Linn working at the library in 1972
Over the last year you’ve had a chance to read letters about Louie’s life. He wrote several dozen letters, the last one about when he married the girl of his dreams. There aren’t many stories about his married life with Grace. There’s a reason. It wasn’t an easy life. Louie spent many of his days deep in a bottle of whiskey.
Fortunately for me, my brothers, and all of our children, he came out of that stupor in the late eighties, in time to write his story and share in the joy of his grand children. We loved having Louie back with us. He loved us, enjoyed a good laugh, several stories, and we returned the love.
The decades in between were difficult. I mostly lost touch with him. Judy only met him once or twice, and the experiences left her wondering. My youngest brothers were too little to catch on to what was really happening, but Linn was seventeen when he decided to unwind the wondering. So this kid got on his motor cycle and rode to meet his father.
I’m in awe of my younger brother and his letter, written when he was only seventeen, is the best example of why. I can’t come up with anything more than to throw you into reading Linn’s thoughts from forty years ago.
Note: Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors are from the original.
It was hot that day. The bugs had made it nearly impossible to see through the windshield on my motorcycle. I have spent most of the day dodging the dead rabbits splattered all over the Wyoming highway. Rock Springs was just a few miles ahead and I was very ready to find a motel and a long hot shower.
Louie Havelick, US Army, 1952
Last week you read the last of the stories Louie wrote in 1991. Louie’s letters end with him meeting, marrying Grace, yielding their first son; me. Grace’s letters end with the same wedding. To the casual observer that may seem strange. To me, it’s not a surprise at all. That wedding may have been the high point of their relationship.
As a child, I was never close to my dad. He spent his time elsewhere. He came home from Korea when I was about three. Louie loved to tell me about his return, he came through the front door and asked “Where’s your Daddy?” I immediately ran to the bedroom and brought out his Army portrait. Touching, in a sad way.
He and I didn’t spend much time together. Somewhere in the mid-fifties Louie took me downtown to White Drug for a malt. White’s was a fabulous place, including the little restaurant coffee shop in the back, a full soda fountain with a counter and all the things you’d expect in a fifties soda shop. The drug store was more of a general store, selling everything from post cards to window fans and toasters. Think Walgreen’s with a coffee shop. That’s where I got a malt with my Dad, one of a handful of memories of good times with him.
Wedding in the yard
Unlike football and other sports, I did follow in Louie’s footsteps when it came to watching pretty girls at the dances. The dance Louie describes probably took place at the National Guard Armory in downtown Jamestown. When I was in high school most of the dances were there, too. It was a great place for dances, with a large stairway in the front to linger on, watching people come and go.
The first dance this brings to mind is one at the American Legion club two blocks from the Armory. The front lobby was a great place to stand and talk to friends. One particularly good-looking girl found me there one evening. Unlike Louie, I didn’t start this encounter, but the discussion led to a years-long dating experience. Some of my letters describe those days.
The other dance I think about was the one Judy and I went to in the spring of 1970. Like Louie, this dance experience led to a wedding the next year.
Louie doesn’t mention it directly in this letter, but there’s something he’s quite proud of in this letter. Since this was a short romance, ending in marriage six months later, his friends all assumed that there was a sense of urgency involved. He told me many times that I was born well beyond the statutory limit for a first-born son.
I use to love going to dances when I was in my prime – the big dance to go to was the New Years Eve Policemans Ball.
The new years of 1948-49 was one of these and as usual, my roving eye and me were at their best.
Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House
Louie had several jobs as a teenager. The one that interested me the most was the job working for the railroad. He started with the easy, physical tasks, eventually moving to hostler and watchman, driving steam engines at the end of the line.
I’ve always been fascinated by steam locomotives. As a six-year-old child I would disappear from the house now and then, found later by Mom or Grandma over in the rail yards watching trains being switched. I’ve already written about my time in the engine house and at the docks where they loaded coal, water and sand into the steam engines.
Louie had the misfortune of getting a job at the railroad near the end of the steam era. In the old days a steam engine needed service at least every one hundred miles. The new diesels, brought on-line in big numbers in the early fifties, could run hundreds of miles without refueling. The automobile and better highways ate into passenger traffic, meaning railroads had to shrink. With service, freight, and passenger traffic dropping, Jamestown would never be a hub of railroad activity again. The hundreds of employees shrank to almost nobody by the time I left town.
Louie was proud of having learned to drive a steam locomotive, even if it was just around the Y. If you’ve ever seen inside the cab of one of those machines you’d understand why he was proud.
My first real job in Jamestown was with the North American Creamery managed by “Lefty” Ulrickson.
I was hired as a flunky, helping deliver pop, ice cream and beer to local businesses.
Memories are strange things, they don’t flow like a river. They’re random, showing up when you least expect them, often when you least want them. This jog backwards in the story happened because Louie and I spent some time talking about his stories after he had finished the project. He then realized that he hadn’t talked about something that apparently made a difference in his life.
Louie describes a milk, or cream, separator. In the forties farmers separated cream from the milk right on the farm, before putting the milk into ten gallon cans to ship to town by train. Now farmers store whole raw milk on the farm and take it to the city in 10,000 gallon trucks. (OK, a trailer truck only carries 7,000 gallons, but to make the story sound good I said ten.) Everything is automated, there’s no need for a green horn teenage boy to run the machines and carry milk cans.
Louie describes the machine’s parts and that triggers my memories of taking apart alarm clocks when I was a kid, then memories from just last week when my grandson attempted to put a square toy into a round hole. Some things just don’t change.
Louie in 1959
You asked me about the milk separator – it was, at one time, my alarm clock.
I always felt like a disappointment to my dad. He was a sports fan. I wasn’t. This letter nails it.
1946 Jamestown Blue Jays: Louie is # 84. Ernie Gates to the left. Photo by King Studio, Jamestown ND. Click to see the large version.
Louie’s football coach in high school was Ernie Gates. As luck would have it Ernie was still the Phy Ed teacher and football coach when I came through high school. Ernie had high hopes for me. Then we tried push-ups and the rope climb. Louie describes both below. My record for the rope climb was I maybe made it to the top once. Maybe not. For push-ups, let’s just say that I didn’t make it to double digits. I probably still can’t, but I no longer try.
Ernie was disappointed. So was I. I didn’t tell Louie.
The one bright spot in my high school Phy Ed career was volleyball. One year we played volleyball every gym class for weeks. Somehow Ernie assigned me to a team that was incredibly good. Just being around the guys who could play made me better. Ernie even made up new rules to make it tougher for us to beat the other teams. I’ve loved volleyball ever since. We played church league, IBM leagues, and we’ve been to professional volleyball games and watched several matches at the Montreal Olympics.
The low point in Louie’s thoughts about me and football may have been when I was in college. NDSU had a good team for a couple of years. I went to a game or two. Louie was serving in Korea then, and the Bison made the news over there. He told his army buddies that I played on the team. Oh, well, everyone’s a disappointment to someone. I made up for it in other ways, but I don’t watch or play competitive sports.
Louie immediately to the right of front post, partially obscured. Louis to the left of the post, second in dark suit. 1946 Football banquet. Click for larger version.
This old man (fella) is a real sports fan – it goes way back to my high school days. I loved listening to football games on the radio and wishing that I was one of those stars.
Louie was kind of absent from our lives in 1968 when the events of this letter took place. Keeping in touch wasn’t easy for a number of reasons. The mail took quite a while to go back and forth from North Dakota to Korea. Visits were rare, as travel was expensive. Telephone conversations were almost impossible. I’ve discussed how much work it was to try calling Korea in a prior post.
I never played cards with Louie, he played Pinochle in the sixties and Cribbage in his sixties. I never learned cribbage (too much arithmetic for me) but his walrus tusk cribbage board is among my most prized possessions. Pinochle was the game of choice in my early college years, possibly at the same time Louie was playing cards with the girls in Japan.
Louie’s cribbage board
Our games never entailed the hi-jinx Louie’s did, but my memories of the game are exceptionally pleasant. The guys I hung with weren’t big into homework, and frequently went home for the weekends. On Sundays we’d try to get back to Fargo early for an evening of Pinochle. My roommate Dean K and I would face off against the likes of Doug, Cliff, and Rick. After more than forty years I’ve almost completely forgotten the rules of play, but I do remember that bidding depended on the content of my hand and my partner Dean’s cards. We played so often and were so well matched that at the start of bidding we’d look each other in the eyes and somehow know what to bid.
Our card games were in the dorm at college. Louie’s game was in a Geisha house in Japan. We had fun, but his evening ended in hilarity, at least in retrospect.
In 1968 I had the honor of performing my military duties in the Republic of Korea once more.
The whole country was rebuilt considerably but still had that stink of human waste throughout. They used that stuff to fertilize their fields to raise their crops.
Back during the war they had what they called “R&R” for the troops, giving them a little break from the war. Those R&R breaks were usually taken in Japan and consisted of 5 days.