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
Jim starts his life story in the middle. Can you point to one incident in your life that everything else turns around? For me, it was something as simple as getting off an elevator in Sevrinson Hall in 1970. There was before, and there was after. Jim had the same kind of experience, in the back seat of a 1953 Cadillac. Jim starts his letters with the story of life’s cusp.
USS Fremont – Bridge crew – September 1953
In the fall of 1953 Jim’s life was changing. He had spent more than ten years in the Navy, first during the war against the Japanese in the South Pacific, and then on more mundane duty stat-side and cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Soon, life would change from military to civilian, years after most WWII veterans had made the move. After being born in North Dakota, he moved East as a child. Now, in 1953 he was preparing to move back to Dakota for an adult life.
Growing up in Massachusetts and spending a decade in the Navy made an indelible imprint on Jim. He never lost the genteel nature that reminded me of Boston. He always used the slang of a Navy man. North Dakota blood flowed in his veins. The next fifty or so letters show all the traits that made him a fascinating character.
In this photo of the USS Fremont bridge crew, taken just before the events in the letter below, Jim is third from the right in the front row.
Originally published 2014-10-06
The USS Fremont (APA44) docked at NOB (Naval Operations Base) Norfolk, Va. after an 8 month cruise of the Mediterranean and its seaports. After the long months and confining spaces aboard ship I was more than anxious to get off, therefore I took 30 days annual leave. There were three modes of transportation available to me … Bus, Pane and train … but I decided, with some doubts and trepidation, to hitch-hike … from Norfolk to No. Dak!
The first house that I remember was a little pink bungalow in Jamestown along the James River. 455 3rd Street SW to be exact.
Front view of the Pink House.
To get to the master bedroom, you had to walk through the bathroom. In my youngest years the furnace burned North Dakota lignite. Not only was the furnace fired with lignite, but so was the water heater! It was a cute little thing, kind of like a Franklin stove with many pipes running back and forth inside. Grandma had to light the fire to get hot water.
On the west side of the house was the alley, and that had the coal chute to the coal bin. What a dirty mess! Weyerhaeuser Lumber delivered the lignite. They had a large yard down by the railroad depot with several buildings full of coal. They were right underneath the railroad, just south of the tracks. Apparently the hopper cars could drop the coal directly into the buildings.
My mother was an incredible gardener, and along the river was the perfect place to raise flowers and a vegetable garden. The front and back yards were full of iris, tulips, zinnias and who knows what else. My favorites were the tiger lilies with their orange blossoms and black seeds growing in the leaves. Besides having flowers, my parents planted a bathtub one summer to hold gold-fish. By the end of the summer the fish seemed pretty big to my eight year old eyes. Maybe that pond is why my brother Linn and I have back yard ponds today?
The property was split in half by the chicken house, where we kept rabbits. (Don’t ask.) The chicken house was a very large building. (It seemed that way to an eight year old.) There were cages for hundreds (it seemed like hundreds) of rabbits that my grandmother raised for meat.
We always had a cat in the house. One of them helped me get into trouble. Once after a snow storm, I was shoveling the porch by the French doors in the dining room. The cat was watching me through the panes of glass. It likes to play with the cat, so I feigned hitting him with the shovel. Too bad there was glass between the shovel and the cat.