READING TO THE LITTLE ONES

The Wake Forest Library was packed with little ones there for story time when I went in this morning to drop off the old audio book and pick up a new one. Made me remember reading to my own children and all the times I’ve thought that by doing so I did my bit in encouraging them to read.

I should have snapped a few photos at the library. The lttle people were everywhere; sitting, crawling, running. Story time had just ended and picking out books time was having an energetic beginning.

The scene also made me remember when I did story time back in the 90’s as one of the privileges of being president of the Friends of the Wake Forest Library. What a treat it was to sit down in front of all those bright eyes!

I began by rehearsing at home behind a closed door, especially if the story called for a few different voices. Ham that I am, I almost always picked stories that required different voices. Arriving at the library a bit early so I could say hello to the moms, dads, grandmoms, granddads, and the children, I was always surprised by how many children would say hello right back, without any prompting. When my two sons and two daughters were little, three of them were very shy. My youngest was always ready with a speech on most any subject if you encouraged him even a little.

The reading would begin with children sitting on the floor or on someone’s lap, and my sitting on a seat that was so low I had to stretch my legs out in front of me to avoid having my knees in front of my face. I’d read a little and turn the book around so they could see the illustrations.

For the first few minutes the children stayed as still as any preschoolers would, but then one or two would get up and wander over to look over my shoulder as I read. Then two or three more would gather around. By the time I got to page five I was in a sea of children and loving every minute. The kids always rewarded me with a few laughs when I did my more outrageous characters’ voices.

As I went on my way I thought about the parents I had just seen, and I wondered if any of them were in the crowd of little people that surrounded me back then…..

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Learning Windows 10 DIY

Whew! What a relief! My copy of “Windows 10 FOR DUMMIES” arrived in yesterday’s Amazon package.

But wait! It weighs a little less than a 5-pound bag of sugar and sports a beefy read of 952 pages, counting the index. At my age, I’m certain it would not fit under my feet if I jumped as high as possible.

I deserve this punishment. I’ve had Windows 10 for a month and am still using the new laptop it came with – wait – it’s the other way around: the new laptop came with Windows 10. Anyway, I’m still using the new laptop as though it were my old laptop; namely, using the Windows 10 features that let you use it without using Windows 10. I’m hoping that last sentence was actually a sentence.

On to the first chapter. Sometime in April of 2016 I’ll be finished with the book and achieve entry-level capability. At my age, and I am not able to emphasize how I hate using that phrase so often, the learning curve is steep. By May of 2016 I will try to let you know how it went.

Relative Strangers Revisited – Just a Little

In August of 2003 I finished writing something I titled: “Relative Strangers.” The booklet had over a hundred double-spaced pages. Copies sold: zero. Copies given to family: six. My mission when I began writing: family history. The actual result, as I wrote back then: “…elements of autobiography and memoir, seasoned with what I know about the family.”

In other words: not a family history. So at this point the title “Relative Strangers” I thought was such a tidy play on words really doesn’t deserve more than an awkward and slightly embarrassing glance in the rear view mirror. Besides, since the title I thought was clever there have been (at least) one movie and two books that use that very same title. The movie is a 2006 comedy with Danny DeVito, Kathy Bates, Christine Baranski and others, including Academy Award Nominee Neve Campbell. The books include:

                        – “Relative Strangers: Family Life, Genes & Donor  Conception,” 2004, and

                         – “Relative Strangers: A Modern Vampire Story,” also 2004.

All came later, no doubt influenced by the six copies of my earlier work – seven if you count the one I have but can’t find. (Please hold up the laughter and applause signs.)

In the twelve years since my earlier work I have learned a bit more about my father’s side of my family – the Swedes – and precious little about my mother’s side – the Irish (with a small, unknown English ingredient, and possibly a pinch of French).

The intervening years also produced a collection of photos and family history worksheets on the Swedish side from Lillian Wiborg Bohlin, my stepmother, obtained because Jane Barshay Bohlin, my older son Einar David’s wife, somehow found Marshall Bohlin, one of my  half-brothers. I have photos and worksheets, but nothing to tell me if the Swedes in those photos were plumbers or politicians, lawyers or laborers, foresters or felons.

On the Irish side, if I can find it, I have a diagram I put together after spending a few hours with my mother at Fairfield Street kitchen table in south Chicago. I had convinced her that at the age of fifty I had reached that magical time she often referred to when she said: “I’ll tell you about that when you’re much older.”

Having spent considerable time growing up in the company of Irish streetcar motormen, policemen, cooks, tavern owners, singers and poker players, and virtually no time in the company of the Swedish family members, I have long since concluded the most Swedish thing about me is the name Einar. And I didn’t even know my name was Einar until I obtained a copy of my birth certificate in June of 1957, four months after my seventeenth birthday, for the purpose of enlisting in the U.S. Air Force to learn how to repair aircraft electronics and possibly jet engines. The family called me “Skip” or “Joe.” Now the grandkids, and by extension my own “kids” call me “Papa Bone,” which was what first grandchild Brendon created before he could say “Bohlin.”

The reasons I am revisiting this subject are to correct an error in the earlier work, set out an update or two, and expand upon some of the relationship issues that made me think of the title of the earlier work in the first place.

First, the error.

The reasons behind almost every motivation I have for ever writing about this are the circumstances surrounding and following the death of Einar Axel Bohlin, my father, November 20, 1955, at the age of forty-two.

Until recently I thought he had died in 1953. I don’t have any idea why I made that mistake for so many years. I was fifteen when he died, not thirteen. Suffice it to say there was so much turmoil in my life during those years it’s more than a little likely that the two-year difference meant nothing to me then and I just never focussed on the difference until recently.

At fifteen I was entering my junior year of high school on Chicago’s south side. My father and his wife and two sons lived on the north side. In those days the distance might as well have been the same as between New York and Boston. In later years I would marvel at my father’s patience, his persistence, in driving the hours it took for him to see me every other month or so. To be sure, when he did make the drive he also saw his mother and father, more south siders. But I did climb into his Chevrolet for trips to White Sox baseball games, visits to the Museum of Science & Industry (still my favorite), and once to a football game between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals. He even came with me to a football game played by Mt. Carmel, the Catholic boys’ high school I graduated from in 1957.

And as I wrote in my earlier work my father visited me in hospital the day after I was put in the hospital by a group of neighborhood thugs. I was a few months shy of my fourteenth birthday at the time and the injuries included a broken bone in my left hand, several stitches in my scalp, and varous cuts and bruises.

My dad drove me back to his house in Lincolnwood once for an overnight visit. That’s when I saw his sons for the first and only time until recently. Matthew Brian was probably no older than three; Marshall Scott two. I would not see Marshall until roughly sixty years later and Matthew not at all at this writing.

In fact, after my father’s death I would not see or hear from a single member of the Swedish side of my family until the spring of 1981, when I saw the Lincolnwood exit off the freeway and took a chance by exiting and looking for the address I remembered on Karlov Street. I had been visiting a friend in Glenview from Air Force days and was on my way back to my mother’s home. I found the house and rang the doorbell. As luck would have it, Lillian answered the door and we had a short but very nice visit. That was the first time I had seen her since Einar Axel’s funeral and last time I saw her, although we did exchange a few phone calls, holiday cards and letters over the years. Lillian later mailed me the only photos I ever had of my father until a few years later, as described below.

After my dad’s death I heard not a single word from Grandpa Charlie, Grandma Helmina, Uncle Elmer, Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Elsa, or Uncle Emil, other than a call from Elmer that my mother relayed to me advising of the deaths of Charlie and Helmina less than a year later.

I don’t recall how or exactly when the connection between Marshall and me got started, but we have exchanged holiday cards, emails, Facebook posts, family news, and a phone call or two over the past few years. My suspicion is that Marshall responded to a letter I sent to him and Matthew after I’d met with their mother as described above. I deeply regret that I never had the pleasure of meeting Marshall’s wife Su. I am saddened to include here that Marshall and his daughters Colleen and Kaitlyn recently lost their wife and mother.

Out of the blue of few years ago Bruce Bohlin, son of Elmer and Dorothy, my dad’s brother, and my first cousin, found me on Facebook a few years ago and we have since been in touch and shared visits twice: once for lunch near Naperville, IL, and last week at our home in Wake Forest, NC (September 11, 2015).

Gayle Whitmer, daughter of my Aunt Elsa, also found me on Facebook a year or two ago and we have exchanged emails and Facebook posts. Gayle lives in Utah.

And after sixty years, on September 12, 2015, Marshall and I met in Winston-Salem, NC, for a nice visit over lunch and a bit of touring with my wife Karen and Marshall’s brother-in-law Jim King. And now I have three new Facebook friends: Jim King, Colleen Bohlin, and Kaitlyn Bohlin. I hope I’ll have the pleasure of meeting my nieces in person sooner rather than later.

There is no one alive today who could explain why I never heard from grandparents, uncles, or aunts following my father’s death in November of 1955. For my part, I tried to see my grandparents a few months later. I did get the timing on that right in my earlier work; that is, a few months after my father’s death I rode my bike to my grandparents’ apartment building on 79th Street and was told that they were no longer there. As mentioned above, my recollection is that my Uncle Elmer called my mother to tell her Charlie and Helmina had died. The call came after a week or two after they both were gone.

So I ask myself, less and less as I am halfway through my seventy-sixth year, why do I dwell on all this? It’s ancient history and nothing will come of guessing about why my father’s family clearly had no interest in their grandson, stepson, and nephew. A family argument? Suspicion or fear that I might have some claim to my father’s earthly possessions? The famous and stereotypical Swedish indifference or cold heartedness? A deep and abiding hatred of my mother and her family, the Irish, the Catholics, something else?

So why do I continue to try and find answers that no longer exist? Besides worrying for many years about dying young because my father died young, there has always been my wondering about whether I would have taken different roads along the way had I been able to ask for a father’s guidance. But writing doesn’t solve that one.

Why do I write? The only satisfactory answer I am able to conjure is that by writing I am able to set it all aside once and for all.

Maybe.

As I concluded in the earlier work, the author of a wonderful book titled: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” provided a Zen quotation I have been very fond of for many years:

                                               After enlightenment, the laundry.

I’m heading to the laundry room as soon as I hit the publish button.

To My Friend Nick Sweigart of Crown Point, Indiana

(The following is a letter I sent to Nick in January of 2014. I had learned that the cancer he had fought for many years had returned, and I wanted to document our friendship one more time…..)

My capability for travel is limited at the moment and that, as the kids say, is bumming me out. What I’d prefer to do is show up at your doorstep to share the memories I have of a great friend, but this letter will have to serve that purpose for now.

Just a few examples of great memories……

Sharing lots of laughs.

Driving to the Beauty Spot for lunch.

Observing Rick Curran and Jack(?) Chidsey in action.

Watching Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus and all those other great Chicago Bears.

Cataloging the Fanta bets.

Getting through the door (you first, Laurel & Hardy style) at Lew Wallace.

Chuckling over the Pollizato(?) “Straight Finger” painting in the hallway at Lew Wallace.

Playing at golf, especially with Ed Metz and watching you launch a golf ball into a trailer park (a baseball swing with a putter, as I recall).

Attacking the Lake Michigan waves at Miller Beach.

Being your best man and getting to know Connie, Patty, Mike, David, and Suzie (and to a less frequent but no less pleasant extent, Shirlee).

Welcoming you and Connie and infant Suzie to our home in Falls Church, Virginia in April of 1969 (recall that my younger daughter Valerie was born that weekend, but we still got to see the cherry trees).

Joining you, Connie, and Karen in Manhattan for a Broadway show after a few days of touring in Washington.

Hearing about the adventures of Lucky the Basenji, terror dog of Crown Point.

Having great times with Ken Chaney, Mike (“Home of the Whopper”) Jennings, Howard Jones, Wally Webb and other Lew Wallace denizens.

Officiating basketball with you.

Watching you officiate at a regional in Ft. Wayne.

Hearing about the kid you had watch your house across the street from Lew Wallace while you were on vacation, and your adventure with the Gary PD when you came back early.

Watching in horror as you poured milk on my famous popcorn.

Botching a call umpiring a baseball game you were coaching. (Would like to have that one back…..)

Catching your nifty passes for layups, especially the backwards no-look one in the faculty-student game.

Enjoying and (mostly) agreeing with your philosophy of life.

I often tell this Nick story to illustrate the humor I always enjoyed so much:
At a teachers’ meeting in the auditorium at Lew Wallace, when a strangely dressed and barely presentable guy walked down the aisle and up on the stage to be introduced as a guest speaker. Your comment as he went by us: “This guy has to be part of the hot lunch program.” Of course you made me laugh at an inappropriate time. Again.

Thanks for interrupting your review of the Cardinals’ spring training to drive across Florida for a visit with Karen and me and our friends Joe and Karen Mollahan in Estero Beach.

All the best my friend. Your pal forever,