There sure were some colorful characters in the Deep River area when I was a kid. At that time, being a man generally meant working hard (mainly in the woods) and then playing hard. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that many of these guys were World War II veterans during the immediate postwar period.
At any rate, “play hard” usually meant drink hard. Using that definition, we had some serious players. I remember we could always hear Oscar Lassala coming up the hill. He wore rubber hip boots and would turn the tops down and then stuff his bottles of drinking material in them. He clinked every step of the way. I don’t believe I ever saw him completely sober. He would clink over to my grandmother’s house once in a while for a visit. I expect he was hoping my dad, another serious player, might be there so they could clink around together.
His favorite trick was to ask me if I wanted to see smoke come out of his eyes. He’d cross his legs and tell me to sit on his foot. Then he would kind of lift me up and down with his foot, take a drag off his cigarette and tell me to stare at his eyes. While I was staring at his eyes to see the smoke, he’d reach down with his cigarette and give me a singe on whatever bare spot of skin was available. When I would give out a yelp, he’d have a hearty “har har,” and take a swig out of one of the bottles in his boots. Although not the sharpest stick in the woodpile, it didn’t take too many of these incidents and I pretty well figured it out that he couldn’t really make smoke come out of his eyes.
While I was in the Navy, I came back to Deep River several times to see old friends. At the time of one of these visits, my Dad, Werner Nikkila, and Bob Wainamo, known as Beermo, were ‘baching’ together in the old house where Jimmy Strange and his brothers and sister were raised. The house was getting pretty shaky and, as another room would fall in, the two of them would simply move their stuff into the remaining rooms.
When I got there, the only room left was the kitchen. They were just happy as clams. The creek kept their beer cold and they had a wire box full of Deep River crawdads keeping in there as well. There was a deer hanging from the ceiling that they were too slowly butchering. They had two army cots to sleep on and two stumps to sit on.
One of the most interesting features was two television sets. One was piled on top of the other. When I asked why they were like that they told me, “Oh, one has picture but no sound and the other has sound but no picture, so we just tune them both to the same channel.” It didn’t take much to keep those fellows happy.
After a 40-year absence, I’ve returned to Deep River to live. While I really enjoy seeing things that haven’t changed much, it is great to see that the emphasis on drinking has changed.