By Greg Haubrich
Attorney At Law
(An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Snap!)
In order to really consider my Dad you have to be watching a Twins game. It’s Twins 3, Red Sox 0, Morneau up, bases loaded, one in, none out. Morneau raps sharp single through 2nd base gap, driving in Dozier. Scott Diamond is throwing very well. Twins hitting stinks this year but has been good tonight. Mauer, fer cryin’ out loud, went five games without a hit. He leads Twins in BA and his average is like .290. Center fielder Hicks is actually hitting .120 and still in the starting lineup. Offense is less than anemic, yet they’re stickin’ around the .500 line so maybe something good will happen. It’s still early in the season.
Dad missed Mary and Mike’s graduation from high school because he had to watch the Twins game on TV. He missed Nancy being born because he was outside in the car taking a nap. Someone came to tell him he had a new daughter and he said something like: “okay, tell Jeanette I’ll be in after a bit.” Probably went back to sleep with his feet hangin’ out the window … . You’d think he was a complete failure. He was the best dad you can imagine. We all adored him.
In 2007 we were in the CICU, Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, in a hospital in Grand Forks. Dad had called me up and said he’d had some atrial fibrillation, rapid heartbeat episodes. It made him feel dizzy. He’d already had a quad bypass a few years before. I said I better come up there. You go north on I-35 and either continue on US 281 to I-90 or angle up to Kansas City and around it to I-29. Sioux Falls, Fargo, north to Drayton, take a right, cross the Red River at the little town that got flooded out, take a left onto the Angle Road and after about 20 miles you’ll be in Hallock. 1200 miles, 16-18 hours. Two days easy, one day hard driving. That night I visited with my parents and Nancy (who was home from San Francisco) and had dinner with my family. I slept upstairs in Grandpa Leo’s old spring bed in the west upstairs bedroom. It was winter: March, I think.
Dad woke me up about 6:00 a.m. “Greg!” He was calling me from downstairs. “GREG!!!” I started waking up and came around to the top of the stairs. He was down there, my Dad, our Dad. He said: “It’s happening again.”
I put on clothes and drove him to the hospital. I watched them put him out and put “the Clappers” on him and saw his body jump from the electrical jolt. His heartbeat was 180, even after that. Doc Larter, who had been Dad’s student in high school, came out to tell me they were sending him to Grand Forks. Doc looked worried. Lee Pemberton took our dad to Grand Forks in about 40 minutes by ambulance. It is 75 miles and it was in the snowy winter. He must have been busting 110 mph. (Thank you Lee.) Dad survived. It took really good care and a trip on a National Guard Air Evac unit from Grand Forks to Mayo Hospital, and a new medical plan that was brilliant, and worked, and gave Dad another three years to live and be our Dad. As we were discussing the move from Grand Forks to Rochester I had to yell at him; he wouldn’t use his hearing aids in the hospital. I said: “Make a deal with you. This is going to work, and you will be there for your 80th birthday party we all planned.” He shook my hand and said: “That’s a deal.” We talked about it later. I had been seeing him deteriorate day by day. If it kept going that way he was going to die. He told me he never considered that possibility. Strong thoughts, good outcomes.
A few months later we had that reunion. Boy, that was some party. All the cousins, sons, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, Mom and Dad, friends and relatives from everywhere. Pretty much everybody liked our Dad. He was honest and charitable. He was a good provider. He worked hard and loved his kids and took good care of us. Mom, and Dad, and June and Ronald, and Earl and Barbara and Paula, my brothers, my sisters, my Cheryl, our relatives and family friends …. You know how it is: Dad and Mom had been married 57 years and had lots of friends and no enemies. None.
Dad was born on the prairie and lived there all his life. His mom died when he was seven, and he was raised by Grandpa Leo. It was a two-story frame house in the middle of a flat nothing. In the winter it was desolate. Dad used to tease us that we were soft, that he had to walk three miles to school and wrestle bearcats on the way, but in fact there was nothing soft about how they grew up in those days in northern Minnesota. The house had a wood stove that they stocked up at night and was dying embers by morning. Earl and Dad had bearskin and horsehair blankets to keep them warm. The tractors had steel wheels. At night they listened to Green Lantern (Dad’s favorite), news, music, sports, serial soap operas, and variety shows on the tube radio. The kitchen faucet was a pump with a handle. The bathroom was a two-holer. When I was a kid I swear they had the Sears & Roebuck catalog in there to read and shop before you tore off a couple pages to wipe your butt with. Imagine doing that when it’s twenty below. Imagine just having to get up in that kind of cold and put on enough clothes to go out to the outhouse, then take off enough clothes to do your duty, then using frozen Sears catalog for its intended purpose …..
They had a blizzard in January 1949. It hit without warning, came storming out of the Canadian prairie in a sudden screaming blast. Dad said he was home from college and it was a nice day in early January. Grandpa Leo was out in the barn. Dad and Earl were in the house. The temperature dropped thirty degrees in ten minutes. Earl and Dad got parkas and such on and found their way to the barn. By the time they got there you could not see your hand in front of your face. Leo said he was going to wait it out in the barn, but now the boys were there they would go back to the house. It was about forty yards from the barn to the house. They got lost. They could not see or stay oriented. They realized they had missed the house when they stumbled into the ditch on the north side of the farmyard. They turned around and held on to each other and blundered back step by step, and somehow bumped into the west side of the house. They had turned at least three-quarters of a circle and thought they were going straight. That blizzard lasted three days and killed over a hundred people. You have to be in one to believe it. It’s incredible. We had one kinda like that around 1966. Even in town you couldn’t see across the street. The wind howls and shrieks, the house shudders and shakes, but inside we played games and got cabin fever and had warm meals and watched television. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been for three days like that isolated out there on the prairie. And then, you have to shovel out and find a way to get a tractor and truck started when they are frozen cold groaning metal. Here’s how they clear snow these days:
Dad was very proud of his service in the Navy. He volunteered or was drafted after high school, near the end of World War II, and went to boot camp in San Diego. He was selected for a new program, IBM computers, which were first developed in conjunction with the Navy for defense analysis and personnel management and nuclear research calculations. The war ended, and Grandpa Leo needed help on the farm. He pulled some strings with a congressman, and Dad like many others got “demobilized” not too long after the Japanese surrendered.
After graduating from college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, Dad taught school at Lancaster High School: business and history. He was a good teacher and popular, but he had to take time off in the fall and the spring to work on the farm. After six years the new principal or superintendent told him that wouldn’t work anymore, so for the next ten years or so he was a farmer. After Grandpa Leo died, it wasn’t so good for Dad. That was the only time I ever saw him openly cry, was at the kitchen table when his Dad had passed. Our land was good, but too flat. You couldn’t drain the potholes, and if it rained at the wrong time it would flood them out and kill that part of the crop. About the time you had a good crop in the field nearly ready to harvest a storm and a wind would come along and lay that wheat right down on the ground where it was just murder to try to swathe it and let it dry and pick it up with the combine. The growing season is short in north Minnesota. If you got your crop in late, or had an early freeze, the quality of grain went Kaput. So, in 1967 or 68 Dad quit farming, rented out his land to the Swensons, and later sold it to a guy from Iowa who applied “modern farming methods” to land he didn’t know anything about and went bankrupt in about five years. Before he sold the farm Dad asked me if I wanted him to keep it. I thought about how I’d have to share with my younger brothers and sisters, plus half the farm was Uncle Earl’s, and I told him to go ahead. Dad regretted selling that farm for the rest of his life. It was his home place, his roots, his childhood, his memories. Beside that is the fact that right after the sale the price of land started escalating out of sight, and these days is worth literally twenty times what it was in 1970 — so it really wasn’t a very good business decision. But how could he know? He was taking care of us and considering what was best for his family’s future.
In 1960 Dad was invited to give the commencement address to the Lancaster High School graduation ceremony. When he died Mary found the typewritten, hand-edited script of his speech. It was about how to practice the habits of being a good person each and every day. A few years ago I read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. It was about how to practice the habits of being a good person every day. I’m not saying Dad was Benjamin Franklin, but I will say I would rather have had my Dad for a Dad than any other man who ever lived.
Dad was very, very intelligent. He was a creature of habit. When he got up he made coffee, went out and got the paper, and sat down and read the news, sports, and weather. He ate oatmeal and hamburgers. He was a stoic. He was generous and thoughtful. He treated us all equal. He was a great example of how to be a man, a husband, and a parent. When I was young he was a Republican, and pro-American. Vietnam was part of the global struggle against Godless Communism, necessary and justified by the “Domino Theory” — you know, knock down Vietnam, Thailand falls, Malaysia is next, then Australia, and pretty soon Russian soldiers will be not-so-politely knocking on our front door in Hallock, Minnesota. Our Uncle Ronald saw the light first in our family. I remember him showing me the picture of the little girl who was fleeing the napalm, and saying: “Greg, how can you justify this?” Then some older kids in town were over there and got wounded, missing, or killed: Robert Bengston, our neighbor from across the street, Ricky’s brother, got blown up in a jeep on Highway 1 by a mine. We watched the news together at the family table in the evening and it became more and more horrifying. Dad and I argued about it. He didn’t understand the “younger generation”, I thought. I actually started becoming hostile to him and was growing long hair and experimenting with alcohol, sex, and pot. Let’s check out of this corporate society, we’re the new younger generation, hippies, “come to San Francisco, wear flowers in your hair.” I was in teenage rebellion against authority, and probably thought I and my “generation” were the first ones who ever thought of that, because our parents were too stupid to understand us and the way the world worked. But I remember Keith Rosengren telling me, “you know, Greg, I visited with your Dad a while yesterday and I found him to be a very intelligent and sensitive person.” Sensitive? My Dad? Are you talking about the same son of a bachelor German farmer as the Harold Haubrich I know? (Yes, he was, and he was way more right than I was. Thanks, Keith.) A short direct comment from a mentor can open up a whole window into a different way of seeing things. I’m pretty sure when I enlisted in the Navy a big part of the reason was I wanted to be like my Dad.
Over time, Dad’s thinking evolved. Like I said, he was a thinking person. Around the year 2000 the people in Lancaster asked him to give a Memorial Day address. He did not speak of the glories of war. He spoke of the agonies of war, how in World War II thirty million people died; and what our boys who fought the war, and our women and culture and people, had to endure to survive and defend ourselves and our civilization. When we invaded Iraq Dad was aghast, as was I. We both knew it was a useless and unnecessary war. Seriously, after 911 the United States had the whole world on its side; it was a great opportunity to attack and wipe out international Jihad with the cooperation and assistance of virtually every nation in the world. Instead, we acted like imperialists and invaded Iraq to get control of its oil reserves and establish a permanent strategic presence in the Middle East. If you don’t think so, you are naive.
Dad thought “W” was not too bright, and he hated Dick Chaney with a purple passion. What’s good for GM, is good for America. What’s good for Halliburton, is good for the world. Right, Dick?
Dad got drunk once when he was young. He puked and felt awful. He never got drunk again. He liked to have a beer, but usually that meant one beer. I never saw him even slightly intoxicated.
Going back a bit, it was evening. I was four or five. It was a beautiful cool clear evening with the Milky War shining down. We had been peeing in the two-holer together. Dad said: “Come on, Greg, let’s race.'” And off we went, father and son, me running as hard as my legs could carry me and he, well, he let me win. We were both grinnin’.
Another time we were threshing barley late at night. Usually in Minnesota you can’t thrash past sundown because the dew sets in and the grain and straw get damp. On this night, in late August or early September, the dew point was low and we could go as long as we wanted. Dad was running the John Deere combine and I was driving the truck. When the hopper was getting full, he would flash his lights. I would start up the truck, drive around the field to where he was at, and pull the truck under the grain auger. Dad would push a lever and about 55 bushel of grain would pour into the truck. The combine lights shone on the ground ahead, behind, and on the grain augur. The truck motor and combine motor idled for a few minutes and we said hello to each other and probably shared a pop, a sandwich, or he would have a little coffee. Then he’d turn up the throttle of the combine, kick in the gears, wheels, pulleys, augurs, belts, chains, sprockets, cylinder, and chopper and put the combine in gear and off it would go into the night. A threshing machine at night is its own special sound. You can hear the engine, of course. But also you can hear the whisper of wheat straw, and the growl of the straw choppers and the whine of the machine. It sounds different from across the field, of course, than it does close up or when you are on the platform running the machine. This particular night was calm and still, and the sky was brilliant: Orion the Hunter; the Big Dipper; the North Star, and there was a full moon.
And then, there was a full eclipse of the moon. It was awesome. I was sitting on top of the cab of the truck, listening to and watching Dad’s combine. I was on the north side of the home quarter; he was on the south side, a half mile away, and the shadow started coming over the moon — the shadow of the Earth. As the moon got more and more covered, the stars got brighter and brighter. When it was a full eclipse, you cannot imagine. It was brilliant. The stars in the sky shine so bright on the prairie anyway, but on a new moon or an eclipse? Wow, you gotta see it to believe it, and you will never ever forget it. After an hour or so it all passed and the moon was back. We talked about it. “Dad, did you see that?” “Yes, wasn’t it just beautiful!” It was after midnight, maybe one in the morning. Dad said: “whattayasay we call it a day?” Okay, Pops, what a great day.
Dad came to see me in Norfolk when I was at the Navy School of Music, and stayed a week. We went to Washington DC and out to the beach. I took him on base and we saw the nuclear subs, aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyers, tenders, oilers, and guided missile cruisers. At the Navy store I bought him a Quasar watch, an “Accutron”, the first one that had “quartz-crystal time”, accurate to a thousandth of a second per century. He still had that watch when he died, and the Wells Fargo belt buckle I gave him, and his history books. Dad was German ancestry. He immersed himself in the history of the German war machine and army in World War II. He studied the concentration camps, the mind of Hitler, the Werhmacht campaigns, the technology and secret weapons and espionage. He had books on all the different variants of German armor: tanks, weapons carriers, half-tracks, artillery, Me-109s A through G, F-190s including the “Dora” (long nosed high altitude interceptor variant, you see I’ve studied them, too), and the rocket planes and buzz bombs and terror weapons.
He left his books to me when he died. I donated some of them to the library where he sat in the corner reading the paper and magazines, and where my mom worked. They are on a couple of shelves by the librarian’s desk with a little plaque: “The Harold J. Haubrich World War II History Collection”. The rest of them are here at home. It’s nice reading Dad’s books. I also have some of his tools (and Grandpa Leonard’s, and Grandpa Leo’s). If you can put your hands on something that connects to someone you loved who is gone, it brings them back closer.
My dad. Now there was a man.