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July 21, 2015
Carl Bonde's high school graduation picture, 1941.

Carl Bonde’s high school graduation picture, 1941.

July 20, 2015

Writer’s block. I had an idea of writing about my uncle Carl’s childhood, substituting details of mine. The problem has always been that I don’t know much about his childhood back in the 1920s and 1930s. (I was born in 1949.) Sure, one can look at old newspapers from the period for background, but I find that to be a cheap fix. Instead, I think about my own experiences. Although Carl and I never met we both knew the same family members, but at different times. I think my uncle was a war hero. He was also an acknowledged goofball by those who remembered him.
I had a happy childhood. Oh, my father died when I was four, but my siblings, my mother and her sisters, and her friends looked out for me. in grade school I mostly played cowboy and soldier with my best friends on the block. That kept me busy. Looming large, also, was trouble with encopresis. This is defined in Wikipedia as “involuntary defecation, associated with emotional or psychiatric illness.” If that weren’t enough, I had trouble with enuresis, or difficulty controlling urination. Both of these pathological conditions were associated, ironically, with my happy childhood. I was simply too busy and happy to stop and pee. I was too happy to stop and poop, too. I also, incidentally, had a thing about refrigerators. I think that sums up a lot.
None of my concerns matched those of my uncle Carl, my absent uncle, the one killed in the English Channel by racist Nazis in World War II, while fighting for the interests of these United States, ironically, segregated by race. I want to explore that subject much more. Remind me, please.
I don’t know if uncle Carl had a thing about refrigerators as I did, so I can speak only for myself here. Permit me to digress, please.
My earliest memory (at all!) was of our refrigerator when I wasn’t even a year old yet. I know my memory was accurate because I asked my sister, ten years older, if the appliance had been to the left of the entrance of the kitchen, and it was. Of course, to a child who could not yet walk, a refrigerator looked like a skyscraper, and so it did. Adults looked like giants with nostrils full of reddish hair. They did not step on me as I gazed with wonder at the refrigerator. My memory, here, is out of kilter. It is haywire. Nonetheless, I am sure I was not a year old because we moved before my first birthday.
The fridge in the house we moved into in 1950 was smaller, but modern for its day. Our house at 334 North Avenue West in Missoula cost $5,000 and my paternal grandfather Emil loaned my father the money to buy it. Emil was not wealthy, but he was intelligent and frugal. I inherited stock from him that I had to sell in 1982 when we got our start in Billings. There, in Billings, the fridge came with the house we rented a couple blocks up Burlington Avenue. This has some importance, because when we bought our present house the former owner, a gentleman named John Frasco, took the fridge with him to his new home at Cannon Beach, Oregon. The good news was it was January 1, 1984, winter. The bad news? The temperature was about 20 below zero, too cold for milk or anything else we might plan to eat. We had to buy a fridge with our meager funds to keep things from freezing and to keep them from spoiling.
Turned out the fridge was a lemon. It was worse than that. It was a total fraudulent — thing! The guy who delivered the monstrosity said “they don’t build them like this any more!” It was made in, maybe, 1940. We literally had to use a coat hanger to open the door. My calls of complaint the next day were not answered, and when P. went to the bank Monday morning to stop payment on our check, she got there too late, and she said she saw the crooked appliance salesman pulling out of the bank parking lot, having just cashed our check. We were bitter. We told everyone.
Our real estate lady gave us a damned nice fridge that next day. End of digression.
Back to my uncle Carl’s childhood, growing up in the 1920s and 1930s in Kalispell, Montana. I still know too little. Grandpa had abandoned the agricultural economy by then, in favor of money. When I came on the scene in the 1950s they had a big Fridgedaire, with modern, rounded corners, heavy insulated door, inches of wall insulation, and a powerful spring latch to hold the rubber seal on the door to the smooth surface of the body. One had to grab the handle and pull out and down to disengage the latch and swing the heavy door. I had to be about 8 years old before I weighed enough.
Back in Missoula our fridge was relatively puny, with cheap, thin door and walls. This was fortunate for me because I didn’t have to wait for third grade to get some milk out. Pop? I can’t remember that we ever had pop. Pop came in huge glass bottles and was prohibitively expensive. Cans of pop were rare. If my brother Tom or someone got such a can of pop they drank it in front of the store. Probably three of his friends helped him.

We played army, growing up in the shadow of WW II.

We played army, growing up in the shadow of WW II.


I get sleepy thinking about refrigerators and other nonsense of that ilk. Refrigerators have always been a fascination for me, but not as much as the bathroom and my failed attempts at “number one and number two.” I’m again talking about encopresis and enuresis. These subjects are not pretty, but they were important for me. My brother mercilessly teased me, sang songs about my troubles. “Danny is a grunt!” he would gleefully sing. This was just the first line of a long song. “…a very fine gru-unt! He’s a grunt.” Eventually, he got the desired result from me. I burst into tears and I threw a nail clipper at him, striking the television screen instead.
Fortunately the tube was behind a thick pane of glass, so the glass had a nice star fracture on it that interfered later with my sister’s boyfriend’s attempts to watch hockey. In trying to retaliate I ended up breaking lots of things around the house, especially things that belonged to my brother. I broke them whenever I stayed home from school with a stomach ache because I had trouble pooping.
Once when I went into his room, as usual, to break his things, play his french horn, and listen to his phonograph records, I found a note written to me telling me to get out of his room. I simply ignored the note. I tried to play his french horn like a hunting horn and got a swallow of old spit out the mouthpiece.
I had so much trouble with my bowel movements that I didn’t go to the toilet for days and days at a time. When I did go, it was painful and large and apt to plug up the toilet. I also soiled my underwear and I think the last time my mother ever spanked me was for that. She used a hairbrush and it hurt like hell. What was a boy of maybe 11 to do? The need to defecate is powerful strong!
I used a secret place outdoors, next to the garage, in a dense lilac hedge. This was a safe place. I used it whenever I couldn’t get over to the university to use one of their toilets.
I played a sort of game, in those days. My goal was to visit (and use) every men’s bathroom in every building. There I didn’t have to worry whether my poop would plug the toilet. I simply went and didn’t flush. “The stealth pooper strikes again,” I murmured as I slipped out of the stall and out of the men’s room and down the hall to the elevator.
I played in the elevator. The door opens and closes, the car stops and starts with the toggle switch for emergency stop, and one can even ring the alarm bell by pushing a button. One can push the button to send the car to the 4th floor, then race up the stairs to try to beat it. That was too easy!
Daytime urine leakage was easy to master and stop by the time I attended school, but nightly bedwetting was a bigger problem, and I never figured out that the two quarts of Kool-Aid I drank just before bed could be a factor. Seems obvious now, I know.
Suffice it to say that I never really minded wetting the bed, but my mother got damned tired of it. One evening she told me to practice a couple of times waking up before I fell asleep. I did this like a drill for several nights in a row and I never wet the bed again.
I still don’t know much about my uncle Carl’s childhood. Somehow, because I observed our three children growing through high school without any of them suffering from obvious signs of either encopresis or enuresis, I tend to doubt that Carl suffered from either malady. For one thing the bed that he used wasn’t pee stained like mine was.

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