Words from the Wise

By Michael Kyllo-Kittleson

Venture through St. Paul, Minn. and you might see a petite, salt-and-pepper-haired woman shuffling back and forth from her home and the Lunds grocery store a couple miles up the road.

Florence Applebehr, 92, has resided in Minnesota her entire life. After having lived through her fair share of global wars, national crises, and personal struggles, a weekly trip to the grocery store isn’t slowing her down.

“For a while it seemed like once one terrifying event concluded another appeared,” she says. These events include World War II and the rise of Nazi Germany, the Great Depression, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Each event sparked questions and fears of the world coming to an end. “The Missile Crisis was frightening because we never knew when the Cuban’s might actually decide to launch their arsenal,” she says.

Applebehr smirks when remembering various drills that took place across the country in schools and work places. “It was a bit of an odd thing,” she says. “People were so afraid of the possibility of the launch but, while terrifying, [it] did not overly upset me,” she says. “I figured, we live in Minnesota, they are not aiming at us—not right away at least.”

She recalls being more concerned for the major cities across the coasts of the country, like New York, Washington D.C., and Miami. “If an attack had actually been launched and a city bombarded, then I think it would have felt more like the end of the world,” Applebehr says.

For Applebehr, seeing and living through some of the most frightening and uncertain events of our time was not enough to drive her toward worrying the world was ending. That came from a much more personal event: her husband dying. “After you are married to someone for [56 years], someone who is your best friend, someone who transforms into your whole world, it is unbearable to think about living without them,” she says. “That was my biggest end of the world [event].”

Applebehr says that, in hindsight, she doesn’t completely understand why more global and mass destructive events didn’t spark a deeper reaction in her, but she believes her location here in Minnesota played a large role in her safety from the world during those times. “What I’ve learned over the years is that terrible things will happen,” she says. “But I’ve found that in the end, things all seem to work out and there is not much of a point in worrying. When it decides it’s done, it’s done. Enjoy what you have when you posses it.”