The day I met my parents

Lon, Louie, Mara and Guy at Louie's apartment c. 1988

Lon, Louie, Mara and Guy at Louie’s apartment c. 1988

I met Louie in 1986 at his high school reunion. My daughter Mara was five and fell in love with him immediately. That sparked my interest. She knew something about the old man who had eluded me for over forty years.

While I mostly hung around the edges of the reunion, we did go to the big dinner on Saturday evening. Judy and I watched a man laughing and talking with his buddies, a man I’d never seen engaging with others in a rational and happy way. They were talking about things they had done in high school, mostly football stories. That was my Jamestown High School. I’d been to Blue Jay football games in that very stadium. Why didn’t I know about all that stuff? Why hadn’t I seen him as a person? He was a person with a life. A person with history. A young person with friends.

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The Job Corps

Jim with the 1952 Cadillac he describes in his letter.

Jim with the 1952 Cadillac he describes in his letter.

Buddhism teaches that the natural human condition is suffering. The Buddha lived a life of privilege but suffered. He learned techniques to accept and overcome the suffering. Jim wasn’t much for religion, certainly not for some Eastern mumbo-jumbo religion, but he understood suffering and how to overcome it.

I was only fourteen and barely knew Jim in 1965. Even then I could understand that Jim was going through a tough time. Something had happened at Cal’s, my favorite Office Supply store, causing him to leave. Jim never told me exactly what went on; how much do you tell a fourteen-year-old anyway? That summer was difficult. We went camping and driving in the Cadillac (I was learning to drive!), but Jim was always talking about work, that there were opportunities and possibilities. He did it in a way implying that there was something better out there.

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Grace and Louie Wedding

Wedding cake. In the dining room of the Pink House. Kitchen is visible through the door.

Wedding cake, in the dining room of the Pink House. The kitchen is visible through the door.

In her letter a couple of weeks ago, Grace mentioned that there was an “old-fashioned” refrigerator in the Pink House when they moved in. This week, while writing about her wedding to Louie, refrigerators come up again. That juxtaposition illustrates something about Grace’s character that she learned from her mother. It’s a character trait that she passed on to me. My brothers are afflicted with the same fault: practicality.

Jim and Lucy taught me about love and kindness. Grace was all into making life functional. Some use joy to ease the pains of life, some figure out how to work through the difficulties to make the joy possible. Grace found joy in knowing that her family would be happier if she smoothed out some of the rough edges of life. Smoothed out with new slip covers on the couch.

Grace’s practicality paid off for me. She and Louie invested a lot of time and energy in putting together a wedding photo album and keeping mementos of the day. Being able to flip through the pictures and cards today lets me touch the joy and anticipation they must have felt on those summer days in 1949. The abandon they felt while running around Itasca Park in northern Minnesota reflected on Judy and me as we enjoyed our honeymoon on exactly the same ground.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Itasca Park, MN

Grace at the Headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca Park

 

Grace writes:

We had a small wedding cake with real yellow roses around it. Afterwards had pictures taken at King Studio.

Itasca Park and Minneapolis made up our honeymoon. I wore a yellow pinwale corduroy outfit I had made. Had a jacket, skirt + slacks with white shirts.

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I Loved Going to Dances

Grace and Louie wedding

Wedding in the yard

Unlike football and other sports, I did follow in Louie’s footsteps when it came to watching pretty girls at the dances. The dance Louie describes probably took place at the National Guard Armory in downtown Jamestown. When I was in high school most of the dances were there, too. It was a great place for dances, with a large stairway in the front to linger on, watching people come and go.

The first dance this brings to mind is one at the American Legion club two blocks from the Armory. The front lobby was a great place to stand and talk to friends. One particularly good-looking girl found me there one evening. Unlike Louie, I didn’t start this encounter, but the discussion led to a years-long dating experience. Some of my letters describe those days.

The other dance I think about was the one Judy and I went to in the spring of 1970. Like Louie, this dance experience led to a wedding the next year.

Louie doesn’t mention it directly in this letter, but there’s something he’s quite proud of in this letter. Since this was a short romance, ending in marriage six months later, his friends all assumed that there was a sense of urgency involved. He told me many times that I was born well beyond the statutory limit for a first-born son.

Louie writes.

I use to love going to dances when I was in my prime – the big dance to go to was the New Years Eve Policemans Ball.

The new years of 1948-49 was one of these and as usual, my roving eye and me were at their best.

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Christmas Shopping

Merry Christmas from Guy - 1953

Merry Christmas from Guy – 1953

One of the reasons you don’t see me on Facebook contributing or reading much (beyond publicizing this blog) is the number of people who whine and complain daily about political topics. There’s the Tea Party people who are offended because of IRS regulations. The anti-gun people get irritated when the pro-gun people insult them. The anti-abortion crazies get excited when the liberal wackos feel offended. Don’t get me started on the Christians.

One target of the whiners is welfare recipients. Give ’em a drug test, they say. Where do they get off thinking they need a smart phone or Internet access? Get a job already. The anti-welfare complainers irritate me. It’s that irritation that keeps me from reading Facebook posts and, especially, from responding to political diatribes on Facebook.

Why would I be so sensitive?

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The summer of ’48

Grace in 1945

Grace in 1945

Not much happened, she says. Then the letter continues with two of the most important things that happened in her life. Was that juxtaposition intentional on her part, or did Grace decide in mid-sentence to start sharing something big from 1948?

I don’t recall exactly when I learned that Grace dropped out of high school, it may have been when I read this letter back in the nineties. I’m still amazed. Even though she dropped out, based on how she encouraged me to go to college, she clearly knew the importance of education. All four of her boys went on to college, even though she didn’t finish high school.

She says that Mama didn’t make much of a fuss. That may be because neither Fanny nor Ted even started high school, let alone finished. I believe that only one of Grace’s older siblings went for education beyond high school. Maybe she was a success by the standards of the day?

The second “earth shattering event” of the letter is the big wedding. The wedding continues in Grace’s next letter; watch for it soon.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

The summer of ’48 went by with no earth shattering events that I can recall. School started and I didn’t. I became a Hi School dropout. Doesn’t seem that Mama even made too much fuss about it. Work wasn’t to available either, but I did work at a 5+10 store for a few months over Christmas and then at Preds’ for a while.

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Lefty Ulrickson

Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House

Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House

Louie had several jobs as a teenager. The one that interested me the most was the job working for the railroad. He started with the easy, physical tasks, eventually moving to hostler and watchman, driving steam engines at the end of the line.

I’ve always been fascinated by steam locomotives. As a six-year-old child I would disappear from the house now and then, found later by Mom or Grandma over in the rail yards watching trains being switched. I’ve already written about my time in the engine house and at the docks where they loaded coal, water and sand into the steam engines.

Louie had the misfortune of getting a job at the railroad near the end of the steam era. In the old days a steam engine needed service at least every one hundred miles. The new diesels, brought on-line in big numbers in the early fifties, could run hundreds of miles without refueling. The automobile and better highways ate into passenger traffic, meaning railroads had to shrink. With service, freight, and passenger traffic dropping, Jamestown would never be a hub of railroad activity again. The hundreds of employees shrank to almost nobody by the time I left town.

Louie was proud of having learned to drive a steam locomotive, even if it was just around the Y. If you’ve ever seen inside the cab of one of those machines you’d understand why he was proud.

Louie writes:

My first real job in Jamestown was with the North American Creamery managed by “Lefty” Ulrickson.

I was hired as a flunky, helping deliver pop, ice cream and beer to local businesses.

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The Fall of 1947

In the fall of 1947 Grace gets to know the Havelick family, but somehow manages to elude meeting the man who would become the love of her life. Her best friend is Dorothy, Louie’s little sister. You’ve heard about her and seen her pictures in Louie’s previous letters. In that small town, living in the same neighborhood, I don’t know how she could avoid meeting Louie, but that meeting will have to wait for another letter.

Mary Jane McCurdy

Mary Jane McCurdy

One reason Grace and Louie didn’t meet was that Louie was married to Mary Jane McCurdy. They had a daughter, named Sunnie Jane. Grace mentions the baby in this letter, but does not go into the back story. The received history, not written down, but shared occasionally, was that daughter Sunnie Jane died because of complications of an instrument delivery by an incompetent doctor. She is buried in the family area of the Highland Home Cemetery just north of Jamestown.

My daughter had a spiritual connection with her grandpa Louie and her would be aunt Sunnie Jane. It’s something beyond my understanding, but if you ever send Mara an email, you’ll have a clue as to the depth of her feelings.

On a lighter note, I find it pleasing that twenty years later I went to high school in the same building as my mother, perhaps going to classes in the same rooms. In the last sentence of this letter Grace ends her high school career. She adds a little more detail in the next letter.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

The fall of 1947 I started my junior year of high school in Jamestown. I got acquainted real soon with the girls that lived southwest where we did. We all walked to school together + would go to the teen canteen together after school + sometimes to White’s Drug.

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Milk Separator

Memories are strange things, they don’t flow like a river. They’re random, showing up when you least expect them, often when you least want them. This jog backwards in the story happened because Louie and I spent some time talking about his stories after he had finished the project. He then realized that he hadn’t talked about something that apparently made a difference in his life.

Louie describes a milk, or cream, separator. In the forties farmers separated cream from the milk right on the farm, before putting the milk into ten gallon cans to ship to town by train. Now farmers store whole raw milk on the farm and take it to the city in 10,000 gallon trucks. (OK, a trailer truck only carries 7,000 gallons, but to make the story sound good I said ten.) Everything is automated, there’s no need for a green horn teenage boy to run the machines and carry milk cans.

Louie describes the machine’s parts and that triggers my memories of taking apart alarm clocks when I was a kid, then memories from just last week when my grandson attempted to put a square toy into a round hole. Some things just don’t change.

Louie in 1959

Louie in 1959

Louie writes:

You asked me about the milk separator – it was, at one time, my alarm clock.

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Demise of the 9523rd AFRES

In this letter, Jim writes about the end of his time in the Air Force Reserves. After moving to Jamestown he committed to the military, primarily to earn the retirement income. After years of active duty, he felt that a regular income was within reach. All he had to do was stay with it to reach the thirty year mark. Now they tried to take it away.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

These were stressful times, making it an easy bet that the military would be around for a long time. The Cuban Missile Crisis had been in the papers just a couple of years earlier. Even many of us who lived through that time didn’t really understand how serious that threat was. Recently I heard a B-47 navigator give a talk about his experiences during those tense days in October of 1962. He told us about sitting on the runway with live, armed nuclear weapons. He talked about the route they would take to Russia, refueling over the Atlantic, dropping the bombs in Russia, refueling again over Norway, then returning to somewhere in the States. The most unsettling part of his talk was his description of a talk he had with his wife and young children before he took off. They decided where to meet … “after the war.” They actually made plans to meet at a particular motel in Texas. Gen. Curtis LeMay, who Jim talks about in this letter, wanted to “bomb the hell” out of the Russians. There was a need for these Air Force Reservists.

After Jim defended our country against the Japanese empire, this must have been a simple extension of his duty, with the added benefit of a possible retirement check. Assuming we were all still alive.

I was only fourteen when all this happened, so was oblivious to much of the drama. I focused on the fact that he had friends in the unit and wanted to stay with them.

This was a big deal, Jim had several really good friends in the unit. This was shortly after I met Jim, and I was pretty young, and did not understand the concept of retirement or career, I just knew he thought it was important. I saw that some of his best buddies were in the reserves, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

Jim writes:

The future of the 9523rd AFRES was doomed …. the unit to become another relic of the past. We were to be disbanded. Following studies and evaluations by the Air Force it was determined that there was no foreseeable future military need for these units. This move involved about 8,000 reservists in 44 states and the District of Columbia. This was to be a forerunner to the merger of the Air Force Reserves into the Air National Guard.

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