I may be the alleged writer in the family but many people don’t know that the real talent in the family is Olof. Despite being a nuclear-physics-trained engineer, Olof has always been a fabulous letter writer. It was, in fact, how we kept in touch for 23 years from the time we spent our senior year in high school in Brazil as exchange students (how we met) until serendipity (and both of our divorces) brought us back together decades later.
One of my regrets is that I don’t still have any of his letters to me during those two-plus decades. Of course, we were either writing by hand on lined paper or right off the typewriter, unedited. Both of us liked to find the humor in mundane – and often not funny at the time - things that were happening in our lives that day …my first husband’s and my attempt to save $125 by acid washing our pool ourselves, for example. Olof regularly regaled me with Air Force moments gone awry. My column is basically letters to a wider audience.
But in the 31 years we’ve been together since our divorces, I fortunately saved favorite documents of his creation, including all the contracts he had for Nintendo game loans (at interest!) with my younger son, Henry. (Neither my ex nor I thought Henry was a good credit risk.) Henry, even at eight, was clear that this money would be paid back, and his allowance never had to be garnished a single time. Not surprisingly, Henry wrote his essay for MBA programs on learning business ethics from Olof.
Over the years, I’ve jotted down favorite Olof-isms. On being asked on Thursday mornings if he was likely to be working that weekend, he’d reply, “Probably. Thursday is Crisis Discovery day.” When he returned home after a brutal 20-hour day, I offered sympathy. He nodded, as he headed for the bedroom. “Yup, I’ve been ridden hard. And put away wet.” After rescuing a project threatening to implode, he’d note, “I think we got the shiny side back up.”
On his aggregate of four years in Saudi Arabia, the ever-optimistic Olof opined: “It’s only a desert if you think of it that way. I prefer to think of it as a very large beach, with surf breaking on both sides."
When asked how he was able to successfully fix an item that had been considered irretrievably broken, he is likely to smile and reply, "cunning and guile,” “I messed with it,” or “just a mindless application of force.”
Always asked for technical support from family and friends, he often can’t help adding commentary. Explaining a new mouse to my sister some years ago, he wrote; “This is an optical, versus mechanical, mouse. Optical mice have no balls. Comparisons to the Democratic leadership in Congress are gratuitous.”
Describing something as really inconsequential, he will reference the testicular attributes of rodents: “It’s mouse nuts when you look at it.”
He has been in my kids’ lives since they were six and eight (we married when they were 15 and 17), and have had a profound influence on their education. In a discussion I was having with the kids back in 1987 about what constitutes “manners,” Olof clarified, “anything you do that feels natural is unmannerly.” This they understood.
On another occasion, commenting on both on my housekeeping skills AND the kids’ assessment that they’d grown up “poor,” he opined: “You didn’t grow up in poverty. But you did grow up in squalor.
After one of our three beloved goldfish - Lucky, Ducky, or Tucky had just died (hopefully not Lucky) I was trying to decide what might be an appropriate funeral service for it. After three days with a dead gold fish in the refrigerator, Olof finally took matters into his own hands. I heard the toilet flushing in the hall way bathroom. Olof came out and solemnly announced, “It was a burial at sea.”
He’s now adored by the five grandchildren whom he affectionately refers to alternately as “the plague carriers” and also “the destroyers of peace.” In play with our grandsons who have named themselves after various superheroes, Olof has dubbed himself Hummingbird Man.
From time to time I get to see his messages in cards we send to the kids. On Henry’s 38th birthday this year, Olof noted: “Henry – It’s not hard to get older. It’s getting wiser that’s hard. With three kids, a busy wife and a demanding job, you’ve gotten lots of opportunities. Enjoy them. Love, Olof”.
Responding to “Bastille Day birthday wishes” on his July 14 birthday, he noted: “Thanks for the good wishes. So far my barricades have withstood the assault of time better than those of Louis XVI. But time is the great equalizer.”
So thanks, Olof. You are truly this household’s ray of sunshine. And fortunately you don’t want to write a column of your own.