I spent a great deal of time with Tiger Jack Rosenbloom in the summer and fall of 1984, while freelancing as a photojournalist. I didn't have enough experience at the time to be offered a full-time position at a daily newspaper in the Twin Cities, so I worked freelancing for community newspapers for six years after college.
It was during this time that I met Tiger Jack and began to document his life at the shack. In addition to taking photographs, Tiger and I enjoyed a warm friendship. Much of the time we would sit and talk about various philosophies of life. He did most of the talking and I did most of the listening, but I learned a great deal. I found him to be a very kind man with a great deal of wisdom and he was one of the most dedicated family men I've ever known.
Many days I'd go to his shack and talk for an hour or so without taking any photographs. Sometimes we would share a bottle of soda, but on one particular morning that I will always remember, Tiger offered me some of the meal he was preparing on his stove, mashed potatoes. I was flattered that he would offer, something he hadn't done in the three months I'd been visiting him. Looking around the shack, I quickly grabbed the first bowl I found and Tiger dished up a huge helping. Then he said a short prayer and we both dug in. I was hungry and gulped down a few spoonfuls before realizing that I had accidentally grabbed a deep bowl that Tiger must have used to transfer kerosene from one container to another.
He had no idea what I had done and I desperately did not want to offend my host by indicating that I didn't like his cooking. But the taste of kerosene was overwhelming so when Tiger turned to take care of a customer, I quietly spooned the rest of the potatoes into my coat pockets. "All done Tiger. Your potatoes were great, thanks very much," I said, trying to cover my tracks (and soggy pockets).
"Jim, you have a good appetite," he said with a smile...as he enthusiastically spooned another generous helping of mashed potatoes into my bowl.
In December of that year I was given a job at the Worthington Daily Globe in southwestern Minnesota, near the South Dakota border. I didn't see Tiger Jack again for 17 years. Two newspaper jobs later, I came home to work in my hometown. I was sitting outside, drinking a cup of coffee in downtown St. Paul on a warm, spring afternoon when a city bus screeched to a halt, the door opened and out gingerly stepped a very frail-looking Tiger Jack.
I watched for a moment as he stood on the corner, papers in one hand, cane in the other, appearing to be lost. I was just standing up to walk over to him when I heard his voice boom (his voice was never frail), "Jim. Jim. Come on over here and help me out." There was no hesitation in his look. I was amazed and heartened that he remembered after all these years. He had come downtown to go to a bank in order to pay off a loan. We talked for a few more minutes, then Tiger turned and walked down Wabasha St. to find the bank and finish his business.
That was the last time I ever saw Tiger Jack. He passed away later that year, but I have always felt very lucky that I was given the chance to get to know such a remarkable person. He was one of those rare individuals who made better the lives of those he touched and I feel fortunate to be able to share the photographs he so graciously allowed me to take.