Archive for October, 2011

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I should blog about something else in this post, but I’m not sure what. I’ve been missing my parents a lot lately . . . I could share some memories of my dad. The fall always makes me remember how we used to go for walks in the woods and sometimes take the tractor out and cut wood for the long Minnesota winter. They say that smells, because of the olfactory system’s close proximity to the limbic system in the brain, tend to bring out our strongest emotions in relation to memories. I’m probably one of the few people who gets teared up at the odor of gasoline fumes because it reminds me of going to cut wood with my dad.

Here are some memories of him I shared in the eulogy I wrote for his funeral:

When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher told us that author Joseph Conrad was a merchant marine. “You know, merchant marines are sailors,” she said. “They’re colorful characters and pretty crusty.”

“My dad was a merchant marine,” I announced to the class.

“And is your dad colorful and crusty?” teacher asked.

“You betcha,” I answered.

To those who knew him well, it comes as no surprise that my dad could be described as colorful and crusty. Blunt as could be, he always said what was on his mind, a refreshing, occasionally shocking, trait that earned him the sarcastic nickname of “Old Honeytongue” at one point. I won’t repeat his more colorful similes and remarks here, except to tell you a couple of the names he had for me as a baby–“Iodine Tremblechin” or “Clarissa Crabapple” he would call me when I bellered. A terrible tease, he would say things to me about how he shot the stork when I made my appearance. One time around Christmas when I was seven, he cooked up a bunch of Swiss steak, stuck a maraschino cherry in the middle, told me the cherry was Rudolph’s nose, and let me draw my own conclusions.

A great conversationalist, he could talk to just about anyone about just about anything. One of the most well-read men I know (particularly about American history and nature) as well as a great deal of practical experience in a wide variety of subjects, he still never passed up a chance to learn from his fellow man. I can’t remember how many times that Dad would say after having a long conversation with some stranger, “They just kept talking. I couldn’t get away.” Mom and I would roll our eyes at that one. Anyone who knows Dad knows he had no trouble getting out of a conversation if he wanted to. He just rarely wanted to.

I guess what I cherish most in my memories of my Dad isn’t his colorful crustiness (funny as that could be) but the sensitivity that lurked beneath his gruff exterior. He took care of his ailing mother while he was still a teenager, learning how to cook (a skill his family and friends appreciated a great deal in the years to come) and clean house when she was no longer able to. He was a great caretaker, even in his last days reminding us to be careful, saying to me, “Drive careful–there’s a lot of nuts on the road,” during my last visit with him.

He was far more easily hurt than most realized and even though he had a difficult time saying “I’m sorry,” he felt the injuries he did to others deeply, often brooding when he said something in his blunt way that may have hurt someone. Even though he’d been raised on a farm to butcher animals, he always had a hard time with it and finally stopped raising animals to butcher because he couldn’t bring himself to shoot an animal, particularly when he’d made it a pet (which invariably happened–I remember a steer named Winchester who used to stand at a certain place near the fence, waiting for Dad to bring him Christmas cookies.) This sensitivity and appreciation for animals showed up most strongly in Dad’s artwork, as did his perfectionism.

This perfectionism drove us all a bit crazy at times, but it was an important part of who Dad was. It compelled him to build houses with such tight corners and perfect angles that you probably could have floated them across Lake Superior and never sprung a leak. It made him incredibly attentive to detail and observant. I never knew anyone who could find as many 4-leaf clovers as Dad could–22 in one summer afternoon!

Despite his perfectionism and oft-proclaimed practicality, Dad had the guts to be a non-conformist. In high school, he got mad at the coach of the football team and refused to take gym, taking home economics instead.  He and Mom experimented with living off the land in the early 80s, an experiment that earned him the title of the oldest hippie in the county from one of the guys on his construction crew.

If I want to leave you with one trait of Dad’s to remember always, it is his inability to hide who he was. I never knew him to wear a mask–I always knew where I stood with him. He was the person I could count on to bail me out, that bailing often coming with a strong dose of advice and “I told you so.” A tough, hardworking, stubborn man of Norwegian stock, he always took his obligations and duties seriously. He never shirked from doing what he thought was right, whether that meant providing for his family or getting the pitch of a roof just perfect.

Many years ago, my Grandma Beabo (my mother’s mother) lived down by Lake Superior in a small cabin. There was no driveway going directly to this cabin, just a narrow path through the woods. Whenever there was a storm on the lake, Beabo would call us in a panic, and Dad would drive down to pick her up and bring her back to our house until the storm passed.

During one of these rescues, Dad and Beabo were walking up the path from the cabin, the branches overhead creaking in the wind.

“Those branches will break and fall and kill me!” Beabo wailed.

“It’s okay, Bea,” Dad said cheerfully, “If it falls, it will kill both of us. Now, come on.”

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