John Olson

I was born May 15th, 1924, to John and Signe Olson in Minneapolis, MN. My mother was an immigrant from Sweden and my father was born and raised in Racine, MN. His mother and father were Danish and Norwegian. My parent’s had three children; two girls and a boy, of which I was the second child. I have one older sister and one younger sister.

My mother and father met in Minneapolis, Minnesota where both worked at a bakery. After a short courtship they were married. My mother quit working shortly after her marriage and they bought a house in northeast Minneapolis. This was a rare thing to do in those days as most people rented. From what I heard they were a very devoted couple and were happy.

My sister was born first, two years later I was born, then my youngest sister four years after me. I cannot remember any of my life before I was eight years old. When I was eight my mother worked in the backyard making a skating pond for my oldest sister and I. My mother caught pneumonia, and I caught it too because I slept with my mother because my dad worked nights. In those days, 1932, it was hard to get people in the hospital, so the doctor came and treated my mother and me at home. My mother passed away a couple of days later, while I slowly recovered. I remember how sad everyone was for my mother at her funeral. My mother was from a large family, she had helped to bring her sisters and brothers from Sweden to Minneapolis. My mother and father had many friends they also helped to bring over. I cannot remember the actual funeral, I was too sick to go, but I remember all the people coming over to the house to offer their condolences. My father never remarried although he was only about 44 years old when my mother died. I know they were very much in love. My father would sit and cry a lot for many years after my mother died. I would feel very sorry for him.

From eight years old and up I think I had a happy childhood. Times were tough, this was the depression years. My father always worked, we didn’t have much money, but he at least had a job. My youngest sister went up to Northern Minnesota to stay with an aunt and uncle. My other sister and I stayed with our father and he hired a housekeeper to do the cooking and take care of the house.

I lived in a neighborhood in the city that had many kids my age or a little older. So I had many friends in my neighborhood to run around with. My father worked nights. The housekeeper was pretty lenient on us kids so we had quite a time. My dad made home brew and once in a while we would sneak some from the basement. Just enough so we could taste it and find that it made us feel good, and tasted good.

Once a friend and I were riding our bikes when we came upon a pickup truck with a package in the seat. I reached through the window, stole the package, and rode off on my bike. When my friend and I opened the package we found 2 pints of whiskey. So we thought we would try it and see what is tasted like. At this time I was about 10 years old and my friend was about 12. We bought some pop and went to a park. My friend and I got so drunk we both passed out and were really sick. We had finished about half a pint. We laid in that park about half the night before we could finally navigate to get home. I swore I would never touch that stuff again, we threw the rest away.

I didn’t touch anything for the next four years, from 10 to 14 years old. When I was 14 my friends and I would go to a tavern outside of town where we could buy beer and setups. Beer cost a nickel and setups cost a dime. I was the youngest of the crowd, most of the kids were sixteen to eighteen years old. I developed a taste for beer and booze.

Times were tough during the depression and when I was fifteen a friend of mine and I decided to go on the bum for the summer. I told my dad what we were going to do, and he finally said it was all right. The only condition was that I had to be back in time for school in the fall. So we rode freights all over the country all summer. We drank quite a bit riding the rails. We came back from that trip and from then on I suppose I was a drinker. January 1941 I decided to quit school and join the army. I was sixteen years old.

At the time one had to be eighteen years old to be accepted into the service, but it was easy to lie about your age if no one persisted. I didn’t drink too much at first when I was in the army, but I always craved some booze. I remember once when we were on maneuvers a friend of mine who was older then I bought a gallon of wine. Everyone but us went swimming in the river, we took the wine to the cook tent, cooled it in ice, and with help from the cook drank the wine. All three of us got drunk. Eventually the cook passed out, my friend and I got into a fight, and I broke my arm. The company came back from swimming and found all three of us passed out. I had to go to the hospital and get my broken arm set. When I came back from the hospital I was busted. I was a corporal at the time.

My father found out he could get me out of the service because I was under age, so he wrote to my captain and told him I was under age. About a month after he wrote they gave me a minority discharge.

I came home, but instead of going back to school I got a job. As soon as I left the service I started eating really heavy and losing weight. I went to a doctor for a physical and the doctor told me I had diabetes, and would have to go on a diet. He also told me to take insulin, which I did. I felt depressed at the time, like my life was over. I watched myself at night and didn’t drink for six months or so.

February 1942 I was called for the draft. I went to Fort Snelling, but I was rejected because I had Diabetes. Which was a lowpoint in my life. I felt bad and foolish as most of my friends were in the service and I wanted to be in too! I finally figured if I can’t get back in I would try to do whatever I could to help with the war effort. I applied to the government to see what I could do to help. They said I could go to school and become an armorer, learning how to repair small arms, which I did. They sent me out to California to work in an arsenal. I worked at that for three years. In the meantime I met a lovely girl and fell in love and she felt the same way about me. We were engaged about three years. She did not go to California with me. When I was in California I started drinking again pretty heavy. She realized I was drinking heavy and told me if I didn’t stop we were done. I could not stop so she told me we were through. I guess in my mind I knew I was no good for her so I agreed. I was very depressed and remorseful at the time. In those days they didn’t have such a place as treatment centers. They had what you call places to dry out, if you had the money.

I started to drink more, tow or three times a week and the whole weekend. I finally quit my job in California and came back to Minnesota. I kept drinking, and ended up at a hospital two or three times for my diabetes, but I am sure, as were the doctors that it was caused by my drinking. I got in many fights during this time, mostly with men in the service. They looked down on me because I was not in the service. I felt like I had to show them I was just as tough as they were. It made me feel better when I showed them I was a little tougher than they were. I won more fights than I lost.

The war ended and all my friends came home. I was glad to see them and they were glad to see me. We were out drinking and chasing women every night of the week. I had many women during the time, nothing serious, one night stands.

In 1949 I met my wife. At the time I was living at home with my father and older sister. I would get a job, work for a while, until either I quit or got fired. There was a bar tavern one block form my house, and I was over there every evening. My wife worked at a factory across the street from the tavern. She and other women that worked there would come in on Fridays after work to cash their checks and have a couple of beers before going home. I tried to meet my wife, but she would ignore me. I finally had one of her girlfriends introduce us. I asked her to go out but she refused. I asked her later why and she said that she thought I drank too much. I kept after her, I tried to stay as sober as I could. After about three months she finally said she would go out with me. I didn’t drink much for six months while I was courting her. After six or seven months I asked her to marry me. She said she loved me but was worried because I drank too much. I told her I would not drink like I did if I was married and had responsibilities. She finally agreed to marry me.

We were married by a justice of the peace. I believe on my wedding day I was the drunkest one at the reception. I was very happy when we got married. My wife and I sat down and talked. I decided to really cut down on drinking and find a decent job, which I did. The next ten years were the happiest of my life. I didn’t stop drinking completely. I would stop at the corner bar just about every evening and visit and have a few 3.2 beers and then go home. On weekends my wife and I would go out to dances and parties, I got drunk once in a while, but bit often. We had three children in that time, two boys and a girl. We had a very happy life. I went back to work at Thermo King in Minneapolis. I worked there for eleven years, did well and enjoyed my job. Thermo King expanded so fast they had to find more room so they moved out to Bloomington, Minnesota. Which was about 20 miles from my home. My wife and I were thinking about selling our home to get closer to the job, but decided to keep our house in Northeast Minneapolis and look for another job closer to home. Thermo King was a good paying job and a good place to work. I looked around but could not find anything better in Northeast. Finally a bar tavern came up for sale two blocks from my house. I talked to my wife and we bought the tavern. She protested a little but finally said it was a good idea to have a business so close to home. I forgot to mention my father lived with us until he died in 1958 at the age of 72. He was a modest drinker, 3.2 beer mostly. I loved my father very much and so did my wife. The only arguments we would have were over my drinking.

After I bought the beer tavern we did pretty well. My wife and I both worked in the tavern with other help. We had music friendly afternoons. We made good money. I never drank in my own joint, I didn’t believe in that and I didn’t care too much for 3.2 beer. When I was through working my wife would relieve me and I usually went to a liquor bar for a few drinks. I stayed longer and longer and met other bar owners and they asked me to join them Wednesday mornings to golf; I figured I needed the exercise. After we golfed we would eat and start drinking, most of the time I would have to call someone to work for me in the tavern. I was drinking more and more. My wife knew I was drinking way too much but I didn’t think so. Owning the tavern was causing other problems in our family life. Our kids were growing up and they didn’t have much of a family life. We could not take them many places as we were busy running the tavern seven days a week. We decided to look around to find a lakeshore place, close to the city so we could go up to the lake on the weekends and the kids could get something out of life. We found a nice place fifty moles from Minneapolis. We would leave Friday night at nine and be back to open Sunday at noon. My kids, wife, and myself rally enjoyed going up there on weekends. I promised my wife I would not drink on weekends and I didn’t for quite a while. But soon I started again. We would go to town to buy groceries on Saturdays and while my wife and kids were shopping I would wait for them in a bar.

The town was really prosperous and I learned there was another liquor license available if it was a supperclub. I started to work on it. I found two men I knew who were interested in going in as partners. We applied to the town council for the license, were investigated and had an insurance company willing to finance us. We got the license, we had to pay for the first year. So I sold the tavern in the city.

We were all set to go. We were ready to set up a corporation when tragedy occurred. A week before we were to see a lawyer and have him draw up the corporation papers one of the partners had a heart attack and died. When we were attending his funeral the other partner had a stroke. They had to send him to the hospital from the cemetery. I felt real bad, not only did I lose tow friends, but my dream to have a supper club. I tried to find two more partners and finally did. But by the time we were ready to go a year later, money had tightened up and we could not get a loan. During this time I spent a lot of money and my drinking increased. My wife went to work. She finally told me I had better go back to work and forget about the supper club or she or she would divorce me. So I went back to work at my old trade, sheet metal.

I believe I am a good sheet metal man, I have changed job a lot, but always for better ones. I provided good for my family, although I know I could have done a lot better if I didn’t drink. My oldest son was not in the service, his number was never called so I helped put him through college. My other son was on the army so he went to college on the GI Bill. My daughter went to some college and found a good job. My oldest son married and is an engineer, he has made good money and owns three houses. My second son bought a home and he is doing well. My daughter is on her own and has an apartment. All my children moved away on their own.

My wife and I always planned on building our retirement home on our land at the lake. We were going to wait until I retired. Five years ago we decided we better build, prices were going up so fast that we thought we had better build or I would never be able to. We got plans, hired a contractor, tore the cabin down, and built a beautiful home on the lake. We could only be up there on weekends because both my wife and I worked in the cities. We go there every weekend and are very happy.

THE REST OF THE STORY: John did make it with not drinking. Eventually in 1990 he passed away after complications with a hip injury. He fell at his lake home and had to have his hip replaced. While spending time at a nursing home to recover the nurses neglected to check the circulation in his legs. Over the next month he developed bed sores on his leg and had to have it amputated. A lawyer was contacted to sue the nursing home but he passed away before the case went to trial.

When he had his leg removed it was traumatic as it was above the knee. He had a stroke a short time later and was in a coma. When I visited him I held his hand as a priest administered his last rights. When I said I love you he squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. My father then took his hand and asked if he could squeeze twice if he could hear us. He did and came out of the coma for a few weeks and said goodbye before passing in his sleep. His battle with drinking is something for us all to learn from. He was a tough man who battled diabetes through most of his life. It hurt his health and compounded with the drinking for several years contributed to his death. His wife passed away in 2000 after a short bout with Leukemia.