Thursday, November 11, 2010


This photograph is of an uncle I never knew.

Arthur Ohman, my maternal grandmother's big brother, grew up the older son in a large family of Swedish immigrants in the cold northern reaches of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, along the shore of Lake Superior. He came in the middle of a pack of 8 siblings. Born in 1894, ten years before my grandmother, he was of age to register for service when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Though he did not die in the war, I thought today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, would be a fitting time to honor him with a few remembrances of who he was.

Despite his service away from his small village home of Skanee, he returned there and remained there his whole life, and seemed satisfied to do so. He never spoke much about his service during the war- at least not to his young nieces. Perhaps not surprising, and also perhaps typical of his generation. But the result is, I don't know how he served. He could have been driving an ambulance in France or filing papers in Chicago. He could have been like Hemingway's Nick Adams, returning to Michigan to find something within himself.

He was a smart man, and good with figures. He became the manager of a bank in the nearby town of L'Anse. Somehow he managed to commute the 15 miles between home and L'Anse, even through the deep snows of winter.

He liked quiet pursuits. He was a fly fisherman, and owned a small cabin on the banks of the Huron River near his home. He preferred the quiet contemplation of trout fishing to his brother Walter's hunting. He also ran a sugar camp in the late winter. Drawing sap from the maple trees, he spent his spare time in February and March making syrup which he would share with friends and neighbors. This photo shows him fishing on the East Branch of the Huron River near his camp.

Uncle Art, as my mother and her cousins knew him, also enjoyed singing, and particularly liked humorous songs, many of them in Swedish, which he would sing to amuse the youngsters at holiday gatherings. He also recited poetry, and my mother's earliest memories of Robert Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" were from her uncle.

We still have Harry & David boxes that Uncle Art sent for Christmas to my parents when they were first married. He was thoughtful like that, and had a quiet sense of humor.

This final photo was taken within a year of his death in 1960. He died while on a fishing trip in Canada, drowned in a canoeing accident which I think was brought on by a heart attack or aneurysm. My grandmother kept very few paper documents in her life, but among her collection is a small bundle of letters- condolences sent to her after her brother died, from people who knew Arthur Ohman.

No comments: