JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Too Many Funerals; Sorry, Max

I should have been in Wahpeton Tuesday. I should have been at the funeral of my best childhood friend, Max Reinke. But I just couldn’t take another funeral right now.  I’ve been to too many lately. But luckily, my friend Kevin Carvell says, none of them were mine.

I know, it’s just a function of my age (soon to be 77) that so many people I know are dying. After reading Max’s obit this past week and trying to decide whether to go see his family — he has two older brothers I’d have loved to visit with, but not so much in these circumstances — I jotted down a list of friends who have died just this year, so far. Seventeen.

Oh, not all of them were beer-drinking friends, but all of them were people I have spent time with over the years, enjoyable time, and if you’d have asked each of them when they were still alive, if they were my friend, all would have said yes, I’m pretty sure.

I could tell you a story or two about each of them. But I just don’t have 17 stories in me right now, so here’s a couple.

First Max Reinke.

Max and I grew up on the same block, one on each end of it, in big, tall, early-20th century houses. He was a couple of years younger than me, but he was always tall for his age, so we were about the same height until he went racing by me in junior high. I think he ended up about 6-foot-4. His dad, our high school superintendent was a tall, slender, handsome, stern man, as superintendents are wont to be. His brothers are well over 6 feet as well.

Anyway, Max and I grew up playing baseball in the summer and collecting baseball cards. My house and yard took up about a third of the block. It had been built by an early Hettinger, N.D., doctor, and at that time was on the edge of town. We had four lots. The house was on one. Beside it was an empty lot except for a huge cottonwood tree, where we built a small treehouse, and sat in its shade on summer evenings. In back of those two lots, stretching to the end of the block, was a lot with a barn on it. A real barn. Not huge, but big enough that we could have some good games of Anti-I-Over and chase each other around the barn.

Beside that was a big lot that was the neighborhood baseball field. On any given summer day or spring or fall evening, the neighborhood kids would gather for games. It was just big enough for 10- to 12-year-olds to play on. Any kid older than that might hit a home run through Jimmy Clement’s front window across the street.

But it’s the baseball cards I want to tell you about. Max and I collected them, and while we were rivals at seeing who could do it best each year, we were also buddies, so if each of us got a duplicate, we’d swap. If I had two Hank Aarons and he had two Mickey Mantles, we do a trade. The Topps company made a checklist of each team on a card — these were the days of penny bubble gum cards — and we’d keep track of which cards we had and which we needed, to get a complete set. Of course, neither of us ever got a complete set.

There were 16 teams, and each of them had 25 players, so that would have been 400 individual cards. In theory, that’s only $4, if each time we bought a penny card we got a different one. But that didn’t happen, of course. But there were lots of us Hettinger kids in the game, and we’d swap around trying to get as many as we could. But to my memory, none of us ever got them all.

Except …

One year, I think it was 1960, Max and I decided to team up and collect together, to see if we could get them all. And about Labor Day, as we were heading back to school, we got the last one. Don Hoak, third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a rare find. For some reason, we were the only kids in town with Don Hoak that year. And it was our 400th individual card. We had ‘em all!

The next question, of course, was what to do with them. If we split them up, there wouldn’t be a complete set. We contemplated long into the fall and then came up with a solution: Let’s hide them somewhere!

But where? Well, actually, that was a pretty easy question to answer. We’d bury them. We had all these empty lots at our house. We chose a spot about 10 yards from the big cottonwood tree. We dug a hole. Somehow we found a big plastic bag, or a sheet of plastic, and wrapped them up, put them in a wooden box, nailed it shut, dropped it in the hole and covered it up.

I’m pretty sure we made plans to dig it up someday, but we grew up and the box stayed buried, and we went away to college and got married and just pretty much forgot about the box. Well, at least I did. For a long, long time.

Elaine Reinke
Elaine Reinke

And then about a dozen years ago, about 50 years after we buried that box, Max’s mom died. Elaine Reinke lived a long life, into her 90s and she was a spitfire until the end, and a good friend or my mom’s, who had died a couple of years earlier.

Max’s dad, Gordon, died young, in his early 60s, about the same time and the same age as my dad. Elaine started a widows’ group, called Women Alone, I think, which met for friendship and did good deeds in Hettinger. My mom was a member. They remained friends and both lived more than 25 years as widows, as did a lot of women in that part of the state in those days.

I drove to Hettinger for Elaine’s funeral. And there were the Reinke boys, Bernett, Rod and Max, in the church basement after the funeral. I made my way toward them, offered my condolences, and we began visiting. At length I said to Max, “Hey, Max, remember those baseball cards we buried in our side yard a long time ago? We should go dig those up sometime.”

Max looked at me with kind fo a sheepish grin on his face and said, “Sorry, Jim, I dug those up long ago.”

We both laughed, and I asked, “Oh, where are they?”

“I have no idea. It was a long time ago. Probably gone. But I’ll look in my basement when I get home. If I find them, I’ll give you a call.”

We laughed some more and talked about old times.

But the phone never rang. And Max and I never crossed paths again. For many years, he fought a valiant battle with cancer. And he lost that battle this spring.

Doreen and the boys, you have my deepest sympathy.

And so do the families of the other 16 friends I lost this year. So far.

Jerry Pederson, my high school golf coach. I played a round with him in Phoenix a few years ago. We teed off on the first hole. We jumped on our carts. Well, three of us did. Jerry took off on foot down the first fairway, and those long skinny legs of his kept pace with us for 18 holes.

Chuck Stroup, Hazen banker and leading citizen who once set up a toll booth on the highway leading toward Knife River Indian Villages to collect $5 a head from people who wanted to see the local historical society’s Lewis and Clark drama inside the National Monument, when the NPS said they couldn’t charge people to get into the monument area. Federal rule. No problem for Chuck. Just pay a hundred yards down the road. Or turn around and go back to Stanton.

So many friends. So many funerals.

  • Bill Delmore.
  • Lloyd Omdahl.
  • Dean Conrad.
  • Kathy Dorgan.
  • LaRoy Baird.
  • Mary Jane Sanstead.
  • Grace Link.
  • Marlene Clemens.
  • Audrey Gaukler.
  • Mark Armstrong.
  • Clarence Bina.
  • Al Christianson
  • And high school classmates  Carla Low and Karen Gustin

May you all Rest in Peace. I’ll catch up with you one of these days, I suppose.

One thought on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Too Many Funerals; Sorry, Max”

  • mcandeef5c6976472 June 19, 2024 at 4:07 pm

    Jim. Like leaves in late autumn. Over the years you have accumulated a huge number of friends, co workers, fans, followers or acquaintances. You have enriched their lives, and you they yours.
    The best remedy is to treasure the memories(as you have done with Max), enjoy your current friends, and keep befriending new, younger people.


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