Carl Gustafson

Obituary of Carl E. Gustafson

Carl Ellis Gustafson

September 29, 1926 – October 10, 2021 (ninety-five years old)


Carl Ellis Gustafson, my father, was a first generation American, the eldest son of Swedish immigrants; Esther Zachau and Carl Gustafson.  He was born in Brooklyn, NY, three years before the start of the Great Depression.


In 1943, at the age of seventeen, Carl enlisted in the U.S. Navy to fight in the Second World War.  He was soon on his way to the South Pacific as a Seabee in a construction battalion attached to the U.S. Marines.  He served in the Central Pacific theater until the end of the war.


Dad became a sharpshooter in the service, earning a medal for “expert marksmanship”; a skill that fueled his passions later in life as a hunter and archer.  Growing up, I watched him practice target shooting with his bow and arrow.  I never saw him miss the bull’s-eye.


The war was the most formative experience of my father’s life.  He didn’t say much about what happened over there, but my sisters and I knew it had been hard.  We knew he had malaria and that his knees no longer worked.  He ruined them when he jumped from a lumber loader under sniper fire.  He told us about the Seabees and Marines he served with and their extraordinary companionship.  He told us about the men that never made it home.


After the war, dad enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves.  It was near an army base in upstate New York, close to the border with Canada, that he met the woman who would become his beloved wife for six decades and our mother, Anne MacDonald.


Mom brought dad to her family’s farm on nearby Wolfe Island, where, as he liked to say, he felt he had entered a place where time stood still.  There, surrounded by farms, fields, woods, and water, dad found a world apart from the one he had known in Brooklyn and the war.  My mother and her warmhearted family restored my father’s faith in life, beauty, and humanity.


Dad worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Albany, NY, for over three decades but our family returned to Wolfe Island every summer, as dad promised my mom we would.  They built their own home there in 1968, where my family still shares happy memories.


Dad loved to cook and his recipes were inspired by growing up in Brooklyn’s diverse, immigrant community.  He would drive across the Hudson River to Italian grocers for pure olive oil, tangy cheeses, cured meats and fresh bread.  His tomato sauce was inspired, and I still recall the smell of the dough rising for his homemade pizza.


He knew where to find the best Jewish delis, Greek diners, and bakeries that made “real” dark rye bread.  The crust had to be crackly and the inside chewy, with the deep, earthy flavor of caraway seeds.  My sisters and I didn’t care for the pickled herring that dad loved, or the kielbasa, or liver and onions.  But his Swedish pancakes, rolled and filled with lingonberry jam, had no rival.


Dad’s secret weapon was humor, and here too, he never missed the mark.  He was not a teller of jokes, relying instead on natural wit to insert hilarity into just about any conversation.  He loved music and had a wonderful singing voice.  Dad was a talented artist and illustrator, though his attempts at oil painting were short lived (but highly entertaining to us!) due to his color blindness.


He enjoyed puttering in his shop.  One Christmas we discovered two large, elaborately designed puppets under the tree.  He had hand-carved them from wood.  Mom had sewn their beautiful, colorful costumes.


Dad lived his life with a strong sense of duty, personal responsibility, and honor.  For over thirty years he cared for our mother as she struggled with rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s.  He lived by the Marine’s motto, “Semper Fi”, remaining “always faithful” to his family, faith, and country.


Though he was a man of few words, with occasional bouts of temper and an old-world reluctance to display his emotions, my father was always there for us.  He was unique in all the world.  We will miss him for the rest of our lives.


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