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Sandra Sandberg


Sandra Sandberg

Cousin Claude

“Muh name’s Clod.”

Excuse me?

“Ah said, muh name’s Clod. C-L-A-U-D-E. Clod.”

Ah yes, Cousin Claude. I’m sure you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, but he is about as notoriously interesting a relative as relatives get. What could be so bad about him, you ask? Plenty. For one thing, his name is “Claude.” Who in these United States sticks a boy with that name? Oh sure, I know in France it was probably quite a common name. But we didn’t live in France; we lived in Worthington, Minnesota—Turkey Capital of the World. (Somehow that seems fitting.) Anyway, in Worthington any little quirk made you the butt of gossip. At the time I was growing up, there was little else to do there in your spare time. But I digress. The point I am trying to make is, his name automatically doomed him to an ignoble fate. Now if a young Frenchman for some odd reason wanted to visit Worthington, Minnesota back in those days, he probably would have introduced himself with, “Je m’appelle Claude.” Then the girls would have all swooned because he was French, for Pete’s sake! That was the stuff of romance novels! They would have probably lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him. But Cousin Claude wasn’t so suave and debonair. He introduced himself with “Muh name is Clod.” Like a lump of dirt. It didn’t sound as pretty and made him seem stupid. No girl ever swooned over him unless she was frightened senseless upon suddenly encountering him.

Many a time my cousin complained that his moniker was “girly sounding.” Not the way he said it, but the way it looked on paper. I maintain the reason he got into trouble was because he felt he had to prove his masculinity since he was saddled with that name. How bad could it be, you ask? Oh PLENTY bad! For one thing, Claude didn’t have opposable thumbs. Well, he started life with ‘em, but then the fish ate them. I suppose that doesn’t make sense to you just now, but bear with me. By the time I am finished with this story, you will be on your knees rejoicing that you don’t have a relative like Claude.

Let me begin again. Claude felt the need to prove his masculinity since he felt feminized by that name. His father, my Uncle Charles, was in the construction business. At that time people didn’t specialize as much as they do now, so in addition to being in the construction business, he was also in the demolition business. He had to bring down old structures and clear out land to make his buildings, and, since he didn’t believe in doing things the hard way, messing around with bulldozers and such, he simply used dynamite to clear away whatever was in his way—and to “dig” a foundation. Oh, I am sure there were bulldozers around after the explosions to smooth over the giant pockmarks afterward, but not on the front side of things. Anyway, that meant he needed a place to store these explosives. Foolishly, he decided to store them in his garage. Big mistake! Claude, always ambitious in the way of creating new and stupid antics, but lazy as far as work went, found it a really good way to catch fish. Since his family lived on the river, he had the motive and opportunity to light the sticks of dynamite and throw one or two of them in the river. As long as he didn’t throw it in too soon, the TNT would explode and stun the unsuspecting fish; dead or dazed and semi-conscious, they would float up to the surface where Claude would laugh maniacally and gather them up. This is the REAL beginning of the story. After a while, Claude got bored with simply throwing dynamite into the river; it lost its thrill for him. So he decided to raise the stakes. To prove how really macho he was, despite his name, he began to play games of chicken with himself—to see how long he could hold the lit stick of dynamite before he lobbed it downstream. Silly, wasn’t it? Well, he kept getting “braver” and “braver,” holding on to the sticks longer and longer until he threw it.

So here is where you have probably already guessed how Claude lost his thumbs to the fish—one day he held it a little too long and blew off his thumbs and four other fingers—three on his left and one on his right. In fact, his left hand appeared to be always flipping the bird after that—which pleased him to no end. So the fish feasted on the freshly fallen fingers and thumbs while Claude stumbled back to the house so his mother could drive him to the hospital. After that, he seemed to lose whatever modicum of intelligence he may have had. Many years later, my father, seizing the opportunity to use the dynamite as metaphor, described him to others by saying, “If brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to mess up his hair!” Everyone who knew Claude would nod solemnly. Claude was simply without equal in the town of Worthington.

After the fish-eating-his fingers incident, Claude couldn’t seem to stop adding to his notoriety. There was the time he held himself for $5 ransom. Another time he set the forest on fire just to see if he could do it. Then there was the winter he drilled right through his left foot with the ice auger. He also accidentally shot his little brother in the head once—it must be difficult to aim and shoot when you are missing so many digits. (Fortunately for little Caspar, no damage was done.) The last time anyone saw Claude was last year when his father died. Claude high-tailed it to Chicago to get his father’s truck and any valuables; he also stole the will so no one could impugn his claim on the property. However, a new copy of the will was found and the judge ruled the estate had to be divided up among all four siblings. No one has seen Claude since. The last anyone heard, Claude was running a wood chipper for the city of Waseca.