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A life story contained in a single frame

Jean Salmon has lived at Trinity Care Center since July.

A simple wooden frame hangs near Jean Salmon's bed. What's inside tells the story of her life. Or at least hits some of the high points.

Start in the upper left, with three small metal pins. Two are from the St. Paul School Patrol. The third, displayed in the middle of the row, is a merit award from the St. Paul Police Department. That's one of Salmon's favorite stories.

It was 1936, and heavy snows and sub-zero weather had canceled classes at St. Paul's Jefferson Grade School. Salmon knew about the closure, but she figured there were plenty of other people who didn't.

"In those days a lot of people didn't even have radios ... and I went to my corner and told a lot of kids to go back home because schools were closed," Salmon said. "I can still see in my mind this one young boy. All he had on was a heavy shirt. It was a man's shirt, because it was too big for him."

While Salmon stood on the corner with her red-and-white Stop sign she caught the attention of a police officer. He gave her a ride home when she was finished. She got the pin the following summer.

Just below the pins is a photo. It's Salmon as a high school student, looking seductively over one shoulder. It was taken at a high school dance at the Coliseum Ballroom on Feb. 14, 1938. Salmon was named Valentine Queen that day.

Further down is another photo of Salmon. That one would have been her graduation photo, but the attack at Pearl Harbor meant she never had a formal graduation ceremony.

"I watched my classmates go to war and so many of them never came home," Salmon said. "I still feel the pain of that."

Salmon did what she could. She went to the Red Cross and took a first aid course. The first aid certification card is in the lower left corner of the frame. She renewed the certification in 1942. To save money the new date is typed over the old.

There's another photo just to the right of that card, but we'll get to that later. Like Salmon, we'll save the best for last.

In the lower right corner of the frame and running up the right side there's a red ribbon from the 1939 St. Paul Citywide Hobby Show. Salmon took second place for her collection of stamps. Her father's coin collection took first.

Salmon continued to collect stamps until she moved into Farmington's Trinity Care Center last July. Now her collection is in a safe deposit box. She figures the collection is valuable, but she doesn't know how much it's worth.

Above the ribbon, in the frame's upper right corner, are five more pins. Two are from Salmon's six years working with the United Way. The other three are for her years working with the Cub Scouts.

"I was in Cub Scouts longer than my kids were," Salmon said.

Those kids are in there, too. Three of them, two boys and a girl in a faded color photograph. All three kids have been successful. Salmon's sons just retired from Lockheed Martin and 3M. Her daughter spends winters in Arizona and summers in Minnesota.

Salmon said she knew early on her younger son would go far. When he was 5 years old she would get calls from neighbors who wanted him to run to the store for them. When she asked one neighbor why she didn't send her own children, who were older, the neighbor said she couldn't. Her kids would spend the money she gave them on candy, she said. Salmon's son always brought back just what he was told to get.

He was a saver, too. When Salmon's older son had spent his allowance, her younger son would offer him a loan. And he'd charge interest.

The background for this display is a piece of stationery from the city of St. Paul. It's got Salmon's name on it from the years she spent as a legislative aide to city council member William Konopatzki. She didn't have the job long. Konopatzki was not reelected.

That's most of the items in the frame. But there is that one last thing. There's that photo we skipped over before. It doesn't take up much space -- it's not much more than an inch on a side -- but it's awfully important. It's a photo of Salmon's second husband. She calls him the best thing that ever happened to her.

"He came straight from heaven," Salmon said of the man in the photo, the son of a neighbor. "He was always smiling. They nicknamed him bubbles. He loved me so much. I loved him, too."

Salmon was in her 30s when she married for the second time. Her husband, who was 14 years older than her, died 10 years ago.

That's a lot of ground to cover in the space an 8x10 frame. And it's not everything. Salmon's children have told her they found another, similar frame. She can't remember making that one though.

For now, this is her story. All in one place and neatly framed.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606