The Couple Down the Street

Sometimes one of the grand kids will ask a tough question. A couple of weeks ago I was driving Audrey somewhere when I waved at a neighbor walking down the street. Audrey wanted to know who he was and where he was going.

“That’s Dr Faith. He’s walking over to his rental house next door to Jill’s.”

“What’s a rental house?”

To this second grader the concept of a rental house was difficult to grasp. Audrey doesn’t live in a rental house, neither does Grandpa. The whole discussion carried us for the rest of the drive to wherever we were going. I loved every minute of it.

When I was nine we lived at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Louie was serving in the army at the time. There are several stories to tell about that summer. One of the stories involves a question like the one Audrey asked about rental property.

Holloman AFB New Mexico

Our house in New Mexico

Louie was driving me somewhere, perhaps to swimming lessons at the pool. We lived in enlisted housing, a circle of two bedroom duplexes in the desert. In one sense, it was a homogeneous neighborhood. Everyone worked for the military. Income levels were similar. Enlisted personnel even tended to be of similar ages, Louie would have been about thirty that summer. Just about everyone was married, as the single guys lived in the barracks or in town.

Life was pretty comfortable for me, and probably for the rest of the family, too. Linn, Eric and I shared one bedroom, with Louie and Grace in the front bedroom. There was a living room and kitchen. I don’t recall any other rooms. The whole house would have been under a thousand square feet. The front yard had a nice tree with a swing. Every other house on the circle looked just like ours.

That day in the car with Louie, I, as a nine-year-old, saw something that seemed a little out of the ordinary. So, just like Audrey, I asked the question.

“That couple looks different, Dad. Why?” Continue reading

Flower Gardening

Eric, Grace and Linn by the flower garden at the Pink House by the river.

Eric, Grace and Linn by the flower garden at the Pink House by the river.

Gardening has been a favorite pastime for me since we’ve lived in this house. I don’t mean vegetable gardening, those I can get from the farmer’s market or from the store. I mean flowers. Stepping onto the back deck on a warm early summer morning to see flowers reaching for the sun … that’s a good morning. In some of Grace’s and Louie’s letters you’ve seen the Pink House’s yard several times. It’s in this picture, too.

My last summer in that house was in 1958, I was only eight, but the memory of flowers all over the yard sticks with me. All summer long it was a riot of color, with so many flowers. My favorite were the “Tiger Lilies” that seemed to volunteer everywhere in the yard. OK, so maybe they didn’t volunteer, but to an eight year old kid, they just seemed to show up. I loved them, especially the little seed bulbs that grew at the base of each leaf.

My little back yard continues to be that bright spot Grace writes about. Most of the flowers are perennial, so they almost do “volunteer.” For all their beauty, they don’t match the memories of the house along the river.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Grace writes:

July 29, 1991

Dear ones,

My love of flowers began when I was just a little girl. They were such a bright spot in an otherwise rather dreary and desolate country. Mama always had some flowers planted even though it was extra work to carry water for them. She had window boxes on the south windows with portulaca in them. They did so well in that sandy soil and hot summer sun. Bachelor Buttons, Zinnias + Cosmos were all fairly easy to grow so usually there was some of those in the garden or by the house.

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Our First Home

Fargo ND

Guy & Judy’s first apartment, c. 1971

For most of us the first apartment or house after leaving home is a difficult transition. I’m having a little trouble getting my head around this story. Lucy talks about a terrible apartment, then goes on to describe a situation that none of us would accept as a place to live, even if we did own it.

When Judy and I moved into our first apartment we thought it was perfect for us. We rented the upstairs in a house built in the 1920’s. The rooms were large, with plenty of nice windows, and a full kitchen and bathroom.

Looking at the picture of the old house now, one thing strikes me right away. It’s a four-square, bearing an uncanny resemblance to our house in Rochester where we’ve lived for the last thirty-something years. There’s a lot of similarity to the house I lived in in Jamestown, too.

Enough about me. Let’s get back to Lucy and her home.

Lucy writes:

After living in Terrible apartments we decided it was a necessity to have a home. Continue reading

Holloman Air Force Base

In 1959 Grace and Louie decided to try to get their marriage back on track. I didn’t understand much of what was going on. Not many nine-year old kids do. All I knew was that we were moving to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to live with my Dad. That would be a big the trip for this kid.

1952 Chevy

Guy, Eric, and Grace nearing New Mexico

There were three boys then, Linn was five, and Eric was not even two. Grace enlisted her big sister, Esther, to help drive to New Mexico in a car full of little boys. There probably was a moving company involved to ship some furniture, but in any case five people in a 1952 Chevy for more than a thousand miles seems like a daunting challenge. Five people and a cat.

My memories are pretty fuzzy on this, but I do remember stopping to “exercise” the cat, on a leash. He was probably as eager to get out of the car as we boys were. The other memory was walking into the motel we stayed at somewhere in Nebraska. The room was large, with what seemed like an endless row of beds. Four I think.

As I recall, the house was a two bedroom duplex on the edge of the air base. It was a pretty small apartment for us. All three boys were in one bedroom, Louie and Grace had the other. In our room was my desk (the same desk that’s in our house today) and three army cots, with woolen army blankets; maybe from the army surplus store? Continue reading

Packing horsemeat

Maybe Louie thought he could ride like Alan Wood?

Maybe Louie thought he could ride like Alan Wood?

Can you believe how many ways Louie had to get into trouble? In earlier letters we’ve read about his escapades on the railroad, boxing in the Golden Gloves, road apple fights, multiple Halloween pranks, and more. In the next couple of months he will graduate to even more memorable adventures.

By comparison, my childhood feels tame, as was my children’s. They didn’t even get to walk to school, and neither do their kids. Surviving childhood in the thirties and forties must have given those who made it to adulthood a certain invincibility. Anyone who can climb on a wild horse with no instruction, no protective gear, and little preparation must have been able to face the challenges of adult life with no fear.

I was perfectly happy taking my kids on the tame trail ride at the dude ranch in Custer State Park. No bucking broncos for me, thank you.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Louie writes:

Back in 1947 I was working at a horse meat packing plant in Jamestown. They had us packing horsemeat and gravy in cans for shipment to Europe for the people there that were starving from the results of the bombing of their homes – farms – and whatever the bombs hit during World War II.

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Homecoming – Part Three

Jim and his mother are in the back row, far right. Einar is in the back row, framed by the window.

Jim opens this letter by telling us about the photos he had sent to his mother, and how his step-father had been sending pictures for years. There must have been at least a dozen or more of those pictures, but none of them made it to me. Jim’s photo albums have only a handful of pictures of Jim as a child.

In this letter Jim describes his change from a lost and lonely WWII veteran to the family member who finally came home. Now he belonged. The farm was the root of Jim’s life. His love of the farm and his parents was clear to me, even when I was a rambunctious teenager. This letter cements that feeling.

I wish there were photos of those reunions.

The attached photo is from the pages of Jim’s album that focuses on the middle fifties, at least six years after the homecoming. Jim (partially obscured) and his mother are in the back row, far right. Einar is in the back row, framed by the window. I can only guess at who the others are, but the “matriarch” in the center, wearing a black dress, is probably Grandma Cora. I’d love to hear stories from each of those people. The young people look happy and playful; the old men look like their stories are a little more serious.

(Click on the photo for a closer view.)

Jim writes:

After the third day of my arrival at the Steads, Mother and Einar returned from Inkster. They didn’t stop at their farm but drove straight here. During the past few years we had been writing to each other and enclosing pictures. Not only that, long before I knew I was adopted Dad had been sending pictures from my earliest years so she was somewhat prepared for this meeting as was I. Nervousness overtook me when their pickup truck drove in to the yard amidst barking dogs and suddenly …

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