Benny Jay: Erickyma

September 13th, 2019

When we were kids, we didn’t really know the parents of our friends.

It’s more like they were these formidable figures, looming in the background–like the adults in Peanuts.

So it was with Arthur Erickson, a man I never called anything but Mr. Erickson.

He was the father of David Erickson, one of my best junior high friends. A kid we usually called Erickyma.

Can’t remember why we called him that, though I’m sure we thought it was really clever at the time.

As I remember, Mr. Erickson was a quiet and lanky. A sample–and rare–conversation between the two of us probably went like this…

Mr. Erickson: Hello, Benny.

Benny: Ugh, hi…

As you can see, witty repartee with parents wasn’t really my thing.

The Ericksons lived on the second floor of a two-flat near the lake. We called it “Erickson’s crib.” I spent many afternoons hanging there.

Mr. Erickson was the display manager at Marshall Field’s department store. So obviously he was very artistic.

You could tell he was artistic just by looking at his house. It was very neat and orderly and filled with his paintings, sculpture and drawings.

One day while snooping around–as kids will do–I came upon a book of pictures of naked people.

It may have been the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing. In a book, anyway.

Naked boys playing leapfrog. Naked men running. Naked women walking up stairs. All kinds of naked people doing all kinds of different things–while naked.

I don’t think I can emphasize the naked part of this enough.

The photos were by Eadweard Muybridge, who was probably every bit as weird as his name suggests.

I’ve since learned that Muybridge was a seminal photographer of the 19th century, who’s had a profound influences on many artists, including, obviously, Mr. Erickson.

But back then all I knew is–dang, this shit is weird. Though that didn’t stop me from sneaking a look at that book every chance I had. But don’t tell Erickson.

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Arthur Erickson’s memorial program…

Mr. Erickson died last month–complications from a stroke. He was 89-years-old.

By the end of his life, he’d moved out of that nice two-flat by the lake and was living in an assisted living place.

Two weeks ago, they had a memorial service for him.

In their eulogies, David and his sister, Janet, briefly told the story of a man I hardly knew. For instance…

He graduated from Sullivan High School. Home of the Tigers. Which is appropriate, since Mr. Erickson loved animals of all sorts, especially big cats. He loved painting them, too.

In the `40s, he got drafted and sent off to Europe.

When he returned from the war, he met Marian Miller, a woman I came to know as Mrs. Erickson.

Sample conversation between me and Mrs. Erickson–oh, you can imagine how that went.

For their honeymoon, Mr. & Mrs. Erickson crossed the country. Visited the Grand Canyon, drove up the coast of California to San Francisco.

They were living the Bohemian life of two artists in Chicago. Then came the kids and that two-flat by the lake.

He was, they said, a bit of a mystic.

“He loved dogs,” Janet said. “He said you could look into a dog’s eyes and see the eyes of god. Not the god of racism and war. But the god you can see in the eyes of a dog.”

I wish I knew him when I was old to appreciate who he was.

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