Al Halvorson and his red peppers
When one’s parents pass on, one must deal with their “stuff”. When they were alive, it was “their stuff” and one didn’t mess with one’s parents’ stuff. So, when the inevitable day comes and we 50-, 60- and 70-somethings become elderly orphans and are faced with sorting out our late parents’ allegedly empty nest, we may not closely examine the boxes and boxes of their stuff that we lovingly earmark for “the dump”.
When my father died in 2007, Mom and I went through his stuff. Most of it was important to him at one time, but after a half-century or more we didn’t know why. So it went to the dump (actually, it went to our condo’s dumpster and from there to the dump). But some of Dad’s stuff didn’t get tossed out for one reason or another.
When my mother passed a year ago July 15th I went through another round of dumpster-striving because, although she was bedridden for years, I just didn’t have the heart to do an autopsy on her accoutrements while she was still alive. And, as in Dad’s case, I didn’t toss everything.
I recently came across a mailing tube addressed to my Dad and dated October, 1996. Inside was a copy of a poster that advertised a “St. Patrick’s Dance! Thurs., Mar. 17th Odin Hall, Rugby. Music by Al Halvorson and His “Red Peppers” Featuring Dora DuPuis, Soloist Tickets 75 – Unaccompanied Ladies 25″
I had forgotten that there was a chapter in my Dad’s youth where some of the pages were stuck together. Saint Patrick’s Day fell on a Thursday in the year 1932, which means that my Dad would have been 17 and a junior at RHS. He occasionally spoke of playing saxophone in a band with a bunch of older fellows, but wasn’t real forthcoming with the details, especially when Mom was within earshot.
Dance bands were also called “orchestras” in those days and Dad’s tenor sax was akin to a rhythm guitar in today’s small groups. “We didn’t play well,” he would chuckle, “but we could sure play loud!”
If you’ve ever seen photos or films of the old dance bands, the musicians sat behind little desk-like music stands. Someone who had a brief solo in a musical number would stand to play his part then sit back down and resume the background as another soloist would stand to play. Dad loved doing that.
I don’t know what happened to his saxophone, but he never continued to play it beyond high school. There was UND, then learning to fly, his marriage at 20 (Mom was 19) in 1935, World War II (the big one), business, the birth of an adorable child, and so on. He loved to sing when the three of us drove to Minot or Metigoshe and in retirement here in Orlando he took guitar lessons. Later, he bought a small organ, then supersized it and enjoyed playing from songbooks. My mother could play the piano and organ, too, but problems with her fingers prevented any sort of regular renditions.
When I perused the poster the other day, “Al Halvorson and His ‘Red Peppers'” didn’t ring a bell. I never heard Dad refer to the name of the group or that it was especially hot. He did recall the young singer who fronted the band, named Dora DuPuis. He said that she was tall and slender and wore a long black dress, apparently quite well.
The mailing tube’s return address was Stockton, California. Evidently Dora DuPuis became Mrs. Al Halvorson at some point in time and they moved out West, as so many from Pierce County have done. One of Dad’s school chums was Dora’s brother Louis.
Assuming that Odin Hall was the building across from the fire department in Rugby, Dad didn’t even have to put a coat on over his tux to walk the half block from his house. I’m told that his mother didn’t approve of his being out with the over-21 crowd and playing “jazz” as she called any music performed outside of Bethany Lutheran.
Dad and his bandmates played at dancehalls all over the area, including a few barns, and I didn’t dare ask him if there were orchestra groupies in those days. After one more look at the Red Peppers’ poster, I now understand why Lawrence Welk was Dad’s hero.
Bill Gronvold graduated from RHS in 1966. He played clarinet in the band ’til Tilman Hovland suggested radio as a more felicitous future.