Ahlin: Late friend, bridge colleague lived a very simple, noble life
Jane Ahlin – 10/18/2009
The old Harry Ruby and Rube Bloom song “Give Me the Simple Life” has been on my mind this past week since the death of Bob Anderson, former president of Olaf Anderson & Son Construction Co. I identify Bob that way because in this part of the country when discussing Bob Anderson, the stock question is, Which one? There are 10 Robert Andersons in the local phone book and who knows how many others around the area. For all I know, every one is a good guy, but they’d be hard-pressed to be more straight-forward, fair or fun-loving than the Bob Anderson who was our good friend. Come to think of it, I doubt Bob minded having a name like so many others. He took tremendous pride in being a regular guy. In fact, it’s that regular-guy way he lived his life and shaped his legacy that makes me think of the Ruby-Bloom song first published in 1945. Here’s the first verse:
I don’t believe in frettin’ or grievin’ Why mess around with strife? I never was cut out to step and strut out. Give me the simple life
Unequivocally, no other friend of ours has been less inclined to frettin’ and grievin’ than Bob. He was a doer, a 24/7 guy who wasted no time on regrets “all those cudda, wudda, shudda moments” that keep so many of us from leaving the past behind. He saw no reason to fret, and he turned grief into action. Dependable and energetic, he was determined not to squander a day of living. He was that way when we met him, and he never changed. Flash back to 1981 and a phone call asking my husband and me whether we wanted to play bridge. Yes, we did, but it was beyond predicting on that night so long ago that 28 years later we’d still be playing bridge with the same three couples: Bob and his wife, Phyllis; Bob’s sister Karen Olson and her husband, Ken; and Lee and Jane Christoferson. When we began, we met once a month.
Those months turned into years, which turned into decades. Nobody moved away, and as heated as things could get at the bridge table “particularly when husbands and wives played rounds together” nobody got divorced, either. Early on, I think it was Karen who came up with the name for our group, ABC (A Bridge Club). We kept a kitty and used the money to pay for dinner on a few trips to Minneapolis to see shows. (Of course, while there, we fit in several games of bridge.) We were a competitive bunch – no one more competitive than Bob, although a few, including his sister, gave him a run for his money – but at the end of each game, we stood up from the tables good friends, planning for the next time we’d get together. Occasionally, we’d remark on our group’s longevity, but it didn’t seem too important until this past summer when the vicious nature of Bob’s cancer was impossible to ignore.
When we began, we all had children, most barely into grade school, and the number increased by two early on. As years went by, we bemoaned or laughed about the hassles of bringing up kids, made merry over 40th and 50th and 60th birthdays, celebrated anniversaries, graduations and weddings, and in recent years, rejoiced over grandchildren. Not that life happening away from the bridge tables always was fun, of course. Among the eight of us, there were major illnesses and accidents, family tragedies and deaths; personal setbacks and disappointments. We shared when life was good and when it wasn’t, and we kept on playing bridge. Looking back, I don’t think we were so naive as to think ABC could go on forever, but we were nowhere near ready to give it up. We certainly weren’t ready for Bob to leave us.
Bob saw himself as a regular, ordinary guy living a life he thoroughly enjoyed. In the echoes of his life, we’re reminded again how regular, ordinary guys often touch people in extraordinary ways.
Ahlin, a regular opinion columnist, teaches writing at Minnesota State University Moorhead.