The Dash and the Comma

Have you noticed that for each person you know, each of them has a favorite topic for discussion? One wants to talk about politics. Another is deeply moved by personal finance. Some need to talk about family relationships. Other things do come up during the discussion, but it always feels like we’re circling around what it is they really care about.



For my friend “Clare” the topic is religion. Fortunately, I love talking religion, especially with her. I am a novice. She’s a pro. There is so much for me to learn, especially when I’m trying to explain how I feel. At our last meeting, for her father’s funeral, we talked about “the dash.” The summary of a person’s life chiseled into a tombstone. You’ve seen it.


That’s more than eighty years reduced to a single mark in a stone. It’s up to us to fill in that tiny space with our understanding of a lifetime.

As the talk moved on I related that every time I recite the Creed during a church service, I am reminded of “the dash.” Except that it’s a comma. An entire life reduced to a comma. A life that changed my life, and the life of the world. Where’s that comma, you ask?

“… born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” (Apostles’ Creed)

Did you catch the comma? That little mark? Thirty three years represented by a simple comma.  The comma wasn’t even invented until hundreds of years after the person in question lived his life between birth and death. Yet a comma represents everything but the first day and the last days of that life. Continue reading

Happy Valentine’s Day

I had no idea. Absolutely none.

Judy and Guy - Prom 1970

Judy and Guy – Prom 1970

On that warm April evening over forty years ago friend Rick and I stepped off the elevator into an unknown. As that unknown unfolded I realized how wonderful life could be. Coming from an uncomfortable relationship that had ended uncomfortably, I needed something. I just didn’t know what.

We climbed into a car with you and your friend Deb. On that spring drive around town you wowed me with your ability to hold me enthralled in conversation. I was captivated. We could have talked the evening away, and after that evening we often did. Who could have guessed that after all these years and changes I’d still want to sit quietly and talk with you?

The list of people who want time with me seems endless some days. I could have lunch or coffee with someone different every day. Beautiful people; educated, challenging people. All can hold me in discussion. For a while. After time with all the others I cherish an evening of just us. Sometimes it’s an evening out. A burger … or soup and salad. Maybe it’s time at home, with something we cook together. It really doesn’t matter where we are, even if we just head out for a drink at the Doggery. If it’s time for us to talk, it’s the best time.

Nobody holds my attention like you do, even after forty-plus years of Valentine’s Days.

Who knew? I sure didn’t.

I love you. Absolutely you. Grandpa Guy Havelick

I’ll be back!

I’ll think of something to say soon.

I’ve been blessed with a wonderful life. I am surrounded by a loving family, and dozens of great friends. There’s always something going on, from reviewing the Clinic’s research to helping Judy in the RavensFire band. Most days our house rattles with the noise of grandchildren. A couple of times a week someone wants to meet for coffee, lunch or dinner. I’m blessed.

Oh, and the house needed some work. We had a snow day. My arthritis (and myriad other diseases) acted up. Every day another tax form shows up. I’m worried about …

Forget those bad things, I need to get back to one of the hobbies that has eluded me for over six months. This blog. Since the first of the year I’ve been writing, looking at Jim’s diary, searching pictures, and reading old letters from my aunt Esther. The blog has made it to the top of the list again! Perhaps I’ll reorganize the site a little, rewrite some of the older posts to add interesting comments, and regularly add more stories of my own.

Thanks for your patience until I get back into the swing of writing and posting regularly. You will see more here shortly.

I’m feeling better about it already!

Grandpa Guy Havelick


Radio days

Vintage Zenith Royal 150 Transistor Radio (8397268271)Radio was different in 1961. I had a brand new pocket transistor radio.

According to Wikipedia, the radio probably cost me about twenty dollars. Adjusting for inflation, that’s well over a hundred of today’s dollars. My memory is foggy on where the money or the radio came from, but having one of those little Zenith radios says something about my interest in technology.

Jamestown had only two radio stations in those days. KSJB and KEYJ. Both are still on the air, but now there are many more. That summer I listened to a few baseball games, but they didn’t hold my interest. Roger Maris was almost a local boy, but that wasn’t enough. KSJB played top ten hits, which did catch my interest. I collected their weekly Billboard Top Ten sheets for years, saving them for decades. It took a while for me to get my first RCA 45 RPM record changer, which allowed me to start buying those top ten records. Nat “King” Cole got the honors of the first record I ever bought: Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.

KSJB had much more than music. One of my grandmother’s favorite shows was the Reverend N.E. McCoy. He preached in the small town style. No asking for money, as not many people in our town had much for money. Most important, from Grandma’s point of view, was McCoy’s hospital visits. He would make the rounds of the hospital in the morning, visiting with all the patients, then give everyone in town an update on his noon-time radio show. From what I know about privacy and HIPAA laws, he wouldn’t have much to talk about today. Continue reading

I said No

IBM Interview Routing Sheet

IBM Interview Routing Sheet

There weren’t any jobs. Nobody came to NDSU in early 1972 looking for engineering graduates. Well, the CIA was looking, and I talked to them, but they decided I wasn’t cut out for that business. I had a brand new degree in electrical engineering and nobody wanted me. The lack of job opportunities drove me to one of the best decisions of my life. I applied for and received a scholarship to go on to graduate school. It wasn’t much of a decision: unemployment or a full ride to graduate school.

The job market totally turned around in the next year. By the spring of 1973 there were dozens of companies interviewing on campus, looking for freshly minted electrical engineers. I was a candidate for a Master’s of Electrical Engineering, and had a good GPA, which made getting interviews and site visits relatively easy.

Many of the companies I talked to don’t exist any more. Who remembers Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? They didn’t make me an offer, which was probably a good thing. A company in Boston did make an intriguing offer. The Route 128 area was rich with dozens of startup companies. But it was too far from home, and the cost of living was far higher than the Midwest jobs I was looking at. Let’s stay in the Midwest, eh?

I’d been on several interview trips by the time the Texas Instruments people called me down. I’d already pretty much made up my mind where to go, but this opportunity was quite the plum. Some real possibilities. The clincher came when I figured out a way to visit my family in Denver on their ticket. I signed up and started making plans. Two things worked in my favor. I knew a young lady who worked in a travel agency, and all the airplane tickets were paper. Continue reading

I’m afraid it’s a perfect day

Kutzky Park, Rochester MN

A perfect morning in Kutzky Park

I love my morning walks to coffee. Thanks to vacations and other complicating factors I hadn’t been to my favorite coffee shop for three weeks. This June morning was the perfect time to get back into the routine of walking the trails along Cascade Creek. A family of ducks swam among the rocks looking for breakfast. Bikers (always looking so healthy) smiled and greeted me warmly. The temperature hovered in the mid-sixties, with the clear sun promising a warm day.

Since the last time I’d been along the creek the wildflowers and naturalized areas on the bank had fully grown, the flowers overwhelmed me with beauty and fragrance. I couldn’t count the varieties of grasses and flowers.

What’s to be afraid of? Everything seemed so clean and well planned. The parks department maintains the edge of the trail, keeping the weeds at bay. In one flower bed they were half way through clearing overgrowth from around the milkweed. No wonder so many people get out early on a summer morning to enjoy the path.

I love taking my grand children over to the park, along the same trail, to the playground. There are usually several other little kids with moms or dads playing on the equipment. Their happy smiles remind me of when I played in Klaus Park in Jamestown, North Dakota. But something has changed. Continue reading

Ad Est Virum

Chrsitmas TreeIt’s all about who you know. My friend’s mother Adeline knew the people at White Drug, and she knew that I desperately needed money for college. I don’t remember who she talked to, but they gave me jobs during all the breaks throughout my freshman year of college. Some of the skills I learned ended up being useful, others not as much. One week I worked in the pharmacy. They had only one job for me. Count pills. Hundreds. Thousands of pills. Put them into jars of 100 each. Using a little tray, I’d count by fives. Five … ten … fifteen … all the way to a hundred. Put a lid on the jar. Repeat until lunch. Once again, I learned that my choice of an engineering career matched my personality.

Another week I worked in the general merchandise part of the store. Right after Christmas Day it was time to clear the holiday aisle for the new things. White’s sold a myriad of types of Christmas light bulbs. Tiny ones. Small ones for tree decorations. Larger ones to use along the roof. Red ones. Blue bulbs. Green. Every color, every size. These were the days before plastic bubble packs; all the bulbs were loose. Just pick out the few that met your needs and pay the lady. Thank you.

My job was to collect all the light bulbs into one large box and move them to storage. It was a huge box. Maybe a cubic yard? Three feet on a side, but light bulbs are light, so it wasn’t a big deal. Except for the little stumble I took going down the stairs. I dropped the box.

What a magical sound; hundreds of glass bulbs shattering. Continue reading

Me, Athletic?

Guy and Lon crossing the finish line after a Zumbro Zig Zag

Guy and Lon crossing the finish line (last) after a Zumbro Zig Zag

Earlier this year Jen from the Rochester magazine interviewed me for a magazine article. The article focused on human interest topics, including a question about exercise. Jen asked if I’m athletic. Nope. I can’t even sit through a baseball game, and don’t ask me to watch sports on television.

After that off the cuff answer I rattled off all the “not-athletic” things I’ve done. Ever since high school when Mark and I played at tennis I’ve engaged in sports of one sort or another. One of my friends ran ultra-marathons. I’ve never run more than a 10K. Another friend regularly rides his bike across Minnesota (TRAM) or Iowa (RAGBRAI). I once rode a 100K circle and it darned near killed me. I loved playing racquetball, but never progressed out of the “C” leagues. Some of my buddies regularly competed in the Open or “A” tournaments. Even canoeing has held my interest, but not as much as my friend Andy. He left Rochester to kayak around Australia. My canoe competition once yielded last place in a Zumbro Zig Zag triathlon. Inauspicious at best, eh?

After telling Jen about all those athletic escapades I realized that my definition of athletic is incorrect. I have always compared myself to my friends abilities. Specifically, I compared my skills one at a time with the best of the field.

No matter where I looked, someone did better at an activity than I could. It didn’t matter what the activity was. I wasn’t the best at anything.

I almost fell into the trap of feeling like a failure. Instead, I fell into the trap of comparing myself to the wrong people. The only person I want to compare myself to is the person I want to be.

Since we’re on the athletic theme, let’s go with the triathlon idea. Remember, I finished last in one of them. How many dozen athletes finished ahead of me? Lots. How many finished behind me on that beautiful day? Continue reading

I didn’t expect this

Come EatSomehow, I didn’t expect to be here. The other evening Judy and I got home from a fun dinner out with friends when a neighbor knocked at the door, inviting us to come over to his house. It was a fine evening, the sun was setting and the sliver of a new moon was right behind it. This would be interesting, I thought.

At dinner we had talked about how different retirement turned out to be, compared to what we had expected. Looking back, neither of us really had much of an idea what to expect when I quit doing what I had done for almost forty years. When I walked out the door from IBM that December day three years ago I entered a new world. Unknown, it turns out.

Our friend Paul retired about ten years ago. Soon after he quit work, I asked him what he found to do all day, since he had involuntarily retired early. He asked if I had ever hurried home from work to mow the lawn before sitting down to a quick supper. Well, duh! That’s how you do it, I thought. His routine had changed. Now it could take all day to mow the yard, depending on what else was on the calendar.

Was that what I had expected when I walked away from IBM into a winter blizzard?

Forty years earlier I had walked into that same IBM door to start a new career. Nothing anyone had told me fully prepared me for the excitement and drama of working for corporate America. Every year at IBM there was a new challenge, until at the end it became a challenge to keep up enough excitement to stay around.

After turning in my badge in the early winter of 2012, I thought my days would be different, but when I look back at it, I had no clue about what was about to happen. Since that cold day, our days are full of grand children, excitement and drama. This North Dakota boy who grew up in a house with absolutely no music now works with an Irish band, with gigs several times each month, and a CD release in progress.

Not long ago, serendipity struck again when a neighbor called out to me as I sat on the porch sipping a fine single malt whisky. “Can you help me learn English?” he asked. Not knowing what to expect, but knowing darned well that this would be exciting, I quickly agreed to help. Now on the summer evening, just before sundown, came that knock on the door. The same neighbor, having learned a little more English, asked us to come to his house … quickly! Continue reading

Are you busy today?

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

The other day I ran into my friend Brian. “How are you doing, Brian?” “Over worked and underpaid. Terribly busy, this is my peak season you know.”

Almost everyone I know gives me a paraphrase of that same answer. It’s been the standard answer for at least a hundred years, and maybe through the entire history of Western Civilization. There’s always more to do than there is time. The boss always has something extra that needs doing. The family is always asking for something, and you know that the house and yard absolutely need to have that spring maintenance work done! Soon!

I don’t like the “So busy!” response. It’s too easy and really doesn’t say anything. Kind of like: “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” The answer bears no relationship to what’s happening in life. Our culture seems to demand that we be busy and fine. Sure, there are people who claim to not want to hear an “organ recital” from this old man, but sometimes “Fine” just isn’t the right answer, and if one of us needs help, advice, or an ear to bend, another answer is the right one.

That said, the main thing that irks me about the “Busy!” answer is that the opposite is probably the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Here’s my story:

This was a long time ago, within a year or two of my taking a job at IBM. They had hired me for a major project, and they even had to move us to a temporary expansion site to make room for all the new people on this project. Then the project was cancelled. If I remember correctly, there was some new technology that was essential for the product. The new technology failed, so that called the entire project into question. Continue reading