Alan Hams and Gretchen Hams

Recorded November 11, 2007 Archived November 11, 2007 38:29 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: GCT004446


Alan Hams shared stories from his childhood and his teenage years. They also remembered the adventures of family trips.

Subject Log / Time Code

“I Like Ike” posters found under Alan’s bed
As a Senior in high school, Alan and his friends broke into the Chemistry Lab and stole some sodium, which they threw into the river and caused quite an explosion
Alan got kicked off a train on his way to the annual Senior trip to Chicago, because he was caught with other students smoking.
Mac’s Music
Road trip to the national Association of Music Merchants in Atlanta and road trip from hell in France


  • Alan Hams
  • Gretchen Hams

Recording Location

Grand Central Terminal


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00:04 My name is Gretchen hams. I am 31 years old.

00:09 Today is November.

00:13 11th thank you the holiday weekends and I'm here to interview. My father Alan Hams at the Grand Central Terminal location. My name is Alan Hams. I'm 64 years old today is still November 11th, and we're at the Grand Central Terminal and I'm being interviewed by my daughter.

00:41 So I figured we should start a start from the beginning because you're here visiting in New York from the Midwest and could you tell me where when and where you were born? I was born in Great Falls, Montana and October 10th 1943.

00:58 And did you grow up there? I grew up there through kindergarten and then first through sixth grade, I went to Mitchell South Dakota and 7th 8th and 9th grade. I was in Montevideo, Minnesota 10th grade. I was in Northfield, Minnesota 11th and 12th grade. I was in Mont Montevideo again and graduated from Montevideo High School in 1961.

01:24 And went on to College in Minnesota in Minnesota. St. Cloud State College in those days University and I graduated in inner about 1965. I have an undated diploma.

01:40 Ended two years of graduate school and went into the service. I was one of the last of the draftees.

01:48 And can you tell me a little about your parents who they were and then my dad was Ernest Arthur hams. He was born in 1903.

01:58 And

02:00 He married my mom and gosh 1925 something like that. She was born in 1904 and June Amanda Melby and hams when she married and I had two sisters and one brother. How is the youngest of four?

02:22 And did you what was your relationship with your parents like my relationship with my parents was very good. I I was blessed because I was the baby of the family and there's eight years between my sister closest sister and myself when I was born. My older sister was already 18 years old and I was 19 43 and World War was happening and she was out of high school and actually after I'm not sure exactly when did she went to she was working in Great Falls at the air base and she had an opportunity to go to Hawaii to work at Pearl Harbor and she did and that's where she met her future husband. So there was my brother and my sister and myself at home in Great Falls. My father took a job in Mitchell and South Dakota and we moved when I was at the end of my kindergarten year, so I really have limited memories of Great Falls.

03:22 Was the job he took the with the grain work for terminal Association and he became was called a field man and he went from small town to small town in Montana actually started in Montana and then move to South Dakota and then ultimately to Minnesota doing that and he went from grain elevator to Green Oliver cooperatives. This was after the Grange. Okay, the Grange was gone. I was labeled a bunch of commies and so on so forth and my dad got out of that early on and got involved with the Farmers Union, which was a very similar in a lot of ways to the Grange but not affiliated with any communist movement of any sort. So there's none of that in my background.

04:09 Any help these grain cooperatives because they're basically the farmers band together and hire a manager of their their elevator and he buys and sells the grain tool suppliers, like whoever General Mills or whoever buys it.

04:27 And so he would help them hire and fire managers and help them with their bookkeeping and so on so forth when he was 12 years old his mother and mother and I don't know about my father. That's a big secret my grandfather big secret. I know very little about they moved to California and my father stayed behind with his oldest sister and I went to work for his brother-in-law at the grain elevator in Minot, North Dakota.

04:57 And ultimately he met my mother.

05:00 And they got married and they moved to Spanish North Dakota, which is no longer there. It's now at the bottom of a lake.

05:12 And the name of the town and called it a new town which is a different story. I guess I know very little about this is way before my time. And that's where my brothers and sisters were actually the town's. I'm the only one that was born in a town that still exists my brothers and sisters all were born in towns that are no more and ultimately my dad took a job managing the grain elevator in Great Falls Montana, and that's when I was born

05:45 I thought you were in some ways almost an only child with that age difference. What was your childhood? Like where you Troublemaker? Were you glad in the actually I yeah, I yeah, I really don't remember a lot of Great Falls. Although when we went out there as a family several years ago 10 years ago and never actually we drove right to the house could still find the house it was there but I have very limited memories of that. You know, when you're 5 or 6 years old in the movement that move was pretty traumatic in Mitchell.

06:26 I was

06:29 A lot different because I went through 6th grade there and I have Malott more memories of that. Of time. And yeah, I had a temper I was I was kind of a rascal I guess you could say and I was a. Of time where if anybody looked at me funny, I'd hit him if you tease me about my name and I got a lot of that hamburger and all of that kind of stuff. I did him and it was pretty good pretty common for me to have a black eye or a busted lip something like that and I didn't care if they were older than me or not. I can haul off and hit him. So I yeah, I managed to get in trouble. I do remember one time when I got in the fight with the kid across the street. His name is Rodger. I can't remember his last name and I know for a fact that he is passed away many many years ago. I heard that but I got mad at him and I went and got my BB gun and I started shooting them.

07:29 And my dad was happened to be home at the time and he came out and he gave me them lacking in my life. I'll tell you that and I was in pretty serious trouble for a long time.

07:41 Town was there anything that I was pretty active did a lot of things when I was in grade school you want another story from the Corn Palace South Dakota is a big deal and we were just a block away. And in fact our house is the only house still standing on that block. The rest of that block has become souvenir places fruit stands and ice cream places in Solon at any rate every year in the summertime. They would have the Corn Palace days or are there would have a carnival on the street and just you know, it's like a county fair or whatever. It was a big celebration and all the politicians would be out politicking and so on so forth and my dad was a very very dedicated Democrat very very involved in the Democratic party, you know, I'm because being part of the farm movement and all of that it was most definitely

08:41 Not big business it was the problem people was where they were involved at. Any rate Eisenhower was running for his first term in office at that time. So this would have been I don't know. I don't work 1954 whatever the year with them somewhere in there. Apparently my father or my mother one of the two found underneath my bed a big stack of I like Ike posters lawn signs and so on that I had swiped from the booth on the Main Street when and put them under my bed, cuz I knew that you know, we didn't want those out and about and my dad gave me a sore a stern lecture about all of that in those supposed to have disappeared and I'm sure they never went back to the I like booth

09:31 Nor were they posted around town? And I'm sure I'm sure yeah.

09:40 So that was just a couple little episodes. Is there anything that you can talk about now that you didn't get caught High School managed to get away with? Yeah, you want a specific example senior in high school?

10:00 And myself into other friends that will remain nameless we went into the high school is a very old high school and one of those old brick buildings and high ceilings and above each one of the doors in the classroom was a transom and those transom the open and closed with a lever along the side of the door that you could do because this is all free air conditioning of course, and we went up in through the transom into the chemistry lab and we took a bottle of and I think it was sodium. I'm not sure why he's crawled through one of us did and then we could unlock the door from the inside and we took a bottle a quart jar of sodium. I think it was sodium and we drained off the kerosene and we took it down to the Minnesota River and we threw it into the river because we knew that it reacted with water.

10:49 And it went Kaboom. I mean really Kaboom and the water must have been a hundred feet in the air and all over there was a bridge that went across the river and the cars were stopping and slamming on their brakes and there were fish flying all over the place and fortunately there was no property damage or anything. We never got caught we never got caught on that. There were plenty of things that I did manage to get caught at but that was not one of them very adventuresome childhood. And were you happy child. We had a good family my Mom and Dad loved each other and and they were very very supportive of me. And when I did something that I shouldn't have done they somehow they understood course. They had gone through three children before me so you develop a certain understanding and tolerance I think when you do that,

11:43 They are probably my biggest I got caught story in high school is we didn't have a prom again my senior year in high school and we were all ready to graduate and I don't know a few nights before the big event, which instead of a prom was the train trip to Chicago and all the graduating class got on the train and went to Chicago and spent two nights in Chicago and came back with a big deal.

12:14 And a couple of nights before that one of my friends decided to have a big party and course. We were all seniors in high school at that time and where you don't big shots and so they had a big party and I didn't go to the party because my friends get her and myself to get his girlfriend worked at the movie theater and we went back into the movie cuz she would let us in for free and then when she got off work, then we were going to go to the party. So in the movie was over and she got off work why we filed in our car and we drove over to the party and it has been busted and there were cop cars all over the place and then he and 12 seniors were not able to go on the senior class trip. I was one of the ones that didn't get caught. So will you get on the train and we're on our way to Chicago and everybody in the class. I'm a hundred and twenty-three graduates.

13:14 Think honor 23 something like that may be under 25 at any rate. We got on the train and we're on our way to the cities and everybody says, let's go up to the Dome car and smoke.

13:26 Of course I do but whatever, you know sure. I'm Time game. So probably around 40 or 50 of us went up to the Dome car that so we can review the surrounding Countryside and everything and I figured you know, I almost always get caught up things. So I'm going all the way to the back of the Dome car. And if somebody comes up, you know, some faculty member comes up. I'll be safe. Well, I didn't think about the fact that underneath the observation deck in the dome car was the bar and one of the teachers went through the bar to the back of the and came up the back stairs. And of course, I'm sitting right next to the stairs and I get caught smoking on the train and I get kicked off the train in Minneapolis and nobody else got anything just me. I was made an example of and they sent you back and they made me get off the train in Minneapolis by yourself by myself and fortunately my brother

14:26 Where was working for Sperry Rand in Minneapolis in those days and I called my mom and dad and they called him and he came and pick me up at the railroad station in Downtown Minneapolis and gave me a ride back to Montevideo and my dad was Furious about that. There was a big to-do with the school board. What about the other 40 or 50 kids that are up there? And why are you picking him to make an example blah blah blah blah. And you know today how many kids in high school. You can't smoke in the school email, but that's totally has changed the course. So he bought for you to he stood up for you your daddy stood up for me. I did he was a good guy really good guy and we have nothing really but good memories of my father.

15:15 It's it's it's it's your parents my grandparents lineage in the midwest. Also, my mother was born in a small town not too far from Marshall Minnesota called Minneota. Minnesota is a sound that's basically was founded by a Norwegian immigrants and she was a male. She was Norwegian hundred percent and they spoke Norwegian at home as well as English and she grew up speaking Norwegian. In fact, she was a senior in high school before she understood her grandmother even spoke English and they had to communicate with her and English Inn in our region, but actually turned out that's another story turned out the grandmother melby's book perfectly good English by Tom. Yeah in and she was a third-generation American so her grandfather was born in America, and I'm sorry your grandmother was born in America grandfather.

16:15 It's not.

16:17 Her grandfather's name was Marsh Larkin and he came over to America had he married a male bee and took the mail be named Martin aren't mark on my grandpa hams. I don't know much about me that Henry Edward Charles and Great Grandpa. Who's Henry Murray hymns. We know a little bit. I know a little bit about my grandfather, but I never knew him. He was dead long before all my grandparents, except my dad's mother were born or dead long before I was born.

16:53 My grandmother hams live to be about 92. I think 92 same as my mother.

17:00 And I in California and is very not there.

17:06 They were all over the country. Yeah, my mom and dad are buried in in Houston never live there if they're buried there.

17:15 Yeah, so all this lineage thinking about the generations.

17:23 One of the things that I was thinking about coming into this with the parent-child relationship and was curious about you know, when you first found out that you were going to be a parent how what was that like and making that transformation from child to parent for you without like Marge my wife we were living in Los Angeles and she was working at Paine Webber Jackson and Curtis downtown Los Angeles and I was working at a Gene's Place selling jeans from midnight till 6 in the morning on Hollywood La Cienega, and I was acting we were we were doing a lot of that kind of stuff. I was also singing in performing in bars as a solo act and we really did not like Los Angeles nothing personal California, but it just wasn't

18:23 Place and and Marge was ready to have some children and I was pretty much well whatever. Okay, and so we moved back to Minnesota to st. Cloud which is where I went to college and where she has gone to college and graduated from and so we kind of went back there and set up shop there.

18:47 And start to work. I started working in a music store and I'll selling guitars and trombones whatever Max Music it was called the music store in st. Cloud and Mac was a

19:00 One of my mentors very very well and Marge and I would babysit for their kids when they went on trips and I painted his house a couple for mid-20s.

19:14 Well, yeah, I was pushing 30 at that time. I was one of the last of the draftees 25 1/2 years old college graduate married and I got drafted and I couldn't get out of it. So it's 25 26. I was I was in the Army 27. I was in the Army. I'm out at 27 and a half for 28 and a year in Los Angeles. So I'm pushing Thirty. I'm 29 something like that.

19:45 So what year was Amanda born in 7372? I was 30 or 29 years old.

19:56 Father at 29

20:00 And I filled it was at Planet where you guys like working toward having kids or was it it was in the surprise and sound like that's pretty easy. We practiced a lot.

20:19 So we both my wife Margie came from a family of three. I came from a family of four lots of cousins and and so on both sides of the family it was it was a pretty simple matter to you know, quit taking the pill in bang you're pregnant, you know, and yeah, we were ready for that. I think Marge more than me. I was still pretty I don't want to say against that I wasn't against it at all. I was famous for it, but it was like well, whatever. Okay, you know I'm accepting of that was not a problem already. There was no. Oh gosh, you're pregnant like how cool you know? Let's do that. If I remember correctly Amanda is the only one of the four of us kids who was born at Saint Cloud Hospital. That's correct has the firstborn? Yeah. And in those days the fathers were not allowed in the delivery room.

21:16 And how was it was? Not fun. Actually, it was really demeaning to both both of us it now we went through the childbirth classes and we understood all the all the llamas and you know, all that kind of stuff and we were prepared to do that. And you know, I wasn't a kid has practically 30 years old and I've been around the block and I don't want to fight in a war, you know, I seen that stuff a lot of stuff a lot more horrific than that if it's not a riffic at all, you know, so I mean it was like kind of demeaning in so we decided and there were some people that were going to other hospitals because the Saint Cloud Hospital nothing you can start Roman Catholic friends, but then it was owned by the Catholic church, and they did not allow and did not want fathers in the delivery rooms because it was

22:11 Whatever they might faint or they might contaminate the room or whatever. They use whatever excuse seemed expedient at the time. And so we decided to go to Little Falls to the hospital there, which is also Catholic Hospital but Franciscan rather than Benedictine different order and they were very very receptive to fathers in the delivery room and whole sure, you know, and Marge got a new doctor when we went up there and and he was the one that delivered you and and your brothers as well. And we had a good relationship. And the funny thing is is that even though the Saint Cloud Hospital was geographically closer. It only took about five minutes more to drive to Little Falls because where our house was we could jump right on US Highway 10 and go 60 65 miles an hour up to Little Falls, which is about 30 miles away as opposed to driving all the way through.

23:11 Claude to those Northwest Northend St. Cloud opposite into town and city streets. So it really wasn't that big of a deal and it was much more comfortable on in welcoming. So that's why your brothers and sisters in yourself or your brother brothers and sisters and brothers and you were born in the Falls.

23:38 Are the questions in here was I was curious to know how being a parent changed you did it give you more focused and you kind of sounded going with the flow going into it. But kind of in the story of my life has inherited that quality from me, you know change me and change me in a lot of ways. I mean I learned that as you pass through different ages in your life, you have to be more and more open and understanding to those people that are coming along behind you because they don't know what you know, they don't have the experience is that you've had and your children have to be allowed to

24:33 To find things out on their own they really do they have to be helped and guided and so on but they still need to be able to discover things for themselves because that's where it really sinks in to yourself, you know about how things working my parents gave me that freedom to understand myself as I grew up in and how it became obvious to me as we went along that I had to do that with my children as well. So yeah change me is no question about it.

25:08 We couldn't just pack up and say let's go out tonight. We had to find a babysitter, you know of someone that

25:16 We felt secure with think I gave him or Direction in life.

25:20 No need to be the point. You opened your store house music the year. I was born right writing in 76 was something that you ended up doing for the rest of your working life was run that business in about 30 years.

25:38 It was the thing to do it made sense and we were in a lifestyle where we could do the creative things that we needed to do with our lives and have the flexibility to do them. When we wanted to do them and work our work our job. We could manipulate that around those things that that we wanted to do to to keep our creative freedoms going. So if I wanted to drive to play or act in the show or for 4 minutes in a musical activity, you know, I could do that because I own a business that you know, and that gave me the flexibility to be able to do that in a question. Marge's case is gave her a lot of flexibility because they didn't call it Marge's music music so

26:31 And she was mostly a stay-at-home mom for the first two of the four kids. Yeah. Well, we had a loft up there and I remember to go. Yeah, and we used to give you labels to stick on the bags and we paid you like a penny a bag or any of that bag to put a music label label on the bag itself. So the one people bought something we put it in the bag and then he said I was music I yeah, we did that for a long time. We had a little spot up there and there was a kind of a side light not a skylight for the side light that allowed you to kind of work there and you had that natural light to stick on the stickers.

27:16 Yeah. Yeah, but basically she helped in the business, but it was really my business.

27:28 Do I.

27:30 Do you have any favorite stories to share about us kids about your kids? I guess we should say collectively maybe because we took so many trips as a family. We took a lot of trips. Yeah, one of my almost every year we had an annual trip to to Highlights or lowlights. Come to mind. One of them was the National Association of Music Merchants The NAMM Show had been moved from Chicago to Atlanta in July and we decided that we were going to go there and we had this Chevrolet station wagon wood panel station station wagon, I believe so and we loaded up all you kids in that station wagon, and we went to Bloomington Indiana first of all and met up with one of my mentors from College of the department that had gone to the University of Indiana is the chairman there and we spend some time with them and then we

28:30 Down and we ended up in Atlanta and then we end up in Washington DC and then we went to know all around me ended up coming back through and then get back in Minnesota. That was our vacation and it was gosh in the 90s every day and there were six of us in this station wagon. Let's only two seats in the back and we laid out some foam cushions and some of the kids would be back there and you would be switching back and forth and fighting all the time and the air conditioner went out on the car and it was hot hot hot it was a quite an experience and a very long trip was we were gone weeks and you are all young, but we had all four of you.

29:12 That's one and the other one of course is the trip from Hell the trip from hell was Marge and myself you were about a senior in high school. Sophomore. It was the National Lampoon's European. Amanda was in like a senior and Chris and Mike. Of course, they're quite a bit younger and then March decided that we were going to go visit her brother in Cologne and my friends Jack my best friend. Jack's ex former wife cuz jacket passed away at that time and who live down in southern part of France and then go and stay and Cavalier which is on the Riviera and so she invited her sister Jackie.

30:02 And her mother who was in her 80s.

30:06 And her sister Jackie who is in either younger than my wife are older than my wife. Depending on Whose story believe at any rate and Aunt Jackie your Aunt Jackie. This was her second time on an airplane.

30:22 And we arrived in Paris the day before Bastille Day. That would have been July. I don't know whatever it is 16th something like that. It was hot and Catrin Jack second wife medicine at the airport and we took is to taxi cabs and we ended up in the hotel in the right hotel and we had a nice time with catch me and we had met I think we'd met her one once before and the next day was Bastille Day. And of course everybody was drunk and then streets over millions of people out as fireworks are going off by the Eiffel Tower in our hotel is near the Arc de Triomphe which is a nice nice little district and myself and my wife Margie and her mother went out on the street to watch the fireworks and then they were over by the Eiffel Tower and there were just elbow to Elbow shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of drunk parisians. I have an absolute ball in the fireworks are beautiful. We had a really great time. We got back to the

31:22 Hotel and you and your sister and your Aunt Jackie watch the fireworks from your hotel room out the window. They were right there. Yeah, I remember it was like oh, well you guys you should have been here. We just watch them out the window. It was perfect the next day. We went to pick up my rental van then this is where the hell part really begins when to pick up a rental van in I'll see there's four children mother and father that six and Nana. That's seven and Aunt Jackie. That's eight. Well, we had reserved a 10 passenger van then we went to the Hertz to pick up the van and it was a 7-passenger renewal van and of course all endings on all of friends. There is no 10 passenger van only the red know this is all we rent this. This is it so we get in this 7 passenger van with the eight of us that all the luggage of two people that don't travel much.

32:21 Grandma and empty

32:24 You had to lash all them luggage to the roof of the van. We're all in the van and poor Mike. He's like, I don't know 7 or something like that years old lap to lap. No air conditioning. It looks like 30 degrees Celsius like eighty-five 90 degrees and we're driving around trying to find out when we first got in the van. You said I am driving all of you women. Don't tell me no backseat driving on backseat driving right? Well and we ended up on the highway and the French roads are very unusual. I've driven on him before but there's the green signs in the blue signs and they only tell you what the end result is. So the sign on the road says Dunkirk Dunkirk is like 14-hour drive away and you don't have any idea what town

33:24 Grain between but anyway, we finally got on the right road. We got down we visited that. Jack's first wife in the south of France had a marvelous time went on the Cavalier had no real major problems except for the Heat and so on had a nice time there. We stayed in in Carl koenig's roll house and Mike your Uncle Mike's Rojas. They were virtually side-by-side and had a really nice time and then we picked up our former Nanny Hooter makes nine in our van and we're driving down the Autobahn on the way to Heidelberg and all the luggage flies off the top of the van and Gretchen and myself and her older sister. Amanda are running out on the Autobahn picking up the luggage that's falling down in the cars are driving perfume in a bottle.

34:23 His suitcase and stops and starts getting out of her car which explorer was under Grandma's Underpants and busted bottles of perfume. And she this woman comes out in and she starts hollering and screaming at us and then and who took says hello. She's from alsace-lorraine. She doesn't know what she's talking about and I can understand her either Baba Blah Blah by the police, and they told her that why you should have avoided it. If you were paying attention to your driving. You should have avoided it blah blah blah. We got everything back as best. We could we loaded up the van. We took off and on for years afterwards. This woman was after us to pay for her car. I just paid all that's not our problem PS4 in 10 passenger van. So we end up going back to the roof.

35:22 The airport in Frankfurt and and there's all kinds of 10 passenger vans in Germany. So had we known you would have done it differently. Yeah. Sorry that took a long time ago. That's but that's okay. That was a funny ridiculous station from you. So do you have any advice for for your children?

35:45 He life lessons be happy, you know life is great really is full of beautiful things and full of loving people in warm warm things. He'll enjoy life. You only get once you only get it once there's no sense being

36:04 Settindown about it. Even the bad things are are full of good.

36:11 Yeah.

36:13 Well, thanks for coming down and Dad.

36:18 I wish we had more time how many minutes?

36:27 Your you got a lot and hopefully you'll tell some of them in your writing as well.

36:34 How we doing?

36:37 I'll wait time ask me a question.

36:40 Well

36:43 Let's see.

36:45 I want to ask you about work if you can't do that in four minutes.

36:49 Is there something about me that you've always wanted to know but have never asked?

36:58 No, no, actually if it's something that I don't know it's probably because you chose not to tell me and I can respect that.

37:10 There a lot of things my parents never found out about me and I think they respected that in me that you know, I'm alive and I haven't seriously hurt myself and you know, I don't have any children that you know, whatever. I know. I know there are things you did that. You never told me and I'm okay with that. There were things I did that. I never told my parents.

37:37 I know but we can tell you is I mean we and speaking for my siblings a very tight-knit family who loves each other very much friends who owe it to you.

37:56 You said you weren't going to cry.

38:01 Well, I'll tell you I love you guys, and I'm pretty proud of you and and you make me happy.

38:10 I'm lucky guy. I'm blessed.

38:14 I sure am. We love you, Greg.