Sunday, March 20, was a day of celebration as I was released from my job at the church. But rather than retire, I am on my way to refire.
In fact, retirement was so far from my mind, I almost missed the send-off cake that day. I was setting up my loom for new dishtowels when the secretary texted me, then called and said, “Did anyone remind you about having a cake for you between services.” I ran into the bathroom and said, “Are you almost done in the shower? I have to get to church, it’s my retirement cake today and I forgot.”
Wow. Well, here we go. It's taken me a year to trust that I can maintain my lifestyle without committing to a "job." I have more than 50 years on my work record and still recall the first five-dollar bill I earned. I babysat for three children for.25 an hour; one was an infant. If you can do the math, that's 20 hours of sitting, and because I could, I washed dishes and picked up the house.
From there, I moved on to the Gackle Café with LaVonne Deutscher. She became a second mother and mentor "foodie" for a mere .75 an hour. (If memory serves me, and I think it does.) but at that time, you could order a hamburger steak, potato, salad (Your choice of lettuce with dressing or cottage cheese and canned fruit.), dessert, bun and coffee for $1.75.
I went to school and worked in Moorhead, then Garrison, then Mandan. When I hit $6 an hour, I thought, "I'm rich." I'm laughing out loud right now.
Over this past year, I have been evaluating what I want to be doing. I'm thinking I want out of everything so I can focus on my weaving and growing a great garden for the market. So, slowly I have been learning to say no. I'm not quite there yet.
I have so many ideas, including a book that's half done, some sewing, and, more importantly, becoming a better grandmother. My husband and I also want to do some traveling during the winter. As the summer progresses and the garden requires more attention, it should be easier. I hope.
I'm going to be honest here. I heard the Independent and all the last of the BHG enterprises have been sold. Mike and Jill have always been good to me, so I thought, "Well, this is my opportunity to let go of one more Monday morning commitment." But then – while I was out of town last week staying with my daughter in Huron, S.D., I received an envelope from the Hazen Star. I thought to myself, okay, they are either asking me to stop writing or maybe sending me a check for my fine work.
Instead, it was a note from Bernice Weigum. She asked Sharon to send me a recipe for Sun Pickles and a small hand-written note of appreciation for my articles. There are three area folks, Bernice, Judy and Sharon, and North Dakota's Secretary of State Al Jaeger, that appreciate me. I love it.
I got many more words, and now as I reFIRE my intentions in life, I will have a bit more time to write and hopefully publish another book. I'm just saying a little encouragement goes a long way in this business, and I LOVE to hear from you all. So please keep it coming.
Thank you, loyal readers, whoever you are. I'm here for another day.
It is no surprise to anyone that computers have changed the way we do our jobs. I remember the first time my husband said to me, “we are getting email at work.” It must have been sometime in the late 80s early 90s. I was not impressed.
First of all, “what was email?” Secondly, I love paper, pens, pencils, crayons, paints, etc. How could we possibly live without those items?
Some years later, when my children were in middle school, I was a single mom, and I had to quit being a fiber artist to take a “real job” that I became a newspaper editor. It was something on my bucket list, and I loved the job after I learned how to fill a 16-page paper each week by myself.
Each week, my email (yes, we all succumbed to a new form of correspondence) was full of press releases from various organizations vying for an opportunity to be placed on one of my pages. It was a sure bet if the press release contained a local name.
One day, the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) communications person called to reprimand me about using North Dakota State School of Science (NDSSS) in my paragraphs about student honor rolls and such.
“I’m not sure how that could have happened,” I said. “I went to that school in the 70s.” Our conversation continued as I explained to him half-jokingly that I didn’t file my paperwork to get my diploma after returning from work-study in Washington State.
“Oh, that would make a great human-interest story,” he said because as communicators, we are always seeking that next great human-interest story.
We continued talking, and I explained the years I attended and what I did for work-study, and he said, “I’ll get back to you.”
It was the same week, and this is what he told me, “Ummmm. I am sorry, but I checked with the administration, and we don’t offer that program anymore. So, I guess you cannot graduate from a program that doesn’t exist anymore.”
He sounded disappointed.
I laughed. It was true. When I began the graphic arts program at the NDSSS, our education began with platen presses, lead pigs and hand-set type. From there, we moved to paste-up with paper and wax, hand-drawn lines, photo-sensitive paper headlines created one letter at a time and large drawers of layout sheets. Then came the darkroom with chemicals and large negatives. Photos were shot into halftones with screens and plenty of expertise.
We also learned how to strip negatives, use rubylith (look it up) and burn plates – also using chemicals.
Printing was a tactile career and one I fell in love with immediately. I became the editor of the NDSSS yearbook for the two years I attended. And, now – here we are.
There were perhaps many such careers that computers have commandeered. Being a painter, lithographer, typographer or graphic artist was a specialized trade. It used to be to make a copy of a recipe, you would have to go to the library and pay a dime. Now, we can all print, design, and publish at the stroke of a key.
Not to complain about computers, I use one every day, but somehow, I feel like my career choice has been watered down, and specialization is a thing of the past. I’m still finding typos in PowerPoint presentations and brochures, sometimes cringing at the layouts that forgo all the formal training of an educational program that no longer exists. I guess we all be “obsolete” after a while, but it is something to think about because apparently, it happens to everything.
Even though my dad is still with us, I noticed some of the letters in my mother's heart-shaped Valentine's Day box did not have that familiar blue and red airmail border, so I peeked.
Yea, I said I wasn't going to, but I love old stuff. The envelope had a printed return address and a three-cent stamp – purple, canceled and dated June 7, 1944. Inside was a ledger-sized typed letter written two days earlier. The periods poked through the paper from the backside, so I think these letters were typed individually by Mr. Ed. Doerr's secretary.
Who, might you ask, is Mr. Ed Doerr? Well, Mr. Doerr was the county superintendent of schools in Ashley. My mother's letter was addressed in the care of her father, Albert C. Meidinger, Zeeland, N.D., congratulating her on graduating the eighth grade.
A copy of a certificate of completion torn from a book that I can only imagine looks like a cashier's duplicate sales book with three subjects:
The transcript continues, but the grades end there. The letter begins with congratulations and a diploma for the eighth-grade students (I went back and looked, but I couldn't find it). The second paragraph included this, "Because of the war conditions; tire and gas shortages, we will not hold rural graduation exercises this year. With the European invasion started now, we hope that this terrible war will be over by next year so that all of us can again live normal lives once more."
You know what I am thinking. What is a normal life? Even my parents didn't have the privilege of "normal" lives when they were young. Let's not bring war into this story yet.
Mr. Doerr encouraged the seventh graders not to become discouraged about their grades and return to complete their education in the fall. He suggested the eighth-grade graduates find a high school to attend. My mother, however, must have moved on.
After marrying and having five children, my mother never underestimated the importance of education. My oldest brother graduated from Kulm High School, joined ROTC at NDSU, and served in the air force until he retired. The rest of us were told we HAD to attend one year of college before making decisions on careers, marriage, etc.
I wanted so badly to be an artist like my mom. It's all I ever thought about. It wasn't an option at that time as there was no good to come from a "job" that didn't produce food or children. I tried. I loved photography and did most of the photos for the high school books. It would have changed my life to have had the means and courage to attend the Brooks School of Photography in Ventura, Calif. Like that school and the program I did attend at NDSSS (now NDSCS), it's no longer available. That's maybe a story for next week.
Even after I graduated and left home, my mother never gave up on her education and completed her high school GED somewhere between work and raising my twin brothers, who were eight years younger than me.
Some years back, I wrote a column about my mom and said she only had an eighth-grade education. Well, I got reprimanded heartily for that faux pax. Following in her footsteps, if I don't learn something new each day, I feel I have not accomplished much. Currently, I am working on learning tapestry weaving techniques. Think of that what you may. It's still learning. I suggest you find something to learn until winter melts in spring when we can learn to garden together.
Here is a scan of a yearbook photo from 1973 of my science teacher, Mr. Bryan Dinkins. I wish I had paid more attention to my studies back then; of course, I didn't realize how much I used math and science in baking, sewing, weaving and almost everything else I do.
Yep, the gig's up. The cat's out of the bag, and I am not referring to my famous Chevy-advertising cat, Walter. I've been made.
If you read this column regularly, you may have noticed my science teacher, Mr. Dinkins, Mr. Bryan Dinkins. On Friday, I received a phone call from one Judy Dinkins, who, through some thorough detective work, deduced that I was the same Sue (Susan) Kaseman. How does one find someone they think they know in this electronic age. Well, first you read the paper, then you think, "I have to know that person." Then, remembering that I have mentioned Gackle before, Judy digs out a yearbook from I would surmise 1972 or '73. That provided my maiden name but not my contact info.
Somewhere along the line, Mrs. Dinkins, who also taught school in Gackle, recalled my mentioning Charity Lutheran Church, where her brother-in-law and his wife, Paul and Beryl Dinkins, attended as members. So, Judy called the church, and they gave her my phone number, and we had a delightful conversation.
During those 20 minutes or so on the phone, I discovered my influential science teacher passed away in 2006, at the early age of 62; used to live in Alaska, was an avid birder and was as brilliant as the "mad scientist" we all thought he was. That memory-stirring call triggered my brain's search engine. And off I went down memory lane.
Here I was, back at Gackle High School, slamming lockers and bounding up and down the worn wooden steps of an ancient three-story brick building, never paying as much attention to my teachers as I should have. Little did I know that someday I would be calling on geometry and biology as I sewed, wove and gardened. I guess growing old is part of my education.
It's hard to imagine that your teachers have lives outside of the classroom when you are a student. I remember Mr. Dinkins taking us to the park to practice keeping field notes; he also jumped off the table in the science classroom once for whatever reason I cannot recall at the moment. (This has been confirmed as a lesson in gravity.) He gave us the assignment to design a spaceship which most of us missed the mark as he said only a round spaceship could sustain life in the vast void above our heads. That's where I wanted to be – out the door, in the sky, experiencing all things not contained in our small community of Gackle. Yes, I love Star Trek, Star Wars and Grogu.
Without realizing Mr. Dinkins lived in Alaska, he talked so much about the life contained in a tide pool; I have always wanted to go to Alaska. Maybe I will get there someday.
And as long as I am in the confessional mood, I will name-drop a few more of my acquaintances. After high school, I attended the North Dakota State School of Science – in the graphic arts program with Brian Unterseher from Hazen. One of our printing press instructors was John Carlson, who graduated from Garrison High School. I also worked in Garrison for Mr. Don Gackle for a short time.
Reminiscing is bittersweet and sometimes filled with regrets. You know, questions you didn't ask, acts of kindness left on the table, words you cannot take back. We are, after all, only human, and I have not yet learned something new each day of my life. That being said, the saddest quote I have ever come across is this African proverb, "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground."
Now that's something to think about if you still have grandparents. Everyone has a story to tell, and life is so short, please don't pass up the opportunity to get to know someone or something new every day.
PS: Mrs. Dinkins (Judy), I found my gardening notebook and mechanical lead pencil, but not until Sunday afternoon. Thank you for the memories.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.