When I was a child, our extended family rotated the hosting of Thanksgiving dinner. One year we gathered at the home of Uncle Jack and Aunt Dot in Council Bluffs. It was a fine meal with turkey and all the trimmings. Aunt Dot outdid herself. Dessert was the traditional pumpkin pie, a delicious custard pie with flavors of the familiar spices of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. After dessert, as Aunt Dot was taking the plates back to the kitchen, she was confronted by the sight of an unopened can of pumpkin on the counter. She had forgotten to put the pumpkin in the pie. It was a fine custard pie, with all of the spices, but none of the pumpkin. She confessed her sin of omission, and we all had a good laugh about it. Apparently, the spices in a pumpkin pie are more important than the pumpkin.
Aunt Dot told me this tale. I am absolutely certain it is true, although it happened before my time. My dad and my uncles conspired to prank the women of the family at Grandma Christiansen’s dinner table. They constructed little frames that they could sit on containing a little wooden paddle attached to a rubber band. When the rubber band was wound up, they could lean to the side, allowing the paddle to spin producing a fart-like noise. At an appropriate stage in the meal, my dad and uncles would, in turn, say something like, “Oh, I think I’ve eaten too much,” and lean to the side, allowing the paddle to spin and producing the fart noise. As Aunt Dot was telling this story, she admitted, “After a while, I actually thought I could smell it.”
I wanted to tell the story, but chickened out, about when Dot let such a bad one in bed one night that it woke Jack up from a sound sleep. He was cussing and flapping the covers. He even patted down the place between the two of them. Dot said she pretended to be asleep, but could hardly control her laughter.
Did you know Dot had a mild case of Spoonerism? For example, Jack’s sister Katie Servoss had a miscarriage in the early days of her marriage. Everyone felt awful about it, and Dot visited her in the hospital. Dot clasped her hand and said, “Luff tuck, Kid.” She tried again, “Luff tuck, Kid.” After a third try, they both had to laugh, Katie agreed she was indeed having tough luck. Another time Dot was dreaming she and her sisters were serving a holiday dinner at Grandma’s house. In the dream Dot announced, “We’d better have a lot of food because they are all heaty arters”. She woke herself laughing, but indeed in real life we definitely were all hearty eaters.
Now to a sad part. Dot was in tears after Jack finally had to leave us all. She said she stayed near her phone for days, hoping for a sympathy call from family or friends. Finally, one day the phone rang. It was a strange voice, and when the caller realized he had a wrong number he said, “Oh, shit!” Dot replied, “AMEN to that!”
Oh yeah, and then there was the incident with Wayne Dawson’s son. Can’t remember his name. He was a little shaver (as they used to say) then. Aunt Dot always had her glorious days in the morning, which some of the family thought odd (don’t know why). Anyway, one morning Bob (was that his name?) Dawson stood outside the bathroom, and in his deep, childish voice, said, “Dot, I can smell your load.”
Johnny was such a card – and loved a drink, just like the rest of us Martins. I remember him regaling us with great hilarity about the trick he would play on a hard-of-hearing man who came in. He would be talking to the guy and then just go to mouthing the words. They man would say: Damn hearing aid and go to fiddling with it. Well, today that would be in very bad taste but Jack loved a joke.
Another memory from this trip: Dot had a rummy game that involved several decks of cards shuffled together. She would deal about twenty cards to each player, then you would take half the cards and sit on them. So, it was the “butt pack” – as I recall. Once you played all your good cards, you could pull out the butt pack and use those cards. It made the game unpredictable and exciting because there were multiple copies of each card. You couldn’t strategize and think, well, all the Aces are on the table, etc.
Of course you’re talking about our favorite card game Hand and Foot, which Aunt Dot dubbed Pick Your Butt, because of picking our 2nd hand out from under our butt. I have 5 card playing besties, and it is always our game of choice! As a matter of fact, we’re playing on my screen porch next Tuesday. Gotta take advantage of these beautiful spring temps before summer hits. We often talk about Aunt Dot when we play.
You’ve never known blood unless you played “Bust” with Dot. I remember getting scratched more than once as she lunged to get a card in place!
OMG! Bust! Mom, Aunt Dot, and I must have played that a hundred times. And you’re right, Jean. It could get dangerous. They were both fast as lightning. We finally made a rule that you could only play one card (don’t know how else to put it) at a time; otherwise, you could pull several cards from your hand and keep others from playing cards, which we decided wasn’t very fair. I treasure those times. I can still hear a triumphant “BUST!” coming from mom and Aunt Dot.
On July 7, 1991, in my apartment in Marina del Rey, Don Martin, Tina Lewis, Don Hassler, and Paula Hassler, signed as charter members of the John A. Nason Marching & Chowder Society. The first meeting was held in memory of Bill Irving, Jack Nason, Melvin Leahy, Ella Runge, Warren Taylor, Martin Runge, Martha Martin, Marie Leahy, Merwin Martin. I’m not sure why they were listed in that order; perhaps in the order of when they died.
Don Martin wrote:
Society Sidenotes: Each meeting begins in high spirits (!) with a toast “to Uncle Jack and those who have gone before us.” Depending on the mood of the group and recent experiences, perhaps a favorite story or memory of Jack is retold. Sometime during the course of the festivities one of us will say “What did Aunt Dot do lately?!” Thus, bringing Jack’s better half into the record. Dot, of course, is now this family’s matriarch and has always been the oral historian and most entertaining storyteller of the bunch. Request to the membership: Begin a project now to get dear Dot on tape. Her remembrances are precious, but it’s the style that endears.
We met and recorded messages, not every year, but often, until 2002. Don was good enough to put all this on a CD in 2016. If you’re interested, contact him! A couple special notes here. One of the times we met was on September 3, 2000. All of our written messages talk about Aunt Dot’s leaving this earth to be with her beloved Johnny. She died in 2000, but I don’t know how old she was. And incidentally, in the record book are wonderful photos of Uncle Jack, Uncle Jack and Aunt Dot, Aunt Marie and Uncle Melvin, My parents Martin and Ella Runge, Grandma and Grandpa Christiansen, and Aunt Martha and Uncle Merv. The picture of Uncle Jack (the first one in the book!) is the iconic shot of him wearing a hat, cigarette in his mouth, looking like the head of a mob. Everyone absolutely loved that picture!!
In a way, Aunt Dot had no inhibitions. This is one Paula reminded me of. I hesitate to write about it because I can’t for the life of me reconstruct the entire conversation. The only thing I remember is that Aunt Dot, Mom, and I were together. Somehow the conversation was centered on bicycle riding. I have a picture of a couple of the sisters riding bikes, and maybe we were looking at that. Aunt Dot said that one of the boys she knew couldn’t ride a bike because “he was so heavy hung.” My mother and I all but rolled on the floor laughing. And for decades “heavy hung” was a catch phrase among us. Aunt Dot was indeed a treasure