Fred and Eleanor — Together Forever

My grandfather was too young to be a grampa, and he remained Uncle Fred even when he was eligible to join the local senior citizen club. They lived in the north country near a community named after the socialist Eugene V. Debs. Mother Goose never understood why the Norwegian farming citizens of this area in northern Minnesota loved Debs so much that they named their town after him. They had a store, a school, a couple of churches and not much else. To this day, on the 4th of July they run their parade through the town twice just to make the experience last… But I do digress.

Uncle Fred was very active in the Seniors’ club. He donated paintings to their auctions and benefits and fundraisers. He baked pies for their monthly functions. They especially liked when he was the entertainment at their meetings — he would recite poems that they loved (Casey at the Bat, The Village Blacksmith, Hiawatha) and, of course, he’d play the piano and sing.

He never ate a beet in his life — said they’d turn his blood purple.

Fred and Eleanor traveled extensively. They toured the south, the northeast, the northwest, Alaska and Hawaii. They loved Germany and Mexico. To Grandma’s chagrin, Uncle Fred would wear his toupe when they traveled. She’d tell him, “You just want people to think you’re much younger than me.” He would purposely wear it off to the side…

Fred, dashing and debonair, and Grandma, always sweet.

Mother Goose lived with them on and off through the years. When my own parents didn’t know what to do with me, I’d end up staying with Uncle Fred and Grandma. He told stories about the railroad. The same old stories, the same old characters, day after day… We would roll our eyes. He never missed an episode of Scooby Doo and could quote from the funnier shows. He was the first person in our family to own a computer — an Apple iMac.

He painted, played the piano, checked the mail, did his crossword puzzles, and told more stories. Uncle Fred reminded us every day how much he loved peanut butter. He’d take a thick slice of Grandma’s fresh bread, schmear about half a cup of peanut butter on it, then dip it into his tall glass of milk and dribble it to his mouth. “Hot diggety dog,” he’d call out. “I love peeeeeanut butter!” He sang songs about cream of wheat, cream of rice and cream of rye.

Often his repetitiveness and his bragging would irritate my humble, soft-spoken Grandma. They became very competitive in their painting and musical occupations. He would look over her shoulder when she was playing Scrabble and tell her what words he saw in her letters. He would try to “steal her thunder” but everybody knew that he got all of his strength and inspiration from her.

When Grandma died suddenly of a heart attack, Uncle Fred’s colorful world slowly turned gray and crumbled. His muse left for heavenly shores, and he couldn’t follow. During the family visitation, Fred asked for a scissors and went privately into the room where Grandma lay. He cut off a bit of his gray hair and left it with her. He also snipped off a curl of her soft chestnut hair for his own keeping. When he passed away four years later, my mother put the curl in the palm of his hand. His final loving wish granted — they would be together forever…

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May 2023