Grace with the schoolteacher’s horse.
I’m going to focus on the musical “talent” Grace focused on in this letter. The horse makes a good story, and her sister Esther has a wonderful story about another horse they owned on the farm by the name of Topsy.
One important difference between my life as a child and my life now as a parent and grand parent is the presence of music. As Grace writes in this letter, she wasn’t much of a singer. There wasn’t much music in the household. She passed that missing music trait down to me as a total and complete lack of musical ability. I like to tell people the only musical instrument I’ve mastered is a CD player.
In the seventh grade all the kids in our junior high school class had to take part in at least one music class. Mine was the “Glee Club,” which I loved. We had a lot of fun learning old favorites. Every now and then I catch myself singing the Caisson Song, or the Happy Wanderer. Try and get that ear worm out of your head now. I’ll wait.
To get into the Glee Club, each of us had to spend a few minutes with the director to figure out which part we could sing. I failed miserably. He played a scale and all I had to do was sing along. I thought he was going down the scale. I was wrong.
Not long after that I got the music bug and tried to learn, but the raw talent just wasn’t there. I’ve had to console myself with the ability to play a CD or Pandora. We have a beautiful old piano played by the grand kids, and Judy’s Irish band practices in the living room regularly. There’s almost always some sort of music happening here.
The year I was in sixth grade two very exciting things happened. The lady who had been teaching our school needed a place to store her piano and board her horse. What kind of a deal Mama made with her I don’t know but we had the horse several years and then had her colt to keep. Continue reading
Every now and then we get to hear more about a story. One year, long after Grandma Fanny and my mother Grace had passed away, my brother Linn and I traveled to Oregon with Grace’s photo album to learn more about the family history. It was an incredibly satisfying trip. Esther, Linn and I sat with the album for days looking at each picture. Esther would start talking, Linn would ask some questions, and I’d do my best to capture what they were talking about.
One photo was of Skippy the dog. Esther had fond memories of this little dog, just like Grace did. Here’s what I wrote down that day, capturing the story from Esther’s point of view.
I don’t remember where he came from or exactly when he showed up on the farm, but he was a pretty puppy. He weighed in at about sixty pounds in his prime. He was a solid, muscular dog, mostly terrier and some bulldog. He could be aggressive if he didn’t like you, and nasty when necessary. He didn’t like the guy from the farm to the west. Whenever he came to the property we had to restrain Skippy, tie him up.
One winter Grace made a fur collar coat for Skippy. He was a short-haired dog and got cold in the North Dakota winters. She started with a woman’s medium blue wool coat. She measured the front legs, fit it over the back and to the tail. It had buttons and a collar that fastened under his chin. The dog liked the coat and asked for it when it was time to go outside during the winter.
That’s one version of the “Skippy Story” and it’s completely different, but exactly the same as the one Grace tells below. I’d love to hear Grace’s version of how she made the coat for Skippy, but that one is lost to time. How many stories do we need to hear before the complete truth comes to light?
Skippy came to live with us when I was ten. He was the first dog Mama ever allowed in the house. Guess she couldn’t resist that cute little golden tan + white puppy. It may have been in the winter, too – otherwise I can’t imagine why she would have let us keep him in the house. He grew up being loved dearly by the whole family. Henry made a little harness for him so he could pull the sled. He would get so excited when we’d put our skates on the sled + harness him up to go skating down on the lake.
One time in the spring … Continue reading
Grace and Dandy
I’ve always been a cat person, and for most of her life Grace was, too. This story focuses on a cat that lived on the farm for a long time. Dandy was the animal that Grandma Luehr told us about many times. There are a lot more stories about Dandy that I just don’t remember. When I was a kid we had several cats that looked a lot like Dandy, but they weren’t quite as friendly as Dandy appears to be in this story. The pet’s name that comes to mind is Mr Jinx. Sadly, I don’t remember any stories about him.
I remember one time when I was a little kid there was so many toads. There must have been thousands of them as they were everywhere. Most years we would see one or two in the garden but this time was something else. Continue reading
Fairview Cemetery, Kidder County, ND
We recently celebrated the life of my favorite aunt, Esther. We left her ashes at the Fairview Cemetery, next to my mother (Esther’s little sister) and her mother and father. Fairview remains one of my favorite places.
If you have read this blog lately, you know that I’m a product of the North Dakota prairie. Fairview Cemetery, just south and west of Lake Williams, ND, demonstrates the stark beauty of the prairie. If you stand in the middle of the cemetery and look in any direction you won’t see much human activity outside the cemetery fence. No buildings, few fences, fewer roads (all dirt), no cell phone or power line towers. It’s quiet. Almost eerie. Relaxing. The solitude encourages communion with those resting there. I love the place. Continue reading
There’s something special about meeting someone nice for the first time. If that spark is in the air, you want to know everything about the other person. By the end of the evening you know all sorts of things about the new someone. Those stories become the foundation for a new, wonderful, relationship.
That sharing of stories didn’t happen between my mother and me until I was over forty years old. So many things seemed more important for those first forty years. I needed my allowance a day early, or it was time to get a driver’s license, or my own life filled my brain. Then I met Judy and stories about the past no longer mattered. Stories about Judy became my goal.
Since Grace died twenty years ago we’ve visited the Kunkel farm where she grew up a couple of times, and I’ve often visited the Fairview Cemetery where she’s buried. In the summer of 2015 the extended family gathered at the Luehr plots in Fairview to bury Grace’s older sister. The wind blew off our hats, and swept our words onto the wheat fields. Grace and her parents experienced that same wind, on those same hills in the first half of the twentieth century.
As much as the climate was similar, just about everything else was different.
To my four dear sons, their wives + children,
I want to start this story with some events that shaped my life before I was born
The story I’m enclosing was told to my sister-in-law Elaine. It’s about the farm where we lived in Buckeye township south of Lake Williams, North Dakota. Continue reading
Most of us were born in town, in a hospital, and grew up on a street with sidewalks and other houses. My mother had none of those luxuries, and a childhood quite different from mine, starting with where she was born.
Grace on the farm
Grace grew up on a farm in the middle of North Dakota during the Great Depression, just south of Lake Williams, ND, south of Kunkel Lake. These are the letters she wrote to me in 1991 with her memories of life on the farm, going to school in Steele, ND, and the first couple of years she lived in Jamestown, ND. The stories end with her wedding to Louie Havelick.
Kidder County hasn’t changed much since the days Grace lived there. It might be worth your time to visit that part of North Dakota. A highlight for me is the Fairview Cemetery where Grace, her mother and other relatives are buried. From the top of that hill, there are almost no signs of civilization. No visible buildings, no houses, few roads, but plenty of sky and birds. One day Judy and I were at the cemetery alone and a solitary pair of pelicans circled overhead the entire time we were there. They were marvelous birds, quiet and graceful. We thought “Maybe that’s Grace and her mother?”
Sunset is an especially captivating time there. Quiet really sets in, which is a surprise since it’s quiet during the day. The wind dies down and stars come out. For a city kid like me who’s interested in astronomy, there is nothing in the world more captivating. Uncountable stars, and the Milky Way. Stars and no sign of civilization. (There may not even be a cell tower nearby.)
Grace’s first letter relates a story of Native Americans on the prairie and how the railroad influenced rural development.