I have nothing else to do on Father’s Day but reminisce. I am not only fortunate to have had good fathers in my life, but have still have photos and their accompanying stories to remind me of the tremendous role that a father plays. I flip through the photos I have in iPhoto, and am amazed at the power of photos taken decades ago can still have, even when viewed through such a cool medium well into the 21st century.
I can look at photos of my Dad (1924-2008), who loved to share jokes and listen to music. A guy who loved the old ways of doing things, who berated me for “running out and buying a solution” when your hands could do the job. A grown man who would drop to the floor to play among his grandkids. A man who rarely showed anger, who without complaint took care of my ailing mother so that she could live out the rest of her life in her home, and die in her own bed. A hard-working, determined man who was born at dinnertime, he said, and was thus always hungry.
I can look at photos of his dad, Frederick (1886-1974), whose mother called him Ted. He ran a team of horses in a logging camp before opening a store along the highway in Lemington, Wisconsin. Tall and thin, I can still picture him sitting in his chair by the window, reading the paper. As I sat quietly in their house while the adults talked (back when kids were required to do that), he’d fold up the paper and take me into the store and let me choose candy from the glass-partitioned case — chunks of bulk candy that were impossible to choose between. He was famous for his soft side too, known to walk the floor for hours coaxing a crying baby to sleep.
I get my looks from his father, Frederick (1858-1938), whom I never met but my Dad admiringly remembered as a “big, fat German.” Dad remembered helping lace up his boots while my great-grandfather sang “Ach du Lieber Augustin.” Frederick worked for years for the Knapp-Stout Lumber Company, which cleared much of the northern Wisconsin forest, where he could look at a stand of timber and estimate the board feet of lumber it would produce. My dad recalled an old-timer telling him, “there’s no one I’d rather have in the woods with me than Fred Scharlau.”
My paternal grandmother told us about her father, James (1865-1928), who was born in New York but moved with his family to Wisconsin and established my branch of the family there. He was working at the Rice Lake gravel pit when he died, at age 62. I have a tintype of him, poised and handsome in a studio, that is one of my favorite photos.
His father, Luther (1834-1876), was as far back as my grandmother could remember, but she could remember his red hair. Luther fought for the Union at Fredericksburg and elsewhere. My Dad and I were happy and surprised upon finding his grave a few years ago in a little cemetery off the road in Royalton, Wisconsin. Even though this veteran died more than 125 years ago, someone had thought to decorate his grave with a flag.
On my mother’s side, I never got to meet my Grandpa Charles Carlson (1890-1949), but feel close to him, possibly because I can visit his grave in nearby Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Charles was the first of his brothers to emigrate to the United States from Sweden in 1901, and though a citizen for only three years, enlisted to fight in the Great War. His company fought at Meuse-Argonne in 1918, and he was the victim of a mustard-gas attack, which weakened him for the rest of his life and led to an early death. My Dad knew him, and said he loved to talk and enjoyed going to Masonic lodge meetings, where he would allow himself a beer.
I need to learn more about my mother’s grandfather, Andrew Elias Steel (1846-1922), who emigrated from Sweden to Lake City, Minnesota, where he worked as a blacksmith, until moving the family to St. Paul in the 1880s. I have a photo of him, standing proudly with several of his seven daughters.
I wish I could spend today with any of these men, to learn more about their lives, and to thank them for mine. I know their struggles were greater than mine, and I am grateful for their work and their sacrifices. The best I could do was acknowledge them and remember them a bit on Father’s Day.