UNCLES WHO INFLUENCED MY PERSONALITY

Decade Two: Exploration of My Body, Mind and Environment
Herb, Larry, and Art

Of my sixteen uncles my dad’s brother, Herb; my dad’s brother-in-law, Larry; and my mother’s brother, Art, had unique and important impacts on my personal development. Also, two non-relatives influenced my childhood, Renie Konen, and my teen years, Earl Bayerl.
Herbert Storkamp: My relationship with Herb, briefly touched on in the childhood section of this memoir, went deeper than ordinary day to day interactions, almost to a spiritual level. In the eighth grade I selected him as my conformation sponsor. Herb embodied qualities of deep thinking, quiet suffering, and unfortunately, alcoholism. He’d approach a problem with serious concentration and a beer in hand, as if they were indispensably linked.

A tragedy from his past surfaced when I set his tractor on fire by refueling with the engine running.

I sensed a problem when vapors rose from the manifold and stepped back just before the fire roared up and around the gas can, its spout still stuck in the tractor’s tank. I grabbed a shock of grain and tried to beat out the fire, a dangerous and foolish action of a panic stricken fourteen-year-old. However, Herb’s adult but slightly retarded brother-in-law knocked the can free with a pitchfork and bragged about his bravery.

After the firemen came and left, my uncle restarted the tractor, ripped off the remnants of the seat cushion, and said, “It’s best to get right back on before you think about it and lose your nerve.” The remainder of the day, my bottom bounced on the iron seat and my hands blackened from the charred steering wheel.

That evening he admitted, “I shouldn’t be one to scold after the fire I caused.” He didn’t mention or need to tell me that his former wife and two children died in that fire. I couldn’t then nor now imagine the constant pain he suffered.

Herb’s brother-in-law got a second chance to prove his bravery that summer when I might have caused another tractor fire. We had been pitching oat bundles into the thrashing machine when one must have dropped onto the flat belt and rode back to the tractor powering the machine. Again, heat off the manifold ignited the soft straw.

That evening over bottles of beer—my first and most memorable—he reported to the crew, “I jumped off the wagon and ran so fast I could’ve kicked a jack rabbit in the ass.”

I laughed with the rest, not realizing until later that Herb probably assumed I, not his brother-in-law, carelessly dropped the bundle onto the belt. Both fires occurred nearly back-to-back involving a teenaged nephew, the same age his son would have been had he not perished in a fire.

Years later, I asked Herb permission to name our newborn Daniel, the name of his deceased son. He merely nodded his consent. He already had a second daughter name June.

Not until my isolation during treatment for chemical dependency had I analyzed our relationship in the context of alcohol. I believe he self-medicated to relieve pain, whereas I, according to my therapist, self-medicated to keep my high in check. We had much in common.
Larry Taufen: My contact with Uncle Larry was less direct than with Uncle Herb. (I regret not addressing them as uncles, but my parents established the custom of using first names.) Larry was my godfather, and I claim his Christian name as my middle name. He always addressed me as Rogerus Lawrencibus, a Latinized version proclaimed by the priest at my baptism. To me it was proof that he witnessed the event whenever I panicked that my parents might have accidentally forgotten to have me baptized and faked that they had. Going to Hell loomed throughout my adolescent and early adulthood. Since then I learned that Hell is something we inflict upon ourselves while still alive.

Larry gave me birthday and Christmas presents until the year I was confirmed, probably passing that responsibility to another sponsor, Uncle Herb. The one present imbedded in my memory, the tricycle airplane I mounted on a swing. His hoisting me nearly to the ceiling and threatening to push me through an invisible hole must have been an early memory. He couldn’t have lifted a pudgy a six or seven year old.

In 1948 Joelle and I were invited to spend a couple of days with Uncle Larry, Aunt Tally, and their three children younger than our ages, seven and nine. Friends of our family drove us to South St. Paul and dropped us off at Larry’s business, the Haas Livestock Commission Co. where he managed the office. Fascinated, I gawked as Larry’s fingers seemed to dance across the keys of an adding machine, a trucker who had delivered a load of cattle stood over him. They seemed to agree on the sum, and Larry told an office worker to write him a check. He showed us his sound booth in the attic from which he announced the cattle and hog prices each morning, included in that report one January morning in 1965, the wedding of his nephew, Roger Storkamp, and Barbara Mack in Minneota, Minnesota.

On the way to his home at lunch time he said, “Look for the biggest house on the block.” We pointed and he pulled into the driveway. “Mother and I expect a lot of children,” a prediction fulfilled to match that of my family of eight siblings.

While our aunt prepared lunch, Larry pointed to what looked like a radio with a window. He said, “Later this afternoon you can watch television when KSTP begins broadcasting.” Half an hour before Laurel and Hardy began, we stared at the glass fascinated with the NBC test pattern. As promised, Stan and Ollie performed their antics as college students bungling through a hedge-maize.

That evening I fell asleep in their living room, the last I remember a man clinging beneath a railroad car, probably escaping some greater danger. The next morning I awoke, having wet the bed.

I didn’t get to visit the holding pen at Haas Stock Commission Co., nor did I realize that end of his business until I revisited when I student taught in a neighboring suburb fifteen years later. When I hinted at a job with his company, he cautioned me to avoid agencies because customers were starting to bypass the middle man. Richard Boser proved that point when he established farmer-direct cattle marketing in Pierz.

Uncle Larry approved of my career choice and expressed his pride, adding that he never doubted I would be successful. I didn’t have the presence of mind to admit nor had I fully realized how much of a mentor he had been to me.

Art Diedrich: My relation with Uncle Art was even more indirect than with Uncles Herb and Larry. His interest in my well being didn’t manifest itself until my sophomore year in college, my first at St. Cloud State University. He had built two successful businesses, Granite Inn and Sportsman Bar, according to my parents with the help of Fat Nick.

Uncle Art became my mentor in an enterprise greater than any business venture I could ever pursue, my college education. I approached college like most adventures in my life, just jump in and see what happens. To add to that fault, I redo a lot of second guessing past adventures. My psychiatrist during treatment for alcoholism, the same one who declared me manic depressive and prescribed lithium, advised me to avoid looking back at events that can’t be changed.

I defended, “I do it to learn from my mistakes.”

She shook her head and said, “Your behavior appears to be more compulsive and just reflective.”

For that she went to graduate school for twelve years? Since then I’ve taken her advice, somewhat. This memoir is not an exercise of my what if compulsion, but rather taking ownership of my past, and the amusement of my readers.

Specifically, Uncle Art gave me a job cleaning the Sportsman Bar and stocking the coolers early each morning. Larry Stewart, a future mentor of mine, complained over a glass of brandy that his assistant manager at the Paramount Theater quit unexpectedly. Uncle Art recommended and vouched for the integrity of his twenty-year-old nephew, not an usher or ticket taker, but full assistant manager. I was thrust into a suit and tie career, wardrobe Uncle Art loaned me the money to purchase. He put his reputation on the line for me and I didn’t let him down, mostly. My immaturity and false sense of achievement occasionally interfered, but after two years I had worked myself to full manager of the Hays Theater. A negative spin off, my college class work suffered, taking nearly six years to earn a teaching degree with marginal grades.

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