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Harmon Killebrew On David Letterman!?

With the appearance of Joe Mauer last week on Jimmy Fallon, I was reminded of another episode of a famous Twin who appeared on late ni...

Monday, May 31, 2010

On Heroes and Growing Up In A Little Minnesota Town

Dad: fishing on vacation, 1954.
Click on image to increase size.

When I was growing up in the late 1960s and '70s, my heroes were my Dad, Gene Busch, and Harmon Killebrew. I'd like to think that had he been a major league baseball player, my old man would have been..."The Killer."

They were neck and neck for me, on the character, integrity and grass roots scale. Harmon, the team player and face of the Twins. Dad, along with Mom, the heart and soul of my family.   He may have felt he didn't get far in life, but I'll always feel proud he was my father.
I guess you could say Dad helped make me the Twins fan I became.
And as we layed him to rest 7 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, this time is the one I reserve to honor his memory.

From 1960's Twins scoring program.
At Metropolitan Stadium, 1962: Manager Sam Mele, Harmon, 
and owner Calvin Griffith
There seemed to be a Twins game on all the time in our home, either on radio with Herb Carneal, and Halsey Hall, or the rare telecast on WTCN (ABC, Channel 11 - Minneapolis). Harmon served for 12 years as the host of the pregame show, a congenial link of the media to the players, managers and the Twins front office. It was cheap entertainment, perfect, as we didn't have a lot of money to spend in our home. The Twins came from Washington in 1961, and the balance of the decade of the 60's was a period of economic stagnancy and inflation. Things weren't great for workingmen and their families.  Those radio games were great soundtracks to our life at home, bringing home part of the essence of summer.  They were also very instrumental in giving me "baseball fever," forever branding me as THE Twins and baseball geek of the family. The crosses we bear...

New Prague’s Centennial Celebration in 1956 featured a beard-growing contest, and employees of the International Multifoods plant in New Prague added to the festive mood by taking part as a group. Pictured are (front row, left to right) Bill Kubik, Jim Pasek, Joe Smisek, Louie Bisek, Stanley Javourek, Lloyd Segna, Ed Kohout; (middle) Myles Rybak, George Kohout, Joe Peroutka, Albert Meyer, Henry Tikalsky, Joe Mikalashek, Fritz Novak; (back) Gene Busch, Isadore Dols, Russ Sindelar, Myles Kadrlik, Julius Bisek, Ed Hanek, Leon Snyder, Dick Schlauderaff and Cy Bruzek.
Twins games and music - LP phonograph records, AM radio...both played liberally throughout our home. This while Mom would be ironing clothes, Dad wrenching in the garage or reading the paper.  On local radio, before rampant programming took hold, you had "classic country," when it still had that drunk-morning-in-America sound aka: Johnny Cash mixed in with The Animals or old Beatles; then it would jump over to something vaguely like glam rock, i.e. Badfinger, then double back to the country of Glen Campbell or Lynn Anderson.  What a hoot - perfect for developing kids with an ecclectic variety of
tastes in music. Dad and Mom provided us the avenue and license to develop these tastes.  They didn't alway like what we played, but their tolerance made us give more leeway for their styles.  I can listen to polkas and waltzes, Lawrence Welk,  with a warm feeling, rather than revulsion.

As it turned out, all my brothers and sisters have involved themselves in music to some degree, playing in high school bands, choirs, productions and later personal musical instruction post high school.  This was part and parcel of the legacy of music inherited from people like my Grandfather Meinrad (Dad's father), and the tradition in the St. Benedict / New Prague area.  My Grandfather played church organ; he
taught school in St. Benedict (located a short distance from New Prague and Jordan).  He died very young, while Dad was in his teens. I know that was a blow to him, which he didn't talk about much.
Dad would pull out his harmonica every so often, and play a jaunty "Ol' Susannah." THAT was a treat, to watch him go. My folks may not have had the same opportunities to branch out in the arts, but they were enlightened, and intuitively knew that it would benefit us!
Vacation: 1959, with Susie, Mom, baby Kevin, 
Jim and Nancy
Quitting school after the 8th grade, Gene worked on my Grandfather's farm until he met and married Lucy Maxa, my Mom in 1944.  Other than farming, there weren't many industrial jobs to be had. Dad and Mom then had extra reasons to provide with a toddler in the house, my oldest sister Nancy.  He joined International Multifoods (Robin Hood flour processing) in 1946, and stayed there through 1981, finishing as a machine tender.The mill didn't pay much, but it was steady work and Dad felt compelled to take the position.  It was hard for him there at times.  Three shifts, away from us a lot.  There were some upright people there that he admired and enjoyed.  There were also some low grade characters in the mix, who stirred things up against Dad for his industrious, hard-working nature.  Sometimes those gentle, quiet guys become targets.  But he stuck it out. For us.

We fished and camped a lot in summer. Had lots of family barbecues and swimming outings at local lakes (i.e., "Camp Pa-Hu-Ca," on Fish Lake, near Lydia, Minn.) My brother's and I played tons of whiffle ball in the backyard. Vicious, vicious battles.  We played Little League baseball. Collected scores of Topps baseball cards. Then, there were the Vikings in the fall, and ice fishing in the winter. And waited for baseball and the Twins to start back up...winter was an eternity for me as a kid.  Long now too!

Dad and beloved family pet, Shana, on
the frozen extremes of  Spring Lake.
The little icefishing house Dad built in the 60's is a warm family memory for each of us who shared it with him and Mom.  Many hours were spent together in that little 10' by 7' shack on the waters of Spring, Fish or Cedar Lakes.  The images of the beer ad that Dad hung on one wall are about all that exist from those times...
The Twins Twinkler and famous beer sign, in partial. Picture
of fisherman rounds out rest of scene!


International Multifoods Corporation & surrounding New Prague 
area, circa 1971.

It was all a golden time to become infatuated with Harmon and the Minnesota Twins, really.

To wit:

*The Twins had dazzled fans in the upper Midwest by winning the American League pennant in 1965, and taking the LA Dodgers to the 7th game, losing 1-0 to Sandy Koufax

* Jimmy Kaat won 25 the next year, most in the American League

* Harmon drove a mammoth shot to the Met Stadium upper deck (500+ feet) around the time I was just starting to swing those big, red, "Bammer" Flintstones plastic bats, in early June, 1967

*Hall-Of-Famer Rod Carew arrived to play second base that year

*Cesar Tovar played all nine positions in a game against the Athletics, in September '68

*And in 1969, the Twins fielded what may have been their best, most complete team - managed by the mercurial Billy Martin!
It was all compelling stuff to us kids, and we had our own favorites, like Rich Reese, Leo Cardenas, and Cesar Tovar


Dad did extra things to make some money for us. He upholstered furniture, and made excellent lawn swings. He had a really nice eye for detail. I remember him really stressing when some aspect of his work was subpar, or there weren't enough materials to finish a job. But he got a lot of good word of mouth for what he was doing, and people kept coming back for his craftsmanship.  

I remember vividly helping him transport and set up what turned out to be the last swing he ever developed.  It was for an African American lady in St. Paul.  When she came to the door to answer our bell ring, Dad gave me this look [WOOF!], a little smile forming, in what I can only refer to as an "Archie Bunker" moment, if you catch my drift. He had a habit of undercharging people for his work, to a fault. He always seemed to keep that "workingman's mentality" in mind, knowing how difficult it was for people to afford things.

Scene from opening of "All In
The Family."
Archie Bunker made him gutlaugh with his malaprops.  It made me feel great when he could do that, because he didn't often let himself go, to be extemporaneous, and enjoy himself and life.  He had a private battle going on inside of himself much of the time, I felt. Now that I'm a Dad, I think I can identify with some of the pressures he went through - hoping you're doing well by your family, keeping the marriage alive, giving the kids what they need to thrive.

It was one of the pleasures of my life to go out in the woods with him later in my adolescence and early adulthood to split wood for his fireplace; a chance to be alone with him, and hear him talk about himself, life, and how difficult it was growing up in a big farm family. He didn't neccessarily get much personal attention from his parents. No touchy, feely stuff.  That's the way things were back then, coming of age in the Depression with parents who made do with the time, resources and parenting skills they had.

Mom, me sans teeth, Dad, brother Marty at Easter, 1970

About that firewood gathering thing: I remember cutting up wood with him with a wood splitter, a playoff game playing on the truck radio (i.e., George Brett 3-HR playoff game) and telling him about some girl troubles I was having. He pondered what I'd said and [me leaning in for sage advice from my old man] responded..."Make sure you get yourself a good looking woman."

Could always count on him to throw you a curve.

To backtrack: he was rejected by the army after his service exam.  His hearing was poor, and had been deteriorating since he was a young man in his teens.  He'd had a childhood ear infection.  It really made things tough for him, to seek out and secure friendships, especially being laid back and gentle in his nature.  But he soldiered on, and we always knew he cared about us and Mom.  Great parents!

Dad liked baseball, liked playing it when he was young, but he had to grow up early and give up playing it in any organized league.  He took us to at least one game a year at the Met, and there is one double header against the then-World Champion Tigers that I'll post later on this summer - a great memory being at it with Mom and Dad. I remember it vividly!  2 wins in one day!

Dad was kind. He was sensitive.  He could be impatient. He had a wry, sometimes crazy sense of humor. AND he was quiet. In fact, he didn't communicate much of what was on his mind, and that made him hard for people to read, and that included us, his children. Much of that stemmed from his hearing, . So he didn't get a lot of what people were saying to him. Essentially, he communicated an ethic of work and good living through his actions, instead of words.

I believe his reluctance to speak much contributed much to people thinking he was aloof. But when people took the time to get to know him, they loved him.  A huge heart indeed.  What a guy...I was proud about him  and the kind of man he was.
Dad with Great-Granddaughter, Alexis, 2003
He became the elder statesman, sitting in the same church pew with Mom every Sunday. And like Harmon, he acquired a certain dignity AND warmth as he grew older, especially after surviving cancer, which forced his retirement. He liked Kirby Puckett.  To me, he was great. I miss him to this day.

Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, & Rod Carew present
Joe Mauer with his 2009 MVP Award, April, 2010
I'm glad to say we still have Harmon Killebrew with us - still very much alive and representing the Twins at various functions...which is a treasure I'd dare say that's taken for granted. I know that I'd give a kidney just for another chance to hear Dad speak, or watch another game with him!

May your taters fly far!
Twinkler Out!

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