There is a fine line these days between the Present and the Past, for me. While I help my cousin keep watch over her mother(my aunt) I am living in the present. But the book I received recently, the history of our ancestors who came from the Numedal Valley of Norway, as a clan of closely- related people—-brothers, sisters, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even grandparents, in some cases…and settled in the southeastern part of what is today Clay County. Usually, the Old Folks stayed at home in Norway while watching their children and grandchildren make the huge step of emigrating to "Amerika" as the economic times in Norway became more and more difficult in the 1860s and on towards the new century.
In the present, I watch over my Aunt who is a desendant of that large clan of immigrants, becoming weaker and weaker every day. She is in the rehab unit at Eventide care center but the day- by- day occurences are up and down…sometimes hopeful and sometimes discouraging. At the end of her 8th decade, it is not an easy time to bounce back from the serious trauma of a bad fall. Her body heals little by little, but her spirit is sometimes flagging, torn between trying to recover and expressing a wish to "go to Heaven". We, who are her family, cannot tell how things will turn out; we can only watch and wait and take one day at a time and prepare ourselves for the end, if that end is imminent. Only God knows our time of home-going…..none of us can say when it will come, with any certainty. We can only watch and wait. And that is what we do day by day.
She, ( and we) come from a line of strong, tough people who were all part of the Rollag-Veggli-Flesberg areas of the Numedal Valley. In the past, I read and re-read my Great-great Grandmother’s story and wonder at how she survived all she did when she was still a fairly young woman. Married to a man who turned out to be misled by an unscrupulous land dealer in Norway, he ended up in financial ruin and literally, "lost the farm"…..which was his wife’s farm, inherited from her own family. In ruin and in despair, he took the coward’s way out and took his own life leaving my great- great grandmother with 5 young children ( the oldest son was my great grandfather) and the disgrace of suicide which, in Norway of that time, was the greatest social disgrace anyone could have laid on them. To make things even worse, it was the custom of many to believe that it was the wife’s fault when her husband took his life….she had obviously been a "bad wife" to him. My g-g grandmother was in despair herself and the only way to turn was to emigrate to America and try to start life over in the new country. She was fortunate that one of her brothers, a younger one in her family, had already become an American immigrant and had settled in a dugout cave in what is today Parke Township in southeastern Clay County where he lived one winter (1870) and became a trapper, collecting furs of animals to sell. He is a legend in the Clan…..he became the brother who looked after all the others when their own father had died at an early age leaving a widow with 4 children . His name was Tov and he not only struck out as an immigrant in the early part of the 1870’s, but brought a much younger half-brother, Tosten, to America also. But when the young brother became ill with the all- too common tuberculosis, Tov put his brother on his back and skiied all the way from SE Clay Country to Breckenridge, MN and put his brother on a train bound for southern Wisconsin where my great-great grandmother had emigrated (Jefferson Prairie, near present day Clinton, WI. ) My great-great grandmother cared for her youngest brother in her home til he succumbed to the disease at a very young age. He was barely 20 years old when he died.
Tov also skiied cross country to Moorhead several times in the bitter winter(s) going to fetch groceries and other supplies. The thought of the physical strenth it took for such a journey is almost unimaginable in the present day we live in. Tov prepared the way for his eldest sister (my great-great grandmother and her 5 children to homestead in the western part of Parke Township.) His other brother also came with his already-growing family and the two siblings…my great-great grandmother and her brother Nels, shared the 160 acre homestead. My great grandfather, Herbran, must have done a man’s work at the age of 15 on that new homestead. He had to take the role of the man of the family when his father took his life by suicide. The homestead site is still in our family today, where a descendant of Nels lives with her husband.
The Clan members suffered great losses and many sorrows. One of the families that is part of my relationship, lost 2 children to diseases (probably diptheria or whooping cough within days of each other. Another member of the Clan wrote of the death of his young wife days after the birth of their 5th child who was only 7 days old when the mother died, probably of a blood clot. "Anton" her husband described his wife’s death in his own words recorded in my family history book:
"Sorrow and joy go together and it was so for me. On the 13th of February (it was 1904) another son was born to us, and our joy was just as great as it had been with the other children. The outlook was good, for those of us who were near Mama thought that she would be up and around soon…..Then on the evening of February 19th I came in from doing the chores for the day and one of the children said that Mama wanted to talk to me. When I went into her room, she asked me if I would help her sit up a little because she was tired of lying there all the time. I helped her as well as I could into a sitting position. In a short while she was dizzy and wanted to lie down again. I noticed that she grew pale and I grasped her hand and stood up, at the same time calling for Mrs. Krogen who was taking care of her. We did all we could but nothing would help. My beloved left this world, me and my four children, the oldest 5 years old and the youngest only 7 days old. Oh what a blow it was, that she in her best years, just 32 years and a few months old and had so much to live for, should die!…..All was gone."
Anton, the young widower stuggled to raise his family alone with the help of hired girls and neighbors, but ultimately, the baby who had been born just days before "Mama" died, was adopted by a childless couple who raised him to manhood, even though he always knew who his real family was. He took the name of the adoptive parents but was always included in the true family’s future gatherings, knowing who his brothers and sisters were. There is a picture taken years later when all the children were grown up (there was a second family of half-siblings when Anton remarried and had more children with his second wife. All of them remained close to each other and to their father and their step-mother who lived to an advanced age. It was a large family of grown- up children on that picture and their step mother, Barbro, was in the center as the honored one on that particular day.
There are so many stories connected to my large and extended "clan". My book of the Past comforts me in the days of the Present, as I keep watch with my cousin and my sister over the last of our mothers’ generation.