In the 1940s and early 1950s I observed many of the adults of Cokato through the plate glass windows of my dad’s furniture store on 3rd Street. Through my growing-up years I watched dozens of episodes in the lives of the people of Cokato transpire. As children, I suppose, we all observed a lot more than we realized.
From my vantage point I saw the town's businessmen scurry to the boiling coffee at the Sweet Shop. I noticed Wayne Larson carry loads of groceries from Blaha's Store into Selma AhIstrom’s car (which usually had the backdoor ajar). In front of my eyes I saw Pete Swenson and his friends stroll from Matt's Place to Danielson’s (just north of the Village Hall).
Often I viewed a man from those reflective windows who was quite different. He was a man who lived by his wit, his pen, and his keen Intellect. He had a pride in his walk and an air in his speech which separated him from the group which I was used to seeing daily, the group to which I belonged, namely the American-Scandinavians. His name was Frank Lamson.
His dress was complete with tie and vest and a well-creased hat which he wore in the hot summer sun. His other clothes were far from neat and further far from clean. His large lower lip was stained with the tobacco juice of his cigars and his dark flowered neckties snuggled the collar of a tan work shirt which sported spots from meals he’d eaten at I various restaurants in Dassel and Cokato.
Often Frank would show up in front of the furniture store windows around noontime. It was obvious that he was waiting for his traditional benefactor, namely George Borg, owner of the Northland Canning Factory. As George parked his black Cadillac, Frank would brace up and greet him with a “Good morning, Cy, or is it afternoon by now.” He called everyone for whom he had affection (which was nearly everybody) by that name.
“Would you be so kind as to join me for my noon meal today?” Frank would ask as the two would file into a booth at the Sweet Shop Cafe for a meal. The food bill was always paid by George Borg. On the way out the door a couple of Dutchmasters would find their way into Frank’s outside breast pocket, strategically placed in front of his soiled handkerchief.
If Frank’s friend ‘didn't show that particular day, he would wait until the end of the Sweet Shop’s serving period, wander in, and ask if they had any extra gravy» from the dinners. Often someone would emerge with a plate of gravy spread over a slice of bread. It in eating he had some gravy left over he would ask if there was extra bread. It was pitiful to watch this man of great history and dignity, a man who had dedicated his life to public service in so many different ways.
Born in New England, Frank Lamson grew up in Wisconsin, coming to Cokato with his grandparents. He taught school at the age 17 and became editor of the Cokato Observer at 20. For the next two or three years he became the village recorder, justice of the peace, as well as principal of the three room school. In 1892, at the tender age of 25, he was elected Wright County Auditor and moved to Buffalo where he eventually founded the Buffalo Standard, again stepping into the publishing business.
Dabbling.in politics, he was appointed Assistant Sergeant-At-Arms for the 1897 Minnesota Legislature and subsequently became Buffalo’s Postmaster. (Postmasters were traditionally political appointments until the 1940s.)
He seemed to spend his life drinking coffee with people, glad handing, soliciting for one thing or another, and spritely walking on the edge of politics.
He was our town curmudgeon. The first I’d ever known.
Occasionally he’d be the first customer of the day in my dad’s store. Apparently his little house between Highway 12 and the railroad tracks either didn't have plumbing or had perennial plumbing problems. As he’d enter the store with a bow tie and yet not changing his deliberate gait, he’d ask “Would you be so kind as to let me use your ‘facilities’?" l never really had the chance to answer his question. '
From time to time he would honor some of the high school students by “allowing” them to hoe his garden. The work was always rewarded with another copy of his book The History of Wright County. The volume had been printed in 1935 and in the 1940s and early 1950s he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply. He concluded the compensation, package with a firm handshake and the statement, “You can never put a price tag on friendship.”
I can still remember proudly bringing home my first copy of his book only to have my brother show me his six copies.
The next time he asked me to give him assistance I was more cautious, but no more wise. At the age of 86 he decided to be a candidate for the state legislature and l had just turned 15 with a new driver’s license.
While l can’t claim to have been his campaign manager, I did serve as Frank’s “transportation director” by transporting him to nearby towns in my dad’s 1950 Plymouth for the distribution of “Lamson for Legislature” hand bills.
He disappeared shortly after that summer, or maybe l just got involved in the many other challenges of growing-up.
He died shortly after that, leaving me with a vivid memory of his firm handshake in friendship. It’s a great recollection of a man who was himself a piece of old and colorful yarn in the fabric of Cokato.
And not by accident do l still have seven copies of the History of Wright County.