November 12, 2002
Windy out. Feels good. Went for a walk with Kathy. Big staff meeitng this morning. Lots to talk about. Jim Dullenty, a former editor, is demanding a retraction on our Butch & Sundance issue. More on that tomorrow.
What do you do when you discover your Grandma was a babe? It’s a tough one. It kind of knocks the props out of your vision of the universe, if you know what I mean.
My grandmother on my father’s side, Minnie Hauan Bell, could speak Norweigan fluently. Her favorite sayings were, “What in the Sam Hill?” and “Heavens to Betsy.” I think she also was fond of saying “Uff-dah,” but that may have more to do with me being a faithful listener to Prairie Home Companion than actual memory. She told me that when she was little, her mother told her and her brothers to be good or else “Jesse James will come to get you, and he can ride down the center of the road with his reins in his teeth and shoot coffee cans off the fence posts.” She told me that little family tidbit back in 1984 and I thought it was so great because the actual Jesse James came thru that part of Iowa (Winnebago County) in 1876 when they tried to rob the Northfield Bank, and the idea that Norweigan parents would use that incident to keep their kids in line, as a kind of Boogie Man, is nothing short of fantastic.
I remember Grandma Bell as a great maker of breakfast. She would start my grandpa (and me) out with an orange, a half a grape fruit, then a bowl of Grape Nuts and then she brought out a platter of bacon, ham and “lacy eggs.” We called them lacy because she fried them in the fat from the bacon on high heat and they got real brown and lacy around the edges. My Grandfather ate at least three of these eggs and bacon and ham every day, and I guess the high cholesterol finally got to him because he konked out at 92. Minnie, who stayed right with him in the egg department, lasted until her mid-nineties.
I spent a glorious two weeks with my grandparents in 1971. I hitchhiked from Arizona back to Iowa for my cousin’s wedding and stayed on to go fishing. Every day, my Grandpa would bring out the tackle box and two poles and we would drive in his ‘64 blue Ford to a different lake to go fishing. Sometimes we’d slip over into Minnesota (five miles north), and other times he’d show me some secret little lake behind a corncrib, down some rutty road. Grandma packed us cheese sandwiches on homemade bread. And of course coffee. Not your mamby pamby coffee, but coffee you can stand pencils in. When we got home, Carl and I would clean the bullheads out behind the garage and then Grandma would fry them up for dinner (what we call lunch in the West). We did this every day for two weeks and I never got tired of it!
Anyway, I’m doing a book on Cole Younger and I intend to use her Jesse James quote and I wanted a photo of my Grandmother when she was younger to go along with the quote. So I emailed my cousin Dr. Mike Richards and his wife Ann (who’s wedding we went to back in 1971), asking if his mom, my Aunt Doris (my father’s older sister), had any photographs of Minnie when she was young. About a week later, I got a packet from Des Moines, and inside was a photo of a very young Minnie Hauan. She’s a babe! The right photo is how I remember Grandma Minnie, and the left was taken when Minnie was about eighteen or nineteen.
"Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician."
—Old Vaquero Saying