Curmudgeon’s Corner – The things we used to know
IVAN RACONTEUR • EDITOR
As if things weren’t already bad enough, I recently dis-
covered that not only do I have to worry about the things
I don’t yet know (of which there are an abundance); now
I have to start worrying about the things I used to know
This vexing discovery came out of a discussion in the
newsroom. It occurred to me that, although there was a
time I knew all of Minnesota’s counties, and could both
list them and plot them out on a map, there was some doubt
about whether I could still do so.
It should be noted that the time when I could do this
was many moons ago when I was in college studying the
geography of Minnesota.
Still, the names of the counties haven’t changed since
then, as far as I know.
This uncertainty weighed on my mind, as these things
tend to do, so I decided to conduct an exercise to deter-
mine how bad things have become.
I got out a notebook and a pencil, and numbered the
page from one to 87. Then I set out to write down the
names of the counties.
In my defense, I should say that I didn’t start this ex-
ercise until well after midnight, a time of day when my
acuity is far from its peak. I am sure I could have improved
my score had I started in the morning after a beaker or two
Things were worse than I feared.
I started by visualizing the state, and writing down
the names of the counties beginning in the northeast and
working west and south.
The first part was easy. I grew up on the north shore, and
any time I have an opportunity, I return to that area, like a
wayward swallow returning to his beloved Capistrano.
I continued with my list, and when I got to the area
around the metro counties, the process continued to go
smoothly. The farther south and west I went, however, the
more difficult the task became.
I had to resort to working my way through Minne-
sota history, because I knew that some counties were
named after early leaders in the state.
Despite my best efforts, I could only come up with 46 –
just more than half of the counties.
In the morning, I pulled up a map of the counties and
checked my results.
Not surprisingly, I had nailed the entire Arrowhead re-
gion, and almost the whole northern part of the state, with
the exception of Roseau County on the Canadian border.
I put this down to confusion over the fact that Roseau is
both a city and a county. I got tripped up on several of
those, including Marshall, Wadena, Winona, Faribault,
I missed Red Lake because I thought it was a reserva-
tion, not a county (both are true).
I failed to write down Douglas County, because I
thought I was just confusing it with the county in northern
Wisconsin (both states have a Douglas County).
There were counties for which there is no excuse for
omitting, such as Lac Qui Parle County. I have always
thought that was a stylish name for a county, and I like
the fact that the name (a French translation of the Dakota
name) means “lake that speaks,” but that didn’t help me to
remember it in this case.
My score really suffered along the southern two tiers of
counties. I found that most of those had not stayed in my
memory at all.
Perhaps more concerning were the few counties that,
even after I saw them on the map, I did not recognize the
names. No offense to the good people of Wilkin County,
for example, but apparently nothing about that county
made any impression on me whatsoever.
The settlers in that county were apparently a fickle
bunch. The county was organized in 1858 as Toombs
County. In 1862, the residents petitioned the legislature to
change the name to Andy Johnson County. Six years later,
in 1868, the residents again petitioned the legislature to
change the name to Wilkin County.
In the end, two things emerged from this exercise.
First, I am going to have to do some studying. Perhaps I
will even embark on a mission to visit each of the counties
in our fair state. I am sure this would help me to remem-
ber them better, since I would have a tangible connection,
rather than just a name on a page.
Second, the exercise made me wonder what else I used
to know that I don’t know anymore.
There are certainly a lot of formulas and rules I learned
in algebra, trigonometry, and physics classes that have
long since faded out of memory, but I can probably get by
I am almost afraid to consider the amount of important
information that may have disappeared from the memory
I can cope with the things that I never knew, because I
am reasonably handy at research.
But the prospect of reaching for some tidbit of knowl-
edge from the archives of my brain and finding the shelf
bare is terrifying.
Perhaps one can justify these memory lapses on the
grounds that there is a limited amount of storage space
available, and acquiring large volumes of new data push-
es the old knowledge out. That is the story I am going to
However, I would be much happier if I could control
which information is deleted.
Note: this column was originally published by Herald
Journal April 11, 2011.
Come see us for all your insurance needs!
www.baumanﬁ nancial.com • 127 Bridge Ave E Suite 215, Delano
Connections October 2018
Senior Connections HJ.COM