21 de Agosto 2021


I asked myself this morning, ‘Why am I thinking about my grandfather?’ Then suddenly it came to me. I had made reference to him while walking with staff person at Panama City’s Pacifica Salud Hospital. Of all things, I was being led down a corridor to get prepped for a colonscopy and an endscopy! The aide said I had a pretty apellido, last name. This might be the first time in 65 years that I recall anyone commenting on my name as pretty. Usually, if there is a comment at all, there is the question about where the name comes from, as in from which country. This guy who was leading me was either making small talk or the name was so different in this Central American country.

I explained that it was a Swedish name, but there was more French in me than my name would reveal because my grandfather, ‘grandpa’, had married French. He liked things French because he was assigned to Saint Nazaire, France during World War I. He was born in Sheyenne, North Dakota, Dakota Territory on 17 August 1889. His parents and some siblings had come from Sweden. Eastern North Dakota ,I think, was an area where a lot of Swedes must have settled. Across the eastern border, however, was Red Lake Falls, Minnesota where my grandmother’s French/Canadian family had settled.

The Swede of the Augustana Lutheran Tradition met my French-Catholic grandmother in North Dakota where she had gotten her first job as a one-room school teacher. Making his rounds as a rural mail carrier, grandpa must have met ‘the new girl in town’ somewhere in the mail delivery service. There were eleven years between the two who would later wed in Red Lake Falls and then move to Sheyenne where he continued to deliver mail for ’37 years and eight months’ (I am quoting his newspaper obituary) and my grandma taught until she had her son, my dad and his sister, my aunt.

In the early 20th Century it was popular to use the initials of one’s first and middle names. Thus, in written form, he went by E.F. It was only years later that I learned his first name, Edwin, but I had known that the F. stood for Fred because that’s what my grandma called him. One day, we must have been talking about names and he announced that he was Fredrick the Great. And was great with his grandchildren!

He taught me my first French word, allumette, which means match. Matches were common enough because lots of people smoked. Watch old tv shows and advertisements for cigarettes (YouTube), which were advertised as one of the most life-changing and satisfying experiences a person could expect to have in this world! Filters and menthol were even added to make them pleasingly refreshing. Hard to imagine, but I have never smoked. Kitchen matches were common place because gas was used for lots of stoves, ranges, furnaces and water heaters. Looking back, I wonder if matches started a lot of house fires since matches became known as dangerous and were to be kept out of the reach of children. I have noticed that today’s children don’t know what a match is or, if they do, they don’t know how to light it.

Because Fredrick the Great was a mail carrier in rural North Dakota, he met lots of customers each day. One group of people who most have influenced him were members of the indigenous Sioux (Dakota and Lakota tribes) Tribe. Grandpa taught us to count up to five in Sioux. Most of my siblings probably still remember: wanzi, nonpa, yamni, topa, zaptan. Thanks to this website, I was able to find the spelling of each number, which I never learned: http://www.native-languages.org/numbers/dakota_numbers.htm.

As a side note to this, a few weeks ago I was in Paris bank trying to close an account. The clerk asked for my passport and then she commented on my place of birth, North Dakota. She was intrigued because she had just watched a television program about native American nations and their attempt to save their languages from being lost. What a small world!

Fredrick the Great and grandma would visit at least once a year, driving from Red Lake Falls, Minnesota to Missoula, Montana. It was always a thrill to have them because they always brought presents and when they left, Fred would always give each of us a silver dollar. I wish I had kept these dollars because they might be worth more than a dollar today. But, memories suffice just as well if not better than silver dollars.

Published by Thomas

Retired from active priestly ministry in the Catholic Church; former Benedictine monk; francophile; Holocaust researcher; Delta One Million Miler; Ex-Patriated American to the Republic of Panama

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