Skippy the Dog

Every now and then we get to hear more about a story. One year, long after Grandma Fanny and my mother Grace had passed away, my brother Linn and I traveled to Oregon with Grace’s photo album to learn more about the family history. It was an incredibly satisfying trip. Esther, Linn and I sat with the album for days looking at each picture. Esther would start talking, Linn would ask some questions, and I’d do my best to capture what they were talking about.

Skippy

Skippy

One photo was of Skippy the dog. Esther had fond memories of this little dog, just like Grace did. Here’s what I wrote down that day, capturing the story from Esther’s point of view.

I don’t remember where he came from or exactly when he showed up on the farm, but he was a pretty puppy. He weighed in at about sixty pounds in his prime. He was a solid, muscular dog, mostly terrier and some bulldog. He could be aggressive if he didn’t like you, and nasty when necessary. He didn’t like the guy from the farm to the west. Whenever he came to the property we had to restrain Skippy, tie him up.

One winter Grace made a fur collar coat for Skippy. He was a short-haired dog and got cold in the North Dakota winters. She started with a woman’s medium blue wool coat. She measured the front legs, fit it over the back and to the tail. It had buttons and a collar that fastened under his chin. The dog liked the coat and asked for it when it was time to go outside during the winter.

That’s one version of the “Skippy Story” and it’s completely different, but exactly the same as the one Grace tells below. I’d love to hear Grace’s version of how she made the coat for Skippy, but that one is lost to time. How many stories do we need to hear before the complete truth comes to light?

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

Skippy came to live with us when I was ten. He was the first dog Mama ever allowed in the house. Guess she couldn’t resist that cute little golden tan + white puppy. It may have been in the winter, too – otherwise I can’t imagine why she would have let us keep him in the house. He grew up being loved dearly by the whole family. Henry made a little harness for him so he could pull the sled. He would get so excited when we’d put our skates on the sled + harness him up to go skating down on the lake.

One time in the spring … Continue reading

Dandy the Cat and other animals

Grace and Dandy

Grace and Dandy

I’ve always been a cat person, and for most of her life Grace was, too. This story focuses on a cat that lived on the farm for a long time. Dandy was the animal that Grandma Luehr told us about many times. There are a lot more stories about Dandy that I just don’t remember. When I was a kid we had several cats that looked a lot like Dandy, but they weren’t quite as friendly as Dandy appears to be in this story. The pet’s name that comes to mind is Mr Jinx. Sadly, I don’t remember any stories about him.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 
 

Grace writes:

Dear ones,

I remember one time when I was a little kid there was so many toads. There must have been thousands of them as they were everywhere. Most years we would see one or two in the garden but this time was something else. Continue reading

Learning to Sew

Linn with Grace's sewing machine.

Linn with Grace’s sewing machine at the Pink House.

Sewing machines were a staple in our house when I was young. Our mother was always sewing something. She became quite the seamstress, eventually hanging out a shingle and doing dress making full-time for people in Jamestown. There aren’t many tailors who will take on the task of sewing a man’s shirt or suit jacket from scratch, but Grace could do it. I remember several shirts that she sewed for me.

When she remarried in 1966 the man she chose, Norris, had a hobby of servicing and restoring sewing machines. There’s an ancient Singer machine in the closet of my office to show for it. The shop in Grace’s house on Lamar St. had dozens of machines that Norris was working on.

This letter is my favorite of all those Grace wrote to me. In it she mentions her passion, sewing, my favorite aunt’s passion, reading, and she describes the process of making a dress. She sewed a dress by herself, in the farm house … well, maybe you should read the letter and look at the photo below.

In the photo, my grand daughter Audrey, who just turned eight a couple of weeks before the picture was taken, is wearing the dress sewn by her great grandmother Grace when she was about the same age.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

Hi Everybody,

I started learning to sew when I was around six years old. The old treadle machine was perfect for a little kid to sew on as it went quite slow.

I remember sewing things like hemming dishtowels and simple straight seams on things mama would be making.

By the time I made my first dress I was pretty well acquainted with the machine and what the pieces of a garment looked like before being sewed. Continue reading

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

Winter Nights with Cora

Grace and her doll

Grace & Doll (Click to enlarge)

Several of Grace’s stories have focused on the fun she had with friends. If you read between the lines and pay attention to some of the short sentences you’ll notice that they didn’t have much on the farm in the thirties. The picture to the right is of Grace with her doll at the home place. There isn’t much (any?) paint on the wall. The concrete step looks a little rough around the edges. Look closely at the ground. Do you see any grass? How about Grace’s hand-made dress?

This summer we took a road trip with the grand children. Their car had more toys and clothes than Grace had in the entire house. (That may be hyperbole, but not far from the truth.) In 2015 kids have electronic tablets, endless clothes, and multiple dolls with nicer clothes than Grace had on the farm.

Grace ends this story with an anecdote that I could repeat almost word for word, just with a different childhood friend.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

Dear Kids,

Many times during my grade school years Cora White would come and stay overnight at our house or I would stay with her.

Their farm was less than a mile south from the schoolhouse so they always walked to school. Their house was one story and sprawling from being built on too. Cora had her own room as her older sister Florence was gone to high school and the boys shared a room. Continue reading

Snow on the Prairie

If you grow up in North Dakota, blizzards figure greatly in your story. That applies to Grace and to me. Grace’s story covers two ways to look at a storm. The first is school children enjoying the aftermath of a blizzard. The second exposes the hazards of monster storms on the prairie.

Two blizzards come to mind as I read Grace’s letter. The first was in March of 1966. There was a lull in the storm on the second day. I used that calm to the greatest benefit, trekking to my girlfriend’s house. The storm returned and I couldn’t get back to my house for two nights.

Downtown St. Cloud MN, January 1975

Downtown St. Cloud MN, January 1975

In January of 1975 Judy and I planned to meet college friends in northern Minnesota for a weekend of cross-country skiing. There were reports of possible storms, but who lets a little snow get in the way of skiing? Snow is good, right? The storm stranded us in the last hotel room in St. Cloud. Not really a guest room, it was a meeting room with two roll away beds for us and our friends. We stayed in the hotel for two nights. The good news was that we had food and drink for the weekend, and The Godfather Part II was playing in the theater next door.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

I remember one year we had so much snow that the snow banks in the trees around the schoolhouse were about six feet deep. It was packed in really hard from a blizzard. Continue reading

Dreams of a New House

Ted Luehr's Truck and haystack

Trucking hay from the north forty.

Last month Lucy’s letter described the new house she and Ken moved into soon after they got married. Grace describes the dream of a new house unfulfilled. Somehow serendipity plays a role in everyone’s life. My grandfather Ted came to North Dakota and saw it in glorious bloom in 1918. He and his new bride, my grandmother Fanny, came to Kidder County along with hundreds and thousands of eager dry land farmers, ready to transform the prairie into rolling fields of green.

Fate intervened after not too many years. The rains failed. The stock market crashed. The promises of 1918 didn’t happen. For example, Aunt Esther told me that the telephone came to the farm in the twenties. With the depression, copper wire became more valuable than phone conversations. The phone didn’t come back for decades.

When things stated to improve, flush with cash, Grandpa Ted decided to expand to more land north of the home place, planning to build a house. The dust bowl, the depression, and eventually illness and death intervened. The site of the new house became a hay field.

There’s one quaint similarity between my wife Judy and my grandmother Fanny. Both count subconsciously and involuntarily. Every time Judy and I walk through the park, I hear exactly how many people were enjoying the park. Fanny knew exactly how many cattle were in the pasture.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

I remember Mama telling me about her dream of sometime having a new house. They bought land about 6 or 8 miles to the north east of our farm with the hope of building there someday. Papa planted trees for shelter and as a border for the yard. He had cottonwoods and some fruit trees and some smaller shrub type things. The depression came along though so not much else was ever done. Continue reading