In Memory of My First and Most Important Mentor

My father, Rune Lindgren, age 2, 1919.

On January 13, 1917, exactly 100 years ago, a little boy was born in Bureå, Sweden. That boy was my father, Rune Lindgren. I actually don’t know very much about him over the first few decades of his life, other than that he only completed a grade 6 education before beginning work. He also told me that he wasn’t good at sports, so he would run around a track while his class mates would play soccer (or football as it is properly called in Europe). I know that he was quite artistic even at an early age, and he also was fascinated by boats. I have a drawing he did as a 16-year-old which I find quite remarkable given that he had no formal training that I am aware of. He loved painting, usually in water colour. He eventually became a pastry chef/baker, and served as such on an ocean liner sailing from Sweden to New York in the late 1930’s. During World War II, he was a conscript in the Swedish Army, as were all able-bodied males at that time. He was stationed in Haparanda on the Finnish border, and told me of the Finnish refugees coming across as the Germans burned everything on the Finnish side. At that time my parents had two sons (born in 1941 and 1943) and lived in Östersund in the Central Interior of Sweden. I came along much later when my father had begun to work in the “konditori” owned by his brother-in-law in Norrköping on the Swedish east coast southwest of Stockholm.. It is from that period that I have my earliest memories of him. My mother described him as very patient with children, and as my family’s finances had stabilized, I enjoyed a happy childhood even though both my parents worked, which was less common in those days compared to now.

A drawing of the Spanish galleon Santissima Trinidad by my father when he was 16, presumably from the painting seen at http://www.jamesaflood.com/trinidad.html

In spite of his rudimentary schooling, my father was quite well educated. My mother told me how he would read until 1 or 2 am, then get up at 5 am to go to work. He learned English by reading English books with an English-Swedish dictionary to

Page from Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” with my father’s notes.

decipher new words. He made notes along the margins and then listened to BBC Radio in order to learn proper pronunciation. I still have one of those books, the classic “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” by Jerome K. Jerome with my father’s notes. He did this well enough that he was fluent when I grew up, and he taught English at night school on many occasions. When I was 5 or 6 years old, his ability to speak English in combination with his skill as a baker landed him a new job with an international company (NordBakels  and their British branch British Bakels ) that sold various ingredients to bakeries, and he spent 6 months in England, further strengthening his command of the language. For the rest of his life, anything and everything English ranked high in my father’s mind.

He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and endlessly consulted Encyclopedias to understand and learn about anything and everything. As a consequence he possessed a wealth of knowledge about almost every topic, which allowed him to carry on a conversation on just about any topic with friends and strangers alike. I am convinced that in a different era, he would have been an academic. The daughter of one of his colleagues in NordBakels once said “Here comes the man who knows everything” as my father drove into their front yard. One of my friends, who sadly passed away from ALS less than a year ago, also told me that he thought my dad knew just about everything.

With my father at the Norrköping Central Railway Station, circa 1956.

What I remember most fondly is how he encouraged my love for animals. One story he told me was that he took me out to the Norrköping Airport to look at aeroplanes when I was only a few years old. I was not interested in the aeroplanes, however, because there were some hares hopping around. The same thing happened when I took my eldest son to the Vancouver Aquarium, and he was more interested in the mechanics of the aquariums (drains and pipes) than in their inhabitants. Anyway, I remember trips to a small lake (Lilla älgsjön) outside of Norrköping where we caught crayfish and watched aquatic spiders, visits to my uncle’s summer cabin at another lake where I remember enormous fishing spiders and frogs, trips to Arkösund at the mouth of Bråviken on the Baltic Sea where I saw my first moon jellyfish, and many other adventures. When I was 11, we moved to northern Sweden, where my father had been given a huge district as representative for NordBakels. This job involved long trips into the interior. Several summers he took me along, and in the evenings we would go fishing and relax. I recall one evening at a small stream. We caught some brown trout, then cooked them in butter and enjoyed them right there and then. Just after we moved to Piteå, my father had taken me to see his cousin, who was a master flyfisher and it was he who taught me how to cast. I never achieved his level of expertise, but I have almost exclusively used the fly rod ever since when fishing.

As our economy improved, my father purchased a small sailing boat. Over the next 7-8 years, he owned four different sailing boats, the last one a 26 foot yacht (International Folkboat (IF)) that was his pride and joy. Along with my brothers, I spent time sailing every summer with my dad when I was able. The season where we lived was very short, but it was very special to my father.

He had a great sense of humour as well. At Christmas (up until my mid-teens), we used to write short poems with hints of what was in the presents. This made the gift-giving more like a game, and we could enjoy the occasion more fully.

My father really understood the importance of an education. He had missed out on the opportunity himself, and he was sad that his younger brother had not taken advantage of the opportunities that he had been given. Consequently it was really important to my dad that I and my brothers got a good education. My brothers opted to get jobs and earn money, perhaps because our finances were not as good then as they were when I grew up (my brothers were 7 and 9 1/2 years older than I). I am glad that I could get a good education. I am particularly glad that he did get to see me receive my PhD at the Simon Fraser University convocation in 1982. Following convocation, I did make several attempts to find employment in Sweden to allow me to return “home”, but opportunities were simply much better in Canada. By then I had met my future wife as well, so Canada became my permanent home.

My father on his 60th birthday.

He passed away much too young in November, 1984, at the age of 67 after some significant health problems. Perhaps ironically, that is the same age that I will reach later this year. I can vividly remember the phone call from my late brother Hans when I was told of his passing. Although I knew this was coming, it was still a shock. I still miss him dearly, particularly because I don’t feel that I got to say goodbye to him the way I should have. I also could not afford to go to Sweden for the funeral since I had been visiting only a few months earlier with my (at that time still future) wife, so I got to see him just a few months before he passed away. He did not get to meet his grandchildren, however, and of course my sons never got to know their grandfather. I think they would have liked him a lot. (They did get to meet their grandmother, who outlived my father by almost 25 years).

I am not a religious person, but a part of me hopes that he somehow has been watching me from beyond the grave. He was a huge influence in my life, and I owe much of what success I have had to him. I can still imagine hearing his voice over the phone, and I miss him a lot even now, 33 years later.

Vila i frid, Pappa!

The final resting place of my parents in Piteå, Sweden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About cinnabarreflections

B. Staffan Lindgren is Professor Emeritus at UNBC. Living in Nanaimo, BC. Jack of all trades trying to stay relevant.
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