This little book took home a silver medal in the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Club competition, Autobiography category.
Sigurd Wathne was a teenage boy living in Nazi-occupied Norway. He risked his life to build crystal radio sets for his neighbors and friends so they could surreptitiously listen to Voice of America and other broadcasts not controlled by Third Reich propagandists. Eventually he became an engineer, primarily self-taught, and founded a prosperous company headquartered in Santa Barbara. This is an example of a privately-commissioned memoir, intended for Sig’s many friends and relatives. It’s now in an updated second printing, and Mr. Wathne now calls me his favorite writer, so we’re both well pleased by the results.
From Chapter 1
An American Son of Norway
In retrospect, I suppose it was fortunate not to be charged with a delay of game penalty.
I was born at Pahl Hospital Los Angeles at 1:30 on the Sunday afternoon of October 3rd. Ella, my mother, I’m quite certain was present for the occasion. But my father, who was a remarkable athlete, was out on a sunny field of grass in Santa Monica on the afternoon I was born, concentrating on defending the goal in a soccer game. Soccer and ski jumping were his greatest athletic passions, and he was one of a group of Norwegian and other European immigrants who comprised the Los Angeles Athletic Club. In the summer of 1920, at the age of 22, about two years before he began his American journey by jumping ship at San Pedro with a friend, my father competed on Norway’s Olympic team, in the Games of the VII Olympiad, held in Antwerp, Brussels.
Interestingly, my father was born in Copenhagen on February 12th, 1898, a fact which surfaces in materials on Norwegian soccer posted on the internet. However, his classmates teased him relentlessly about his Danish place of birth, and he decided to conceal that piece of personal information for the rest of his life.
My father was missing a key teammate and friend that afternoon, Dr. Brix. The doctor’s absence for several minutes of crucial playing time was a direct result of needing to help bring me into this world, though he was able to report in for the latter part of the game.
As my parents told me many times, Dr. Brix did his job admirably well, then hurried to the soccer field with all possible speed. As he ran past my father on his way to assuming one of the forward positions, he shouted out “You have a boy!”
In spite of my keeping a valuable teammate off the field for so long, my father willingly shared his name with me: Sigurd Wathne, with Robert added as a middle name. My name around the house was always Junior.
In contrast to my father and his adventurous ploy of jumping ship, my mother came to America in a perfectly legal manner via Ellis Island. She arrived in this country, probably around the same year my father did, in the conventional way for Norwegian immigrants of those times, as a passenger on the Stavangerfjord, a ship of the Norsk Amerika Linje that made regular runs from Oslo to New York. Her maiden name was Ella Yvarda Knutsen.
I’ve done some genealogical research, and I have records of the Wathne family in Norway that go all the way back to about 1680. Our family roots are in the southernmost part of Norway, in and around the town of Mandal, which is where my father and mother and I moved sometime around 1933. If you can imagine Norway as the profile of a right hand pointing southward, the tip of the longest finger is at Mandal, and it points across the Skagerak, the strait which lies between Sweden, Denmark and Norway, to where Denmark rises like a little thumb jutting upward from the main European landmass.
Oslo lies to the north and east of Mandal. We went there a couple of times when I was a youngster, and as I remember the trip took a day and a half and four flat tires.
Our Los Angeles home was close to Santa Monica Boulevard, around the Hancock Park section.
There was a junkyard nearby in those days, and whenever my parents needed to figure out where I had wandered off to, they knew to check there. I suppose my love of mechanical things was nurtured there, as I got behind the steering wheels of partly dismantled cars and pretended to be driving, or looked at stacks of transmissions and suspension parts and wondered what each thing did, and how they worked.
I have a photo from 1928 showing my father and Dr. Brix with all their soccer teammates on a team that represented Los Angeles against clubs from San Francisco and elsewhere. I would often come along to Santa Monica to watch their Sunday games. I’ve been told that I would run around the sidelines collecting empty Coke bottles. People would ask me what I was doing, and I would tell them I was collecting them for my father for his beer.