5.29.2022 [originally published 2.12.2015
It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, but almost. Erick Carlson and Viola Wass met at the infamous VFW roller rink at Talmoon in 1951. Erick was twenty-one, and had dated a little, but thoughts of other girls were gone from his mind once he got the shy gal from Bigfork talking and laughing. Their long distance (it was 25 miles of mostly dirt road) relationship continued while Erick farmed, logged and worked in the commercial fishing operation at Cutfoot; and Viola helped her mother with four younger children at home.
About two years later, Erick sauntered in to the jewelry store in Deer River with his hard earned cash. He took Mr. Samela’s advice on his selection, and while dining at the Sportsman restaurant, Erick pulled a small jewelry box from his pocket. He extended it towards Viola and said four very special words, “Will you marry me?” Viola’s heart was all aflutter and she nodded affirmatively before the word “yes” came out of her mouth.
Erick is the younger of two sons. His birth was uneventful, but the journey from the hospital in Grand Rapids to the family home in Sand Lake took a week. “Doctor Hursh, who cared for Agda and delivered Erick, brought them by car as far as Ted Alzen’s home in Jessie Lake. The roads were blocked by a snowstorm, so they remained there for one week. A. D. Grant, a missionary pastor who lived at Jessie Lake started out and got as far as 4½ miles west of Spring Lake. Travel by car became difficult and the mailman, Pete Ostlund came along with a team of ponies and small cutter with a small shelter on it and brought them the next 4½ miles by US Postal Delivery.” Excerpt from Erick’s memoir written in 1995.
Erick had lived and worked with his father and brother on the 80 acres farm on Little Sand Lake for as long as he could handle the tools needed for the job. His parents, John and Agda, had emigrated from Sweden in 1923 and were pleased with his decision to marry Viola, for they knew she was a farm girl and understood what it meant to keep a farm going.
Viola was one of nine children. She was born in Long Prairie, but her family moved to Bigfork when she was 8-years-old. Yes, Erick’s parents were correct, as Viola’s father had farmed and she was used to helping him with chores along with her older brothers. In fact, she admits that she was quite a tomboy, and loved summer when she didn’t have to wear shoes. She had a great fondness for farm animals, especially cats and would spend many hours in the barn with them as a youngest.
Viola’s mother and sisters helped her plan her and Erick’s wedding. The date of August 11, 1953 was set with Reverend Dean Carlson (no relation) officiating at the parsonage in Bigfork. Rusty Wass was the best man and Carol Hansen the maid of honor. After the wedding Erick spirited Viola away for a trip up the North Shore in his 1946 Chevrolet.
Upon their return, they lived with Erick’s folks while Erick and his father built a second house on the property. The following year, John and Adga moved into the new home. Erick and Viola settled into the “big house” as it was now called and started a family. By the end of 1960 they had two daughters and a son. Erick always maintained a day job, but also worked on the farm with his father. He and Viola had a large garden which they supplemented with woodland products of wild rice, maple syrup and game as time and the seasons allowed.
From the beginning of their life in the “big house” Erick and Viola worked well together. Viola was resourceful and organized. She used what she had on hand to make good home style meals (frequently meat and potatoes as that is what her family preferred) and always had cookies or cake and coffee like every other Swedish family in our county. She was proficient on the sewing machine and sewed dresses for herself and daughters Cindy and Sherry; and shirts for Erick and son Curtis.
When the children started school, both Erick and Viola took an active role, and soon became a part of the Parent Teacher Organization. It didn’t take long for others in the area to see the leadership of the Carlson’s and between them, during the past fifty years Viola and Erick have represented the communities of Sand Lake and Squaw Lake in just about every capacity possible. “Finally,” Viola says with a relieved sigh, “I think I am done volunteering.”
Always ready to try something different Erick and Viola took square dance lessons, and were a part of the North Country Swingers club for many, many years. “I made all our outfits,” Viola said, “They had to match, and we had to look good when we gave exhibitions. She and Erick laughed recalling the time an exhibition at Showboat required them to step lively and NOT get too close to the end of the platform or they’d land in the Mississippi River!
Erick has played the accordion since he was six years old. He loves music and enjoys performing with others. In 1983, he and Viola thought it would be fun to have a big music jamboree with all the musicians in the community, and held the first Pick’n’Post event in a pole barn on their property on that 4th of July. “We didn’t advertise, except for a cardboard sign at the end of the driveway, but always had close to 100 people who attended,” Erick explained, and Viola added, “It started right after supper and went on late into the night. We’d clean out the pole building, stack hay bales for seats and we even bought a sound system.” This much anticipated musical endeavor became an annual event for 17 years!
Viola and Erick agree that their marriage has been a good one. Viola believes that it this is in part because they have tried to live by the Ten Commandments. “We give and we take,” Erick says. “We talk things through and we listen to each other.” He looks at Viola, she nods in agreement so he continues, “She is the organized one and I rely on her to keep me on the right page.”
This is certainly true as I listened to both of them talk. Viola has kept a journal for 56 years. She began it in 1959 and has written in it nearly every day. When they started Carlson Excavating in 1974, Viola was in charge of the bookkeeping. They ran this business together, though Viola also worked outside the home. The excavating company is now in the capable hands of their son Curt.
They learned at the time of Viola’s cancer diagnosis in the early 1990s just how much they depended on each other. Thankfully, Viola was part of a clinical trial that worked very well and she has been cancer free for 24 years. In 1995 Erick experienced several health problems, but her support and his determination brought them over that hurdle together. They began taking things a little slower about this time and did some traveling. The Carlson’s have been to Sweden for three extended vacations, meeting more relatives with each visit. A few winters in Arizona was a relief from the Minnesota cold, but as of late, winter or not, Minnesota is home and that is where they are.
Erick had a stroke in the spring of 2013 and though they managed at home for a while, by the end of the year he was moved to Homestead. Viola talks to Erick everyday and visits several times a week with their little dog Duke, who has become a favorite four legged creature of all the residents. Each Sunday Erick spends time back at Sand Lake, attending the Northwoods Chapel where Chris Reed is pastor, and eating one of Viola’s home cooked meals.
One of the wonderful things about the Carlson marriage is that that have celebrated the milestones in style. On the 25th anniversary they dressed up in the square dancing outfits Viola had made, and had a party with family and friends. In 1993, on the 40th anniversary they renewed their vows with Reverend Dean Carlson once again officiating, and had a garden party at the lake on a beautiful summer day. Erick looked good in a new suit, but he says that Viola was stunning in her 40 year-old wedding dress and said that no alternations had to be made!
Their children and grandchildren planned, organized and honored them for the 50th anniversary in 2003. There were poignant and humorous memories shared by Cindy, Sherry, Curt, the spouses and children. There was music (of course), friends and plenty of food. The Carlson’s have four grandchildren Andrew, Elizabeth, Ashley and Travis. Last November, the first great grandchild, Adeline Rose was born. On August 11th of this year, Viola and Erick will have been married for 62 incredible years. That is almost the same as a fancy box of Crayola color crayons!
Loved reading about this family! I attend church and bible study with Curtis and always enjoy his family and growing up stories. I often wonder how people survived the winters up here and what they ate.
Erick always had stories to tell when I volunteered at Homestead.