Just what I needed — a long-distance, long-overdue chat with Dad’s childhood best friend

I had the most wonderful phone visit with this gentleman this morning. He’s Bob Nelson, and he was my Dad’s best friend growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bob turned 90 in April and is still going strong, just using “a stick” — a cane — occasionally, although he says he doesn’t really need to. His wife Betty is doing great at 86, too. They live in a senior community of about 50 apartments in Hudson, Wisconsin, a quaint little town on the St. Croix River that separates the two states.

Betty and Bob Nelson in a photo taken about three years ago.

You’ll never meet a more pleasant fellow. Then again, having visited Minnesota numerous times to see my grandparents Alma and Frank and other relatives while growing up — and quite a few more times since — I’ve never met anyone from the Land of 10,000 Lakes who wasn’t the definition of friendliness and warmth.

Bob was so happy to hear from me. Since Dad passed away in July 2014, we’ve only spoken a couple of times and exchanged a handful of emails. We talked about how much we both miss him.

Betty and Bob have grown kids, along with grandkids and great-grandkids (when I asked him how many grands and greats, he laughed and said he’d have to write ’em all down to add ’em all up) Their oldest is a 64-year-old son who’s a dentist. Sadly, they lost one of their sons in a car accident about 10 years ago.

I told Bob that I’ll never forget how he drove, at age 84, three hours from Hudson to Hutchinson, Minnesota, to join us for Dad’s small but beautiful funeral service. That meant so much to us, not to mention how he stood there and gave a moving tribute to Dad, telling stories about his dear friend and sharing some of the memories he still cherishes after all the years.

What a fantastic old photo this is from 1947-48. My dad Clark — Lindsay to his family and friends — is at left, next to his best friend Bob. These guys were all seniors at Murray High School, across the street from Dad’s house.

In addition to the sweet photo of Bob and Betty, the group shot above is an awesome memory from 1947-48, Bob and Dad’s senior year at Murray High in St. Paul. (Murray stood right across from Dad’s house on Grantham Street in St. Anthony Park.) Dad, whose first name was Clark but who was known by his family and friends by his middle name, Lindsay, is the coolest of cool dudes at left in the awesome leather jacket. Bob, looking pretty doggone cool himself, is right next to him. A few years ago I knew the names of the other guys, but I’ve forgotten.

This last photo is part of a true keepsake: After Dad died and we were going through the countless heirlooms and family treasures at his home in Missouri City, I found a letter Bob had sent him in August 1949. Bob was in the Army, stationed somewhere in the Pacific, and Dad was in the middle of unsuccessfully trying his hand at two Minnesota colleges — Carleton and Winona — before joining the Navy in 1950 and ending up stationed in Panama for over three years.

Bob’s letter to Dad, written Aug. 22, 1949, and postmarked the next day.

It’s a two-page letter full of great fun like “Are we still going hitchhiking across the States some summer?” and “It’s hotter than hell again today. … I still wish a damn typhoon would hit here.” We just don’t write letters like they used to, do we?

One of the last things I told Bob before we said goodbye was what an amazing coincidence it is that my biological parents have the same names as he and his wife Betty (her formal name is Elisabeth). He knew about my having found my birth family 15 years ago, but didn’t recall that my parents’ names were Betty and Bob.

The Nelsons are such great folks, and I feel very lucky to know them. It’s like having a piece of Dad to hang on to a little while longer. I’m going to do my best to make sure we stay in as close a touch as possible from now on.  

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