I’m afraid it’s a perfect day

Kutzky Park, Rochester MN

A perfect morning in Kutzky Park

I love my morning walks to coffee. Thanks to vacations and other complicating factors I hadn’t been to my favorite coffee shop for three weeks. This June morning was the perfect time to get back into the routine of walking the trails along Cascade Creek. A family of ducks swam among the rocks looking for breakfast. Bikers (always looking so healthy) smiled and greeted me warmly. The temperature hovered in the mid-sixties, with the clear sun promising a warm day.

Since the last time I’d been along the creek the wildflowers and naturalized areas on the bank had fully grown, the flowers overwhelmed me with beauty and fragrance. I couldn’t count the varieties of grasses and flowers.

What’s to be afraid of? Everything seemed so clean and well planned. The parks department maintains the edge of the trail, keeping the weeds at bay. In one flower bed they were half way through clearing overgrowth from around the milkweed. No wonder so many people get out early on a summer morning to enjoy the path.

I love taking my grand children over to the park, along the same trail, to the playground. There are usually several other little kids with moms or dads playing on the equipment. Their happy smiles remind me of when I played in Klaus Park in Jamestown, North Dakota. But something has changed. Continue reading

Quartets

The Humbugs

The Humbugs

Singing with the Sweet Adelines was an important part of Lucy’s life. In earlier letters, you’ve read about how much it meant to her. Judy sang with SA choruses, too, in Fargo and Rochester. Both of them joined quartets, vying for honors at competitions around the country. In Lucy’s case, they went to Europe, too.

There’s another societal change noted in this letter that needs explaining. Lucy describes her part in a quartet called the “Sugar Beats.” When they formed the quartet three of the gals were single. In this letter Lucy talks about how two of them fell in love and had to quit the quartet, even though they were fun and prize-winning.

Maybe I’m stretching it a bit, but did husbands keep tighter reign on their wives in the fifties? Did they break up the quartet just so the newly married could stay home to cook and clean?

I ask this because even in the seventies being female was a challenge. In 1976 Judy worked for a dental office. The day the dentist realized she was pregnant, becoming obvious by the swelling belly, Judy was out of a job. That doesn’t happen today. I bet women don’t have to quit the chorus or quartet just because they got married, either!

Lucy writes:

Ken was gone – Judy and I had settled into routine. I decided not to work full time as long as Judy was home and so small.

Ken had decided mother should retire so he built a small appt on the side of our home. It had a bath, kitchen, small bottle gas stove, a small closet and a Hide-A-Bed. After Ken was gone we cut a hole in the wall so Mother didn’t have to go outside to come to my house. She spent very little time in her room after that. She kept candy on her dresser for Judy. She was 72 at that time. I felt it was too bad she had to start raising another at which point she said “She is my Purpose.”

Betty Wroe + I belonged to Sweet Adelines and the chorus had a quartet and Betty said “If they can do it – so can we” so start we did. We had our first quartet with Pauline Argenziano and Shirley Johnason and Shirley got married so we had to start all over.

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Starting Over

Rochester MN 1925 City Directory

Rochester MN 1925 City Directory

Two things in this letter resonate with me. The first is Lucy’s description of the City Directory. My children may have heard of them, but their kids certainly have never seen such a thing. When I was a kid the City Directory was the first class version of the Telephone Book. The City Directory had much more information, things like who lived in the household and what they did for a living. In a sense, it was a corporate census of the town. I didn’t get to see one very often, as they cost a lot of money, but every business man needed one. They may have been a source to determine credit-worthiness. They disappeared in the nineteen eighties, after a hundred year run. Nowadays they’re a good resource for ancestry hobbyists. They hired unskilled people to make the rounds of homes to gather information; a good entry job for Lucy as she tried to get into the labor market.

The second thing that brought back memories was Lucy’s mention of Main Avenue. When I moved to Fargo in the fall of 1968 to attend North Dakota State University one of the things the guys in the next room taught me quickly was where not to go in Fargo. Main Avenue was one of them. There were some interesting bars down there, not the least of which was the Pink Pussycat. For several blocks along Main there were nothing but bars, the Salvation Army and the Bus Depot. They were not the place for a naïve teenage boy to hang around. The flop house era was just ending in those days, and single old men wandered about, drunk most of the time, waiting for their big break.

For Ken to help those guys out was incredibly charitable. For Lucy to go door to door down there would have been a real challenge.

These last couple of letters from Lucy have been difficult for me to read, and even more difficult to comment on. She came through a challenging time in her life, to come out the other side as a successful and joyful person. She mothered a wonderful girl who became the most wonderful grandmother any child could have. Lucy’s next several letters will lift you up even more than the last couple have dragged you through the nadir of her life.

Lucy writes:

Being left with a daughter and mother to care for was only the beginning of my concerns. I married out of high school and had never had a real job that paid a living wage.

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