That was the reaction Kathryn Quaintance had upon seeing the empty spot where two popular benches sat for 33 years at 42nd & Fremont in the Lyndale Park Rose Garden. Several other readers had the same reaction and emailed me as much after I wrote about the demise of the so-called “guru lounge” last month, but Quaintance’s loss was much more personal.
She discovered the empty swath of grass and dirt on New Year’s Eve.
“I went on what would be my brother’s 61st birthday to light a candle at the bench and it was gone,” wrote Quaintance in a personal essay she wrote upon discovering the void and shared with the Southwest Journal over Memorial Day weekend. “Nothing. Empty space. No warning. No chance to make something different happen. To adjust. Gone. It had been there 33 years. Now an empty space.
“My son Conor Ross was with me. We stood there dumbfounded. He put his arm around me and said he was so sorry. No one knew anything about it. I put my ice luminary down in the empty space and lit my candle in the damp dreary afternoon. We stood stunned in the vacancy. I wondered aloud ‘What do I do now?’ And from somewhere in the universe my small lost self got a big bear hug.”
That bear hug had to come from the spirit of Kathryn’s brother Ross Quaintance, whom the bench was built for after his car was struck by a drunk driver in Canada. After a three-week fight for life, Ross died on August 28, 1985.
“The bench was placed there in 1986 in honor of Ross,” said my friend Brad Colbert, a law professor and friend of the Quaintances. “Ross graduated from law school in 1985 and was killed in a car accident during a vacation after taking the bar; he never actually got to practice law. Ross was a pretty incredible human being — seriously smart, very funny and really nice. Just an all-around good guy that everyone loved.
“We were all pretty devastated by Ross’ death and didn’t know quite what to do with our sorrow. The bench was built by a close friend of Ross’ and we all gathered to install and dedicate the bench without getting the approval of the Park Board (I’m pretty sure that the Park Board wouldn’t have approved and that Ross would have approved of not getting approval). Obviously you picked up some of Ross’ karma when you were hanging out at the bench. He inspired all sorts of wit, wisdom and wackiness.”
The Quaintances’ friend Dave Schweir, who helped build and install the bench, recalls that the Minneapolis Park Board approved the bench, but no one knows for certain. Many memorial benches dot the Rose Garden and other parks in the city, and the two wooden benches built in honor of Ross — deemed a “rogue” bench by the Park Board — was torn out sometime late last fall by the city, citing vandalism and deterioration.
“It was a special bench— two chaises joined at the feet,” wrote Kathyrn, now a decorated Hennepin County judge. “It got used a lot by people who had no idea. There was no marker. It came up from time to time but we thought the people who should know did. It weathered. There was graffiti. Someone carved Ross’ name in. A year or so ago, a board was replaced.
“It was a place to go. I went there when I got my first job out of law school. I went there when I broke up with a boyfriend. When I met my husband. Before my wedding. When I took a job as a prosecutor. When I was pregnant. On Ross’ 38th birthday a few days after my first son was born and given his name.
“I brought my in-laws when we did the Memorial Day cemetery tour. I went the summer after my second son was born and given another part of Ross’ name. When the boys were little they climbed trees there and jumped in the fountain down the hill. Once or twice we had toasts there on Ross’ birthday in the snow. Twice a year I lit a candle that would burn 24 hours. I would go back and see it burning in the dark.
“I went there when I won or lost a difficult case. I took my parents there when they visited. I went there when I was appointed judge. I went there in difficulty. I went there when I was celebrating. On the 30th anniversary of Ross’ death we had a big party. Fifty people showed up from all over the country and a group of us went there.
“I went there when my husband left and immediately was with another woman, and I needed someone to punch him for me. I went there for solace through a god-awful divorce. I went back after I survived it. I went there when I needed my brother. I thought I would bring my grandchildren there.”
Ross’ rogue guru lounge bench may be gone, but the good news is that Kathryn is working with the Park Board on construction of a new bench near the same spot. Her brother’s ashes were spread in Lake Harriet in 1986, so the benches at 42nd & Fremont always served as an important physical monument.
Though Kathryn likes the fact that the original bench had no official plaque or inscription, the new one will, along with a line from a poem written in tribute to Ross by his friend Reynolds Price:
R. Ross Quaintance
12/31/57 – 8/28/85
You endure. In our hearts and in our lives.
Thanks from now until our boundless meeting…
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].