Lucy at WDAY
When someone mentions WDAY in Fargo, this picture comes to me immediately. After Judy and I finished our first big date, the Fargo South Prom, I took Judy to work at the station. She worked at the desk in the picture.
Every phone in the building connected to that switch board. You can see the lights and a plug for each phone. Even the dial (used to “dial” a telephone number) is obvious, right next to the coffee cup.
1957 Sweet Adelines quartet – The Humbugs – Lucy is 2nd from right
Most of us start a new life at least once, and usually several times in a lifetime. The big choices seem to be voluntary. Who to marry, where to go to college, which new job to take, where to live. Making those decisions affects the arc of a life dramatically. Some of the choices aren’t voluntary, they’re forced on us. The day Lucy got the call from St. Luke’s hospital forced a big change in her life, and in Judy’s life. Lucy’s last letter described that day.
Once Lucy internalized that major event she faced hundreds of decisions that a woman of the mid-1950s usually didn’t have to handle. Those decisions were hard enough, but she was facing them alone; the love of her life was gone. As I read Lucy’s letter I try to imagine what that was like. Even with the friends and family around to help, from here it looks pretty lonely.
The good news is that Lucy was already involved in Sweet Adelines, a women’s barbershop chorus. That group grounded her, gave her so many friends and opportunities for years. When I met Lucy she was deep into Sweet Adelines, and so much of the benefit came from the quartet Betty suggested.
Here I was, a mother, a daughter and a $1000.00 life insurance policy I didn’t even know Ken had. No job – only helping Lizell work on a car auction sale – snack bar – not much to go on but still didn’t seem to worry about a lot.
When Lucy wrote these letters in 1991, she was still living in Fargo. We had various traditions then; sometimes we would drive to Fargo with a car full of kids and Christmas gifts, sometimes she would take the bus or airplane to Rochester. Either way, the celebration would be tons of fun.
In the fifties holiday trips were a little shorter. They were a big deal, not that frequent, but just as celebratory. For Lucy and her family the trip was twenty-some miles from Fargo to Gardner, ND. On a recent trip to Fargo, we thought it would be nice to see what Gardner looked like now. We made the trip between lunch and coffee, never got out of the car, and thought nothing of it.
As a nine-year-old kid, when we made the hour-long trip to Pettibone to visit my Aunt and Uncle, it was a huge deal. We’d pack the car and make all sorts of plans for the day long adventure. That same sense of adventure probably pervaded Lucy’s trips to Gardner to see the family for a holiday dinner.
It’s Nov 16, 1991, almost Thanksgiving time. Now that meant Grandma + Grandpa’s house. Mother Thurlow was almost child-like at holidays. She’d cook a big turkey, have every one’s favorite pie, home made buns and what a cook. She could take a cheap roast and make it taste so good. My Judy was always special to them, they loved her so. She never walked from the car to the garage until she was too heavy for Grandpa. When he’d come to Fargo for parts, he’d stop in and it didn’t matter if she was sleeping or not – he’d pick her up + love her. Continue reading
My new bike.
When I was six years old I had a shiny new bike that my mother let me ride anywhere at any time. That bike was the ticket to freedom. It was the best way to have fun and explore the town.
The best time of the day was an early summer morning. Temperature swings in North Dakota could be quite extreme – especially in the mornings. Early on the air was cool, and at that time of day the air seemed almost humid. As the sun rose higher, the greens of the trees and grass seemed to change by the minute. The sun poked through the trees and the heat of summer started to show. By late afternoon the heat stopped any active bike riding. I rode early, in the cool summer air. Continue reading
Jamestown, ND in the fifties was something special for me. I lived close to a great city park and just a couple of blocks from school. Only two blocks east of school was the Star Theater. There are some good stories that center on that movie house.
First grade was a big deal for me. It was the start of my independence. We were living with my grandmother, and she was an experienced mother. Even when I was in first grade, she knew enough to let me do some things that other, younger parents would never allow. Later on her permissiveness allowed me to have a wonderful high school experience, and she set the stage with what I believed I could do during the first year at college. Continue reading
About a half mile away from the Pink House, down fourth street, across the Pipestem Creek, in a cow pasture, was Cardboard Hill. Cardboard Hill is where we spent most of our time in the winter. Every kid in the neighborhood would make the rounds of Sears, Montgomery Wards, and Dodgson Appliance, looking for refrigerator or stove boxes. Lacking those, we’d accept just about any box large enough to break down and sit on. We’d haul those pieces of cardboard to the top of the snowy hill, pile on as many kids as would fit, then slide down the hill at top speed. No adults were anywhere near. The top of Cardboard Hill was about 70 feet above the flood plain. There was a short flat spot just before the huge (to a seven year old) drop-off into the river. That last steep part was probably only eight or ten feet, but that’s enough to get the heart racing. In summer the hill was just another cow pasture, but in winter after school or on a weekend afternoon it was alive with kids.
Rail cars on the second street bridge, just downstream from the Pink House.
Another of my favorite places to visit was the railroad. It was only a couple of blocks from our house. I’m told that even as a little boy (maybe four years old) Mom and Dad would occasionally find me sitting on the tracks in the rail yard, watching the switch engine build a train.
Those were the steam days, so there was a water tower and a coal loading station across the street from the “Beanery.” That’s where the crews had breakfast while waiting for the engines to be fired up and the trains to be assembled. It was always buzzing with working men and great smells. Continue reading
Ms Fairless’ class, 1956, Guy’s in the second row, second from the right.
Most of my grade school years were spent at Franklin Grade School in southwest Jamestown, ND. The school and playground took up three-quarters of a block. Almost all the block was gravel, except some stray crabgrass on the ball fields. A couple of ramshackle houses took up the remaining quarter of the block. Across the street to the north was Northern Pacific Railroad, a subject of a lifelong enchantment that you will read more about later. The playground was very barren. The only equipment that I recall of the entire playground was the slide. That was the place for one of my infamous escapades in the spring of first grade.
The first day of first grade was quite memorable. My friend Raymond, who lived in the cabins just to the south of us, was not one to want to leave his mother’s apron strings. That first day his mother had to sit in the cloak room (a door-less closet) at the back of the class room so that Raymond would consent to staying without crying. None of us thought anything less of him, as we were all a little intimidated by being away from home for the first time.
There were several farm kids assigned to our school. Since I was a town kid, those kids always seemed pretty strange to me. They rode the bus. They always wore overalls and even talked funny. We never saw them after school and they seemed to smell different. The boys were always the biggest and strongest of all the kids, but they never were in for fighting as some of the bullies from town seemed to be. Looking back on it they probably had to do chores every night and smelled of cattle.
One of my closest friends when we lived in the Pink House was Nathan B. He was really a lucky kid because his mother would make toast for him whenever he wanted it. They lived in a rented house between our house and the park, right along the James River.
One warm summer evening we had one of the most exciting times ever. All summer Nathan and I combed the railroad yards for half burned railroad flares. It was finally time to use them. We found a little cove along the river near his house and started lighting flares. We thought we were nicely hidden and private where there was no way that parents could see us.
I really don’t know what’s in a railroad flare, but they had to be bright so the engineer at the front of a fifty car train could see what the brakeman back in the caboose was trying to say. They may have had black powder, and some chemical that caused them to burn blindingly bright for a long time. Probably not something an eight year old should be playing with. After dark. With a bunch of friends. Let’s just say we had a lot of fun.
Even in those days I was one of the first ones to leave the party. My house was only a block or two away, so it was a quick run home. When I got home and looked up the river towards Nathan’s house there was an astounding sight. A warm red glow lit up the entire river, side to side and from water to tree tops. I could clearly see the other boys playing with the still burning flares. Anyone crossing the second street bridge could have easily seen what we were doing.
Little did we know that the way the river twisted around, the entire neighborhood could see us clearly. Since we were night blinded by the flares, we had no idea who could see us. Why nobody saw us having that much fun I do not understand.
The rail yards gave us boys a lot of fun experiences. By comparison, today’s railroad tracks are incredibly sterile and boring. Perhaps they’re a bit safer, too?