One of my closest friends when we lived in the Pink House was Nathan B. He was really a lucky kid because his mother would make toast for him whenever he wanted it. They lived in a rented house between our house and the park, right along the James River.
One warm summer evening we had one of the most exciting times ever. All summer Nathan and I combed the railroad yards for half burned railroad flares. It was finally time to use them. We found a little cove along the river near his house and started lighting flares. We thought we were nicely hidden and private where there was no way that parents could see us.
I really don’t know what’s in a railroad flare, but they had to be bright so the engineer at the front of a fifty car train could see what the brakeman back in the caboose was trying to say. They may have had black powder, and some chemical that caused them to burn blindingly bright for a long time. Probably not something an eight year old should be playing with. After dark. With a bunch of friends. Let’s just say we had a lot of fun.
Even in those days I was one of the first ones to leave the party. My house was only a block or two away, so it was a quick run home. When I got home and looked up the river towards Nathan’s house there was an astounding sight. A warm red glow lit up the entire river, side to side and from water to tree tops. I could clearly see the other boys playing with the still burning flares. Anyone crossing the second street bridge could have easily seen what we were doing.
Little did we know that the way the river twisted around, the entire neighborhood could see us clearly. Since we were night blinded by the flares, we had no idea who could see us. Why nobody saw us having that much fun I do not understand.
The rail yards gave us boys a lot of fun experiences. By comparison, today’s railroad tracks are incredibly sterile and boring. Perhaps they’re a bit safer, too?
This was one of Grandma Fanny’s favorite stories. Grandpa Ted won this experience, even if he got sort of snookered in the process. My brothers and cousins all have versions of the story that differ in many details, but the result doesn’t change. Ted got a fancy new car.
Any time two people tell a story, or any time one person tells a story twice the story changes. It’s no different from the old childhood game of “Telephone” where one child tells a story to another child, who tells it to another child, and so on until the story is totally mangled. In Sunday School when I was about ten we played this game. I mangled the story more than anyone. Maybe the girl telling me the story didn’t speak loud enough? It couldn’t have been my fault.
In this story the Brown Fence Company moved to Chicago from Cleveland. Probably not important to the story, but it perfectly illustrates how stories change in telling.
Grace Writes …
Mama told the story of how they got a new Chandler car in 1929.
There had always been “open range” before that so people had to either let their livestock wander where they wanted or herd them. As people farmed more of the land they needed to keep the animals out so it was then that the barbed wir fence was built so all the farmers started to fence their land.
Charlie & Alice Heath
Both Lucy and my mother Grace grew up on North Dakota farms. Roads were dirt. Electricity and telephone were rare. By the time I started grade school there televisions were showing up in our neighbor’s house. The similarity of Lucy and Grace’s experiences show the circumstances of time and place. In this letter the item that leaps off the page for me is the reference to Native Americans looking in the windows of the sod shanty that Lucy’s family called home.
My mother, Grace, had the same experience. I don’t remember anyone peeking in our windows. I’ve read stories about “bums” riding the rails and stopping for a meal or short-term job before they moved on. If someone like that happened by our house these days, we’d probably just call 911.
My mother was such an inspiration to our family. She was left with five children to raise – Alice, Llewellyn (Lew), Pat, Loly, and me of course.
She was always helping young people who couldn’t go to school during the depression. I know of three men just off hand. My father would hire men from Norway to work on the farm and I know of three of them that became farmers on their own with his help.
Mother played the organ for her father, Rev. Charles Henry Heath and her mother sang for services, when he was pastor at Valley City. There was no one to marry or bury or preach at that time. Mother and Uncle Merrit spent many a day alone. Wild horses would come up to their sod shanty and look in the window. Indians roamed the prairie and she was always afraid of them.
Last week while we were out of town, the news arrived that my Aunt Esther had died. She was my mother’s older sister.
You might say that Esther was my favorite aunt. Maybe that’s because my mother learned so much from her sister. In a future letter from my mother you’ll read about how Esther taught her how to sew. She was always there when something needed doing. It seems that Esther was always around when the important things happened. The move to New Mexico. Buying the house at 319. I was too young and unaware to understand, but perhaps this is what a big sister just does? I think so.
Those two girls were alike in many ways, but different in just as many. It was clear that they were sisters. The older one was maybe a little smarter, picked up on nuances quicker, and appeared to be a little more successful at most things. Sometimes the successes were trivial, other times wonderful.
Esther at business college in Fargo
Our grand mother was proud of her daughter. The small example I remember clearly is when I learned how to fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Grandma made it clear that it was my Aunt Esther who, while in business school in Fargo, learned the right way to fold a personal or business letter . If you didn’t do it right there would just be a bunch of paper wadded up in the envelope.
One year Esther came through Rochester and demonstrated what I thought was the epitome of success. She had a small van outfitted as a camper, and was traveling across the country visiting friends, usually staying with those friends or family. She was doing what she wanted, on her schedule, with the people she liked. If that’s not successful, I need to get educated. Continue reading
Louie’s first story reminds me that our lives are similar, but unique. We both grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, with our childhoods spent near the steam-powered railroad. In this story, Louie talks about trying to take the train to visit his relatives.
Gas electric locomotive – “Goose”
My parallel story involves the same train, the Galloping Goose. These little gasoline powered motor coaches carried mail, passengers, freight, and milk to the small towns near Jamestown. My uncle and aunt lived in one of those little towns, Pettibone. When I was ten or eleven I’d take the Goose to Pettibone to spend a week with my cousins in the country.
The uniqueness of my story, compared to Louie’s, is that I got to visit the relatives. He didn’t. The other unique feature stands out compared to my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Louie got his butt whipped.
I may have paddled my kids once? Maybe twice, or maybe never. It just didn’t happen. Did the difference in discipline make a difference in how he and I turned out?
When I was the ripe old age of around 6, I had a good idea that it would be nice to visit some of relatives in Wisconsin.
I went to the railroad depot and got on board what was called the “Gallopin’ Goose.” It was actually a gasoline driven locomotive that they used on one of the branch lines going just north of Jamestown only traveling about 75 miles.
The conductor wanted to know where I was going and asked for my ticket. Not having a ticket started the trouble. The conductor tried to take me off the train. I started to rant and rave, it did cause quite a commotion. Continue reading
Update in progress. Please do not read this.
Jim loved movies. He seemed to know every star and director of every movie from his era. He was forever talking about movies and actors I didn’t know. As I age out towards (and beyond) the age when he was relating those stories, it’s obvious that I know many movies, actors and directors that my kids have never heard of. Just like Jim. Are we doomed to be just like the people who raised us? I hope so.
“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”
Jim includes this letter early in his series because he spent WWII in the South Pacific in the very ship that’s being filmed for this movie. Early in the war he had been in the bowels of the ship. During their deployment he was promoted to work on the bridge. He lived exactly those scenes, at least once and maybe more.
I imagine that Jim could have been one of the sailors stripped down in the Caribbean sun, waving his shirt at the camera boat. Could he have been an “extra” climbing on the guns? His squirrely attitude fits that opportunity.
Originally published 2014-10-20
Who hasn’t heard of the movie “Away All Boats” starring Jeff Chandler and Lex Barker? This WWII saga recreated the landing of American forces on a Japanese held island in the South Pacific during 1944. Universal-International Film studios in cooperation with eighteen U.S. Naval ships, thousands of troops, in full battle gear, planes, tanks and landing craft enacted a very convincing portrayal of a wartime assault on an enemy in all its horrors and furies!
Mark is in the right corner.
Mark was a close friend even before we were born. My mother was pregnant with me, her first child. Mark’s mom, Esther, was an experienced mom pregnant with her third child. They met at the local store, Peterson’s Grocery, on second street, about three blocks from the Pink House. That store is where my mother, nineteen years old, probably learned the important things about getting ready to have a baby.
Mark and I went to the same grade school and high school. We became very close friends during those years. We had the same teachers, friends and experiences for years. His phone number was 252-3024, somehow that number comes to mind right away as I write this. He had two older sisters, Joanie and Susie. They seemed so much older then. They may have been in senior high when we were in grade school.
They lived in rented housing and moved several times, always in the same quadrant of town as I lived in. No matter where they lived Esther always welcomed me with a smile and cookies. Mark and I enjoyed a lot of the same things, science, radios, music, reading, and whatever it is that young boys do.
They threw parties for us in junior high; overnight pizza parties! They would cook up a couple of pizzas. Mark , our buddy John and I would stay up ’till late, talking and playing games. His parents always had board games on hand for us. That and records. They even had a piano! A favorite pastime was to go sledding in the winter. (Well, not really sledding, but who wants to say cardboarding?) Schwartz’s was always the home of choice to go to afterwards because they would have hot chocolate and cookies waiting. After one particularly long winter event at “Cardboard Hill” we stood my frozen jeans up over the hot air register in their living room and watched them thaw out.