Dave Moen, Jerry Ray and Keith Lura at a 1972 wedding.
We’re going to a funeral this week. It’s not the first, but it’s a first in another way. It’s a big enough deal to provoke me to write one quick post on my “vacation.”
Last month we went to Don’s funeral. Don was the pastor at our church a long time ago, back in the seventies. He had a full and wonderful life, over eighty years of living. His funeral was a testament to his contributions to this world. That funeral felt like a celebration. We’ve been to a lot of those celebrations over the years. Parents. Grand parents. Uncles. All those old people. That seems like the way of the world. Old people die.
Eight years ago we buried a nephew. Barely twenty years old. Nobody expected this, he was too young. Who would have thought that a brain tumor caused his headache? A tragedy. Our friend Sonia was taken by breast cancer not that long ago. She left behind beautiful young children and a wonderful, grieving, husband. Not much to celebrate there; young people aren’t supposed to die. Most don’t. Another tragedy.
This week’s funeral is similar in one way, cancer was the proximate cause of death. But this wasn’t someone from our parent’s generation. This wasn’t the tragedy of a young life cut short. It was one of our own. My age. I went to college with her.
Could it be that another transition has started? Continue reading
Does it feel like something new happens every day? Are too many things going on? Ever wanted a day to just sit quietly and wait for the next day? Even though I’m retired with “nothing to do” the number of things going on can be overwhelming. Then we get to a letter like this one from Lucy. Her life was just as full from the beginning.
Most of her letters have been focused on one topic; Sweet Adelines, a school story, meeting Ken, or sending Judy to school. Now we get a letter that’s kind of like my day; a series of disconnected items, every one of them fun and exciting in its own way. But there are so many little stories that I really don’t know much about.
Grandpa’s garage in Gardner
A wonderful part of reading Lucy’s letters, and those from Louie, Grace, and Jim, has been the revelation that they all had lives. Just regular lives, full of challenges. Their challenges were different from ours. We each face them in our own way, coming out the other side in good shape, happy to go on for another day. Having gotten a glimpse of Lucy’s life in this letter of one-liners, I’m left with a need to spend time asking her about each little story.
I should have done that ten years ago.
Grandpa Thurlow’s first job was in a blacksmith shop where he learned about metals this is what made him famous for his welding expertise. I saw one of his report cards and he was a straight A student. I always thought of him as someone special.
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.
Judy (R) Christmas 1959
Lucy had lost her first daughter, then her husband. Now it was time for little Judy to leave the house for school. Like most mothers she probably had mixed feelings about letting a child head out the door to go to school that first day. There’s pride in knowing that your daughter has learned how to handle leaving the house. There’s fear, knowing that so many dangers lurk just down the street. Lucy knew all too well what could happen if she took her eyes off her Judy, even to let her go to school.
On top of that, Judy gave Lucy a glimpse of independence and strength. Again, those conflicts reared up. My daughter is powerful and intelligent. She doesn’t need her mom. Lucy doesn’t say what she did after watching Judy skip down the street to school. She didn’t have to. We know.
That story repeated itself many times since that late summer morning in 1958. Riding the city bus downtown to the clinic. Heading off to the big dance with that new college boy. Moving to Rochester where the doctors had told her to go home and make arrangements for her ailing first daughter. You can look at any event in life as a disaster in progress; or see it as a potential success unfolding in front of you. Lucy always picked the positive view. That’s a tough example to live up to. I’ll keep trying.
My daughter was truly the light of my life. I loved her so. She was about to start school. I took her the first day to enroll her. The second day I wanted to walk to the corner and see that she arrived safely at which time she said “Mothers do not walk their children to school.” I stood inside the house and watched her leave Mom behind.
NDANG 119th FIG – 1967 – Jim is standing on the right
Does everyone have one persona for public display and another for personal use? 1965 was a long time ago, and I wasn’t terribly perceptive, but I do remember Jim moving from the AFRES to NDANG. Jim exuded confidence. He was ready for the transition, looking forward to weekend drills in Fargo with a larger unit. I didn’t doubt his enthusiasm for a moment.
Today I read through this letter and got a glimpse of the trepidation he felt, sitting across from a superior officer, waiting for a decision. The Captain had probably decided long before the two of them met in that spare office at Hector Field. Jim didn’t know. All he knew was that his future was on the line. Jim’s plans for the eighties and nineties were in the hands of one man.
Jim taught me many lessons in the forty years I knew him, and one of them was a positive outlook and memory. Whatever decision the captain made that day, Jim would survive and succeed. He could look back on the experience and know that he had done his best, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. In this case, everything worked.
I had the benefit of a couple of tours of the NDANG facilities, some weekends in Fargo, and being proud to say that I knew one of the men who kept the Air Guard fighter planes in the air, roaring off the runway past my college dormitory every day.
Capt. James N. Buzick, Personnel Officer, 119th FIG, NDANG, Hector Field, Fargo, ND … My records were open and before him on his desk. Before the old unit was totally disbanded the command had checked into possible openings other units, especially the Air Guard and at that time there were about 15 or so positions available in various career fields and ranks. Of 75 men and officers about 20 or so were recommended for enlistment in the 119th FIG.
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!
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.
Ear worms. They are the most irritating thing that goes on in my little brain. From this letter, it’s clear that my grandmother hated them, too. When my mother’s friend planted this ear worm it caused a fuss. What makes me chuckle at this story is that Grandma could plant ear worms with the best of them. Every now and then she’d break into song for a moment. The one that hangs with me so many years after she left us is a familiar novelty tune.
Mairzy doats and dozy doats
and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, Wooden shoe!"
I wasn’t known for musical talent, so had some trouble figuring out what she was singing about. Years later I’d learn the English words to the song. With luck neither of these irritating songs will stick to your brain after reading this post.
When Esther was going to school in Fargo at the business college she stayed with Gladys Johnson who had a daughter Joan about my age.
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.
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.
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.
Judy with high school friends at the reunion.
We had a great time at Judy’s high school reunion last month. It brought back wonderful memories of the reunion five years ago. Back then, several of Judy’s friends joined us for an extra curricular activity in downtown Fargo. A friend of hers played bodhrán in an Irish band, Poitin. As we listened to the band in Dempsey’s Pub, Judy got more and more excited. Watching her friend Bonnie play that drum sparked something visceral in Judy. I should have known what was about to happen.
A couple of months later Judy wanted to go to Hobgoblin Music in Red Wing. She came home with a bodhrán. That led to hours of practice, learning how to play. You know that YouTube has videos that can teach almost anyone almost anything, including Irish drum. One thing led to another, and Judy joined a session group in Rochester that played Irish folk tunes every month or so. We’ve watched Irish bands at the local Irish Fest for the last couple of years, too. Then this winter Larry and Melissa needed a new drummer. Judy was ready to drum, and ready to sing harmony. Now we are traveling all over Southeast Minnesota for festivals and celebrations. It’s been a joy to watch this develop from that evening at Dempsey’s Irish Pub in Fargo. Continue reading