Photo courtesy Wikipedia
One of my favorite movie scenes is from a movie whose name I don’t even remember. It’s one of those ancient black and white movies that show on PBS in the middle of the night. It takes place in the early 1930’s, in a beautiful mansion. The matron of the house, dressed for dinner in a flowing dress, rushes to answer the phone. It’s an ornate Art Deco contraption. She answers with a most welcoming “Hello,” listens briefly, then, putting her hand over the mouthpiece, she turns and calls out to her husband in the next room “Honey, it’s long distance!” in a voice that expresses wonderful amazement at something marvelous and unusual.
When I was growing up telephones were different from today. They were clunky, generally quite ugly, and depended on qualified operators, and in later years, thick books of names and numbers. When we lived at the pink house I would occasionally call my best friend Mark. We didn’t push a few buttons on a tiny box from our pocket, I had to go to the northeast corner of the living room, pick up the handset and listen for the operator to say “Number please.” Mark’s number was 3024.
One more thing about that number, it was for a specific phone nailed to the wall at their house. I wasn’t calling Mark, I was calling his house. When someone from the house answered, they would go find Mark, if he was in the house.
Let’s compare that to today. I call Mark’s personal phone. He answers. Unlike in the past when I would ask for a person, Mark in this case, today only Mark will answer the phone, and I ask him where he is. Back in the day a phone had a specific place in the home, today it’s closely held to his person.
Louie at the Jamestown College Football Stadium
Louie has a way of making extraordinary events seem ordinary. This letter has two extraordinary (to me) stories.
First is the story about the neighbors who had milk cows. It’s not clear to me exactly how they accomplished that, because they lived in town. On town sized lots. There were no barns and no pasture. These days some people get excited if there’s a chicken next door. Cows? Probably won’t happen here.
The second is the picture Louie enclosed with this letter. He was a little self-conscious about sharing that picture, but he was proud of it at the same time. He was in the prime of life, playing football for Jamestown College.
Louie’s photo album does have a later re-creation of this picture, taken in the early fifties when he was serving in Korea. You’ll see that one later.
Nick-names, that seems to be something that will go on forever.
My first nick name was “Snuffy.” I got that in an unusual way, learning to milk cows by hand. The Dengates, our next door neighbors had some milk cows and of course you had to milk them twice a day. If you didn’t the cows would bellow loudly to let you know it was time to milk.
State School of Forestry, Bottineau, North Dakota
Drinking today isn’t quite the free for all it was fifty years ago. This is one of those stories Jim would never have breathed a word of without being able to hide behind the anonymity of a letter. Few of us loved beer (and the occasional Bourbon) as much as Jim, but this story is one that should only be told by someone who experienced it in his twenties.
I could tell similar stories about drinking. (Maybe someday I will, since Jim thought it was OK.) Louie has a story about a ride in a police car. Fortunately for me, my young man partying never landed me in “The City Jail.”
Some things that happen to us are better left unsaid but on the other hand they are part of the past and deserve telling even tho they don’t always compliment us …
Last week I wrote about working for the dry cleaners in Denver until Mr. Fuller decided my time there was done. The rest of the family was on vacation in North Dakota, so I had to figure out how to get up there to join them.
In 1966 we didn’t have a lot of money, and calling anywhere outside of town was an expensive proposition. As I recall the price was in dollars per minute. Compared to today, that’s at least ten dollars a minute. So before making a phone call, decide what you’re going to say!
Airplane Ticket – Bismarck to Denver – June 1967 – $34
I called and arranged to get back to North Dakota, which wasn’t trivial for a sixteen year old without a car. The agreed upon solution was for me to fly standby on Frontier Airlines from Denver to Bismarck, 100 miles from Jamestown. You may ask why a phone call was expensive, but airline travel was affordable, and I can’t answer you. Standby fares were considerably cheaper, but still probably cost the equivalent of hundreds of dollars today. Plus, the destination airport wasn’t anywhere near my destination.
It was settled, I’d be flying standby the next afternoon. (Standby meant I’d be the last person onto the airplane, if there was an empty seat, significantly discounted from the regular fare.) My mother’s co-worker took me to the airport, to stay with me until the airplane left the gate. That was a good thing, because at the very end a paying passenger took what should have been my seat. I was bumped after being given a seat assignment, and after I called Jamestown to say it was OK to leave the house to pick me up at the Bismarck airport. Continue reading
How many of you have heard the old folks telling the story about walking to school, uphill, both ways, into the wind, and it was snowing? This is that story. The real one. She doesn’t mention the stones they had heated on the cook stove and put at their feet to ward off the winter chill.
Compare this experience to today’s children driven to school in the SUV with booster chairs, air bags, seat belts and air conditioning. This is where the grumpy old man starts talking about how pampered the youngsters are today. If the pace of change continues the way it has since Grace went to school in the thirties and forties, life will be pretty exciting at the end of this century. I’d love to be there to see it!
There are little things that keep popping up in my memory like “picking crocus out in the pasture behind the school house.” One spring there was so many blooming + the teacher let us all go out and pick them. They were a welcome sign of spring.
This is another story about harvest time. If you haven’t read about Bonanza Farms before now, it’s a part of the Red River Valley history you really should know. The land was incredibly flat and productive. It was perfect for growing wheat. These were big operations, as you can infer from Lucy’s description of the houses on her Uncle’s farm.
The photo shows small grain harvesting, but it’s actually a picture from Jim’s photo album, probably in Massachusetts in the twenties.
Fall meant a trip to Uncle Stell’s. He lived on a very large farm (Bonanza). They could have as many as eight binders (grain cutters) each horse drawn. The binders cut the grain, tied a piece of twine around it and dumped it on the ground in rows.
Dry cleaning operation similar to the Spot Shop
Recently on my way to coffee I walked by the back of the neighborhood dry cleaner and laundry. They had the door propped open as it was hot in there, what with all the steam and hot presses going. As I walked past the open door someone gave a suit coat a big shot of steam and a rush of hot air greeted me warmly.
We’ve all heard that smells can instantly transport you back to childhood. That smell of that blast of hot air and steam took me back to Denver, 1967. My mother had recently remarried and moved there with my three brothers, while I stayed back in Jamestown, ND. The following summer I came out to stay with the family until school started again in the fall. It was my first experience living in a big city, Denver was huge compared to the little burg of Jamestown.
Grace worked for a dry cleaners in the strip mall next to the apartment complex. It was a little place, with only a handful of workers and equipment. As I recall, the name of the place was the Spot Shop. Besides dry cleaning, they did alterations and repairs. My mother was a skilled seamstress. The boss would take some measurements, order fabric, and Grace would custom sew men’s suits to fit, so the shop was a good match for her skills and it got her a job there for a while. Until things got weird and she left. You’ll understand shortly.
Their apartment was just east of Sheridan Blvd on Kentucky Avenue in west Denver. The apartment is still there, as is the strip mall. Looking at Google Maps, it looks like not much has changed except the signs on the strip mall. I recognize the neighborhood precisely.
Halloween pranks must have been much easier in the thirties and forties. I haven’t heard of a good one in years. This one would be difficult to pull off now. Wagons and windmills are uncommon, and there are so many lights and so much traffic that getting caught would be more likely.
Halloween pranks were and still are somewhat common, but “back in the good old days” we did some that were outstanding, especially in our eyes.
I was in my early teens and full of vinegar and other things. I was with a bunch of a little older fellas that kept talking about pulling the “Granddaddy” of them all. …
Paper Mill in Millers Falls, MA
There are some stories I’m just dying to know more about. This is one of them. I’ve never been to a seance or even known someone who has been to one. (Although I now realize that Jim was one of those who had actually taken part!) As we’ve seen, Jim was not one for religion or even spirituality. He embodied all of the teachings one typically learns in church, but he never enjoyed setting foot in one.
Many of the other letters from Jim reveal his love for being at the lake, driving around in the boat, sitting at the dock with a glass of beer or whiskey, or just relaxing on the deck with a good mystery. Since there weren’t any lake experiences in his North Dakota childhood, maybe this is where he got his love of the lake? Sadly, he’s not around to ask any more.
Jim certainly instilled a love of the lake and a love of camping in me. This letter gives me some inkling into the history of that love.
Sometime in 1941 Dad married his fourth wife, Flora Judge. She became my third “mother” or stepmother. I never knew …
Jamestown, ND in the fifties was something special for me. I lived close to a great city park and just a couple of blocks from school. Only two blocks east of school was the Star Theater. There are some good stories that center on that movie house.
First grade was a big deal for me. It was the start of my independence. We were living with my grandmother, and she was an experienced mother. Even when I was in first grade, she knew enough to let me do some things that other, younger parents would never allow. Later on her permissiveness allowed me to have a wonderful high school experience, and she set the stage with what I believed I could do during the first year at college. Continue reading