Jilly D.

Memory day and family svensk legends

In Pictures and memories on May 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Meta Wolertz graduated from high school in 1918 with a major in office studies. Before she met Richard Swenson, Meta worked as a secretary in a legal office in downtown Minneapolis.

She was a popular career girl and her friends nicknamed her Tomato. Her best friend’s mother started it. As her daughter raced out the backdoor, she’d ask where she was going.

“To Meta’s.” Tomato’s.

“Girls back then weren’t expected to work once they got pregnant,” Meta used to start her story. “And they didn’t think it proper to see girls pregnant.” So management decided to implement a new policy to terminate soon-to-be-mothers.

“They made us stand facing the wall. If our toes and our nose could touch the wall, you kept your job. If your tummy touched, you were done. None of us girls lost our jobs. The only ones whose bellies bumped before nose and toes were the partners, those fat rich men.”

Dad told me this story about his mother only Sunday past. My memories of Grandma Swenson are tied up in watching her bake hardtack, make potato sausage with a meat grinder, teach my little hands to knit, and play croquette in the backyard. Every morning she read the Minneapolis-Star Tribune newspaper and worked the crossword over her weak coffee. She almost always finished the puzzle.

The inside of her dresser drawers pulled me into her intimate existence. Gardenia scented paper lined the bottoms. Inside her closet was the secret to sweetness. Soft carpeting and pretty dresses all hung in a row. It smelled grandma. She let us play with all her trinkets. Charms on her bracelet. Bells. Balls of yarn. Delicate china candy dishes filled with ribbon candy. She played phonograph records for us. Her garden bed full of Gloriosa Daisies and across the back alley, Emil and Iris Erickson, who let us in the back door for fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Grandma Swenson took me to my first movie. Sound of Music. She defined “my favorite things.”

We spent every Sunday with her after Grampa died in 1963. After the incredible melt-in-your-mouth beef roast dinner, the adults would play cards: Zioncheck Rummy for nickels. Dad would drive us home in the Impala station wagon. Mom in the front seat with Barb and me seat-belted in back. CBS Mystery Theater would play on WCCO riding home in the dark. Both of us would nod off.

In the theatre of my mind, I am 9 years old again and go to Lakeview Elementary School.

On Memorial Day morning I got up, dressed, teeth brushed and out the door to hop on my bike. Nobody cared about going to the parade but me and it was more fun alone. I rode 42nd Avenue through Robbinsdale across the Minneapolis City limits at Memorial Drive. Before the parade began I took my blue no-speed Schwinn under the canopy of Elms lining either side of the smooth pavement. I could ride all the way down to West Broadway and watch the parade from any spot along the route. The parade went on for miles. Past the furniture store. But I wanted to watch the cannons go off at the old flagpole for the Memorial Service and raced back north Memorial Drive to 42nd. Taps on the trumpet. Boom.

So how can it be my dad turns 80 years old in less than a month and I won’t be 53 much longer? Memory. What I wouldn’t give now for my dad to take us in the Impala station wagon for a drive by the Schlitz brewery to see the herd of tame fallow deer or down along the banks of the Mississippi River just below Lyndale for some of Joe’s fresh produce.

Dad told me another story about Great Uncle Put Haertel. He earned the nickname of Put because he often used this word as a command. Put that there. Put your tools away. Put attention on task. Put, put, put.

Uncle Put, like most of my family, had eaten lunch many times with Dad and Grampa at Mickey’s Diner across the street from Pearson & Swenson Furniture on West Broadway in North Minneapolis. Mickey wore a white short sleeved T-shirt that didn’t mask his Navy tattoo, and a white kitchen apron as he worked the short-order grill. Known for his hamburgers, the smell of fried onions and sizzling beef lured in all the Wimpies on North Broadway to Mickey’s for lunch. Nora, his waitress, always wore her hairnet over her mousy blonde hair, a brown and yellow checked uniform tunic with a brown Peter Pan collar and matching polyester pants with nurses’ white shoes. Stools at a lunch counter let you watch Mickey cook your hamburger.

When my dad’s dad died, Uncle Put stood in the receiving line at the funeral. As Grampa’s brother-in-law, Put shook everyone’s hands. Even Mickey and Nora came to the funeral. Dressed in church clothes, they honored his life and friendship; they’d served Grampa lunch more times than had Grandma. When Nora took hold of Put’s hand to offer her condolences, he didn’t recognize her.

“I’m Nora. From Mickey’s. The waitress?” she leaned over and whispered into his ear.

“Oh my god. I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” Put exclaimed.

Dad likes to tell funny family stories. I used to be so humiliated by my dad telling these family stories in public. The one about the dog with the rubber band sticking out its rear end is downright disgusting. I don’t even have to tell it and you know where it goes. This may explain why Scandinavian humor is rumored to be a myth. Son of Tomato. Svensk legends.

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