Ya, shure, Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is where the Scandinavians hang out. My Norwegian cousins Gunnar and Gladys Langaker (Longfield) lived there and so did my Irish-Bohemian father and Norwegian mother during the 1960s before they retired to Arizona.
If you have any aging Scandinavian relatives, you may have observed that engaging in slapstick comedy – actually any comedy – doesn’t rank real high on their Most Desirable Achievements List.
My granddaughter Elizabeth and grandson-in-law Sean Smith are living in Ballard right now and so far the neighborhood hasn’t affected their dispositions or sense of humor. Just to make sure it doesn’t, I want Elizabeth – who reads at least 100 books per year – to read this one.
It’s called “Scandinavian Humor and Other Myths”, by John Louis Anderson.
Thanks to our stern Norwegian heritage on the Longfield side of our family, we may not produce many stand-up comedians, but we did have one who actually did a more than passable impression of great silent movie star, Charlie Chaplin. Seeing a transplanted Norwegian imitating Charlie Chaplin was as unreal as hearing the Archbishop singing hillbilly music.
We’d see our uncle often on Sundays, when my dad and mom, and all five of us kids would pile in the car and go to Atkins, Iowa to visit him – our Uncle Nelles Longfield, Aunt Alma, and their children, Arlan, Edmund, Mavis, Nelda and Minnard. All but Arlan are pictured below.
Eventually, we’d reach Uncle Nelles and Aunt Alma’s house on Main Street in Atkins (it looked similar to this one) and all would be well. Temporarily at least. While the grownups visited, the kids would play with the cousins. Joan and I spent every minute we could with Mavis and Nelda except for one time she was playing baseball with the boys, and Edmund hit the ball into her stomach and it knocked her out! I don’t think Joan continued pursuing a career in baseball after that.
But back to Nelles and his Performing Arts. Nelles worked as a custodian for Atkins School. He was blind in one eye because while still living in Norway, he fell down on a pitchfork embedded in a haystack. He was a great ice skater, but lots of Norwegians are, and that certainly doesn’t explain how he got good doing the Chaplin shuffle. Once in a while, my mother would wheedle him into doing his Charlie Chaplin impression.
It didn’t take much encouragement to get him to retrieve his bowler hat and cane and do his “Little Tramp” routine. I don’t think Atkins even had a movie theater so I don’t know where Nelles picked it up, but he had the shuffle down pat, he even looked like him, and he was FUNNY. Fortunately, Charlie Chaplin movies were silent, because, with his Norwegian accent, no way could Nelles have passed for Charlie. Uff da!
Lacking any footage of Nelles himself performing, this might give you the idea, and besides, it’s fun watching the real McCoy in action.
Yes, that IS a real lion, tiger, and dog in the scene, and the great Charlie did 200 takes before they got it perfect.
In case you haven’t had enough, let’s close with a little Scandinavian joke. I like this one because it reminds me of my cousin Gunnar. Gunnar was a very successful builder in Ballard, but he couldn’t read or write. His wife, Gladys, took care of all the messy details that involved any paperwork, leaving the brains and brawn of building to Gunnar which he managed to do in the intrepid Viking spirit.
So here’s the joke.
A Norwegian fella wants a job, but the foreman won’t hire him until he passes a little math test. “Here is your first question,” the foreman said. “Without using numbers, represent the number 9.”
“Without numbers?” The Norwegian says, “Dat’s easy.” and proceeds to draw three trees.
“What’s this?” the boss asks.
“Vot! you got no brain? Tree and tree and tree make nine,” says the Norwegian.
“Fair enough,” says the boss. “Here’s your second question. Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99.”
The Norwegian stares into space for a while, then picks up the picture that he has just drawn and makes a smudge on each tree. “Dar ya go.”
The boss scratches his head and says, “How on earth do you get that to represent 99?”
“Each of da trees is dirty now. So, it’s dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree. Dat is 99.”
The boss is getting worried that he’s going to actually have to hire this Norwegian, so he says, “All right, l ast question. Same rules again, but represent the number 100.’”
The Norwegian fella stares into space some more, then he picks up the picture again and makes a little mark at the base of each tree and says, “Dar ya go. Von hundred.”
The boss looks at the attempt. “You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!”
The Norwegian leans forward and points to the marks at the base of each tree and says, “A little dog come along and pooped by each tree. So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, vich makes von hundred.
So, ven do I start?”
Here’s one more photo of Nelles and Alma, shown here with my mother and father, sister Joan with husband Tommy Fitzpatrick, and my brother Richard (in front.)