A Stone’s Throw

A Stone’s Throw

For years Judy and I talked about replacing our front steps. The wood had become uneven so the steps rock a little as you walk up or down, and the metal railing no longer fit with our taste, they came with the house forty years ago. It was time to replace the steps. We drove around town and looked at what other people had done with their entries, then picked out a design that fits our house. In a flurry of Joe-Homeowner activity, I knocked them apart and piled up the pieces before having Trevor come over to install the new steps. In the process, I realized that the sidewalk under the old steps didn’t match the footprint of the new steps, so I’d have to take out the old concrete, too. It’s not that big a deal, just break up the concrete and add it to the construction debris. This was the right thing to do, as new footings would give us a more stable entry.

The size of the footing underneath that small square of sidewalk surprised me. It required a bit more digging than expected. Clearly, it was the wrong shape for our new front step, so I kept on digging. That’s when I discovered that the footings were far larger than my wildest imagination allowed. A concrete wall extended back under the porch, and both ways along the front of the porch.

I kept digging around all this extra concrete. Looking up, I realized that the entire front porch was made of stone, too. Beautiful sandstone. What I thought were footings for the steps really turned out to be a long, curving wall, heading east towards the driveway. It was several feet high and well done. The stone extended up the front of the house, three stories high, with dramatic decorations all along the roof line.

Decorations included carved stone gargoyles, pineapples, and thistles. Everything was lifelike, as much as weathered stone could be lifelike. Then I noticed large stone vases on each corner of the house, framing winding exterior staircases leading somewhere.

I’ve been digging for some time now, trying to get those blasted footings out so I could start the new steps. Could I just take a short rest? I sat down on a stone chair I had found buried in the front yard, beside the footings, and sat quietly for a moment. The gargoyles didn’t like me sitting down. No sir, they didn’t.

They expressed displeasure in the best way a stone gargoyle could. No, not rainwater. They started with taunts and quickly launched into throwing stones. Not big stones, small ones, big enough to hurt. I tried vainly to hide behind the walls.

I looked up, trying to figure who was throwing the stones. (Gargoyle can’t throw things, right?) The sky had turned dark. Had I been working that long? Was it night-time already? I could see stars in the sky over the house. The gargoyles have stopped throwing stones, but now more stones are coming from somewhere in the sky. I can see larger stones throwing smaller stones at me. There’s something strange about those stones in the sky, starry stones. Each large stone hovering in the sky has little stars on it.

A dozen or so starry lights adorn each of three larger objects, the lights are arranged in an X pattern, each leg five or six lights long. Well, not exactly an X, more like a circle of lights. The lights are not a point, they are rectangular. Maybe they’re shaped in a circle of curved rectangles, turning, rotating. Maybe they sparkle with a little color?

What I thought were stones in the sky are really saucer-shaped things. Each saucer moved slowly to the east, hurling stones my way as they descended towards me. The stones they throw are large, far larger than what the gargoyles threw, and they leave a trail of dust or dull smoke. Each one thumps on the ground close to me.

Thump.

Thump.

The stone walls of the house have grown while I watched the sky. Though the gargoyles are no longer throwing stones at me, some have jumped down to the ground, picking up the stones hurled from the flying saucers. They threaten me with their new-found stones.

One thought enters my mind. “So, this is how children dream.”

I didn’t go back to sleep for a long time.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


Boarding School

Boarding School

Steele high school

Steele High School

In this brief story, Esther covers only the grade school days. When Esther told us stories about the pictures in Grace’s picture album, this picture triggered a lengthy discussion about life in Steele, where the kids went to high school. Not many parents today would do what Fanny and Ted did for their kids.

The township grade school near the farm only went through grade eight. If you wanted more school, it was off to Steele for high school. Though only thirty or forty miles from the farm, that was far enough that the kids had to rent a room in town, staying there during the week, coming home only for the weekends. In the winter, travel would be with horse and sleigh, and sometimes road closures meant weeks would go by without a trip home. Henry went to high school only one year. He didn’t like it; didn’t fit in well. Esther thrived.

The first year Esther was away at school the onset of winter was brutal, which meant she didn’t get home for six weeks. Surviving that extreme case of homesickness hardened her to never be bothered being away from home again.

Vic Gottertz

Vic Gottertz

Melvin joined her the next year and they rented a light housekeeping room from the Goettertz (pronounced Gott-hard) family in town. Henry built a little table for them, they had orange crates for cupboards and a single burner hot plate to cook on. There was no running water, they carried everything to the room in a bucket; out in a slop pail. Rent was ten dollars a month.

After that Bruce Bowerman joined Esther and Melvin, the boys were fourteen and Esther was only 16, but she did all the cooking and cleaning. Fried eggs with bread and butter every morning for breakfast. All without running water, on a hot plate.

By the time Esther was a senior, the boys had left town, and she had to grow up really fast, managing the money and time alone. Somehow she knew enough to get up (alarm clock) and go to school.

My days in high school were pretty mild compared to that. Our kids lived a pretty cushy life, too.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Esther writes:

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

Getting to school at the two-room country school for the first eight grades was always a high priority. We went to school by whatever means of transport used at the time—car when the weather permitted, or horse and sled in the winter when the roads were not plowed. When we were a little older we drove horses with buggy or sled much of the time. The neighbor boys, Charles and Galen Bowerman, were learning auto mechanics at an early age, and their family had one or more Model T Fords which the boys kept running and gave us many rides to school.

The schoolhouse was not only for school, but served as the only center of activity for the township. Neighbors had many fall and winter parties where everyone played cards, usually whist, until eleven or so. Then the women would break out a big lunch of sandwiches and cakes. Finally the fiddle and piano played for dancing until three or four.

Whole families came, and kids slept on coats and blankets when they could no longer stay awake.

She’s Gone

She’s Gone

We had a friend whose favorite saying was: “That’s an event to mark time by.” She recited that line every time something important happened. Weddings. Graduations. A new house. Retirement. My preferred metaphor for those events is comparing to a book. “We’ve turned a page.” Or “That’s a new chapter in our lives.”

Judy and I had another event to mark time by, perhaps a new section in the book, or maybe the next volume in a series. Our Blue Lady just rolled out the driveway, never to return.

If you’ve read this blog long, you maybe remember Jim talking about his hitchhiking experience in the early fifties. Someone in a 1953 Cadillac sedan picked him up in the middle of the night on a deserted road in the mountains of Virginia. He loved Cadillacs after that.

I inherited that love, partly because he taught me how to drive in a 1952 Cadillac coupé. I bought that car from him to take to college and into our first year of marriage. I learned a lot in college, and not just electrical engineering. My friend Brad showed me how to rebuild a carburetor on the ’52. Another friend helped me install new brake shoes on our ’65 Mustang. We did it in the parking lot of the engineering campus. The chairman of the electrical engineering department, “Father Ed,” let me use his garage and tools to rebuild the heads on that same Mustang. Those experiences hooked me on getting my hands dirty working on cars.

Cars in that era required a lot of maintenance, and we had little money, so I ended up doing a lot of the work myself. Tune-ups, oil changes, wheel bearing packing, and much more. We loved our ’52 Cadillac and drove it thousands of miles, including trips to visit my family in Denver. It started giving us trouble when a back wheel fell off. Then the driveshaft went out of balance. Then the transmission rear seal started leaking. We decided to move on, and sold the ’52 Cadillac for a ’65 Mustang.

Jim was disappointed. We were disappointed. Our family no longer had a Cadillac. Jim immediately bought another, a 1953 Sedan that he nicknamed “The Blue Lady.” Years later we bought the car from him. Maybe you read that story, too? Continue reading

Candy Business

Candy Business

This is Grandma Grace’s version of caramel for rolls.

Two things Grandma Luehr knew how to do: tell stories and cook. My childhood memories are full of bread, kuchen, pies and caramel. For many years when I was in high school and college she sold her baked goods through the neighborhood grocery store, Wolf’s Grocery. She made enough money to stay in the house and lead a comfortable life.

A family favorite every Christmas was Grandma’s caramel. Everything about that caramel was perfect. The gentle aroma of cooking cream and sugar. The buttery feel of the waxed paper wrappers. The perfect “bite.” Her caramel was never too hard, and never too soft. We’d hold the candy to the roof of our mouth with our tongue, letting it slowly melt into delicious sweetness.

Judy and I have picked up a couple of recipes from Grandma Luehr, and the caramel recipe is my favorite. After Fanny died, Judy would make caramel every Christmas, delighting everyone who came to visit, especially my brothers. One year the recipe failed. The caramel was grainy. The texture was all wrong. We threw out the batch, knowing that we had done something wrong. The recipe requires patience and precision. The next batch was OK. Then we had the same problem the following year. Twice.

After a couple of years experimenting we discovered that the dairy industry had introduced a new product. Ultra-pasteurized whipping cream. The new cream did not work for caramel. We had to carefully look for old-fashioned heavy whipping cream, which worked perfectly. We still enjoy Grandma’s caramel every year.

Grandma knew how to run a business: Focus on good product. She never made a pile of money, but her customers and children enjoyed the fruits of her labor.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Esther writes:

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

The stories of the depression are probably not exaggerated, but somehow I always felt secure. We got to school, were never hungry, and always had clothes to wear and fuel to keep us warm. We did not feel deprived because others we knew had even less than we had.

The “dust bowl” was very real. I remember walking home from school through the dust blowing off a bare field so thick it was like being in a black fog. It blew into the houses through every tiny crack. Fence rows were buried by it; and where it was really bad, no vegetation remained on the fields.

These were the days of the hobos, also called by other names. Many unemployed men traveled by “rail” looking for work, (“rail” meaning that they caught illegal rides on freight trains) and they even came to farm areas looking for a meal or a few hours or days of work. Occasionally one would stop by, apparently walking from the main rail line to the south, to the branch line to the north — maybe 18 or 20 miles. Mama would give them a meal and require them to eat it outdoors. Continue reading

Tri-County Tailwind Tour – 1987

Tri-County Tailwind Tour – 1987

On a sunny spring day in 1987 eleven young men met at Rochester’s Silver Lake Fire station to ride with the wind for the eighth Occasional Tri-county Tailwind Tour (TTT). You can read much more about the first tour in my 2015 post, Tri-county Tailwind Tour.

After each ride, I tried to capture the moment by writing about the day. The summary for this ride is longer than most, and it captures much of the excitement and pure joy of enjoying a spring day, with no goals beyond having fun and looking forward to beer and pizza after a successful ride.

One thing made my memories of the day special. A T-shirt. Several years after the ride, Judy and I happened through Urne and stopped to revive some memories at the bar where we ended the ride. We bought a left-over souvenir from their school reunion. I wore the shirt proudly. It is no longer part of my primary wardrobe, but gets used for yard work.

Eighth Occasional Tri-County Tailwind Tour May 9, 1987

Destination: Urne, Wisconsin
Counties: Olmsted, Wabasha, Buffalo (Wisconsin)
Bikers: Don Fearn, Dan Johnson, Guy Havelick, Brian Good, Mike Dvorsky, Bill Fiandt, Lyle Grosbach, Jerry Berding, Tom Walker, Lonnie Olson-Williams, Jeff ?

The weather had not cooperated with the TTT for a couple of years. We remembered the spring ride of 1987, not for rain, but for sunny and warm weather … and this time it felt almost too good. Clear and 65 degree weather greeted us at the fire station at seven AM. Everybody showed up in plenty of time, even the two new guys. They were real biker types, complete with equipment. Jeff had panniers, Lonnie with helmet, high-class biking shorts and all. But they enjoyed riding with all of us pikers. No problem.

The wind had blown all night, so we were ready for a brisk breeze. It let up a little right at seven, but was obviously from the southwest. The veterans were afraid of going to Red Wing again. At least it would be better than Owatonna, a destination the year before; in the rain, in the cold, and the shortest ride ever, not even attaining the required three counties. The westerly component of the wind was stronger this time so we chose to head out Viola road (County 2). It was a big hill to start the day. The weather and wind were perfect, but there was a hint of rain visible in the distance. Continue reading

Knock on the Floor

Knock on the Floor

Grandpa Ted working on his car.

Grandpa Ted working on his car.

My brother Linn and I have been interested in family stories for a long time. Some of Esther’s stories in this blog are from the time he and I spent a couple of days with her, listening to the stories and looking at photo albums. After he and I heard stories from Esther about life on the farm, Linn visited our aunt Iris, wife of Esther’s brother Melvin. Linn wrote down the story as Iris remembered it in 2008.

The story about Ted’s last days reminds me of our mother’s last days. Those two stories are among the many reasons I don’t often hesitate to visit a doctor. Not a chiropractor, a medical doctor.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Iris writes:

iris-and-melvin-luehr

Iris and Melvin

The time was before WWII, during the depths of the Great Depression. The family had planted its saved seed supply several years before – but the rain never came.  So there was no crop that year. No seed the next. They borrowed to buy seed to plant that next year, planted it, and the rain never came. No crop that year either. After three or four years of this cycle, the family was deep in debt – the house, the farm, and the equipment were all mortgaged. About that time the bank repossessed a neighbor family’s sole milk cow after they could not repay their debt. It may have been the Bowerman family who eventually purchased and still own the Luehr House in Lake Williams. Continue reading

It’s All Relative

I like clocks. Those of you who know me well know that I do not like being late. I stay on time by watching the clock … in a good way. As a child I liked clocks, too. I liked to take them apart.

Sadly, I wasn’t very good at putting them back together. I took apart both electric clocks and the wind up variety alarm clock. What did my mother think? Were they old clocks that didn’t work anymore? You and I both know that workaday clocks generally don’t just wear out. Maybe she gave them to me to play with? Or maybe I just took them to the basement without asking.

Asking permission wasn’t my strong point, but it certainly helped me learn. One day I was in the basement at the house on fourth avenue, perhaps twelve years old. I had read about electromagnets. The book described them as a length of wire wrapped around an iron rod. The basement had both. Well, maybe not an iron rod, but there was a nail. And, OK, we had a length of wire, only maybe a foot long at most. I wrapped the wire tightly around the nail. The book talked about running electricity through the wire to energize the iron to make a magnet. I didn’t have a battery, but there was a 110 volt outlet right there on the work bench. One end of the foot long wire would fit into one hole of the outlet, another end into the other. What could go wrong? I plugged the wires in. Continue reading