I grew up hearing stories about my maternal family from all of my relatives. And after writing that last post I think I’ll share a little…
Once my maternal great grandparents from Norway arrived here they worked at a few farms earning and saving money. Then they both went to North Dakota and acquired homesteads.
My great grandmother had a small house near a pond that later became a sort of summer house for her where she would go to do artwork, listen to the radio, read and just relax. She did have eight children after all. I’m sure she needed to have a break sometimes and be alone. She was also a sort of local midwife and homeopathic healer. People often relied on her for help when the doctor was too far or etc.
My great grandfather’s homestead was the one that was enlarged and where my great grandparents eventually built everything and raised their children. It wasn’t too far from my great grandmother’s homestead but they weren’t neighbors and that’s not how they met.
My great grandmother had gone into town to work as a cook at a hotel. Perhaps it wasn’t safe enough to be a young woman alone, in your early 20’s, on a homestead. So while she kept her homestead she worked in town.
My great grandfather, after establishing his homestead in 1905, was regularly farming and had crops and one year in the late 1900’s he brought his harvest into town to be sold when he stayed at the hotel my great grandmother was working at as a cook. He ate at the hotel restaurant and he was so smitten by her cooking, her pancakes in particular, that he requested to meet her. So they then met, fell in love and were married in 1908.
They adored each other as people. They had an enormous amount of respect for each other.
My great grandmother was a true genius. And while my great grandfather was very intelligent, he was more or less known more for his extremely even temperament and wisdom…
They belonged to two different political parties and would often have heated (but well mannered) discussions about politics in the kitchen/dining room of their house. Their children followed suit and that sort of passionate debate mixed with respect still prevails in our family about the topics of the day.
Some of us are Republicans like my great grandma and some of us are Democrats like my great grandpa. Many of us neither. But we all try to remember that being kind and preserving family love and connection is more important than just winning a verbal battle.
But truly though, my great grandfather did have to occasionally “put his foot down” regardless of their easy connection. Once during the height of the Great Depression my great grandmother got the idea that the family should sell the farm/ranch and move to Oregon. She had a cousin who had moved to Oregon and he talked about how green and lovely it was out there. (the 1930’s were incredibly dry in many parts of the US – they were the “dust bowl years”) But my great grandfather said, “No! The only place I’m moving to is the churchyard when I’m buried.”
When my great grandfather was assertive and earnest like that my great grandmother knew she needed to take him very seriously and listen. So, they didn’t move. And thank goodness they didn’t. It was important to actually own land during those years and it is now too of course, and my great grandfather knew that. He had learned that lesson back in Norway.
While it was hard to grow things during the 1930’s and they did have to endure the heat and dry-as-a-bone conditions of that era (in a nice new stucco house my great grandfather built in 1929 however, mind you) they never went hungry and they tried to help their neighbors. Although those neighbors thinned out in numbers considerably during the 1930’s. As my grandmother used to say, “They left between the dawn and the daylight.” And, they never returned.
Once, during that time, a man walked in off the road near their house, opened the front door, meandered over to the kitchen/dining room, stood by the table and grabbed a large pitcher of milk sitting on the table for lunch. He then proceeded to drink the entire thing in front of everyone without saying a word. Everyone just peacefully sat there and watched him… Then, after saying “Thank you.” he walked quickly and silently right back out the door and they never saw him again. But that sort of thing was not uncommon.
Sometimes they ate Russian Thistle. And of course they ate dandelion greens. And there was meat and milk from the animals (who also sometimes ate the Russian Thistle). There were also berries… And homemade baked goods.
My grandmother, their daughter, adored FDR. He helped rid the Midwestern plains of the wild dust that would fly about from the dry, overly farmed land by having farmers plant coniferous trees to line their fields. And, of course, FDR created jobs by building bridges, dams, roads and the like. More specifically to my grandmother’s neighborhood, he put in safer gravel roads instead of the dusty dirt ones that would go airborne before. It was all part of the “New Deal” and it worked.
And then in the early 1940’s it finally rained! It went from dry, brown earth to green, lush and cool rolling hills as far as the eye could see. It was an amazing change. My great grandmother was relieved they hadn’t sold it all and left.
There were visitors from Norway in the 1940’s either right before World War II or right after (I can’t remember right off hand)… One of my great grandfather’s nephews from Norway had become a professor (I think those who stayed in Norway in the family managed to do well too) and he was in an exchange program with an American professor who went to Norway. His nephew brought his whole family and they were at the farm and I’m sure that was lovely for everyone.
And, eventually, my great grandfather took my great grandmother to Norway in the early 1950’s to visit everyone who was still living, which was no small thing in the early 1950’s – to travel from North Dakota to Norway and back for a vacation. I think they were gone just over a month (maybe with between a week to two weeks of just traveling?). However, I believe their parents were dead, sadly, at that point and in my great grandmother’s case she hadn’t seen them since she was 17 years old. I’m sure they wrote each other but that’s hardly the same thing, of course.
Anyway, I could keep writing but I think I’ll stop. Someday I’d love to write a novel based on the stories I’ve heard about these people but at the very least I need to write this all down someday. Our oral history about ourselves and our origins are very important.