Late last summer I had to pick up a loaner car at the repair shop. (That’s another long and expensive story.) Everyone complains about the heat on a day like that one. Jeff pulled the car to the door as I completed the paper work, and he left it running with the A/C on to start cooling down the interior. I was in a hurry that afternoon, so I ran out, hopped in the car … and paused. Something smelled funny.
I waited a moment. Not that bad, I thought. Another moment. Wait a minute! That’s left over cigarette stench! No, it couldn’t be. There are “No Smoking” stickers right there on the dash board. I’ve got to get home soon! The smell’s not that bad, right?
Jim presenting to a credit union meeting..
In last week’s letter Jim had gone through the hard times of an unlikable job. It dragged him through the summer and finally, thankfully, ended in the fall. Then the North Dakota Credit Union League hired him. That turned out to be the best job of his life, and a significant influence on me.
Again, Jim traveled throughout the state, even making trips around the country to Credit Union National Association events. He made good friends, worked for hard-working, energetic people, and helped regular people who needed a financial lift. Compared to his life as a clerk in a Sears catalog store, becoming a full-time consultant was a stretch for him. Surrounded by good people, learning an entire new industry must have been a fascinating challenge.
I was in my prime high school learning years while Jim was at the League. He gave me the opportunity to work there and learn skills that have stuck with me since then … almost fifty years ago.
Fifty years. Really? Fifty?
Over five weeks elapsed from the time I left the Employment Service until I landed another job. Luckily my recent experience there helped me secure a position with the North Dakota Credit Union League as a consultant or Field Representative. The League was the official organization of the 100 or so credit unions in North Dakota.
Louie Havelick, US Army, 1952
Last week you read the last of the stories Louie wrote in 1991. Louie’s letters end with him meeting, marrying Grace, yielding their first son; me. Grace’s letters end with the same wedding. To the casual observer that may seem strange. To me, it’s not a surprise at all. That wedding may have been the high point of their relationship.
As a child, I was never close to my dad. He spent his time elsewhere. He came home from Korea when I was about three. Louie loved to tell me about his return, he came through the front door and asked “Where’s your Daddy?” I immediately ran to the bedroom and brought out his Army portrait. Touching, in a sad way.
He and I didn’t spend much time together. Somewhere in the mid-fifties Louie took me downtown to White Drug for a malt. White’s was a fabulous place, including the little restaurant coffee shop in the back, a full soda fountain with a counter and all the things you’d expect in a fifties soda shop. The drug store was more of a general store, selling everything from post cards to window fans and toasters. Think Walgreen’s with a coffee shop. That’s where I got a malt with my Dad, one of a handful of memories of good times with him.
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.
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.
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.
Grace at the Headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca Park
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.
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.
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.