Grandma’s Kitchen

Scrapple-001This may be the longest story Grace wrote. It’s a good one!

Grandma Fanny loved to cook. She never actually said those words, but given how much time she invested in baking and cooking, she had to love it. Some of Grandma’s stories took place in the farm kitchen, and involved cooking for the large number of hired hands that came through during harvest time. She talked about fixing lunch and taking a wagon load of food to the fields for the men. Then it was right back to the kitchen to start cooking the afternoon snack, which sounded more like a major lunch to me. Those men were working hard, so they earned their pies and scrapple sandwiches.

In Jamestown, when I lived with Grandma, she baked continuously. Often for us (the best caramel rolls ever), but more often to sell at Wolf’s Grocery, the little store a half block away. The grocery was small by today’s standards, maybe 2,000 square feet, barely a house size. Mr. Wolf and his family lived upstairs.

Grandma baked rolls, bread, pies, and kuchen. She had great recipes, and insisted on using the best ingredients. One day a friend of hers asked why her caramel rolls were so good. Grandma explained the recipe, and that she used butter. The friend said, “Well, I just use shortening because it’s cheaper.” Grandma was incensed that her friend wouldn’t consider using butter, even though that was the distinguishing ingredient. I’ve taken that lesson to heart, cutting cooking corners only when flavor, texture, and presentation are not compromised. I always use butter, never margarine. I blame Grandma for that.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Grace writes:

Dear ones,

I’ve been thinking about what Mama’s kitchen was like. In comparison to what we have now, she sure didn’t have much. With so little work space and no running water, electricity or gas it’s amazing how much she did.

The kitchen was a fairly large room and the first room you came into from outside. There was a front door that opened into the entryway at the bottom of the stairs and into the living room but we never used that door so the kitchen was always a busy place. The coal-wood range was the most important thing in the room. On it all the meals were cooked, wash water heated, bath water heated, meat and vegetables processed + canned. Clothes dryed by it in winter, the baby bathed close by to be nice + warm. All the bread, and rolls + cakes were baked in it and sometimes we warmed our feet in the oven. Even baby lambs or other little animals would be brought in when they were freezing outside to be warmed and nursed back to health by the warmth of that stove. Continue reading

Susan and Mr Otterson

Ken, Susan, and Lucy

Ken, Susan, and Lucy

Some stories should be told, but aren’t. They’re too painful. Lucy lost the most important person in her life, her daughter, to what then was an incurable disease. Today Wilm’s tumor is highly treatable. Not so in 1950. Lucy didn’t like to share the memories of her little girl traveling to Rochester’s Mayo Clinic where the doctors told them to go home and make peace with God. I surprised her when I took a job in that same town after graduating college. We now live just blocks from the hospital where Susan was unsuccessfully treated. Lucy came to grips with her daughter living in Rochester. Lucy even spent the last ten years of her life here. She never got used to telling the story about Susan. We know very little of that little girl’s life. Can you sense the reticence in Lucy’s telling of this story? She talks around the edges, but we never get to hear what really happened. Never.

Lucy writes:

Susan + Friend Mr Otterson – She blamed him for everything she did wrong. What a relief it was to be back home. We bought a few new things like curtains – end tables and a brand new bedroom set – a crib and then began making diapers. No “disposables” then, flannel gowns. Oh such excitement. Susan Lynn was born on the 11th of June. She had tight curls on her head – big brown eyes and we all loved her so much. She was so good – as my mother said once “That child is too beautiful and is loved by every one.” Guess she was right. Continue reading

What to do with my life?

What to do, what to do? Junior high was where I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had read every science fiction book in the library and most of the astronomy books as well. So it was obvious; I would become an astronomer. This held for a short while, until I figured out that nobody much hired astronomers and they had to work at night. That was not for me. Could there be something else? Science was interesting. I had no artistic abilities. What would I do? Weighty questions for an eighth grader. The insides of things fascinated me. Toys. Clocks. Radios. Televisions. I started taking them apart every chance I had. Radios and televisions became my favorite. I learned about the tubes and parts that made up most home radios of the fifties and sixties. These were little radios that sat on the kitchen counter and played only AM stations.

From Wikimedia commons. Public Domain photo.

A vacuum tube, similar to the ones I played with.

I was also the proud owner of an old AM broadcast and shortwave radio, one of the old floor standing models that you see in pictures from the thirties. That’s the one I used to scan the dial for clear channel stations like KOA in Denver and KOMA in Oklahoma City. I strung a long wire from the radio’s antenna connector into the back yard to get a better signal, then looked up possible stations in the amateur radio magazine to see which frequencies the clear channels broadcast on. I enjoyed listening for their call letters, and hearing the latest music (even on WSM) and news updates. Stations only broadcast their call letters on the hour and half hour, so it was a challenge to verify which station I was listening to. Static and distant thunder storms added to the challenge.

By the time I was in high school I had taken apart enough of the table radios to know how they worked and how to repair them. Just about every radio set used the same design, based around the “All American Five” tube set. (Nerds, please look it up on Wikipedia.) I could turn on the radio, look in the back and usually guess which tube was bad or what the problem was. Numbers like 50C5 and 6AV6 were second nature to me. Radios soon gave way to television sets. They were a little more complicated, a couple dozen tubes instead of five. Some high voltage stuff and the picture tube. I loved getting two nonfunctional sets and ending up with one that worked. These were a little tougher to diagnose, but I got pretty good at identifying which tubes to check at the drug store.

All this activity presented an opportunity. Maybe TV repairman was in my future? I was making good progress figuring these things out on my own. There were a couple of repair shops in town, as televisions broke down regularly. Repairs were usually quick and relatively inexpensive. Maybe that would be the life for me? Continue reading

Earliest Memories

Eric Havelick, 1959, probably in New Mexico

Eric at the apartment in New Mexico

Eric writes:

What have I done with my life since August of 1957 …. my birthday.

I was born in Jamestown, North Dakota. I had a Mom, Dad, and two older brothers, Guy and Linn. When I was really young, we moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico where my Dad was stationed in the Army.

I don’t remember a thing about it.

All I know is my parents got a divorce and we moved back to Jamestown into my Grandma Fanny’s house. My mother was pregnant when they divorced and my younger brother Chris was born when we moved back to Jamestown. One of my first memories is of my mother changing Chris’ diaper.

From the pink house we moved to a bigger brown stucco house at 319 4th Avenue NE, in Jamestown. That is the first childhood home I remember.

— Eric H

Going to Camp Rucker

Louie and Alan K in January 1951, ready to travel to Alabama.

Alan K and Louie in January 1951, ready to travel to Alabama.

One of my earliest memories, certainly a planted memory, is of being in the ocean as a baby. As I read this letter, it’s clear that I couldn’t possibly remember something that happened to me at age one. Maybe it’s the pictures from the old photo album, or the stories that Mom and Dad told me as I grew up. The time in Alabama was probably a highlight for the little girl from the Dakota prairie.

Louie remembers the tragi-comedy, not the nostalgic part, of the trip to Alabama.

Louie writes:

Back in 1950, when Guy was just one week old, the National Guard outfit I belonged to was activated because of the Korean War or Police action whatever you wanted to call it.

The unit was to go to Camp Rucker, Alabama on the 16th of January by troop train. On this train we had, sleepers, a dining car, a place for cooking the meals and also KP duty (Kitchen Police). I being just a private did my share of the KP duties.

On the first night going through Minnesota you could see out the train window that it was a beautiful moon lit night and very – very cold.
Continue reading

Saturday Matinee

By Unknown, on behalf of the Moore Theatre. Photo and retouching by Joe Mabel. [Public domain, Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Vaudeville Poster

There are two major themes to Jim’s letter this week. One involves the attempt religion makes to control people’s baser desires for entertainment and joy. The second theme goes straight to one of Jim’s favorite forms of entertainment … movies.

By the time I was ten years old the vaudeville feature of Saturday afternoon was long gone. We still had a wonderful time watching great movies, and the weekly serial. Many of these serials are available on YouTube. It is so fun to binge watch them, because you can see the difference between the situation at the cliff-hanger at the end of last weeks’ episode, and the opening “reenactment” of that cliff-hanger in this episode. What was impossible last week is a simple inconvenience this week.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked like that? Maybe the diagnosis of an incurable disease last week could turn into a common cold this week? It worked in the serials, why not in life?

I hope you enjoy this letter.

Jim writes:

Five acts of vaudeville straight from a recent Broadway engagement, a feature length film, a cartoon and an episode from the serial “Lone Ranger and Tonto” … all this packed into a three and one half hour Saturday afternoon at our one and only theatre.

During the summer of 1938 and admission was only 15¢! Every Saturday morning starting at 8 a.m. I beat rugs with a thing that resembled a huge fly swatter, cut grass with a push type reel mower, swept out the garage, washed windows and was kept busy until noon … all this for the princely sum of 45¢! The only problem I had was this was Rev. Rueben Davis and his wife Nora. It was at his house that I performed all these chores!

Continue reading

Irish Band

Judy's high school friends at the reunion.

Judy with high school friends at the reunion.

We had a great time at Judy’s high school reunion last month. It brought back wonderful memories of the reunion five years ago. Back then, several of Judy’s friends joined us for an extra curricular activity in downtown Fargo. A friend of hers played bodhrán in an Irish band, Poitin. As we listened to the band in Dempsey’s Pub, Judy got more and more excited. Watching her friend Bonnie play that drum sparked something visceral in Judy. I should have known what was about to happen.

A couple of months later Judy wanted to go to Hobgoblin Music in Red Wing. She came home with a bodhrán. That led to hours of practice, learning how to play. You know that YouTube has videos that can teach almost anyone almost anything, including Irish drum. One thing led to another, and Judy joined a session group in Rochester that played Irish folk tunes every month or so. We’ve watched Irish bands at the local Irish Fest for the last couple of years, too. Then this winter Larry and Melissa needed a new drummer. Judy was ready to drum, and ready to sing harmony. Now we are traveling all over Southeast Minnesota for festivals and celebrations. It’s been a joy to watch this develop from that evening at Dempsey’s Irish Pub in Fargo. Continue reading