What One Funny Picture is Worth To Me
This is my all-time favorite picture for the simple reason that every time I look at it I can’t help but smile and think back on good times. Then there is the fact that with all the wardrobe malfunctions going on here it’s a good reminder of how we all should step back and laugh at ourselves once in a while.
The year was 1980. I’m the one on the far right. The occasion was a family wedding and at this point, the ceremony had just concluded. The four of us — Uncle Al, Great Uncle George, my cousin Craig and me — are standing outside of Little Norway Lutheran Church near Black River Falls, Wisconsin waiting for whatever was to be next on the celebration schedule.
(Any further details of the day have escaped me after all these years, but the guess here is that plenty of free beer, food and a rented hall at the local V.F.W. Post was involved.)
So there we were, in a parking lot waiting for the party to get started when someone decided to take a picture. One simple moment is frozen in time.
To this day we in the family laughingly call this The Norwegian Mafia picture. La Cosa Norske. Why? Well, for one thing, we’re all of Norwegian heritage. And if you’ve ever seen an Ole & Lena joke book you know we don’t take ourselves seriously all the time.
Secondly, there’s what apparently passed for fashion sense in our eyes back then. Man, that alone begs for parody. Don’t we look like we came out of central casting as extras for a low-budget mob movie? Or maybe more so a comedy?
Of course, there is no such thing as a Norwegian Mafia. The Mafia is Italy and vendettas and notorious names like Capone and Luciano. In Norway, it’s snow and fjords and Gilbertson's and Ingebretson’s. Doesn’t set quite the same tone, does it?
Hence the absurdity of comparing us to the Corleones of The Godfather fame. Not that there is anything wrong with that since having a healthy sense of humor is what it’s all about when our family gets together.
So in honor of the Family let’s take a closer look at the four ‘mafioso’ in the picture.
Uncle George — the guy in the fedora — passed away in 1987. He was a lifelong bachelor and by all accounts was damn grateful to say that. Come to think of it, I don’t suppose the local women were complaining too much about that either. But all kidding aside, he was a good man.
In his younger years, he was a carpenter by trade. He was also was the last one in the family who knew how to speak Norwegian, and he liked his lutefisk and aquavit whenever he could get it.
(For the uninitiated, lutefisk is strictly a Skandinavian thing — a gelatinous codfish that is soaked in a water and lye solution before cooking, and aquavit is a grain or potato mash liquor that pairs especially well with pickled herring.)
Uncle Al — the guy with the dark suit and cigar — was born on October 24, 1929. Not that he had anything to do with it, but that was the same day that came to be known as “Black Thursday” on Wall Street which heralded the beginning of the Great Depression.
Among his earliest memories was the long walk he had to take every day to the one-room country schoolhouse that served the surrounding farms. “When it came to school,” he would later say, “it was uphill all the way for me.”
After growing up on a farm with four sisters he felt compelled to volunteer for the Air Force in 1953 and he proudly served his country during the Korean War. While in Korea he learned how to be a sheet metal welder, and after the war made his living doing just that for a major manufacturer in Milwaukee. He retired in 1990 and moved back home to Black River Falls.
My cousin Craig is the one in the blue suit. In our little picture scenario, he would be the one who is the mob driver, or maybe the hitman. He’s just got that razor’s edge look about him.
Well, it so happens Craig always has been handy with guns.
By that I mean he’s always been quite the outdoorsman, especially when it comes to hunting, be it deer or moose or even elk. That is where any similarity to him and a hitman ends. Believe me, Craig is as laid back and friendly as they come. He has a great sense of humor and he and I have shared many a good time together.
Then finally there’s me. Mark Twain once said that “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” You might be able to guess by the picture that humor is right up there at the top of my list too.
A long time ago I started writing a fictional story about a disgraced Mafia hitman running for his life and hiding out in a small town in northern Wisconsin. It eventually grew into a short novel manuscript that became the thesis for my degree in Creative Writing.
Looking back at it now I’m thankful the manuscript never saw the light of day. (In other words, it wasn’t very good.) But maybe, just maybe, the whimsical scenario dreamed up with this one photograph — The Norwegian Mafia — did have a little something to do with me being who I am today.
We’ve all heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I think I came up just a few words short of a thousand here, but it’s close enough and…well, I think you get the idea.
I know I do. Every time I look at that picture.