Learning to Cook

There are some things in life that I consider essential to know. One of them is cooking. When I was growing up, Jim didn’t know how to cook, my mother didn’t cook much, and I couldn’t figure out how to learn how my grandmother cooked. Grandma could really put together a fine meal, but it was all her. I watched, and may have learned more than I knew. When I did ask I got an answer like “add flour until it’s right.”

Jim's copy of The I Never Cooked Before Cook Book

Jim’s copy of The I Never Cooked Before Cook Book

Since neither Jim nor I knew how to cook, and we were going camping now and then, if we were going to eat well, we had to figure something out. For his birthday in 1966, I bought him the I Never Cooked Before Cookbook. That may have been one of the best gifts I’ve ever given anyone. He used that book for everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Everything. That book showed up the other day when I was cleaning out our attic. It was dog eared, well worn, full of notes and clippings, all tied together with a fat rubber band. The last time I looked, it was still available on Amazon! The reviews (from 1999 and 2000) were universally five star positive. I agree.

After I met Judy and we got married we ended up teaching each other how to cook. There were a lot of evenings of tuna noodle hotdish with Kool-Aid. Those days are done. We knew the basics, but there was a lot to learn.

In Rochester we discovered Community Education and took several cooking classes. That really got us into cooking in a big way. We started buying cook books and learning more about fine cooking. That’s when I bought Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of my favorite recipes in the book was for baguettes. It’s a sixteen page, six hour creation that makes the most incredible bread you have ever had. So good that in a management class on negotiation I traded a copy of the recipe to Bill C for two Susan B Anthony dollars. We were both pretty satisfied with the results of the negotiation, but he got the thing of value. Continue reading

The Challenger

If you’ve worked at a corporation, you’ve been to them. Meetings. Endless meetings. For almost all of my working life I was at IBM. Now that’s a big company. And we had meetings. It seems that I was always in a meeting. In 1986 I was a line manager in the computer design department. We were working on the next generation of midrange computers, to be called the AS/400. There was a lot to get done, and that took a lot of meetings. Meetings like the endless status meeting.

This Tuesday was no different than any other. One of my peer managers had a regularly scheduled status meeting right before lunch. There were only three or four of us managers in the meeting, and it was crushingly boring. “Tell me, Guy, how is your team doing on the floating point accumulator design.” “Terry, what’s the status on the problem with the ALU chip?” This would go on for almost an hour, with Harlan putting together a summary for the boss.

In 1986 there was no internet, barely any email, and nobody had a radio in their offices. If there was something important happening in the world, it could wait for the Nightly News at 5:30 that evening. When you’re working, you’re working. This Tuesday was different. Continue reading

Greasing the Rails

This is my favorite story of all time. I’ve spent time on the hill Louie talks about, and in the rail yards, and at the roundhouse. It’s all too familiar, and there’s no end to the adventures he got into.

"Soo Line 2719 Steams from Duluth to Two Harbors, MN" by Pete Markham - Flickr: Soo Line 2719 Steams from Duluth to Two Harbors, MN. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Soo_Line_2719_Steams_from_Duluth_to_Two_Harbors,_MN.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Soo_Line_2719_Steams_from_Duluth_to_Two_Harbors,_MN.jpg

Similar steam engine. From Wikimedia.

The roundhouse was the engine house, with a huge turn table that directed steam engines and tenders into various stalls in a circle around the table. In the engine house workers maintained and repaired the steam engines. They needed frequent maintenance and service. Every hundred miles or so the engines had to take on coal and water. Even rail box cars needed frequent maintenance and service, including greasing the axles, as Louie describes in today’s letter.

Security as we know it today was non-existent in the thirties and the fifties. Our little gang of kids would often go into the roundhouse to clamber around on the engines. It was a dirty place, with coal dust and grease everywhere. Dangerous? OMG! Huge pits under the engines. Heavy tools and parts everywhere. Somehow we survived, I’m sure some did not.

Back to the story.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Louie writes:

Being born and raised in a railroad town, all of the kids in the west end of town were always hanging around the rail yards of the “roundhouse.”

One of the things plentiful around the rail yards was buckets of grease. These were used to grease the wheel boxes located on the end of the wheel axles …

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Mother and Flora Judge Corser

Jim and (probably) StepDad Franklin Corser

Jim and (probably) StepDad Franklin Corser

One of the things in life I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to do is read a book twice. Even studying was difficult for me, because reading something the second time was really boring. There have been less than a handful of books that made it to my “read again” list.

Working on these letters from Jim for the blog has reminded me of the necessity of rereading things. It’s been over twenty years since Jim (and the others) wrote the letters you find in this blog. I have forgotten so much of it, only to once again be reminded of the seriousness of life during and after the Great Depression and World War Two. The difficulties of those times played out in the lives of everyone. In Jim’s case he struggled with what to do with his life, enduring far more struggles than most of us. He had challenges thrust upon him and he made some bad choices. The end of the letter gives the reader hope that the later choices that made his life so good will finally become obvious.

Jim writes:

When I was fifteen Dad explained to me that my natural mother was alive and throughout the years he had been in contact with her regarding me. He was patient and explained in detail how I came to be adopted and all the reasons leading to it. To suddenly learn that I had been adopted and that my real mother was still living was confusing and difficult for a fifteen year old to grasp. …

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Sure, You Can Have Two

The Stapelhäuschen glasses, set for Christmas dinner.

The Stapelhäuschen glasses, set for Christmas dinner.

Holidays are a wonderful time to share family stories and enjoy the good things in life. As Judy and I set up for a holiday meal with the family, I drew the short straw on setting the dining table for the twelve of us. It’s something I enjoy, creating an artful table from the multiple settings, finding the right glass ware, and all the various serving dishes.

Since we enjoy a good glass of wine with a meal, every adult gets a wine glass. Most of the places had a Waterford Lismore wine glass. I decided to go all out and use the “good” glasses for Judy and me. At our age, I feel a need for us to limit the number of things we set aside to look at and not enjoy. In the best case, that number should be limited to zero. If we can’t enjoy the good things now that we’re retired, when will we be able to use them? So I set the Stapelhäuschen wine glasses for us.

There’s a story behind these “good” wine glasses. There are only two of them, and they came from Germany.

In 1978 the company asked me to go on a business trip to Germany for a major product announcement. We had a US team of about a dozen people, about half technical folks: programmers and hardware engineers. The other half were marketing types. The European and German sales teams joined us for the big business show.

Ken, Don, Mark, Guy, John and Jim in Cologne, Germany

Ken, Don, Mark, Guy, John and Jim in Cologne, Germany

The show was in Cologne, Germany. We had a couple of days off before and after the show to enjoy the country. It was my first time out of the US, and one of my first business trips, so there was much to learn. Besides the normal business show setup, man the booth, and tear down, we visited the Cologne cathedral, a rural restaurant for breakfast, and thoroughly enjoyed a boat trip down the Rhine River from Koblenz to Cologne.

The business show was a great success, with plenty of press attention and visits from show attendees. We were demonstrating technology that’s still advanced. As a thank you the German sales team took all of us out for dinner at a first class restaurant. The restaurant was in the Belgisches Quarter, a well-preserved section of the old city. The dinner was one of those where there seemed to be a dozen wine and water glasses and far too many forks for this young North Dakota kid. The food was fantastic and the wine was even better. We truly enjoyed the evening. Then it got interesting.

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The Kids Travel to Nebraska

How many kids have been able to take the greatest road trip ever? Mine was the vacation Jim and I took to the west coast in 1968. This one sounds like just as much fun. Four kids, a relatively new car, and the chance to see new territory.

Grandpa Guy Havelick


Grace writes:

Fanny with the 1937 Chevy they probably drove to Nebraska

Fanny with the 1937 Chevy they probably drove to Nebraska

In the summer after papa passed away Mama let us four kids take the car on a trip to Nebraska. We got acquainted with uncles + cousins who all lived around Sioux City, Nebr. Actually, they were around the little town of Waterbury. Uncle Hugo’s family were the ones I always remembered most. Especially Clarence as we corresponded for quite a while afterward. Continue reading

Harvest Time

320px-Red_River_Special_threshing_machineIn this letter Lucy talks about the excitement of harvest time when many hired men and neighbors came to the farm to help with threshing. My grandmother’s stories held similar excitement, but she tended to focus on her job as the adult farm wife. The one who had to feed twenty or thirty hungry men four meals per day. Yes, four. Lunch was early, and there’s mid afternoon treat, too. This was in the dog days of late August. Hot. Then let’s imagine baking a dozen loaves of bread in the kitchen, on a coal or wood stove. Then boiling up some coffee in the stove top percolator. How many gallons can a crew drink? Several.

Those times must have been pretty exciting, especially compared to the quiet loneliness of the deep winter.

Lucy writes:

To a ten year old nothing could be as exciting as harvest time.The Colwells shared a thresher, in return they helped each other with hauling grain and pitching bundles.

The most exciting time was when they were at our house. People came to help in the kitchen of course bringing the children with them. As I look back it seems to me, 20 men to cook for should have been enough for mother to do, but it was happy time for us.

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