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Wooden Contact Photo Printing Frame

February 20, 2021

My uncle Buddy’s given name was Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., my mother’s only brother, who died in WWII, the “good” war.  He was the darling of his family.  

I knew about Buddy because mother spoke with animation and enthusiasm about him.  Clearly, she loved him.  No.  She adored him.  My grandmother Ellen’s heart broke when she found out he would never return from the war because a telegram from General Uhle of the U.S. War Department said he was missing and presumed dead.  

After grandpa died from emphysema after a lifetime of smoking, grandma moved in with us, spent her last years at our house, looking sad, crocheting a tablecloth she never seemed to finish.  She died the Winter before I graduated high school.  She never knew any details of what happened to her son.

Even in his absence, Buddy impressed me.  

When I was four or five years old my bedtime ritual included my mother rubbing my back, saying prayers.  At the end of my prayers she encouraged me to ask a blessing for a list of people:  grandparents, siblings, parents, like that.  I asked why I should pray for my dad—after all, he recently died.  

“His spirit is still alive,” mother explained.  “So is my brother’s.  We called him ‘Buddy.’  He died in World War II.  He was one of the best soldiers.  Private First Class.”

I could tell mother loved Buddy, loved him a lot, by the way she spoke of him as I lay on the smooth sheet with her cool hand gently rubbing my back.

I came to love Buddy too.  I grew up playing with the things he left behind in the house where he lived.  I read the books he left behind.  Studied them.

For example, he left behind his Boy Scout manual.  The first aid section and water life saving section impressed me.  It told how you could dive into the water to save a drowning person, diving deeply, then surface behind the victim, then lean him or her back and swim them to safety.  It also showed how to break a hold if the drowning victim panicked and tried to climb on top of you.

Sure, I loved and respected my father, but I knew him only briefly and sporadically when he was home from work.  That’s when I helped him by sitting on a board in the basement that he cut with a handsaw.  When he played with farm animals with me by the heat register.  When he told me stories.  Well, one story.  Goldilocks and the three bears, who, he explained, ate Wheaties.  I admired his creativity, even when I was four years old.  

Daddy spanked me if I played with his stuff.  I painted his tools one summer morning.

Well, I had good memories too.  Once he took me to his office at the journalism school at the university and I drew stairs with a pencil on a sheet of yellow newsprint.  Daddy wore tweed suits and a newspaperman’s hat, that is, a fedora-style hat with modest brim and dent in the top.

That evening with my father I remember being at eye level with his pants pocket when he inserted the key into the brass lock of the journalism building.  The western sun was setting and all appeared golden:  Daddy’s hand, the brass key, the keychain, the lock, the sunlight, his brown tweed trousers.  

I didn’t know then that he had cancer and wouldn’t live a whole year longer.

I was afraid of him.  He spanked me a couple of times and he hollered—bellowed— at my sister Carol because she hadn’t washed the supper dishes.  He looked scary when I gazed up at him and saw his red hairy nostrils.  I got spanked when I peed on a college annual and another time when I bent a mechanism on his folding camera.  

The adults sent me to my grandparents’ in Kalispell during my father’s last months of life.  Even though I cried after I found out he was dead from cancer, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting spanked.  I loved him, though.  He let me help him and he told me stories and sang and played his guitar.

He was the last significant man in my life for many years.  Certainly, family friends kindly visited after he died.  Daddy was a singer in the Missoula Mendelssohn Club and helped found the Montana Newspaper Guild labor union.  We had family friends of the university:  The Fiedlers, the Browders, the Dugans, the Coes, the Bues.  We had friends in Great Falls, but I knew them only from Christmas cards and letters.

My mother didn’t remarry.  She had a teaching degree from Valley City, North Dakota Normal School and took teaching second grade at Jefferson School in Missoula the same year her husband died.

On the other hand, nothing ambiguous about how lovable was the absent Buddy, the darling of mother’s family.  He was the youngest child, a boy, with three older sisters.

I was born in 1949.  World War II officially ended four years earlier, and I never met Buddy.  Although he died years before I was born, my mother’s memory of Buddy was fresh and she told me how she adored him.  My sister is 10 years older than me and she remembers Buddy.

During our evening rituals and during times when she showed me her photo album I learned more about Buddy. He was an amateur photographer who developed his own pictures.  I eventually found his equipment:  developing powder in a glass tube, a wooden printing frame, some metal trays.

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