Each February I write about my father, Thomas William Lampsa, as he was born February 15, 1909 — 112 years ago. And he has been gone since October 9, 1973, 48 years ago — he died at just 64, and his children have passed that age.
But the memories of Pop — he was never called Dad — remain as vivid as they were way back when. I was just 26 was he died, and it would be many years until I started to write about him each February in my newspaper column.
And most every year, I write about the same memories as the year before. From a column four years ago, in 2017:
"I have no letters to reread from my father, only the memories of a man who lived life his way... born Carlo Thomas William to Finnish immigrants Henry and Johanna Lampsa in South Range, Michigan, where Grandpa worked in the copper mines.... then to the gold mining boomtown Goldfield, Nevada... there my father lost his brother John, when the young boy tried to save the mining superintendent's son from drowning and both children perished.
"Eventually the Lampsa family, with brothers Lauri and Tom and young sister Ethel, settled in Minnesota, in the rural farming community of Wolf outside Eveleth. My father lost his mother when he was young, and my grandfather later married his second wife, Sophie Park of Oregon, who had lost her husband and had two sons Art and Leonard.
"My father married Ailie Niemiste in the early 1930s and they first lived in Kinross outside Mountain Iron with their firstborn, Tommy, and then in 1946 bought a place among the pines of Lakeland with the money he had made trapping mink. He logged winter and summer and often cut trees on the rifle range outside Biwabik. In the summer he'd fell poplars and when the time was right, we would peel the bark from the logs. All these years later, I can remember the fragrance, and how slippery the logs were as I stood on them to get a good grip in the bark. We had a light green Chevy with a sloped back, and when lunchtime came, he would turn on the car radio and how he loved listening to Bobby Vinton singing 'Roses are Red'.
"When my father wasn't logging, he was fishing brook trout at some secret stream with his pal Gunnar Eklund, or walleyes off the dike at Whiteface. Or trapping beaver and mink -- he once had the school bus drop me off where he was trapping, and I got to go with him to check the traps. Or hunting partridge, as I would drive the car down a woods road and he kept an eye out for the birds. Every November he and his brother-in-law Bill Richart would hunt deer, a ritual that continued many years, and when my father died in 1973, I placed in the casket the deer tags that wouldn't be used.
"When the mood struck, my father would put on his dress hat and head to town, to visit his friend Frank Steblay at his bar in Biwabik. Pop liked his G & W whiskey and chose to take it straight, no mix, and it wasn't always his friend. He had smoked cigarettes since childhood -- Camels, no filter, or he'd roll his own with Zig-Zag papers. He would send me to the Bass Lake Store with a note from Mom and 25 cents to pick up store-bought smokes.
"Tom Lampsa was a very intelligent man. He could figure out a problem by sleeping on it. He was a mathematics whiz, and he was musically talented, playing the violin and the harmonica. He liked the Argosy magazine, and when his arms got too short to hold the magazine far enough away for him to see, he would have me read for him."
And I thought of a column written nearly 25 years ago, when he would have turned 88. “The man who shunned cameras had for once been happy to pose. Two prized beavers, plump treasures whose fur would bring a welcome extra to a logger’s income, shared the picture with him. He had good reason to smile. The spring ritual had begun. Another season to trap the elusive beaver — and if ever there were a man who could bring them to the bait, it was Tom Lampsa.
"My father’s traps had rusted from many springs under the water, and each spring he would prepare the pungent castor from the previous year’s catch. All these years later, I can still recall the bitter and distinctive smell, and how the beaver would be no match for my father.
“He was a woodsman who had no equal, a man once said, and I believed him. He could walk into a stand of trees and know how many cords it held, and where north-northeast was, and which animals had visited. He respected nature. The picture flooded my memory — of a man in flannel shirt and work pants and lace-up boots needing polish, a man with cap tilted even a little more so after whiskey, a man with square shoulders I see now in my brother. My father’s hands were strong and his fingers tinged from decades of Camels. He had lost most of his hair early on, but the strip that ringed his head was ever neatly trimmed by my mother’s careful hand. His wide smile made deep lines in his cheeks, and the eyes were blue with a yellow circle, eyes passed on to his daughter. He stood at a confident angle and walked in a manner his wife called swashbuckling."
Here's remembering you, Pop, in the 112th year since you were born. I think you'd like how your son Larry inherited your intelligence and creativity. And your daughter still leaves half-empty coffee cups.
Thanks, Pop, for oh, so many memories to last for years to come.