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

Promise of the Prairie

Promise of the Prairie

The Kunkel House

The Kunkel House

Grandpa Ted caught North Dakota Fever in 1919.

According to other stories about Ted and Fanny, Ted had spent a summer in the Red River Valley working on a farm, fell in love with the land, and decided that’s where he wanted to start his own farm. Thousands of other people caught that same fever. The 1920 federal census shows almost eight thousand residents in Kidder County, compared to less than two thousand just twenty years earlier.

Can you imagine the excitement of those years, as hundreds of people thronged the real estate offices and railroad stations? Every train from the east dropped off new residents looking for farmland or a place to open a store. Greenhorns and shysters everywhere. 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

Grandpa Guy’s Aunt Esther

Grandpa Guy’s Aunt Esther

Back in the nineties, when Esther heard about my family story project, she decided to write a few stories of her own. This upcoming series of eight posts includes her thoughts on her parents’ lives on a farm in North Dakota. Esther was my mother’s older sister, born on the North Dakota prairie early in the 20th century, raised during the Great Depression, and lived the good life from Montana to Arizona to Oregon.

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

Esther shared my interest in family history. In the early 2000’s my brother Linn and I spent a couple of days with Esther at her home in Oregon, looking at old picture albums and hearing her stories. I’ve used notes from that time to augment Esther’s own words and highlight some of the more interesting parts of the stories. For each story, I’ve tried to include some of her pictures and some from Grace’s photo album.

If you’ve read Grandpa Guy’s Stories, especially the stories from my mother Grace, you are familiar with most of the events Esther describes. In some of Esther’s stories, I’ve added links to Grace’s recollection of the same story. Reading the two versions, and trying to reconcile the differences between them and the same stories that Grandma Fanny told me, makes me wonder about other historical stories where multiple versions exist.

Esther during one of Linn and Guy's visits

Esther during one of our visits in 2005

Everyone has their own version of history. Esther (my aunt), her sister Grace (my mother) and their mother (my Grandma Luehr, who Esther calls Mama) shaped my view of family stories. Though their stories are not the same, the essence remains consistent. You can read Grace’s stories in the letters and commentary I’ve added to them. (Grace’s Stories)

After reading Esther’s stories I hope you can imagine life on a farm in Kidder County, North Dakota.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

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

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.

"Clare"

“Clare”

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.

1927-2016

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