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

 


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

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

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

Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land

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Stranger in a Strange Land

As a boy, I spent untold hours at the library looking for books. My mother let me go to the library alone as early as age ten. Within a couple of years I’d bring home three or four books at a time, read them in the evening, and head back the next day to get a couple more. Over a summer I could read stacks of them. In between books, I’d have a dozen or so magazines at home to read, too. The magazines included everything from MAD to Science News, a weekly digest of the latest in science. I started reading that one in Junior High. The reading habit I picked up as a child has served me well ever since.

Through high school, I read mostly science fiction. Early on, the Danny Dunn series was my favorite, but there were several others. The books kept me busy for months, but there was a minor problem with the limited scope of my interests and the brisk pace of my reading. I ran out of books to read! I’d finished all the Danny Dunn and science fiction books in the children’s section. There were no other books for me to read. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I recognized that I had a problem and should go talk to the librarian. She probably knew me quite well because I was there almost every day and the room wasn’t that big. The librarian had a wonderful, simple suggestion for me, one that changed my life. Continue reading

How did this happen?

We see them everywhere downtown. This is Rochester, home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic. It’s common for us to see a person in a wheel chair, often sporting a tied scarf to keep a head warm. The hair was probably lost due to a difficult treatment for some medical condition. I always feel bad when I see a wheel chair pushed by a parent. The parent of a child. A young child, often not even double-digit years old. A child facing life and death. Far too soon. That kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, but in Rochester it’s not that uncommon.

It never occurred to me that another situation would hit me even harder than a sick child in a wheel chair.

It wasn’t that many years ago that we buried my Dad and Judy’s mother. They were old. Eighties. Life had been good to them, but it was over. We hated to see them go, but that’s the way of life.

I didn’t see the next one coming.

Those of you who know me know that I spend an inordinate amount of my life wandering the halls at the Mayo Clinic, too. I’ve been lucky that my challenges responded to proper treatment. My life is good. I do what I want, when I want, and the bumps from minor medical mishaps enhance, not detract from, my life.

Until that day I was in for a routine blood test. Continue reading

That sounds like fun

That sounds like fun. Let’s do it!

A couple of years ago a friend of ours found herself in a tough place. As she tried to put her life back together we talked about what she was doing to ease the transition. People tried to get her involved in activities, partly to get her mind off the difficulties, and partly because she was fun to be around. In a change from the past, she now responded “That sounds like fun! Yes, let’s do it.”

We loved her new way of doing things, partly because it meant we got to do more fun things with our friend. I’ve since realized that the change she made taught me an important life lesson. Unconsciously I’ve been following a similar strategy for years. Recently saying “Yes!” to new opportunities has become more intentional and frequent.

Three episodes come to the front of the line as I think about saying “Yes!” In college, one of my buddies in the next room in Sevrinson Hall asked me if I’d like to take his cousin to the prom, because she needed a date. It would have been easy to say no. What kind of loser decides she needs a date to prom, a week before the big event? There were plenty of parties with my other college buddies that could fill up the weekend. I should have studied for finals. But what the hell? I took the bait, and ended up marrying Judy the next year.

Fifteen years later my friend Jim called and offered to sell his 1953 Cadillac to us. The car was 35 years old, almost as old as us. We didn’t think we needed yet another hobby, as we were fully involved in projects, working, two young kids, and an old house to keep up. We sat on the porch swing and talked about what to do. The whole conversation was something like this: Continue reading

1984

1984

I love to read, and usually dislike reading a book again. For me, even favorite books lose their excitement the second time around. That made studying a little difficult in college. My vision of studying included going over the same material again. This boy wouldn’t do that, much to the chagrin of my study partners.

1984-b-and-nDuring my junior year of college we had a particularly difficult test coming up, and my buddy Dean felt that he needed some help. I knew that my recollection of the material was not good enough, too. We decided to spend the evening studying. I couldn’t do it. Going over the material again was too boring. We had lots of other things to talk about, so we did. Dean didn’t do well on that test.

Back to the books. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve reread. There are only a couple that I’ve been through more than twice. As I think about that short list of books, I’m drawn to reading some them again. Other favorite books (Phi, for example) changed how I view the world, but I don’t need to go back.

Allow me to take another diversion here. I love reading, but I don’t like to reread a book. Movies usually bore me. We go to a movie every couple of years. Not interested. The interesting part? I can watch my favorite movies or television shows a dozen times. I can bring up scenes and dialogue from Casablanca in an instant. My biggest television addiction (addiction being something I must do that has no direct benefit) is M*A*S*H. I’ve seen every episode a half-dozen times over the last forty years. Judy leaves the room when I’m watching M*A*S*H, because I can speak most of the lines with the cast.

How do I reconcile the difference between books and television? Hold that thought while I return to a book I just reread, again. Continue reading

What changed?

Down in our basement are several big plastic tubs. If you took the time to open one of them, which I haven’t in years, you might find dozens, maybe hundreds, of N-scale model railroad cars, buildings, engines, and miscellaneous equipment. Poke around in my home office and you would discover more trinkets, track, and a half-built modular section.

The other day my friend Jay and I were talking at coffee, and we got on the subject of trains. Railroads held an important spot in our lives in the fifties. If you wanted to travel any distance, it was probably on the railroad. Both he and I had taken significant trips by train.

The little house we lived in until I was about ten was across the river from a railroad branch line. The line served the ice house (now there’s a whole ‘nother topic!), a lumber yard and a couple of other businesses downstream from our house. That line was important to me, especially during the winter when the river froze over. We’d walk across the ice, clamber up the steep river bank, and the follow the tracks for a block or two on our way to school. If we had a spare penny, we’d leave it on the track in the morning, hoping that sometime during the day a train would come by to flatten it.

I wish I still had one of those big pennies.

1962 NPRR Jamestown ND

Operations tower – NP Jamestown, ND

If we followed that branch line another three blocks north, we get to the Northern Pacific’s freight sorting yard. The yard extended a block or two east, and at least a mile to the west. To the east was downtown, where I found interesting equipment and operations, especially exciting for a boy who would become an electrical engineer. Just off First Avenue was a wooden tower, probably twenty-five or thirty feet high, with an operations room at the top. There were two or three men in the room, watching for trains. When they saw one coming, they’d operate switches and levers to activate the crossing signals that held car traffic on the avenues.

View looking west from main street switch tower - Jamestown ND - 1962

View looking west from main street switch tower – Jamestown ND – 1962

Those signals were nothing like the huge illuminated arms that block every lane of traffic these days. They were simple “wig-wag” signals, with a bell and a couple of blinking red lights. Hanging off the bottom was a tail like thing with one of those blinking lights. When the men activated the signal, a tail wagged back and forth to catch drivers’ attention. Eight or ten passenger trains, and many more freight trains, came through every day. The guys in the tower didn’t get much time to nap. Continue reading

What did we just do?

What a great winter that was! We had taken up cross-country skiing a couple of years before. On most weekends, and not a few evenings during the week, we’d head out to a trail to enjoy the winter scenery.

Judy and Guy on cross-country skis.

Judy and Guy on cross-country skis.

One of my favorite outings was the “Mantorville” trail. One of the local ski clubs had worked with landowners between the village of Mantorville and the county park just north of Byron, Oxbow Park, to mark off a ski trail. Somehow, they had found a dozen miles of forest, plains, trees, ponds, and hills unmatched for beauty and skiing fun. My friend Bill and I could easily finish the trail in an afternoon.

Winters were more winter-like in the seventies. The snow came earlier, often by Thanksgiving, and stayed later, sometimes skiable into March. The best weeks saw a cold snap mid-week, a couple of inches of fluffy snow on a Thursday afternoon, then a dusting of snow Friday night and brilliant sunshine on Saturday morning. We didn’t even care how cold it was if there was new snow. It wasn’t just the Mantorville trail, either. The trails at Whitewater State Park were even better. Hundreds of square miles of bluffs covered with state forest. Big hills and incredible vistas. Even local golf courses were fun to ski on a dark winter night. We always had someplace to go skiing.

When a long weekend demanded better skiing, we’d head off to someplace exotic, like Grand Marais, on the North Shore of Lake Superior. New vistas overlooking the lake. Fantastic rivers frozen into magic. Restaurants we’d never been to. Those were some great winters.

We’d planned a day of skiing for that Saturday morning in February of 1978. Friends would take our baby boy for the day. Everything was perfect.

Except the weather. It got ugly. Sunny. Warm. It started Friday and didn’t get any better the morning we were supposed to head out to the trails. Warmer by the minute. There would  be nothing but mud in the fields by the time we got going. Oh, that’s disappointing.

Now what? Continue reading