Last month Lucy wrote about her first date and the dances she and her best friend Evy went to. One does not go to a dance alone, especially in the thirties.
Duke Ellington’s band at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo
The dance Lucy describes in this letter was at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo. The first time I read this letter that fact didn’t seem to mean much. There were little ballrooms in every town, but this one was in Fargo, and Lucy had to drive 24 miles from Gardner to get there. That fact alone means the Crystal Ballroom was something special. Over in Kidder County, Grace lived in a boarding house in Steele because the 23 miles from the farm was too great a distance to travel every day to get to school.
The Crystal Ballroom hosted some famous bands, demonstrated by an album recorded in 1940 by Duke Ellington and his band, live at the Crystal Ballroom. Such a high-class place as that certainly wouldn’t let in the likes of people who dressed like Lucy and her best friend.
Dancing was the big thing in high school. If you weren’t dating and dancing you were considered a “wall flower.” My brother Lewellyn (Lew) taught me how to dance by standing on his toes when I was small. Loving music added fun to it of course – some times. Evy Malen (my best friend) and I would have 5 + 6 dances ahead. Guess that is not done now.
Evy and I went to Fargo with two men and we went to the Crystal Ballroom to dance. While we danced a big fat lady with a badge on her shoulder said we had to leave the dance hall because we were wearing anklets. She was a deputy and we were the talk of the high school. We thought it was fun.
Why was swimming such a big deal in the old days? Swimming played a big part in my childhood, but now my appetite for swimming is satisfied with about three minutes per year in a pool.
Guy & Judy sailing on the Jamestown reservoir, 1975.
Swimming was what we did in Jamestown during the summer. It had been for years. In the Great Depression the CCC built a swimming pool in Pipestem Creek, next to Klaus Park, just down the street from our house. They had cut a new channel in the river, controlled the input and output of the large concrete-lined pool, built a bath house and landscaped the area. It must have been a beautiful sight in the day, there were lovely lawns with trees planted artistically along the hillside and river.
By the time I roamed the park the bath house was long gone, except for the concrete floor, and the pool itself was just another channel in the river, but with concrete sides. My little friends and I spent a lot of time back in that woods looking for treasure. Most of the treasure consisted of various rocks, sticks, and the occasional critter. Continue reading
Every summer, in the middle of August, the hottest and most allergy prone time of the year, our local History Center hosts a festival with threshing machines, grain shocking, antique tractors and more. We’ve always loved going to these events, and taking the grand children. The dusty fields, the smoke of those old tractors, the thumping of the engines, the whir of the huge belt between the tractor and the machine, everything makes a cacophony of noise and light that keeps me entertained for hours. Louie had to do the work, all day, for pennies.
Pennies bought a lot more in 1940 than they do today.
Each fall when I was growing up, the late 1930’s and early 1940’s there would be the big harvesting of the summer crops in North Dakota.
Sample of Jim’s diary from 1965
When I met Jim, he was deep into the habit of keeping a diary. After he bought the 1952 Cadillac, he became even more addicted to the habit, as the odometer didn’t work. Jim had to keep track of the mileage for simple things like when to change the oil, or measure the gas mileage.
Keeping a diary was never very high on my list of things to do, but as I read through Jim’s log books (as he called them) from the fifties and sixties I’m amazed at the insight they give. In Jim’s last letter there’s a picture of his diary entry from his visit to Cannes, France and the yacht. A year later he was back on another Navy tour. His diary entry for that visit was a little more cryptic, but those shore leaves were highlights of his life.
Judy and I often talk about events that we “mark time by.” A diary records those times wonderfully. Jim’s diaries and photo albums are among my treasured possessions. Those, and the letters, and all the same from Lucy, Grace and Louie. Without something to touch, look at and read, a life is only memories. Memories fade even faster than photos.
I hope you enjoy this vignette.
When I was in the eighth grade in Athol my English teacher, Miss Mary Lou Hodges gave me a diary for Xmas that year … and I faithfully recorded events in my young life that I deemed worthy of remembering. I’m afraid, as I look back, that most of the entries were nonsense and just written to fill the little book! But that habit has stayed with me off and on over the years.
Have you ever done something you didn’t even know you had done? I just discovered a success that was a surprise to me!
In a recent post, I wrote about my love of lists. Another post talked about some New Year’s Resolutions. Those two items, plus reading the book by The Minimalists, led me to think about what was on those lists, specifically about hobbies. The Minimalists recommended doing things that you’re passionate about, possibly not your job.
If you look closely at my New Year’s Resolutions for 1998 you’ll see something about refocusing on hobbies. I had been truly worried that there wasn’t much on my plate, since there didn’t seem to be any real hobbies. My friends were into music, pottery, fishing and all sorts of other manly hobbies. I wasn’t aware that I had any, so I built another list of things I might do in retirement. Looking back, I’ve been working on this list for almost twenty years. Maybe more. Friends tell me they have trouble with figuring out a hobby, too. How many times have you read an article exhorting you to “find your passion?”
Grace and friend in high school
Every summer the carnival came to the Stutsman County Fair in Jamestown. Grace and her friends went to the county fair in Kidder County intending to talk to boys, my friends and I usually went to go on the rides. Some of those rides must have been the ones Grace had in mind when she made the comparison to the ones she went on in Steele.
The county fairs marked the high point of the summer. After the fair not much happened beyond swimming and fishing, the fair was the big event. Once I discovered girls and could drive them to the fair, I enjoyed those summer nights much more.
We still love to go to the county fair, but now the focus is the grand kids.
The part about fixing up her bedroom is actually quite sobering. We didn’t have much to fix up my room during my high school years, but it was far better than a peach crate with ruffles. The comparison to my children’s rooms and their kids’ rooms is another light year away from peach crates. I’ll add my room during the high school years to the list of things to write about in a future blog post. In the meantime, maybe you’d like to share what your room was like in high school?
My best friend in Steele was Mary Ann Pletan. Her dad bought into the garage there with another man + they moved to Steele when we were sophomores. We would stay overnight with each other and go to shows + talk about boys.
One time we went to a carnival and went on lots of rides. We were both mad at some boys and we went on the most reckless rides we could find. Those rides were pretty tame in comparison to the ones they have at amusement parks now.