000, and everybody knew everyone else — or at least it seemed that way. His dad was a professional musician with the Tiny Little Orchestra.
When the orchestra dissolved after World War II, the family moved to Mason City, Iowa, to work as a piano tuner. Two years later, the family returned to Worthington.
“We were really glad to get back to Worthington. I missed Worthington a lot,” McCauley said.
For his family, Worthington was home — the place where they felt completely safe.
“We could do anything we wanted to do from the time I was very young until the time I left home,” McCauley said, noting their friendships with police officers and the sheriff, and how everyone seemed to know everyone else.
“That made a powerful impression on me,” he said.
Within the pages of McCauley’s recollections, readers will be taken back in time to an era of great change not just across the country, but also here at home, starting with the lack of progress during the Great Depression when “nobody had money to do new things,” he said.
“Then, World War II started, and you may have had some money but the product wasn’t there,” he added. “After the war, the whole world changed. Everything from my earlier memories was discarded. That piqued my interest in what was happening around us.”
In Worthington, McCauley said each new day brought change with it.
“The change from the day before may be almost miniscule, but there was always change.” he said. “By the time I sat down to organize my stories about the book, I realized the Worthington I grew up in is gone.
“A lot of the important buildings like the library, the grade school and the high school that I attended, they’ve disappeared. The Chautauqua Park swimming beach isn’t there, the power plant is no longer there, Main Street has changed. Everything is gone. A lot of the people I knew and grew up with — they’re gone, too.”
The metamorphosis of Worthington is not the focal point of McCauley’s book. Rather, he writes about what it was like to live here during that period of great change. Several of his short stories actually started out as longer letters to his parents about 30 years ago.
“A couple of the stories that are in the book, including ‘A Fair in Time,’ really came out of a letter I wrote my folks,” he said.
In the early 1990s, he compiled some of those letters into a booklet that was sold locally. Some of the stories also appeared in the Daily Globe back then.
“I’ve always been a short story writer,” McCauley said. “I’ve written a lot of short stories. I just kept collecting them and putting them in an envelope until all of a sudden, I realized I had a whole pile of them and I should start doing something with them.”
The stories pertaining specifically to Worthington went into his first book, but he’s written a lot of other stories now slated to go into a second book.
As for “A Fair in Time,” McCauley’s favorite is the chapter titled, “The Best Christmas Ever.” It follows his school days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, of helping his mom make fudge during the Christmas Eve blizzard and of getting gifts of used bicycles from a pair of aunts.
“It caught the essence of my third grade year,” he said of the story. “That was right after the war, so it was a pretty interesting time.”
After graduating from high school, McCauley attended the University of St. Thomas briefly before returning to Worthington to attend the local community college. In 1959, he left again to attend the University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in business administration.
Though McCauley no longer has family ties to Worthington, he remains connected through his wife, Ilona “Lonni” Heidebrink, a Rushmore native who has numerous relatives still in the area.
McCauley’s book can be found in a selection of libraries and bookstores, and is also available for purchase online through Barnes & Noble and Amazon, where an ebook version is also sold. The cover features an image of the author (on the left) and his older brother Kerry, circa 1943 or 1944, dressed up as gunslingers in downtown Worthington.