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The White Enamel Wash Pan with the Red Ring

Johnny had invented a test tube holder to measure the cream content of milk in Wisconsin near the start of the last century. He and his brother had owned a dairy and Uncle Johnny lived off the patent for the test tube holder for the rest of his life. They had grown up on the Mattson’s farm south of Madison and their Mother only spoke Danish and “her mark” was an “x” because she couldn’t write her name. Her mark can be found on the plat map of the Mattson homestead at Portage. Our Great-Grandmother Christine’s husband Nels, was a fundamentalist preacher, farmer and naturopath and built a house at Portage for Mrs. Smith, a Vashon teacher.

There must have been lots of Indians in Wisconsin, because Johnny told the story of riding his pony to the trading post to get coffee beans and seeing a bunch of young bucks hanging around the front porch of the trading post. Johnny was eighteen. The Indians started following Johnny home and he knew there might be trouble, so he urged his pony to try to get some distance between himself and the Indians. He saw some rocks up ahead and knew if he could make the rocks, that he could hold them off with his 22 pistol. The Indians gave up the chase without incident and Johnny rode home.

Uncle Johnny built his own frame house on the beach at Portage and ran a chicken farm at Luana beach and one in Tenino to boot. His brother Jim also raised chickens adjacent to their father’s farm on the hill above Quartermaster. Johnny’s house was on the beach and once started to float away on a very high tide. All sorts of lumber that Johnny had beach combed had been neatly stacked on pilings in front of the house and it all went out with the tide.

A generation later, Uncle Johnny was sitting on his wood pile and eating what us kids thought was garbage. Johnny was ahead of his time.

His red water pump sat on top of the well he had “witched” and dug himself. A glass of water sat beside the pump for the next user to prime the pump with.

At 75 years old Uncle Johnny could stand on his head for 30 minutes and walked six miles from Ellisport to the golf course every day. I know because my cousins timed him. He lived in the Old Folks Home for the last 20 years of his life, and called for his wife Matty, when she had passed on years before. They hadn’t been allowed to stay in the same room and if you came to visit, he would say: “Please wait, Matty will be here any minute.”

He had a device, an electric vibrating belt, producing heat that aided his digestion. It was wide, dark black leather and when Johnny lay on his back on his bunk us kids could hear its buzzing and Uncle Johnny would tell us a story about wild Indians and such.

My nurse, a Lakota Sioux, was taking my blood pressure as I related the story of Uncle Johnny’s magical belt and she said she had never heard of such a thing. Like my CPAP device, it may only have worked for people who believed it was helping.

The Burton dance hall was famous for the fights and times that were had there. Matty and Johnny walked from Portage to Burton for the music and dancing. Uncle Johnny played the fiddle and Matty the guitar.

Aunt Matty had a pearl handled 38 that she kept under her pillow for protection and we were allowed to see it only once. She also peeled her potatoes and onions and carrots in a white enamel wash pan with a red ring and Uncle Johnny would sit on his pile of driftwood to eat his garbage.