Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pete, The Norwegian Sea Lion

Pete Bjornavik was a big Norwegian, somewhere in his late fifties. As far as I knew, he was a lifelong bachelor. Pete lived near the abandoned high school building in Point Arena where we lived in the early 1950’s. He had a tiny house, probably about 300 square feet, at the southeastern corner of the high school property. He was partners with “Snoose” Graves in a cabinet shop for a while located at the rear of the Arena Theater parking lot. His cabinet shop was in operation when we arrived in Point Arena in September 1949, and I think he and his partner closed it around 1954. After that, the cabinet shop was made into a very modest residence, then for many years was vacant, and just recently was torn down.

Pete was a good neighbor and friend of our family. His little house was devoted to fishing – fishing is probably in Norwegian DNA, which may also explain why so many were bachelors. Fishing gear was on the walls, on the shelves, in the cabinets. The house always had a not-too-faint odor of fried fish. Pete was one of the best kind of fisherman, the generous ones. He was always coming over with a salmon, rock fish, abalone, or surf fish. Pete liked to give fish away as much, or maybe more, than catching and eating them.

Pop told a story about giving fish away in Point Arena which was probably fairly typical. He said Pete went to one neighbor’s house with some fine looking rock fish – a big ling cod, a couple of red snappers. Pete told Pop that when he asked if they wanted some fish, the neighbor’s wife said, “Well, I don't know, are they cleaned?”

In 1950 Pete sold Pop a dip net he built for catching surf fish, also called smelt, and I treasure the memories of all the times we spent at Alder Creek, playing on the sand, swimming in the lagoon, and netting surf fish. The dip net poles are still in good condition, and the dip net will be in as good as new condition when I get around to stringing a new net.

Besides his natural generosity, I think Pete liked to give fish away because he liked to talk to everybody. Pete was particularly interested in politics. He was one of the few Democrats in Point Arena at that time, and thought the United States would benefit from a moderate dose of socialism, brought about through the democratic process. In retrospect, I think Pete’s politics were influenced by Norway’s socialist leaning Labor party, and that Pete considered American politics to be chaotic in comparison.

I wasn’t even ten years old, but I remembered how much I enjoyed it when Pete would drop in to visit, and I would get to listen to him discussing things with Mom and Pop. Mom had strong opinions, and particularly hated unions and their influence on Democratic politicians, but except for throwing an occasional verbal bomb into the conversation, she seemed content to listen. The exchanges between Pop and Pete were the fun part. They never got angry or excited in their arguments, and never interrupted each other. Both had a similar speaking style – very slow, very deliberate, very precise. They used words like they were paying for each, and wanted their money’s worth. Pete used each word like it was a rare gemstone, to be polished and displayed in a proper setting. Pete’s favorite word was “consequently,” and he put proper emphasis on each syllable so that it sounded like a sentence by itself. When Pete finished saying “consequently,” the listener was sure that something of consequence would follow. I wish I could remember what it was.

All I can remember now is that Pop and Pete never agreed, and that they were the best of friends.

No comments: