I met Uncle Sam almost 9 years ago. The first thing I noticed about him was that he came and went as he pleased. Seldom was there a “Hello” or a “Good-bye”. He always made time to bounce the youngin’s on his knee, read them a book, let them wear his hat or yank on his nose. He didn’t seem to have much patience for the grown ups…now that I have been in the family a while, I understand why.
He took off his hat the first time he met me–I remember I thought that was lovely. A few weeks later he brought me 3 jars of sorghum. He explained in a gruff voice, “I brought these for Erik, I sell them for $7.00 a piece but because you are family, I will give them to you for $20.00″…I chuckled…he was serious.
You see, Samuel Christian Hanson is an old Norwegian Bachelor. There seems to be a lot of those around here. Garrison Keillor talked about them in his stories, but until I came up here to Wisconsin–I never really believed they existed.
Sam lived with his folks until they passed. He did a year in trade school, a stint in the army, traveled, worked hard, became a realtor–he never married. Erik once asked him why he never married. He replied “when I came back from the Army, all my buddies were married–up to their earlobes in wives, kids, mortgage, car payments. I never wanted that for me. I wanted to be able to come and go as I pleased, without having to check with someone first.”
The hubs and his siblings had a difficult childhood. Uncle Sam was the fun Uncle, the Hero. He took them places, had a motorcycle and a chainsaw. He loved them. He encouraged them. He made an impression on them.
The first thing I found that Uncle Sam and I have in common is the garden. When we still lived in Iowa, but would come to visit, he would take me out to his truck to pick as many gourds and pumpkins as I could stow in the car. I would listen to his explanations of each kind as well as a few funny stories.
When we moved to the cabin, the Hubs and his brother made me a dandy garden plot. He would come up the hill and admire my progress. “Yes sir, it looks like good things are happening here.” That is a pretty big Norwegian compliment.
When we lived in the cabin I would cook down at the big house sometimes. My sister-in-law has a dreamy kitchen and I find it easier to cook for 20 than for 4. Uncle Sam would clean his plate and tip his hat and say, “Yes Sir, that was mighty fine eating,” “Thanks for the supper,” or “Chili doesn’t get better than that”. Sometimes he would come up to the cabin–my only visitor, bounce the boys, marvel at their antics and have supper in our little kitchen. He started telling me funny stories about the folks around and things his mother used to say. I started to feel like less of an outsider. Sam knows where all the good fish fries are. Never feed him shrimp or mushroom though!
Uncle Sam likes to go to the Amish Auction in Fennimore, WI. He calls me when he gets there and tells me what looks good. If I get excited about something, a few hours later he appears with it along with whatever he likes. I offer to pay him and most of the time he says, “ahh no, put it on my tab”. Earlier this year he started bringing me ingredients and telling me how his Mom used to make something from them. I would take them and invite him to supper a few days later (after a little practice and homework) and serve him the dish. Once he told me that his Mother might not have liked me…I was a little surprised, then he chuckled and said, “cause that was better than hers.” That is a HUGE Norwegian compliment!!!
He bought a quilt at the Amish Auction once and told me he has it in his Hope Chest. If I ever want to embarrass Sam or make him skedaddle I tell him, “If things don’t work out with Erik, I am coming after you Sam.” He turns beet red and heads for the door.
Uncle Sam has a few other old bachelor friends. Larry has an orchard called the Cucumber Tree Nursery on Old Q Road in Blanchardville, Wisconsin. Good Apples! I get the best Honey Crisp there, and they are cheaper than in Madison. The two old bachelors sit up in the apple shed 12 months a year, drinking coffee that I believe is brewed in an old sock. My little boys love to go with him–Larry gives them a soda and cookies and they explore while the men read the paper and do old man stuff.
I love to drive around the country with Uncle Sam he has a story about almost every building, barn, and business you pass. “My dad and I put the roof on that barn,” or “that Farmer had 3 daughters, one real pretty, the others not so much,” or “my dad painted the inside of that building for Mr. Such-and-Such and never got paid,” or “the man that used to run that had a wife that drank before noon on Sundays.” I smile and chuckle sometimes. I have heard some of them so often that I remember them now when I drive past them alone.
Uncle Sam has a house, I have only been in it once. He is a…well…let me just say he is more Oscar than Felix. He dries his dress socks on his lamp shades. I think years of having his Mother keep house…you get the idea. Uncle Sam likes to bake. I am not good at it. A few years ago at Christmas he asked me if I wanted to help him make rosettes. Umm–Yes, please! Sam makes 12 dozen every year for the Norwegian Supper at Yellowstone Lutheran Church. We used his mothers iron. I mostly cleaned up the drops and drips and did the dishes, but I got a great rosette lesson. We talked and laughed and I had a ball. Uncle Sam makes a good Key Lime Pie. He has all the fancy tools to make Lefsa–I better get a lesson on that soon.
Earlier this week, Sam came for supper. He brought a few newspapers and he had something for me. He gave me a dirty copper bowl. I poured him a soda and he gave me the story. “Cousin Rosann sent me that years back, I was trying to make meringue and having a rough go of it.” (Cousin R is a post for another day). “She sent me that fancy bowl, it worked, she would want you to have it.” My mind was spinning in a few directions. First, Uncle Sam doesn’t give away much. I was touched. Secondly, Cousin R is special in this family and I was honored to be given this. Also it is a fancy french copper bowl…but, it is filthy–I think it has remnants of the original meringue still on it.
After supper was cleaned up and the boys settled in for bed, I started snooping around the internet to find a way to clean this gift. Guess what I kept running into? Ketchup! Yeah the Tomato stuff. I have it, I try it! I smells a little funny, Metallic and acrid. I rub it all over and let it sit. A bit later I return give it a rinse…Wow. I scrub it 3 times and I end up with this….
I miss my Grandpa’s. I never thought one of my Wisconsin BFF’s would end up to be the Hubs Uncle Sam. He gets me. I get him. I love that he loves my boys. I love that he loved the Hubs when he was a little boy. I love the copper bowl and everything it means. Now I have to go practice Meringues!