Sunday, January 3, 2016


If Gus could, he would tell us he is ‘with us in spirit’.  I remember as Laila and I were emptying Mom’s house in Colorado after she died, the weather was in the high 90's & we were complaining to our brothers in Wisconsin and Gus told us he was ‘with us in spirit’.   That phrase took on new life after that, and it got to be one of the classics whenever anyone couldn’t be with the group.

I wonder how many times he asked me if I was on ‘red alert’ when it was getting close to travel time to Wisconsin.  The week before hunting, I know he was on red alert every day.  On the Friday before hunting this year, as I sat next to his hospital bed, he told me a few times ‘it all starts today, getting the groceries, buying the beer, heading to the shack’.  I don’t think he mentioned ‘red alert’, but I knew that was what he meant.  Those last few days in the hospital were the real deal red alert I guess.

So many Gus-isms are part of our normal language.  I for sure know that a bad headache is always a ‘christ-er’.  And my work mates knew that descriptor as well.  At least one of my employees was plagued with migraine headaches, and she used this Gus-ism to explain to me how she felt on more than one occasion.

When it was time to load up the car and ‘roll steel’, we all knew that Gus was ready to leave.  Getting loaded into the car for a drive always always always meant a packed cooler with pop and water on ice.  I still feel guilty if I’m driving an hour without a cooler in the car.  Anyone who wasn’t cooperating with getting ready to go somewhere was probably ‘jick jacking’.  There was ‘jick jacking’ of many kinds, but dragging one’s feet when Gus was ready to go, well that wasn’t good.  If the kids were drinking too much pop and eating too much candy, this was getting ‘jicked and jacked’, something altogether different from the dragging of heels.

Gus was usually ready to go home before anyone else, and when he was ready to go, he wanted everyone else to get in the car ‘right J now’.   Yes, he wanted everyone in the car ‘right J now’ and then we would ‘roll steel’

Getting to work on time, or being where you were supposed to be, well that was ‘standing tall’.  That might mean taking care of your job or it might mean arriving at The Shack for hunting.  Standing tall was just doing the right thing.

Gus was a Luck guy.  He lived his whole life there and did his civic duty in many ways.  All the years on the school board, village board, county board sounded like misery to me, but I think he liked knowing the inside scoop and being in on the decisions.

Gus was a walking history book of who was married to who and where they lived and who their parents and aunts & uncles were.   When asking him if he knew someone, often his quick response was ‘is there a problem?’ 

It always to fun to meet new people once I moved to Rice Lake and if the conversation got around to being from Luck, more often than not, I would be asked if I knew Gus Johansen.  I didn't go many places with Gus that he didn't run into someone he knew, either from his car dealership days or his gun dealership years.  I always said that Gus would talk to a dead dog.  It never seemed to matter where he was, he would strike up a conversation with strangers and in no time, he would have a life history and probably find something or someone in common.

I can remember being so glad to have a baby sister, in some way thinking it would even up the teams at our house, having been outnumbered by the boys for the first 6 years of my life.  I don’t remember that the boys were every mean to me, but I just wasn’t part of their fun times.  I spent lots of evenings watching the boys and cousins their ages, play cards or board games at our kitchen table.  One game that Gus liked a lot was called Rich Uncle.  As I remember, it was based on stocks and bonds and money.  I also seem to remember that he always won!  I guess this was to be expected as he was a banker as soon as he finished high school.

Washing dishes with the boys meant that Gus would wash but there were to be ‘no rejects’ by whoever was drying the dishes.  So, if there was still food on the plate, the dryer was to wipe it off with the towel.  My poor mother.

There were lots of shenanigans when our parents were gone.  I remember one night during the dish washing a water fight started with baby bottle nipples, but it progressed to the sprayer on the sink faucet.  Before it was all said and done, most of the towels in the house were used to sop of the flood of water on the kitchen floor.  I remember when Mom got home she was quite surprised to see all the towels hanging on the clothes line.  I’m just guessing she wasn’t that pleased.

My freshman year of college, I lived in the dorm at UW-Eau Claire.  Some weekends I would make it to Luck and sometimes stayed with Gus.  I remember an apartment at the back of the greenhouse right under the water tower.  It was kind of rustic, if you catch my drift.   I was going to college on school loans and grants, and working part time to have a couple of dollars in my pocket.  I had a bicycle and could get along pretty well in Eau Claire with that transportation in the good weather months.  One weekend I came home to Luck and Gus said “I bought you a car this week.”  I told him I could not afford a car.  He explained that I could make payments to him and that he had arranged for insurance for me too since I had a good GPA.  So, I paid off the $100 car in $10 payments over the course of the next months and drove that ’62 Chevy Impala for about 5 years.  Eventually, I drove that car back to Colorado when I decided my college time in Wisconsin was over.  When I sold that car, a high school boy bought it from me, I charged him $100 and that young man was as happy as a clam.

I was always amazed at some of the food that Gus loved.  Chinese buffets were probably the top of his list but butter, ice cream, spam and mac & cheese were also favorites.  His pancakes were legendary.  He made them so thick it was like eating a loaf of bread.  I remember one cabin weekend that Glenn tried to sneak in and thin the batter a bit but Gus noticed right away and added some more Bisquick to thicken it back up to his liking!  One thing, the way that Gus cooked was how he expected everyone to like their food.  And usually, I liked it just fine.

All thought life Gus often moaned and groaned about who had the most money or ‘the pile’ and how he was probably going to the Poor House, he also was right there to help family.  Years ago, Laila had a blown engine on a car in North Carolina one time, and Gus told her to take the bus to Luck and he would help her get a car.  I often drove cars off his lot when I was home on vacation, a very nice perk.  I remember him helping Aunt Ane Marie & Bill with their car after a blanket had been put on the engine in the winter to help keep it warm, but then was forgotten before the engine was run quite a while.  Picking out the blanket pieces and getting them mobile again was no easy deal.

Many years as Santa on the Luck Telephone free North Pole number was one of his claims to fame.  Several of my friends in Colorado had their kids call Santa on that number to leave their Christmas lists.  I have to admit, I called it a few times myself.

He was proud to be a Cardinal.  It wasn’t always easy for him to find school pride gear in his size, but he was always in a Cardinal / Luck shirt at the ball games.  I saw him sit at the center court at basketball so many times; it seems hard to believe he’ll never be there again. 
Oh wait, he’ll be with us in spirit.

Thanks for all the fun memories Gus!  I hope we’ll be telling Gus stories all the rest of my days and beyond!  
Your little sister Wanda

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