White Castle Meal
All of the Thanksgiving visitors have left for home. The relatives that will show up at Christmas are making plans for their visits. What should we do in the meantime? Maybe host a party? Invite everyone we know?
December is in the thick of holiday parties and my birthday is in there, too. Let’s do it!
For about ten years we hosted a major Christmas party for friends and family. We would plan for weeks, deciding what food to serve, how much beer and spirits to buy, and what the specialty would be. We loved hosting parties and making memorable holiday gatherings.
I think we succeeded.
Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House
Louie had several jobs as a teenager. The one that interested me the most was the job working for the railroad. He started with the easy, physical tasks, eventually moving to hostler and watchman, driving steam engines at the end of the line.
I’ve always been fascinated by steam locomotives. As a six-year-old child I would disappear from the house now and then, found later by Mom or Grandma over in the rail yards watching trains being switched. I’ve already written about my time in the engine house and at the docks where they loaded coal, water and sand into the steam engines.
Louie had the misfortune of getting a job at the railroad near the end of the steam era. In the old days a steam engine needed service at least every one hundred miles. The new diesels, brought on-line in big numbers in the early fifties, could run hundreds of miles without refueling. The automobile and better highways ate into passenger traffic, meaning railroads had to shrink. With service, freight, and passenger traffic dropping, Jamestown would never be a hub of railroad activity again. The hundreds of employees shrank to almost nobody by the time I left town.
Louie was proud of having learned to drive a steam locomotive, even if it was just around the Y. If you’ve ever seen inside the cab of one of those machines you’d understand why he was proud.
My first real job in Jamestown was with the North American Creamery managed by “Lefty” Ulrickson.
I was hired as a flunky, helping deliver pop, ice cream and beer to local businesses.
NDANG 119th FIG – 1967 – Jim is standing on the right
Does everyone have one persona for public display and another for personal use? 1965 was a long time ago, and I wasn’t terribly perceptive, but I do remember Jim moving from the AFRES to NDANG. Jim exuded confidence. He was ready for the transition, looking forward to weekend drills in Fargo with a larger unit. I didn’t doubt his enthusiasm for a moment.
Today I read through this letter and got a glimpse of the trepidation he felt, sitting across from a superior officer, waiting for a decision. The Captain had probably decided long before the two of them met in that spare office at Hector Field. Jim didn’t know. All he knew was that his future was on the line. Jim’s plans for the eighties and nineties were in the hands of one man.
Jim taught me many lessons in the forty years I knew him, and one of them was a positive outlook and memory. Whatever decision the captain made that day, Jim would survive and succeed. He could look back on the experience and know that he had done his best, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. In this case, everything worked.
I had the benefit of a couple of tours of the NDANG facilities, some weekends in Fargo, and being proud to say that I knew one of the men who kept the Air Guard fighter planes in the air, roaring off the runway past my college dormitory every day.
Capt. James N. Buzick, Personnel Officer, 119th FIG, NDANG, Hector Field, Fargo, ND … My records were open and before him on his desk. Before the old unit was totally disbanded the command had checked into possible openings other units, especially the Air Guard and at that time there were about 15 or so positions available in various career fields and ranks. Of 75 men and officers about 20 or so were recommended for enlistment in the 119th FIG.
1995 Christmas Letter
Not that long ago I was cleaning out a file drawer that hadn’t seen daylight in years. I found a treasure trove of paper, including our Christmas letters from the nineties. Better yet, there were letters from our friends with their Christmas news. What a joy to read through some of those old letters, partially renewing friendships that have long since faded.
When we first got a computer in the house, in the early eighties, one of the first tasks I gave the machine was an address book application, primarily to keep track of our Christmas card list. We sent and received dozens and dozens of cards each year. We spent hours fretting over what to put into the letter, much as I do today writing these blog entries.
Differences in Christmas letter style were obvious then, and stark today. Far too many were the stereotypical good news missives. Some letters were all about how their award-winning son was traveling through Europe this semester, with news of their intelligent daughter giving a concert for the fund-raising gala. Reading them now gives me a chuckle, they apparently felt the need to upgrade their status. Other letters were replete with whining. Daddy had a stroke, daughter broke her arm, grandma had surgery. They needed sympathy more than the average Joe, maybe more than we had to share.
My job was writing the Christmas letters, with the direction that I neither brag nor complain. As Joe Friday used to say: “Just the facts, ma’am.” It was a tough balance, but we had both joys and challenges to fill our lives, just like today, and just like the families who highlighted the good news or wallowed in their sorrows.
The attached letter is from 1995, just twenty years ago. On one hand, I am shocked at the amount of change in our lives since then; although I shouldn’t be, it’s been twenty years, for God’s sake! You be the judge on how well I did avoiding the stereotype good and sad versions of Christmas letters.
In the fall of 1947 Grace gets to know the Havelick family, but somehow manages to elude meeting the man who would become the love of her life. Her best friend is Dorothy, Louie’s little sister. You’ve heard about her and seen her pictures in Louie’s previous letters. In that small town, living in the same neighborhood, I don’t know how she could avoid meeting Louie, but that meeting will have to wait for another letter.
Mary Jane McCurdy
One reason Grace and Louie didn’t meet was that Louie was married to Mary Jane McCurdy. They had a daughter, named Sunnie Jane. Grace mentions the baby in this letter, but does not go into the back story. The received history, not written down, but shared occasionally, was that daughter Sunnie Jane died because of complications of an instrument delivery by an incompetent doctor. She is buried in the family area of the Highland Home Cemetery just north of Jamestown.
My daughter had a spiritual connection with her grandpa Louie and her would be aunt Sunnie Jane. It’s something beyond my understanding, but if you ever send Mara an email, you’ll have a clue as to the depth of her feelings.
On a lighter note, I find it pleasing that twenty years later I went to high school in the same building as my mother, perhaps going to classes in the same rooms. In the last sentence of this letter Grace ends her high school career. She adds a little more detail in the next letter.
The fall of 1947 I started my junior year of high school in Jamestown. I got acquainted real soon with the girls that lived southwest where we did. We all walked to school together + would go to the teen canteen together after school + sometimes to White’s Drug.