Tuesday, May 24, 2011

R.I.P. Uncle Swede

My 94-year-old great-uncle Swede died in his sleep 3:30 Sunday morning, right around the time I was leaving a friend's birthday party with my brother, who was in town with his wife for the Renegade Craft Fair. Swede's real name was Donald, but nobody ever called him Donald, Donnie, or Don. Swede was a very interesting guy who did a lot of different things with his 94 years. The only relative on either side of my family tree who ever made consistent money, he was an independent guy who spent most of his life working for himself, doing what he wanted to do. At various times in his life he was an avid bowler, golfer, rural farmer, stock market player/wise investor, city dweller, small town guy, movie buff, fisherman, world traveler, teller of slightly off-color jokes and witty one-liners, partier, registered independent, drinker of a daily 5 o'clock martini, and stained-glass maker. For most of his post-farming and a handful of his pre-farming years, he alternated between rural and small-town Nebraska and urban California. He briefly lived in Los Angeles in the 1930s or 1940s, and he and my great-aunt Mildred spent half the year in San Luis Obispo after he retired from farming. He walked across the Golden Gate Bridge the first day it was open in 1937 (they opened it for pedestrians one day before they let cars use it). I have a DVD copy of some old Super-8 films he and my great-aunt made of California, Mexico, and Nebraska in the 1940s and 1950s. Included is a demolition derby, a Rose Bowl parade, a busy Californian motel pool on a summer day, beautiful Mexican scenery, my grandfather and several other farmers on a row of tractors working the fields of a cancer-stricken friend, and a drunken New Year's Eve dance party. He and a group of friends once built a houseboat in the parking lot behind the bowling alley in my hometown. Swede told me they were drunk on whiskey the whole time they built it, but the thing worked for four years until a terrible thunderstorm sunk it. Swede's wife, my great-aunt Mildred, is the last surviving member of the old generation in my family, excepting the handful of relatives I've met only a few times. That's the way it goes.

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