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Sheriff Oscar C. Toftner


When I was a kid, my grandfather was the sheriff in our county. He was the sheriff in our county during my childhood and teen years. Later he was elected County Probate Judge. When he ran for re-election every two years, his political platform consisted of one question. In his heavily accented Norwegian sing-song accent he'd ask, "You vont to vote for me?"

He chewed snuff. He had probably chewed since he was a very young boy. He died from throat cancer caused from the constant contact of tobacco juice trickling down his throat.

Grandpa was the only real claim to fame our family had when we were kids. He was straight laced, upright, and kind, a colorful and unusual character. People never forgot him. What you saw was what you got.

Grandpa always wore a three piece suit. His gold watch was always tucked into its little pocket on his vest, gold chain draped elegantly across, and fastened on the other side. He wasn't tall. Despite his average height and small-boned body structure, Grandpa appeared to be regal.

Grandpa wasn't effervescent or outgoing, or cuddly in any way, but we sensed that we were special and dear to him.

Always an avid hunter, Grandpa once shot a brown bear that had been roaming around farm garbage piles, making a nuisance of itself. I was only five at the time, but I remember it clearly because I was isolated at home. I'd just been released from the hospital. Grandpa backed that blue Nash car up into our yard, almost against the house, so I could look out and see that dead bear tied to the top.

He had the bear made into a rug. It had a red scalloped felt underneath. I wondered more about how the felt stayed together than about the bear. Perhaps seeing that red felt was the very beginning of my facination with fiber. (As in Fiber Art)

One year our family took a vacation. Grandpa and Grandma cared for my dog while we were gone. When we returned I found out that my dog had ripped the brown bear rug to pieces. This news wasn't told directly to me, because adults in our family seldom had real conversations with the children. We are Scandinavian, you see. Norwegian and Swedish, about half and half. Children had a place but it wasn't on equal footing with adults. Any important information that came our way was usually overheard.

When I was ten Grandpa had to shoot that dog. Distemper. People didn't always immunize their pets back then. When a dog got sick, it was shot. 

We lived at the far north edge of town, next to a big vacant lot. Grandpa came to our house at lunchtime one day. He took my dog from the back porch, where it had been having fits and was thrashing about, and tied him to the fence at that vacant lot. We walked home from school at lunchtime. That day I was sent back to school early, walking as usual. Grandpa waited until I crossed the bridge, two blocks from our house. I heard the shot. He should have known I'd hear the shot.

Nobody ever spoke of it.

I found out, too late, after Grandpa died, that he always thought I blamed him for shooting my dog. He should have talked to me.

My grandmother was the president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. She was a staunch believer in the evil of strong drink. (Her fruitcake was suspiciously fragrant and tangy.)

On hot days in the summer, when there were prisoners in the jail, Grandpa would go uptown, as we called the small business area, and buy a cold bottle of 3.2 beer for each of the prisoners to enjoy before supper. (Ours was a dry county and 3.2% alcohol beer was the only alcohol that was legal to buy.)

Grandpa often drove out into the county, stopped here and there at one farm or another, and eventually he'd tempt a farmer to take the tractor out of gear and turn it off, or abandon the manure spreader out in the field, and go hunting with him. He'd open the trunk of his Nash car, (we called it an upside down bathtub), exchange his dress shoes for leather boots, put on his old, wide brimmed hat, grab rifle and shells, and away he'd go, along with the truant farmer, who was most likely dressed in bib overalls. It must have been a sight, Grandpa dressed in his three piece suit and long sleeved shirt, out in the brush for a day of shooting.

There were many poor farm families in that county that feasted on fresh, out of season, venison, duck, or other game, thanks to the sheriff.

What I most remember about Grandpa, is the peas. He ate his food the old country way, with a knife. Not a sharp knife. Not at the table at home, but probably when camping out on hunting and fishing trips. Sometimes we'd ask our grandmother if they would be having peas for lunch. She always said that they were, and I imagine they ate more than they wanted of peas because of us. So, we'd arrive at lunch time, Grandma would pour us a cup of kid coffee, (half coffee, half milk), and we'd watch our grandfather eat his peas with his knife.

This is how I saw my Grandpa when I was a kid.

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Grandpa Toftner

I was surprised to see this when I was searching for info on Oscar Toftner. You see he was also my grandpa.