Gustave Hanson — my Dad — was born in Sweden, the youngest of seven children. He was just 1 year old when his parents packed him up and fled to America, in search of better economic conditions.
Some of Dad’s siblings, who were a good deal older than he, had already come to the U.S. Before long the whole family resided in or near Brainerd, Minn., where the Burlington Northern Railroad had work to do, and jobs to fill.
“Gus” dated my mother for quite a long time, until one evening during a double date, when she teased him somehow. She thought it was funny. He stood up and walked out of her life for more than two years.
OK, I don’t need to say this, but Dad was capable of extreme stubbornness. He was also quiet and introspective. Leaving school after eighth grade to help earn money for his parents, Dad read voraciously, teaching himself and building an impressive vocabulary.
He did not talk about himself. Just about everything I know about my Dad was told to me by my mother. I was able to learn two things about Dad, however, just by being around him: God blessed him with the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard and he was madly in love with my mom.
Following his two-year hiatus over the double date teasing incident, he and Mom crossed paths at a ballroom and rekindled their romance. Mom told me, many times over the years, that Dad was the worst boyfriend anyone could imagine — and the best husband.
Dad loved to sing. He sang in barbershop quartets, sang with the Brainerd Glee Club, sang spontaneously by invitation at dance halls and nightclubs, sang with the Arrowhead Chorale in Duluth, Minn., and sang around the house. He could harmonize with any song. Dad’s vocal range was impressive, and his tone as sweet and warm as a cup of cocoa.
After my parents and siblings moved to Two Harbors, Minn., in the late 1940s, Dad sang for nearly every funeral in town. For decades. He could sing in Swedish and Norwegian, which brought great comfort to the Olsons, Carlsons, Nelsons, Andersons, Johnsons, Petersons and Hansons who monopolized the Two Harbors phone book.
I noticed early in my life, that when Dad sang in church, his voice was even more beautiful.
A life-long gift
Dad passed away in June of 1990, ending a 10-year downward spiral into dementia. His final months were spent in a nursing home.
Near the end, he could no longer communicate, but spoke gibberish with a smile when I’d see him, and this seemed to satisfy us both. On one occasion, my brother, Donn, and I went to sit with Dad and sing him a song. As we were leaving, I said, “Let’s sing ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,’ ” an old-time song that Dad enjoyed. “I’ll sing melody,” I told Donn, “and you can take the harmony.” As we began, Dad’s eyes brightened and he immediately joined us — singing “la, la, la” in a third part, in perfect key.
Good stewards, let’s put our God-given talents to work for Jesus’ church. And let’s be extra grateful for those “little gifts” God gives us — like harmony sung in perfect key.
Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud