Road trip!

Jamestown, ND, 1966


We were a couple of kids. Patty and I wanted to go to a basketball game. We’d been to lots of games at the high school. They’d all been at the school we went to, the one a few blocks from my house. This was an away game. We wanted to drive over there on a Friday evening. I’d been on trips before, but this would be the first time on our own.

We were both loners, not a lot of friends. There never was a discussion about getting together with a group of friends to make the trek, we just wanted to go. Just the two of us.

Looking back on it, I wonder how we ever figured out how to make it happen. The freeway did go from Jamestown to Valley City. This was the mid sixties, wasn’t it? Compared to what we have today, so much was missing. I probably had a map. It would have been the good old paper map produced by the North Dakota Tourism board. It had detail on every exit of the freeway, so we knew that there were only a couple of options to get off the highway to get into town. The map also had an insert describing the town. It might have had the local high school marked. Continue reading

NDCUL 1966

Jim worked with a lot of people at the NDCUL, including a team from Uganda.

Jim worked with a lot of people at the NDCUL, including a team from Uganda.

The new job at the North Dakota Credit Union League was exciting for Jim, and that excitement shows through in this letter. This was where he belonged. He became the expert, traveling the state to help people organize and run credit unions.

As mentioned in earlier letters, I learned a lot from Jim’s job at the league. He showed me how to deal with people, teaching both by example and through evening conversations during commercial breaks in the Red Skelton Show. Jim dealt with a lot of people, some nicer than others. One of the nicest people worked as a secretary at the league. Judy was just a couple of years older than me (and drove a hot 1957 Chevy).

Their special relationship lasted from that first meeting in the office to the end of his days in 2007. Watching them helped me understand how to treat other people, especially a woman who deserves love and respect. Jim was part of Bob and Judy’s wedding, a guest at their holiday meals, part of the children’s celebrations, and a friend for life. Jim had us in Rochester and Judy’s (not my Judy, the other one) family in Jamestown.

He was one lucky man.

Jim writes:

The Director for Personnel of the State Employment Service was also the Treas. of the IAPES Credit Union in Bismarck. Even tho he knew I had been hired by the league some two months prior he called to inform that I was still on the register and that there were several openings in the state for interviewers … would I be interested in Valley City at $430 a month? Now they tell me! Again I was in a quandary!

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Moving to Denver

Eric writes:

My mother was a pretty woman and I remember a few men dating her.

The man that she wound up with was Norris Torkelson. I remember going out on his boat with Mom and my brother to pick chokecherries and go on picnics.

Eric, Norris, Chris, Grace, Linn on their wedding day 1966

Eric, Norris, Chris, Grace, Linn on their wedding day 1966

In December of the fourth grade, we moved to Denver, Colorado. Mom and Norrie were married the evening of December 30 so they could get the income tax deduction for the year with us kids.

My oldest brother, Guy, elected to finish out his last year of High School in Jamestown living with Grandma. Linn, Chris and I started a new life in Denver.

We moved into a three-bedroom apartment at 5104 West Kentucky Avenue in Denver. My Mom found a job working at the dry cleaners at the end of the alley. Chris and I started school at Belmont Elementary School. The neighborhood we lived in was pretty bad. Linn was going to Kepner Junior High and kept getting beat-up by Mexican gang kids. Eventually, he couldn’t take it any more and ran away from home. He wouldn’t come back unless he could go to a different school.

So we moved to 1699 South Winona Court in Denver. It was a nice four-bedroom house in a better neighborhood. I went to Force Elementary School at the other end of the block.

As we were moving into the house on S. Winona Ct, Bruce Scott came over. He lived in the house next door and was the some age as me. We were fast friends for many years. One year, he even went with us on a fishing trip to Canada. Bruce caught one of the biggest fish of the trip. Bruce’s Dad would take us fishing in the mountains for rainbow trout almost every weekend all summer long. This was when I became friends with Bruce’s younger brother Tom. I would stick up for him when Bruce and his friend, Jack, would pick on Tom. We don’t see each other often, but we still keep in touch to this day. In fact, as I am sitting here writing this I just got off the phone with Tom. He is a great friend.

— Eric H

What to do with my life?

What to do, what to do? Junior high was where I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had read every science fiction book in the library and most of the astronomy books as well. So it was obvious; I would become an astronomer. This held for a short while, until I figured out that nobody much hired astronomers and they had to work at night. That was not for me. Could there be something else? Science was interesting. I had no artistic abilities. What would I do? Weighty questions for an eighth grader. The insides of things fascinated me. Toys. Clocks. Radios. Televisions. I started taking them apart every chance I had. Radios and televisions became my favorite. I learned about the tubes and parts that made up most home radios of the fifties and sixties. These were little radios that sat on the kitchen counter and played only AM stations.

From Wikimedia commons. Public Domain photo.

A vacuum tube, similar to the ones I played with.

I was also the proud owner of an old AM broadcast and shortwave radio, one of the old floor standing models that you see in pictures from the thirties. That’s the one I used to scan the dial for clear channel stations like KOA in Denver and KOMA in Oklahoma City. I strung a long wire from the radio’s antenna connector into the back yard to get a better signal, then looked up possible stations in the amateur radio magazine to see which frequencies the clear channels broadcast on. I enjoyed listening for their call letters, and hearing the latest music (even on WSM) and news updates. Stations only broadcast their call letters on the hour and half hour, so it was a challenge to verify which station I was listening to. Static and distant thunder storms added to the challenge.

By the time I was in high school I had taken apart enough of the table radios to know how they worked and how to repair them. Just about every radio set used the same design, based around the “All American Five” tube set. (Nerds, please look it up on Wikipedia.) I could turn on the radio, look in the back and usually guess which tube was bad or what the problem was. Numbers like 50C5 and 6AV6 were second nature to me. Radios soon gave way to television sets. They were a little more complicated, a couple dozen tubes instead of five. Some high voltage stuff and the picture tube. I loved getting two nonfunctional sets and ending up with one that worked. These were a little tougher to diagnose, but I got pretty good at identifying which tubes to check at the drug store.

All this activity presented an opportunity. Maybe TV repairman was in my future? I was making good progress figuring these things out on my own. There were a couple of repair shops in town, as televisions broke down regularly. Repairs were usually quick and relatively inexpensive. Maybe that would be the life for me? Continue reading

Why am I at this concert?


University of Minnesota Marching Band in Rochester

What in the world brought me to this place? The other night Judy and I were at a University of Minnesota Marching Band concert at the Civic Center. It was a great concert, but it got me to thinking. Given my family history, why would I be at a music event?

Music, theater, and the arts were not part of my life growing up. Some families have pianos, fiddle, or record players to keep themselves entertained on long North Dakota winter evenings. Not us. The closest thing to a musical instrument my grandmother could play was the radio. It was on just for the news and weather.

As Judy and I were listening to the great band music I continued thinking about how I got to this place, liking music, but with no background and no ingrained talent for music. A number of things came to mind, and most of those interests continue to shape my life today.

One person I thank for my interest in the theater is the father of one of my first girlfriends. Patty’s dad was a professor at Jamestown College. He was quite the guy, and probably good for another post. Something about a TV remote control and a 1958 Rambler station wagon. Back to the story at hand.

William_shakespeare_dmProfessor G approved of my dating his daughter, but he apparently thought I needed a little culture. He often gave Patty and me tickets to the Shakespeare series at the college. They were well done productions, and gave me a lifetime interest in the Bard. Every year Judy and I now go to at least one play at the Winona Great River Shakespeare Festival. That’s almost fifty years of seeing these plays, and I eagerly await next year’s festival.

That doesn’t explain how I got to a concert.

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It’s Long Distance!


Photo courtesy Wikipedia

One of my favorite movie scenes is from a movie whose name I don’t even remember. It’s one of those ancient black and white movies that show on PBS in the middle of the night. It takes place in the early 1930’s, in a beautiful mansion. The matron of the house, dressed for dinner in a flowing dress, rushes to answer the phone. It’s an ornate Art Deco contraption. She answers with a most welcoming “Hello,” listens briefly, then, putting her hand over the mouthpiece, she turns and calls out to her husband in the next room “Honey, it’s long distance!” in a voice that expresses wonderful amazement at something marvelous and unusual.

When I was growing up telephones were different from today. They were clunky, generally quite ugly, and depended on qualified operators, and in later years, thick books of names and numbers. When we lived at the pink house I would occasionally call my best friend Mark. We didn’t push a few buttons on a tiny box from our pocket, I had to go to the northeast corner of the living room, pick up the handset and listen for the operator to say “Number please.” Mark’s number was 3024.

One more thing about that number, it was for a specific phone nailed to the wall at their house. I wasn’t calling Mark, I was calling his house. When someone from the house answered, they would go find Mark, if he was in the house.

Let’s compare that to today. I call Mark’s personal phone. He answers. Unlike in the past when I would ask for a person, Mark in this case, today only Mark will answer the phone, and I ask him where he is. Back in the day a phone had a specific place in the home, today it’s closely held to his person.

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Get Me Home!

Last week I wrote about working for the dry cleaners in Denver until Mr. Fuller decided my time there was done. The rest of the family was on vacation in North Dakota, so I had to figure out how to get up there to join them.

In 1966 we didn’t have a lot of money, and calling anywhere outside of town was an expensive proposition. As I recall the price was in dollars per minute. Compared to today, that’s at least ten dollars a minute. So before making a phone call, decide what you’re going to say!

Airplane Ticket - Bismarck to Denver - June 1967

Airplane Ticket – Bismarck to Denver – June 1967 – $34

I called and arranged to get back to North Dakota, which wasn’t trivial for a sixteen year old without a car. The agreed upon solution was for me to fly standby on Frontier Airlines from Denver to Bismarck, 100 miles from Jamestown. You may ask why a phone call was expensive, but airline travel was affordable, and I can’t answer you. Standby fares were considerably cheaper, but still probably cost the equivalent of hundreds of dollars today. Plus, the destination airport wasn’t anywhere near my destination.

It was settled, I’d be flying standby the next afternoon. (Standby meant I’d be the last person onto the airplane, if there was an empty seat, significantly discounted from the regular fare.) My mother’s co-worker took me to the airport, to stay with me until the airplane left the gate. That was a good thing, because at the very end a paying passenger took what should have been my seat. I was bumped after being given a seat assignment, and after I called Jamestown to say it was OK to leave the house to pick me up at the Bismarck airport. Continue reading

Take Me to the Cleaners

Dry cleaning operation similar to the Spot Shop

Dry cleaning operation similar to the Spot Shop

Recently on my way to coffee I walked by the back of the neighborhood dry cleaner and laundry. They had the door propped open as it was hot in there, what with all the steam and hot presses going. As I walked past the open door someone gave a suit coat a big shot of steam and a rush of hot air greeted me warmly.

We’ve all heard that smells can instantly transport you back to childhood. That smell of that blast of hot air and steam took me back to Denver, 1967. My mother had recently remarried and moved there with my three brothers, while I stayed back in Jamestown, ND. The following summer I came out to stay with the family until school started again in the fall. It was my first experience living in a big city, Denver was huge compared to the little burg of Jamestown.

Grace worked for a dry cleaners in the strip mall next to the apartment complex. It was a little place, with only a handful of workers and equipment. As I recall, the name of the place was the Spot Shop. Besides dry cleaning, they did alterations and repairs. My mother was a skilled seamstress. The boss would take some measurements, order fabric, and Grace would custom sew men’s suits to fit, so the shop was a good match for her skills and it got her a job there for a while. Until things got weird and she left. You’ll understand shortly.

Their apartment was just east of Sheridan Blvd on Kentucky Avenue in west Denver. The apartment is still there, as is the strip mall. Looking at Google Maps, it looks like not much has changed except the signs on the strip mall. I recognize the neighborhood precisely.

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Learning to Cook

There are some things in life that I consider essential to know. One of them is cooking. When I was growing up, Jim didn’t know how to cook, my mother didn’t cook much, and I couldn’t figure out how to learn how my grandmother cooked. Grandma could really put together a fine meal, but it was all her. I watched, and may have learned more than I knew. When I did ask I got an answer like “add flour until it’s right.”

Jim's copy of The I Never Cooked Before Cook Book

Jim’s copy of The I Never Cooked Before Cook Book

Since neither Jim nor I knew how to cook, and we were going camping now and then, if we were going to eat well, we had to figure something out. For his birthday in 1966, I bought him the I Never Cooked Before Cookbook. That may have been one of the best gifts I’ve ever given anyone. He used that book for everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Everything. That book showed up the other day when I was cleaning out our attic. It was dog eared, well worn, full of notes and clippings, all tied together with a fat rubber band. The last time I looked, it was still available on Amazon! The reviews (from 1999 and 2000) were universally five star positive. I agree.

After I met Judy and we got married we ended up teaching each other how to cook. There were a lot of evenings of tuna noodle hotdish with Kool-Aid. Those days are done. We knew the basics, but there was a lot to learn.

In Rochester we discovered Community Education and took several cooking classes. That really got us into cooking in a big way. We started buying cook books and learning more about fine cooking. That’s when I bought Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of my favorite recipes in the book was for baguettes. It’s a sixteen page, six hour creation that makes the most incredible bread you have ever had. So good that in a management class on negotiation I traded a copy of the recipe to Bill C for two Susan B Anthony dollars. We were both pretty satisfied with the results of the negotiation, but he got the thing of value. Continue reading