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.
There were four of us guys that hung out together after school when I was a sophomore in high school: John W, Mark S, Alan H, and me. Alan’s dad Reese owned a downtown drugstore. We would gather there on occasion to read magazines and swap stories of how great we were. It was a little store, mostly a pharmacy. They also sold paintings by James Kirkpatrick, a well-known North Dakota painter from Jamestown, and books by Louis L’Amour, the famous Jamestown author. Reese promoted Jamestown around the state, often highlighting the success stories of his friends Kirkpatrick and L’Amour.
The event that sticks in my mind when I think of that drug store was the day we talked about our favorite cars. Mine was a ’58 Chevy. It was my favorite that week because my grandmother was looking for a car. The one she had looked at the day before was a ’58 Chevy. I liked the looks of that car! My buddy John would drive a 1957 Chevy Nomad station wagon that looked ancient by comparison. Continue reading
Wedding cake, in the dining room of the Pink House. The kitchen is visible through the door.
In her letter a couple of weeks ago, Grace mentioned that there was an “old-fashioned” refrigerator in the Pink House when they moved in. This week, while writing about her wedding to Louie, refrigerators come up again. That juxtaposition illustrates something about Grace’s character that she learned from her mother. It’s a character trait that she passed on to me. My brothers are afflicted with the same fault: practicality.
Jim and Lucy taught me about love and kindness. Grace was all into making life functional. Some use joy to ease the pains of life, some figure out how to work through the difficulties to make the joy possible. Grace found joy in knowing that her family would be happier if she smoothed out some of the rough edges of life. Smoothed out with new slip covers on the couch.
Grace’s practicality paid off for me. She and Louie invested a lot of time and energy in putting together a wedding photo album and keeping mementos of the day. Being able to flip through the pictures and cards today lets me touch the joy and anticipation they must have felt on those summer days in 1949. The abandon they felt while running around Itasca Park in northern Minnesota reflected on Judy and me as we enjoyed our honeymoon on exactly the same ground.
Grace at the Headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca Park
We had a small wedding cake with real yellow roses around it. Afterwards had pictures taken at King Studio.
Itasca Park and Minneapolis made up our honeymoon. I wore a yellow pinwale corduroy outfit I had made. Had a jacket, skirt + slacks with white shirts.
Lucy uses a word in this letter that looks large in her life. The word slips by, not even used in the context that’s so important to her. She goes on to expand on the concept in several ways. That word is community.
Christmas at Lucy’s 1972
Do you know anyone who seems to be living alone, wishing there was someone to talk to about the tough questions in life? Someone who struggles to find answers, but has nobody to turn to for help? Lucy was not one of those people. She knew how important people were to her own well-being. Lucy was kind and loving to everyone around her, and her friends returned those feelings, building a wonderful community that helped her through the challenges of a single mother in the fifties and sixties.
There’s that cliché about love being the one thing that returns more when you give it away; Lucy understood that process in the best way. Her friends at WDAY, Sweet Adelines, church, and extended family received her love and in turn gave her a community to build a wonderful life on.
As I read these letters from Lucy and my other elders it is becoming clear that they taught us by example. They didn’t sit me down and lecture about how to make friends; they had friends around them every day. They didn’t fret over the challenges of life; they let me see how they helped others through life changing problems.
Lucy built a new community around her when she moved to Rochester at age 78. That community served her well, just like her Fargo community did when she was half that age.
With Judy in school, mother to be there for her after school, I had to do two things. Try to find something to do to make a living. Waiting on tables at the airport, becoming manager of the dining room, (that was the end of promotion for that job). Then working for the City Directory I still wasn’t getting anywhere. Then Verna got me a job in radio at WDAY. There was a “community club” promotion where people brought in “proof of purchase” wrapper box tops, etc. I would be on the air each week day morning announcing winners of the day, serve coffee and donuts to people coming in and doing just OK, nothing big. Then Jack Dunn asked me to take over the night operator job as they were having trouble, so I laid off all but one girl and had a smooth operation when they asked me to take over the whole department. Gave me a raise and guess the rest is history.