My Uncle Waldo - Page 1
Uncle Waldo was my mother's brother, and when I was a child he was my best friend and my best buddy. Yes, I adored him, I looked up to him, and I wanted to be like him. He was fourteen years older than I, but for me he was a very significant person in my world and the one I most wanted to be around. Of course, my mother and father were important to me, but my Uncle Waldo was my idol, and as his first nephew, he gave me much attention.
Waldo, born on January 10th, 1926, grew up in McGregor, North Dakota as the youngest child and the only son of four children born to Victor and Matilda Erickson who had homesteaded there. At the time he was born, the family was living in the back rooms of the general store they operated. A sister of his (Lydia) had died shortly after birth, but his two older sisters, Mildred and Naomi (my mother) both doted on him and he flourished in this small community and in the farmland of this prairie country. At about 1930, the family moved to a nice house on the West edge of the six block town.
Several boy hood friends in the area occupied Waldo’s young active life, including several cousins who he played with, but he also had a dog named Skeezix who followed him everywhere and who he loved very much. Together with his dog, they made a game of chasing gophers in the fields, and Waldo used them as targets for make-shift sling shots he concocted. This was a great pastime. They would also head for local potholes in search of Indian arrow heads and then go swimming in the deeper nearby ponds. He also befriended a black crow who became his constant companion, sitting on his shoulder or flying next to him wherever he went. Waldo was always inquisitive and inventive, and he was always up to something.
Learning new things came easy to Waldo, especially in those areas where he could display his special abilities. He soon learned to play the piano on his own and developed a special taste for Scandinavian folk music and polkas. Of course, his Scandinavian heritage and the Swedish presence in which he lived helped to promote this in him. He amazed people by being able to play almost anything. They would only need to hum a tune to him and he would take it and play it as if he had already practiced it. He had a special ear for music and he became known as being able to “play by ear”. This became quite evident when he got hold of a clarinet one day and then started playing tunes he heard on the radio, including rousing renditions of the Clarinet Polka. Other instruments that he picked up were the accordion (and other “squeeze boxes”), and also the trumpet. Evenings at home often became musical sessions with the whole family being involved, especially with his father.
After getting acquainted with crystal radios and listening to stations in far off places, he set his sights a bit further. This endeavor, one of his most enterprising, was the radio transmitting station he put together. Everyone in town could tune into station W-A-L-D-O as he broadcast the latest news and gossip along with musical pieces that he played. He hooked up his apparatus to the nearby barbed wire fence, which he used for his broadcast antenna. As a country boy, he showed that he was not just ordinary, but that he was very talented with extraordinary gifts that made people take notice.
I do not remember just when Waldo and I first set eyes on each other, for I was quite young. But, I do remember quite clearly the particular time that my parents were expecting him to come home from the war (WWII) in the later 1940s. He had previously joined the Army Aircorp in Grand Forks, North Dakota just prior to his 18th birthday. There was great anticipation upon his release from the service and my parents were planning for him to stay with us in our home in Ballard (Seattle, WA). Of course, I had no real expectation about this event because I really wasn’t that familiar with him, but it was not long before I saw him on a daily basis, just like he was a member of our family. That was the time we really got to know each other, and he soon became my favorite person, and my buddy.
One of the souvenirs Waldo gave me when he arrived was his military flight hat, which fit like an upside down boat on my head. It would slide down over my eyes because it was much too big for me. He had been in the Army Aircorp up in Alaska flying on a B24 as a gunner. As I understood it, he was stationed on the inside of the cold plane with his big gun pointed out of its side and ready to shoot at any threatening Japanese aircraft. Another souvenir he gave me was a deactivated 37mm shell from an antiaircraft gun. It is a souvenir that I still have, along with some of his medals. I also have his Aircorp flight jacket, which I received after he had finished wearing it several years later.
Waldo slept in our downstairs unfinished basement next to our big oil furnace. My parents had fixed up an area for him to sleep by putting up partitions of army blankets that hung around and surrounded his bed and belongings. It was actually a very secluded, but cozy and warm place. I wasn’t allowed to disturb him when he was in his quarters, but when he wasn’t there, I would sometimes sneak down and bounce on his bed.
Waldo was a very active person and he usually was not at home during the day, perhaps he had some small jobs, but I don’t remember. And, I don’t remember him bringing over any girl friends, but he had some friends in the area from MacGregor that he would see, as well as his Laugerberg cousins. It seemed that he was constantly doing things with his cousins, Russell and Gene, and I would often be included. In fact, I sort of felt like part of his group as I was sometimes invited to go here and there with him and his buddies.
One of the activities that they did together was jeep riding. I don’t know exactly how the jeep came into the picture, but I suspect that one of the Laugerbergs had purchased the old army surplus jeep, or perhaps they had all contributed in purchasing it together, as they would all take turns driving it. Perhaps they got it from the old 3GI store, which was an army surplus Quonset hut on Holman Road that was often visited to look for deals on old army surplus supplies and equipment.
Riding in the jeep was a thrill, and I really enjoyed being in the company of these young men as they made me feel as if I was their mascot. I would sit in the back jump seat, hanging on and bouncing as the wind blue in my face, while they whooped and expressed their happy spirit in passing other cars on the road. Sometimes, I would notice certain hand gestures from them toward others with an emphasis that indicated to me that they weren’t pleased with someone or something, but I was too young to understand exactly what that all meant. Then, as we turned off the road and entered areas where cars did not normally go, the real fun began. Carkeek Park was a favorite place to test the agility of the jeep as we traveled through the woods and up dirt walking paths. They would challenge steep slopes where I sometimes had to get out as one of them would then complete the challenge without tipping the jeep over. One other place the jeep was put through its paces was in the Olympic Golf Course, which was just across the street from where I lived. I remember that the 10th, 11th, and 12th holes were the most popular place to ramble as this was out of sight from the clubhouse and concealed by woods in the area.
One memorable time with the jeep happened during one winter when Waldo, Russell and Gene drove it up onto our front lawn and used it as a platform to stand on while building a huge snowman family. It was a loose depiction of our family, including my dog Sandy. It towered about 12 feet high as it looked out across the street toward the golf course. For as long as this snow creation lasted, we had a traffic jam of people and their cars stopping in front of the house to look at this masterpiece.