Late last summer I had to pick up a loaner car at the repair shop. (That’s another long and expensive story.) Everyone complains about the heat on a day like that one. Jeff pulled the car to the door as I completed the paper work, and he left it running with the A/C on to start cooling down the interior. I was in a hurry that afternoon, so I ran out, hopped in the car … and paused. Something smelled funny.
I waited a moment. Not that bad, I thought. Another moment. Wait a minute! That’s left over cigarette stench! No, it couldn’t be. There are “No Smoking” stickers right there on the dash board. I’ve got to get home soon! The smell’s not that bad, right?
Linn working at the library in 1972
Over the last year you’ve had a chance to read letters about Louie’s life. He wrote several dozen letters, the last one about when he married the girl of his dreams. There aren’t many stories about his married life with Grace. There’s a reason. It wasn’t an easy life. Louie spent many of his days deep in a bottle of whiskey.
Fortunately for me, my brothers, and all of our children, he came out of that stupor in the late eighties, in time to write his story and share in the joy of his grand children. We loved having Louie back with us. He loved us, enjoyed a good laugh, several stories, and we returned the love.
The decades in between were difficult. I mostly lost touch with him. Judy only met him once or twice, and the experiences left her wondering. My youngest brothers were too little to catch on to what was really happening, but Linn was seventeen when he decided to unwind the wondering. So this kid got on his motor cycle and rode to meet his father.
I’m in awe of my younger brother and his letter, written when he was only seventeen, is the best example of why. I can’t come up with anything more than to throw you into reading Linn’s thoughts from forty years ago.
Note: Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors are from the original.
It was hot that day. The bugs had made it nearly impossible to see through the windshield on my motorcycle. I have spent most of the day dodging the dead rabbits splattered all over the Wyoming highway. Rock Springs was just a few miles ahead and I was very ready to find a motel and a long hot shower.
Jim presenting to a credit union meeting..
In last week’s letter Jim had gone through the hard times of an unlikable job. It dragged him through the summer and finally, thankfully, ended in the fall. Then the North Dakota Credit Union League hired him. That turned out to be the best job of his life, and a significant influence on me.
Again, Jim traveled throughout the state, even making trips around the country to Credit Union National Association events. He made good friends, worked for hard-working, energetic people, and helped regular people who needed a financial lift. Compared to his life as a clerk in a Sears catalog store, becoming a full-time consultant was a stretch for him. Surrounded by good people, learning an entire new industry must have been a fascinating challenge.
I was in my prime high school learning years while Jim was at the League. He gave me the opportunity to work there and learn skills that have stuck with me since then … almost fifty years ago.
Fifty years. Really? Fifty?
Over five weeks elapsed from the time I left the Employment Service until I landed another job. Luckily my recent experience there helped me secure a position with the North Dakota Credit Union League as a consultant or Field Representative. The League was the official organization of the 100 or so credit unions in North Dakota.
Louie Havelick, US Army, 1952
Last week you read the last of the stories Louie wrote in 1991. Louie’s letters end with him meeting, marrying Grace, yielding their first son; me. Grace’s letters end with the same wedding. To the casual observer that may seem strange. To me, it’s not a surprise at all. That wedding may have been the high point of their relationship.
As a child, I was never close to my dad. He spent his time elsewhere. He came home from Korea when I was about three. Louie loved to tell me about his return, he came through the front door and asked “Where’s your Daddy?” I immediately ran to the bedroom and brought out his Army portrait. Touching, in a sad way.
He and I didn’t spend much time together. Somewhere in the mid-fifties Louie took me downtown to White Drug for a malt. White’s was a fabulous place, including the little restaurant coffee shop in the back, a full soda fountain with a counter and all the things you’d expect in a fifties soda shop. The drug store was more of a general store, selling everything from post cards to window fans and toasters. Think Walgreen’s with a coffee shop. That’s where I got a malt with my Dad, one of a handful of memories of good times with him.
Lucy at WDAY
When someone mentions WDAY in Fargo, this picture comes to me immediately. After Judy and I finished our first big date, the Fargo South Prom, I took Judy to work at the station. She worked at the desk in the picture.
Every phone in the building connected to that switch board. You can see the lights and a plug for each phone. Even the dial (used to “dial” a telephone number) is obvious, right next to the coffee cup.
Lon, Louie, Mara and Guy at Louie’s apartment c. 1988
I met Louie in 1986 at his high school reunion. My daughter Mara was five and fell in love with him immediately. That sparked my interest. She knew something about the old man who had eluded me for over forty years.
While I mostly hung around the edges of the reunion, we did go to the big dinner on Saturday evening. Judy and I watched a man laughing and talking with his buddies, a man I’d never seen engaging with others in a rational and happy way. They were talking about things they had done in high school, mostly football stories. That was my Jamestown High School. I’d been to Blue Jay football games in that very stadium. Why didn’t I know about all that stuff? Why hadn’t I seen him as a person? He was a person with a life. A person with history. A young person with friends.
Jim with the 1952 Cadillac he describes in his letter.
Buddhism teaches that the natural human condition is suffering. The Buddha lived a life of privilege but suffered. He learned techniques to accept and overcome the suffering. Jim wasn’t much for religion, certainly not for some Eastern mumbo-jumbo religion, but he understood suffering and how to overcome it.
I was only fourteen and barely knew Jim in 1965. Even then I could understand that Jim was going through a tough time. Something had happened at Cal’s, my favorite Office Supply store, causing him to leave. Jim never told me exactly what went on; how much do you tell a fourteen-year-old anyway? That summer was difficult. We went camping and driving in the Cadillac (I was learning to drive!), but Jim was always talking about work, that there were opportunities and possibilities. He did it in a way implying that there was something better out there.