By Bill Sniffin
A famous cartoon concerning folks named Schmidt is often circulated around the Internet these days. My old pal Pat Schmidt, former publisher in Thermopolis and Lovell, has some observations about this story. Here is how members of his family have dealt with this situation:
“Now in the height of the Communications Age, humorous cartoons from back in the 1950s and 60s are still generating mirth and merriment on the Internet! Or is that regenerating?
“Take the case of our family and one particular cartoon. Over decades, reactions from family members have ranged from my father’s outrage to my grandchildren’s extreme merriment.
“You’ve seen the cartoon. Santa Claus is parked atop an old outhouse, angrily berating his lead reindeer, ‘Damn it, Rudolph, I said, The Schmidt-house!’”I was still in school when I first saw ‘the cartoon’ and heard the story about my short-tempered father taking a swing at another railroader who was showing it.
“To explain my dad’s outrage about that use of his last name, it might help you to know that though born here, his German family had immigrated from Russia to America shortly before World War I. As a child, he had suffered through the taunts of ‘Kraut-lover’ from children who were well aware America was in its first big war with Germany.
“Many Schmidt families Anglicized their last name to Smith upon or after arrival in America. Not ours.
“The approach of World War II found my dad in the Wyoming National Guard Cavalry, where, under military pressure, he changed his name from Wilhelm to William. But he (and the rest of his brothers) kept the name Schmidt.
“That horse cavalry unit was deployed to the West Coast well before Pearl Harbor to guard against a Japanese invasion. Later, other members told me how my dad got fighting mad one time when, during roll call, the sergeant called off the names of the Schmidt brothers as “Horse-Schmidt, Cow-Schmidt and Bull-Schmidt.”
“Though my siblings and I winced a little the first few times when we were teased with the Santa outhouse joke, I don’t remember getting that angry. Even my younger brother, who inherited much of my dad’s temper, never took a swing at anyone over it, as far as I know.
“My children, now adults, never seemed offended when the latest reincarnation of the Schmidt-house joke was shown to them.
“In Cheyenne during Christmas a few years ago, the joke reached epic proportions, springing to life when a couple of son Joe and daughter-in-law Kori’s friends built a giant outhouse and placed it in the yard of their home. Santa, Rudolph and his sleigh were perched on top. Spotlights gloriously highlighted the caption, ‘Damn it, Rudolph, I said, The Schmidt-house!’
“Joe’s family awakened to the clamor, went outside to see what was the matter and found the oversized creation spotlighted in front of their home.
“The biggest laugh among family members came when Joe’s younger brother Jake confessed that the two creators, a doctor and a lawyer, didn’t have the carpentry skills to finish it and called on him to help.
“Christmas light tours that year in Cheyenne detoured from the usual hot spots to the corner of Capitol and First, and hundreds of people viewed the gloriously lit Schmidt-house, complete with a half-moon door and appropriate captions.
“Merry Christmas from the Schmidt HOME!”
Author John Davis who lives in the town of Worland and also lives in the house owned by the Worlands, for whom the town was named, wrote the following:
“In my book Sadie and Charlie, I wrote about a Christmas story involving Sadie and Charlie Worland. The Worlands and their social crowd were preparing a big Christmas feast, with Sadie Worland cooking a whole pig in her oven (which didn’t quite fit). Her friend Helen Howell cooked several pies.
“Just before the big dinner, Howell called Sadie Worland and told her that the Howell dog had eaten all the pies. Sadie replied: ‘Helen, think nothing of it, the damn pig blew up.’”
Davis concludes: “Whether because of the inability to close the oven door or the way it was being cooked, the pig exploded. We don’t know how all this was finally worked out or what the celebrants ended up eating that evening.”
This is a time of year when giving is better than receiving. There are many efforts being made by big-hearted people to reach out to those not doing so well. You can help, too. You will not regret it.