The young couple had made up their minds; they would emigrate to America. It was the winter of 1906 and in the spring they would make their long journey to the middle of the United States where an elderly aunt of the bride had asked them to come and live with her and her husband on their homestead. The elderly aunt was aging and was beginning to suffer the effects of old age. The young couple were a perfect choice…both of them were strong and capable of hard work that was needed on a prairie homestead in North Dakota. And the elderly aunt loved her niece dearly. Another aunt of the young bride lived just a few miles aways on another homestead farm so the young couple would have the support of close relatives in their venture to the new world. None of the other relatives in the "old country" were coming to America so when the young emigrants decided to some alone, they knew they would not see fathers or mothers, brothers or sisters, cousins or aunts and uncles again. It was a sad parting but a hopeful one.
79 years after the young couple departed their mountain home in Norway, a relative who was an aged man himself by then, remembered the leaving from the village train station. Everyone in the two families were weeping because they all knew this was a final goodbye. Nobody would be seen again if they emigrated to America. Unless other family members joined the masses of emigrants, the families would be parted forever….at least in this earthly life. The members of both families were deeply religious and believed the would be reunited in Heaven but seeing one another again on earth……it was never to be. So the weeping continued as the young couple’s train pulled out of the rural railroad stop. The young husband had sung a song of farewell just before the train left….he was a good singer and guitar player having been a traveling lay preacher around a large lake near their home in Norway. He also was a traveling shoe cobbler and leather worker in his youth, having been apprenticed to an older cobbler and leather worker.
The young couple boarded a sailing ship bound for North America and after a tumultous sea voyage, they landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they boarded another train bound for the middle west. They were greeted by the husband of the aunt when they arrived by train in the growing town in the middle of North Dakota and they departed for the homestead southwest of the town. They had arrived in time for spring planting and the young husband was engaged immediately in farming with his wife’s uncle by marriage. The arrival had been a shock to the young couple when they learned that in the interim of time since they had communicated by mail (slow mail service in those days) that the aunt had passed away shortly before their arrival in the new land. So the young wife became the chief housekeeper and farm wife at the homestead. There was another thing as well—-the young wife was pregant with her first child due on September. One can only imagine the stress of the long voyage on a mother- to- be but this young woman was made of hardy stock. She survived the long journey without any complications and went on into the summer with her infant growing in her womb while she worked tirelessly to fill in the role of the farm wife, cooking, washing, scrubbing and cleaning, raising a garden, canning and preserving, milking cows and feeding chickens and other livestock that were in the domain of the housewife of those days.
One unknown factor came to the surface after the young couple arrived to be with the uncle who had been married to the young bride’s aunt. He was irritated with the "religion" of the young couple who read their Bible together and prayed each night before they retired. They had been a part of the "Bedehus" movement in Norway; these were people who were far more evangelical and mission-minded than those in the old state church of Norway. They did not hesitate to sing praises to their Lord, to read their Bibles and pray aloud…and the old Uncle was convicted by their faithfulness. He resented their "bible-thumping" and let them know he disapproved.
There was another unknown factor awaiting the young emigrant couple. Another uncle…the man married to the young woman’s other aunt on the nearby homestead…was resentful of the promise made to the young couple by the other aunt and uncle…that if they came and helped them and took care of them in their old age, the farm would be given to them as way of giving them get a start in the new country. This promise was a welcome one to the young couple who loved the idea of their own farm and land to work. They were willling to fulfill their end of the bargain and had already proved their willingness to work hard for the elderly uncle. But then one night in early September, the two brothers-in law (the men married to the aunts of the young woman) got together and were indulging in an alcoholic spree, to the point of getting dead- drunk together. Somehow the one man convinced the other man that he should go home and kick those bible-thumpers off his farm and get rid of them …he wanted that farm for his own sons, of whom he had sired 5 young strapping men, who needed farms and land also. The drunken uncle went back to his farm, awakened the young couple who were sleeping deeply, and told them to pack up and get off his farm , immediately! In a daze of confusion and distress, the young couple put their few belongs into suitcases and began walking down the road toward what they thought was the direction of the town some 15 miles distant. But in the dark of the night, they did not turn toward town, but headed in the opposite direction, following the narrow dirt road that was little more than a rough trail. They walked all night til the grayest light of dawn showed them near another farm along the road. In exhaustion and despair, the young husband and wife sat down to rest atop their suitcases til they could see a light in the farmhouse and go and ask for directions.
There was another young immigrant couple living on that homestead. They had come from Sweden just a few years before the young Norwegian couple came in 1906. The Swedish immigrant farmer spotted this young couple sitting along the road and walked out to them. Fortunately the farmer, who spoke only Swedish, could understand the Norwegian spoken by the young couple. When he learned of their plight, he invited them into his home, where his wife and several young children were up for breakfast. The Swedish couple gave the young immigrants a temporary home for the fall months. The first child of the young Norwegian couple was born at that farm… and about 3 weeks later, the Swedish wife gave birth to her newest baby. The two young women served as each others’ midwives and the two babies were healthy and strong. The Norwegian couple’s child was a boy and the Swedish couple’s baby was a girl. Those two young familes were fast friends for the rest of their lives and the two babies born so close together remained friends for life also.
The Swedish couple also helped the young Norwegian couple get a start in the town because the young Norwegian husband was a skilled cobbler and leather worker and the young growing town had a great need for a man who could make horse harnesses and other horse equipment. The town was a booming railroad town and all the work on the railroads was done by horses and men. A new business was begun by the young man who thought he would be a farmer on his own homestead that had been promised to him and his young wife. The banker was a Norwegian speaking immigrant himself, and he was willing to give a loan for the new shoemaker and harness maker to get a business going in town. So the young couple and their baby moved into a home in the town where they would spend the remainder of their long lives.
But in the countryside, the Uncle who had kicked them off the farm , sobered up and came to great grief when he realized what he had done to the young pair. He searched all over the countryside til he came to the Swedish homestead and found his young relatives living there with their newborn son. He pleaded with the young couple to return to his farm but the young husband was adamant….he would never return to a place he was not wanted and he remained firm in his resolve, moving instead to town where he became the owner of the business that was known for the rest of his life as the "Shoe Hospital". The aging uncle brooded over his deed of turning his wife’s niece and her husband off the farm they had been promised. Just a few years later, neighbors found that old man who had hanged himself a room in his home. Ever after that the people who lived on that farm kept that room closed up and locked. The other sons of the brother in law ended up inheriting the promised farm and they would never allow the young boy who had been born on the neighboring Swedish farm to ask questions about the room that was closed up. Not til the young boy grew up did he learn the circumstances surrounding the locked room or his parents’ connection to the tragic death by suicide of the elderly uncle-in-law.
The young immigrant couple from Norway lived in the town for the rest of their lives. They had 7 children, one of whom died in infancy from whooping cough, but 6 who survived into adulthood and went on to marry and raise families….the grandchildren loved to come to Grandma’s house and be fed her homemade bread slathered with the homemade butter she had churned herself from the cream of the cows that were kept in the in-town barn. The young immigrant bride who had arrived in 1906 suffered a bad stroke when she was in her seventh decade and died within a year after that illness. Her husband survived by many years and lived as an aging widower til the age of 95 when he finally closed up the Shoe Hospital and went to another small North Dakota town to spend his final years with one of his daughters.
The baby who was born in 1906 in a home where his parents had been given refuge was my father in law. He was the most wonderful man, a man who understood hardship and hard work. He was as much a father to me as my own beloved Daddy. I still miss both of these wonderful men who were such important parts of my life.