The Race Horse and Piano

Grace with the schoolteaher's horse.

Grace with the schoolteacher’s horse.

I’m going to focus on the musical “talent” Grace focused on in this letter. The horse makes a good story, and her sister Esther has a wonderful story about another horse they owned on the farm by the name of Topsy.

One important difference between my life as a child and my life now as a parent and grand parent is the presence of music. As Grace writes in this letter, she wasn’t much of a singer. There wasn’t much music in the household. She passed that missing music trait down to me as a total and complete lack of musical ability. I like to tell people the only musical instrument I’ve mastered is a CD player.

In the seventh grade all the kids in our junior high school class had to take part in at least one music class. Mine was the “Glee Club,” which I loved. We had a lot of fun learning old favorites. Every now and then I catch myself singing the Caisson Song, or the Happy Wanderer. Try and get that ear worm out of your head now. I’ll wait.

To get into the Glee Club, each of us had to spend a few minutes with the director to figure out which part we could sing. I failed miserably. He played a scale and all I had to do was sing along. I thought he was going down the scale. I was wrong.

Not long after that I got the music bug and tried to learn, but the raw talent just wasn’t there. I’ve had to console myself with the ability to play a CD or Pandora. We have a beautiful old piano played by the grand kids, and Judy’s Irish band practices in the living room regularly. There’s almost always some sort of music happening here.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Grace writes:

Dear ones,

The year I was in sixth grade two very exciting things happened. The lady who had been teaching our school needed a place to store her piano and board her horse. What kind of a deal Mama made with her I don’t know but we had the horse several years and then had her colt to keep. 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

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

The War Years

My new bike.

The rabbit hutch’s roof is visible behind my new bike.

Every day fewer people personally remember the privations of the world war. The sad part is how long it took those who lived through the war to tell us younger folks about what it was like to live through the chaos of true war. I heard very little about the war until we received these letters from Lucy, along with the ones from Jim, Grace and Louie. Recently some veterans in Rochester have sponsored a monthly series of recollections by veterans, participants, and civilians who experienced the war in person. Listening to these older folks recount their stories moves me deeply.

I experienced the war second-hand. In Lucy’s letter below she talks about rabbit meat sold in the butcher shop. Rabbit was a familiar food. We were a poor family. Meat was a luxury. My mother and grand mother were farm folk. Raising live stock came to them naturally. There weren’t any city ordinances against it, so they raised dozens of rabbits in a shed behind the house. They built cages three deep along one wall. The cages were made of chicken wire, so the waste would drop through to the floor. Mom and Dad used it as garden fertilizer each fall, I assume.

We didn’t play with these rabbits. We ate the meat. Maybe it tasted like chicken. No big deal for me then. Lucy disagreed.

Lucy writes:

You couldn’t drive up to the gas pump and fill up the tank. It was rationed. Everyone had a book of stamps. You had stamps or the attendant would refuse to fill your tank. We did not have self service stations at that time.

Continue reading

Ice Breakup

Neighborhood kids straddling the Pipestem Creek

Kids from Louie’s neighborhood on a “bridge” straddling the Pipestem Creek. He may be one of them.

Nothing stirs a young man’s heart like springtime in North Dakota. In this story Louie tells us about yet another escapade that could have gotten him into serious trouble, or worse. As usual, a similar thing happened to me when I was about nine, but absolutely nothing untoward happened.

I was walking home from Mark’s house. He lived just east of Klaus Park and I had to walk through it to get home. Well, not through it, but on the road around it. The little pond in the middle of the park called out to me, even though I was late for dinner and it was starting to get dark. The temperature had dropped during the day, enough to form a layer of ice on the oxbow pond in the park. Oh! Joy! Smooth ice to slide around on!

This was the strangest ice ever. In my nine years of skating, ice had been hard every time I fell down. Not today. It bounced up and down with me. As I ran and slid across the ice it bowed up in front of me. Ice does that when it’s thin. Very thin.

Nothing bad happened that day. My brother Eric tells a similar story with a different ending. But you came here for Louie’s stories, not his kids’ stories.

Louie writes:

Thinking back to when I was in my very early teens. I found that I done some very stupid things and got away with them – about the most stupid thing took place in the spring of the year in Jamestown. Continue reading

War is Declared

FDR delivers the declaration of war request to congress.

FDR delivers the declaration of war request to congress.

World War in 1941 was not the same as the relatively little dust up in the Middle East in my lifetime.

In 1990 our president didn’t ask us for any sacrifices. In the forties everyone gave up something, often they gave up a lot. Lucy talks about some of the privations they endured. There was only one of them that I can really relate to.

In 1973, during the Vietnam war, I was called up for a draft physical. We stood around in the Fargo Army physical exam facility all day, just like Ken did in Lucy’s letter. Fortunately for me the outcome was a little different. I plan to write an entire story about that day in the near future. Let’s get back to the forties.

Lucy writes:

Being newly married, then have the threat of war was not easy to deal with. We would have to leave our little house – by the way – Ken was working on a car at the garage and a customer stepped on the starter and Ken lost the end of his finger. The insurance from that paid for our house – along with overhauling cars in the yard.

Continue reading

Shocking the Grain

1972b Slide0077Every summer, in the middle of August, the hottest and most allergy prone time of the year, our local History Center hosts a festival with threshing machines, grain shocking, antique tractors and more. We’ve always loved going to these events, and taking the grand children. The dusty fields, the smoke of those old tractors, the thumping of the engines, the whir of the huge belt between the tractor and the machine, everything makes a cacophony of noise and light that keeps me entertained for hours. Louie had to do the work, all day, for pennies.

Pennies bought a lot more in 1940 than they do today.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Louie writes:

Each fall when I was growing up, the late 1930’s and early 1940’s there would be the big harvesting of the summer crops in North Dakota.

Continue reading