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Prime Time: Memories: How it was then, then

When summer ended in our lutefisk ghetto in those post-war years, part of the yearly pattern found the summer people returning to the city.

Among those fleeing our little burg was Mrs. Halvorson, whose absence was noted by most who were thinking, but not saying, "Good Riddance."

Mrs. Halvorson was likely pleased to be gone; most of the locals were pleased to have her gone.

Mrs. H. got off to a bad start as far as community acceptance, unfairly or not, by her not being Norwegian; she only married one. That's not quite enough. Cultural incest doesn't do it. Hence she was doomed the day she arrived - and offered her opinions. The problem: she could not understand the natives, nor they her.

Not that she meant to be insulting, but it just came out that way - like, we all, apparently, according to her, talk funny. For example, she found it "quaint" how the locals seem to end every sentence with the word "then."

She thought it amusing when she repeated some lines she had overheard in the hardware store: "Are you going to town then?"

And the answer: "Ya, then, we go every Friday night to trade eggs, then."

She found this "peculiar parlance" amusing; the locals were not amused.

Puttin' on the dog

As to how the denizens saw her, well, she's simply a stranger who puts on the dog, a phrase that explains everything to the locals but doesn't seem to register with Mrs. Halvorson, even as she continued to put on airs - but didn't know it. She wore dark sun glasses in public, a sure sign she thought she was a Hollywood movie star. She even locked her doors at night, a clear indication she didn't trust folks in town. Most people didin't even take the keys out of the cars at night, let alone lock their doors.

And she bought her bread openly at the grocery store. With no apologies! Normal people here who purchased boughten bread always apologized loudly and publicly to the store clerk and gave some excuse about company coming or their being out of yeast or some honorable excuse like that. Mrs. H. did not understand that not to bake your own bread was a clear sign of sloth.

It gets worse. She fed her dog store-bought dog food, something almost unheard of. Any local mutt that couldn't survive on table-scraps deserved to succumb to Darwin's laws. And there's more snootiness yet. As a sign of status, their lawn-mower had rubber tires - tires that inflated! Unheard of! All other reel-push mowers in town had iron wheels, the kind the true proletariat should own. And they had two telephones in their house. Count 'em, two! Who needed two phones when many folks didn't even have one? And they flaunted their owning a portable radio, which they brought with them to the swimming beach at the lake and played it steady all afternoon Whoooo-wheee! Madness. Batteries cost money!

Conspicuous consumption

On all this hoo-ha, my dad liked to quote Thorstein Veblen, whoever he was, and Veblen's famous phrase - at least famous to Dad - as applied to Mrs. Halvorson: "conspicuous consumption," whatever that means. Anyway, it must not be good.

Even Mr. Halvorson had been compromised by this woman. The sneaky rumor is that he even did the dishes now and then. (Nobody ever washes dishes; they "do" the dishes.) Whatever, the ancient Norsk oracles who sat on the Post Office bench long ago delivered in unison the accepted pronouncement: "Dishes iss vomen's vork, den, or else da kidsess shooo-ood dew 'em, den."


Mrs. Halvorson had only one child. And that fact alone made eyebrows rise and hens cluck.

"What? Only one kid? I wonder what's wrong. . . .Is it her fault or his?"

Their wunderkind was named Dilworth but that's not what we kids called him, and Mrs. H. was apprised of that fact their first summer here when his young friends came over to their house, knocked on the door, and when the mother answered, they asked her in their politest manner: "Can Dink come out and play?"

Poor Dink. He had about as much common sense as his mother. He was, well, kinda emotional. He told all; he was so open; he hid nothing. Read: Blabber-mouth. That's not smart. Not in our town. Because the rest of us had learned - via osmosis - not to be emotional. That's unmanly. Keep your true feelings to yourself.

However, we still grudgingly concluded that Dink was a mechanical genius because he could totally take apart a one-dollar Ingraham pocket watch -every teeney, tiny piece - and then magically put it all back together again so that the watch actually ran! Pure genius. The rest of us could only do the first part with our watches. Trouble was that Dink bragged about it. Bad form.

The only time to show any emotion in public came with winning some athletic contest, at which point one was permitted to act absolutely crazy. Then and only then could males touch each other affectionately, and pat fannies and scream and holler, and maybe even shed a tear - in happiness only, of course. Girls could cry after losing The Big Game but not so for boys.


Mr. and Mrs. Halvorson kissed in public. Embarrassing for onlookers who quickly glanced away. They went for walks and held hands. Gooney as geese. He opened the car door for her and helped her in and out. Now really, was all this public show of affection really necessary?

Alas, Mrs. H. had let it drop that she found the absence of "live theater" in the area "culturally unfortunate." Around here Hollywood movie actors were morally suspect and were regularly equated with dogs in heat, with the owner of the Standard Red Crown gas station stating often and loudly his famous line: "Hollyvood iss yust a high-class hooer-house, den."

And she wanted live theater? We had it, kinda, and she could see it on Saturday nights at the local taverns. It's "improv theater" of a type, sorta impromptu performances at the grass-roots level. On a good night she could witness Telford Bakken doing four-part harmony - alone - as he belted out ancient Norsk folk songs, between Blatz beers. She might have witnessed Sven Hustad crawling through the saloon door on his hands and knees, and baying like a hound-dog that he pretended to be at that moment. The audience pretended to love it, but actually believed he was goofier than an outhouse rat.

Drama? Well, hmmm, there was at least semi-emoting in dramatic discussions on three popular national issues: Communism, The New Deal and The National Debt, any of which could get folks' shorts in a bind, but often these topics were overshadowed by three local topics, namely the weather, the public schools and the church. After all, first things first.

Anyway, it was likely that when September arrived, Mrs. Halvorson was pleased to return to the city, then.