Arland Fiske: My unforgettable Swedish friend Elon
It all began in February 1964 in St. Louis.
The telephone rang. “This is the International Institute calling. There is a young man here from Sweden who is very lonesome. Would you talk with him?”
This began an unusual and interesting friendship that continued ever since. Elon Eliasson (pronounced AY-lon Ay-LEE-ah-son) would telephone me at unpredictable times. He used to begin, “Dis is da king!” I’d know his voice anywhere and anytime. It is unforgettable.
A native of Gothenburg on Sweden’s West Coast, Elon served in the Swedish navy with Ingemar Johansson, former world heavyweight boxing champion (1959-1960). They were good friends and traveled together in China when Americans were not allowed into the country.
I brought Elon to our home in Webster Groves (a suburb to the southwest of St. Louis) where he became acquainted with our family. He was a great entertainer. The children had never seen anyone walk on his hands before. Elon had heard a lot about Chicago gangsters, especially Al Capone. It’s no wonder he carried a blackjack in his pocket for protection. One can’t be too careful in a strange land.
What brought this Swede to the “Gateway City” of America? Elon was trained as a chef in Paris under a famous teacher. His first job in America was at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. His sense of adventure brought him to Trader Vic’s in St. Louis, a famous Polynesian eating place.
He wanted to learn English, but soon discovered he was working with 27 Chinese cooks. A friend of mine, Jack Eriksen, a native of Denmark, was an engineer at the Missouri Athletic Club. He helped Elon get work at the club so he could become Americanized.
One day, Elon asked us to sponsor his fiancé, Norah Gustafson, to America. A few weeks later, I officiated at their wedding. The service was done in Norwegian and English (I didn’t have a Swedish liturgy). Afterwards he said, “I was married twice.” The reception was held at the Bevo Mill in south St. Louis, where Mayor Cervantes stopped each morning to visit friends on the way to City Hall.
They came to church every Sunday and stayed for dinner at our house. He liked our food, but complained that the coffee was too weak. One time he ran it through the filter a second time. They also put on a Swedish dinner for our congregation. It was a work of art. I haven’t seen anything like to this day. It almost reminds me of “Babbette’s Feast.”
Elon and Norah moved to metropolitan New York City. For a while they operated their own delicatessen in White Plains named Gourmet Delight. For a few years he was head chef at a private club where Henry Kissinger was a member. He used to bake Nelson Rockefeller’s birthday cake.
Norah was also a professional food preparer, a specialist in “kaltbord” (cold table). I have been a guest in their home and was treated royally with Scandinavian hospitality.
You just could never tell who is calling and what may happen when you heard the phone ring. He’d call again later, wondering if I was still alive.
Unfortunately, Elon died July 22, 2008, in New York City. I spoke to Norah on the phone recently and was surprised that she is still working the kaltborg.
Next week: T.G. Mandt.
ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.