Sunday, December 22, 2013

Wish Books and Hardwood Floors

Edited and reposted from December 19, 2007


In the early 1960s, shopping was such a special occasion for my family that we went on purposeful expeditions only several times a year.  One time was during the inevitable "back to school" rush, and another always happened several weeks before Christmas.

My sister and I were never under the care of a babysitter, so on the chosen Friday night we waited for Dad to arrive home from work with great anticipation. We gulped a dinner of something like macaroni and cheese with canned green beans. Afterward, Mom struggled to get a coat and hat onto my fidgety little sister, and then checked for a third time that the shopping list was actually in her purse. Finally, we piled into Dad's red and white '57 Ford Ranch Wagon for a drive into town.

Becky sat sandwiched in the front seat between Dad and Mom, while I held on tight in the back seat and pressed my nose to the window, watching as headlights, taillights, and streetlights whizzed by. The color and sparkle of nighttime and festive lights, magnified through rain drops on the window glass, added to my holiday spirit.

We lived in the Richmond Annex along Carlson Boulevard, which consisted of homes built on landfill during the post World War II building boom. Woolworth's on Macdonald Avenue was the store of choice when Mom came out to Richmond from Minnesota in 1945. Department stores quickly became popular in the post war years, though Macy's was a little too expensive for Mom's taste. Once in a great while, we ventured into Oakland to visit the tall Sears Roebuck building, mostly to pick up catalog orders.




















Macdonald Avenue at night, Richmond, 1959. Richmond Street Scenes


For us, Christmas gift-buying usually meant driving through the rain and the dark into downtown Richmond to shop at Montgomery Ward. After Dad found a parking spot, we climbed up the few short steps to enter the store and get out of the rain. Inside, the overheated department store immediately made us feel uncomfortable: our wool coats began to steam and smell, and our wet shoes clicked and slipped against highly polished hardwood floors. The foreign sounds of elevator bells and far-away voices on the intercom captured my attention as we wove around islands of neatly piled clothing, as well as other shoppers. At the back of the store was a special area set up for Christmas, and we made a beeline for that before my sister's attention span had a chance to wane.



Mom had been formulating what to buy for weeks, but she always took my sister and I to have a look at some of the things we'd been drooling over in the catalog, known as the"Wish Book." Though tempted by what we saw, we never begged--we were taught restraint. Even so, my active little sister found it difficult to keep from touching all of the glittery treats among the displays, because she loved everything. But, greedy or entitled? Never! We could point and sigh and smile and hope, and that was all we ever needed
to do.





After World War II, Montgomery Ward had become the third-largest department store chain. In 1946, the Grolier Club, a society of bibliophiles in New York City, exhibited the Wards catalog alongside Webster's dictionary as one of 100 American books chosen for their influence on life and culture of the people. The brand name of the store became embedded in the popular American consciousness and was often called by the nickname "Monkey Wards," both affectionately and derisively.

In the 1950s, the company was slow to respond to general movement of the American middle class to suburbia. While its old rivals Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's, and Dillard's established new anchor outlets in the growing number of suburban shopping malls, the top executives thought such moves as too expensive, sticking to their downtown and main street stores until the company had lost too much market share to compete with its rivals. Its catalog business had begun to slip by the 1960s...

--Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montgomery_Ward

Santa was in the store, of course, but after several unsuccessful attempts to get my sister to sit on his lap, Mom gave up. Becky was terrified by certain things, and one of them just happened to be Santa. Santa Claus in storybooks was a grand idea, but the reality of Santa-in-the-flesh was just too unsettling for her. I am reminded of a time when Becky was about three years old and Mom came home with new, dark-rimmed glasses. Oh, how Becky screamed and screamed - she was inconsolable! Poor Mom had to schedule another appointment and select something a bit less scary. You would never think that my sister, as a grown woman, would be into horror movies and collectibles, now would you?

When the tour of the toy department was completed and any grumbles had been quieted, Mom took us to look at clothing--a huge, dubious wasteland that made up most of the department store. That was Dad's cue to sneak back to the toy area and buy what Mom had instructed. I always knew what was happening, but it was more fun to pretend that I didn't.

Mom struggled to keep my sister in tow while searching for the perfect flannel shirt for Grampa, the tights Becky needed to match her cute holiday dress, or linens for Aunt Mabel. After the shopping was completed--or everyone had reached their tolerance limits--we all piled back into the station wagon for the drive home, grateful to be in the cool evening air once again. The purchased gifts were secretly stowed in the back of the wagon, safe in the dark from prying eyes and distanced from curious fingers.

While Mom and Dad recovered from sticker shock and the stress of another holiday buying expedition, the family headed home to the little white stucco house with red wood shutters in the Richmond Annex. We all anticipated another happy Christmas, but, we had made Montgomery Ward even happier, I'm sure.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Memories from 1987

Our beloved Kippers on the back deck with a cat Jack-O-Lantern pal.

 Happy Halloween!
from 26 years ago...
Go out and make some memories


An impressive ghoul and a fine old fashioned lady (Ian and Courtney), both sensibly dressed for the occasion in athletic shoes.

Friday, October 25, 2013

As I Remember Them

I just finished reading The Distancers:  An American Memoir, by Lee Sandlin, which is an extremely well written account of the history behind his great grandparents' old house in southern Illinois.  The author gradually unfolds the personalities and lives of the elder relatives who lived there, many of whom were a regular part of Sandlin's life as a youngster.  What struck me most was the realistic portrayal of the attitude children often have toward their elders:  not questioning, but simply accepting who their family members are at face value, with all their faults and idiosyncrasies, while any strengths or aptitudes are usually taken for granted.  Questioning, reasoning and approaching an understanding of our elders' choices and actions usually comes later in life, and it often happens too late for us to be able ask the relatives themselves about their experiences or intentions.  And, that is what family history is all about:  piecing together the purpose and meaning of our ancestors' lives in order to better understand them and ourselves.

I was never fortunate enough to experience living with my great aunts and uncles (or grandparents, for that matter), for extended periods of time.  But, I always looked forward to Dad's two week vacation in August when the old Ford Ranch Wagon was packed up with suitcases and a twin mattress in the back for my sister and myself to sleep on.  Almost yearly we traveled from the Bay Area to Salem, Oregon, where we stayed at Aunt Phyllis's house and made the endless round of visits to my grandfather and his many brothers and sisters, as well as a few cousins.

Everywhere we went, modest dining room tables groaned with coffee and milk, sandwiches or pastries, wonderfully diverse jello or pasta salads, and best of all--homemade doughnuts.  As a child, I too was content to observe and wonder, never asking questions of my elders.  If I had, I might have been ignored, or at best, received a thinned-out version of the truth for an answer, or worse--been teased for asking in the first place.  We children knew our place!  So now that these elders are gone, I am left to piece together their lives out of a desire to know how they coped with everyday problems, and where they reaped their rewards.  I also want to know simply because I care.

The following photograph of my grandfather (front and center) and six out of his nine siblings was taken in in 1967, following the funeral of their sister, Thea (Johnson) Humberstad.  Thea was the first of the ten siblings to pass on.   They are all departed now, the last being Oral Johnson in 1996.

(Left to right), Front row:  Cora (Johnson) Moen, Ernest Johnson (my maternal grandfather), and Mabel Johnson.  Back row:  Carl Johnson, Frank Johnson (the youngest of the siblings), Oral Johnson, and Ruben Johnson.  Missing from the photo are Bennett Johnson (the eldest) and Odin Johnson, both from Minnesota, and of course, Thea (Johnson) Humberstad, who was buried that day.  The photographer was one of their neices, either Doris Johnson Wheeler or Phyllis Johnson Rice.  Although the photograph is dated with the printing date of May 1967 on the border, it was taken shortly after Thea Humberstad's death in February of that year.

As Sandlin stated in his memoir:  "all stories of the past are sad."  This photo is sad, too, not just because of the event that created it (a funeral), but because of the shared anguish among close family members after the loss of a loved one, and having to come face-to-face with the harsh reality of their own mortality in the process.  The shell-shocked look on many of the faces--my grandfather's especially--continues to haunt me.  Still, I cherish the photo because it represents my grandfather with most of his brothers and sisters together in one place, with everyone appearing exactly as I remember them during the mid-1960s.

The photograph was shot with a Kodak Instamatic camera, which was all the rage in the mid-1960s.  The subjects posed inside my great aunt Mabel Johnson's living room, on Ellis Ave. NE in Salem.  I cannot fail to recognize the vintage dark red upholstered chair that Mabel always kept by the front door, and I owned it for a time after her death in 1983.  Grandpa must have been given the only seat for the portrait because he was the eldest sibling present.  Most of the family lived in Salem, Oregon or the surrounding area, but three of the brothers, Bennett, Odin, and Oral, lived in Minnesota.  Only Oral Johnson was able to make the trip to the west coast for the funeral.  Thea, the departed, lived in West Salem with her husband Carl Humberstad in a tiny and immaculate white clapboard house with baby pink trim.

The people in the photograph were a big part of the backbone of extended family that I knew and loved as a youngster.  I miss them all, and if I could have one more chance to see them, there would be a thousand questions for each and every one.  All stories of the past may be sad in some way, mostly because they are from a time that is irretrievably lost to us, but that does not mean they should be ignored or avoided.  The reason why some of us spend so much time researching family history is to rediscover the experiences of those who paved life's road ahead of us, winding through all of its mysterious peaks and valleys.  Though their time has passed, there is joy and honor to be celebrated from their journeys.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Little Girl Lost No More!


The Missing Childhood Likeness of Malla (Vigesaa) Larson


My concerted efforts as photo detective continue in the hope of teasing out the identities of more family members from unidentified stashes of the past.  The many photographic treasures that once belonged to my great grandparents, Ole Martin and Malla (Larson) Johnson and other family members, included several Victorian-era cabinet card albums and stacks of loose carte-de-visite images, as well as other assorted prints.  At first, the task of identification seemed daunting.  Some likenesses were easily recognizable, and fewer still were actually labeled on the back.  But, more often than not, a labeled photograph displayed the name of the recipient of the photograph, and not the subject--a common trap to be wary of during the photograph identification process.

I reasoned that somewhere among all of the family mementos, there had to be an image of my great grandmother, Malla (Vigesaa) Larson (1868-1948), as a young girl.  After all, she was the owner of much of the collection I have been trying to identify, and it seems unlikely that her parents would not have had an image or two taken of their youngest child at some point.  But, until recently, the earliest known photographs of Malla were taken around the time of her wedding in 1886, when she was 19 years old.  After cropping and enlarging the faces of many people among her old photograph collection, encouraged by a measure of success, I finally turned my attention to the little dark-haired girl on the carte-de-visite image shown below.  As soon as I zoomed in on the little face, I had that old familiar feeling:  "I know her!"


An unexpected find:  a photo of my great grandmother, Malla (Vigesaa) Larson, at age 5 or 6 (ca. 1874).  The original image is unlabeled except for the photographer's stamp on the verso.  A decorative frame has been added to the image for this post, which is not part of the original carte-de-visite.

What had not been apparent from the small card-like photograph became quite clear while observing the girl's face, zoomed in great detail.  I was immediately convinced that I had found the childhood photograph of my great grandmother, at last.  Everything matched:  the perfectly oval face; the large, clear blue eyes (left eye a little larger than the right); the deep brown, finely textured hair; a slight cleft in the chin (a Larson family trait); the shape of the eyebrows, nose, and ears, and more.  Even the dark, satiny dress with ruffles that she wore in the image was reminiscent of Malla's dark wedding dress with cascading ruffles down the front.  The two dresses look as if they could have been designed by the same seamstress--probably Malla's mother, Kjersten (Stroemstad) Larson.


Verso of the above photograph

I then investigated the photographers listed on the verso of the image.  Malla's family relocated from Coon Valley, Wisconsin to Chippewa County, Minnesota when Malla was a very young child, in about 1870, or shortly thereafter.  The location displayed on the photographers' stamp was a perfect match, since one of the nearest towns to the Larson farm in Chippewa County was Granite Falls.  But, when consulting the Directory of Minnesota Photographers on the Minnesota State Historical Society's website, I discovered a problem.  Olson and Steward (listed in the "Galleries and Studios" section), operated as a team in Granite Falls only between 1884-1886.  Malla was born in 1868, and the photograph of the little girl in question could not have been taken as late as 1884, when Malla would have been at least 16 years old.


Olson and Steward

Locations:
     Address: Granite Falls, Minnesota
       Dates of operation: 1884-1886
Decades Worked in Minnesota: 1880s


But, hold on!  A photo detective does not give up that easily!

Further investigation into the individual members of the Olson and Steward team led me to believe that the carte-de-visite image of the little girl was still, indeed, my great grandmother, Malla, but that the image was a copy of an earlier image.

H. L. Olson was a Norwegian-born photographer who kept his own photography studio in Granite Falls, Minnesota from 1881-1883.  In fact, the images taken of Malla during her teen years (top row in the collage below, #3 and #4), were both taken by H. L. Olson.  His business partner from 1884-1886, C. A. Steward, kept his own studio in Granite Falls during 1886-1887, and often advertized that any image could be copied cheaply.  It is my opinion that Malla's parents arranged to get a copy (or copies) of her childhood photo in time for her marriage in February 1886.  If this were the case, then the carte-de-visite image of Malla at about age 6 was taken in about 1874 by an unknown photographer, and the original image was later copied and reproduced by Olson and Steward between the years of 1884-1886.  

Even with this logical assumption, I could not rest on my laurels and say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the photo was of Malla.  I had yet to consider that Malla's eldest daughter, Cora Johnson (Moen), was very similar in appearance to her mother.  I scrutinized a known photo of Cora as a toddler and compared it to photos of her as an adult, and compared them both to the probable image of young Malla in the dark dress.  Though many facial features were the same between the two little girls, I noticed a difference in the upper lip, in particular.  Cora had the same large blue eyes as her mother, but her upper lip was more curved, much like her father's side of the family.  Cora also had no cleft in her chin, unlike Malla.  In addition, Cora was a towhead at age 2-1/2, and it is unlikely that her hair would have changed from light blonde to dark brown in just 3 or 4 years.  Adding to the evidence was Cora's birth year.  She was born to Malla Larson Johnson in 1891, several years after Olson and Steward produced the carte-de-visite image of the little girl with the short dark hair.

Cora Johnson (Malla's eldest daughter), age 2-1/2.



















Close-up of Malla Larson as a little girl, ca. 1874.



















Cora Johnson Moen, at about age 40.





















I was only completely satisfied that I had made the correct determinations after creating cropped close-ups of positively identified images of Malla from her adulthood, and then pairing them with cropped close-ups of "newly discovered' images taken during her early years.  The results are evident in the collage below, which shows Malla's development from about age 5 or 6 through her early forties, as the mother of ten healthy children.

Little Malla has been accounted for.  I hope that my many Johnson and Larson cousins will be as thrilled as I am!



(Click on photographs to enlarge).  This photo collage is of Malla (Larson) Johnson from childhood to middle age.  The bottom row of cropped facial shots are from positively-identified images of Malla that have been passed down through family members.  The top row consists of photos that I have recently identified as Malla from unmarked photographs collected through various family sources.  TOP ROW (left to right):  1) Malla Larson at age 5 or 6, Granite Falls, MN; 2) From a tin type photograph in a Johnson family album, ca. 1882; 3 & 4) Carte-de-visite photos taken at about the same age in Granite Falls, MN--note that she is wearing the same dress in both photos, but with different hairstyles, ca. 1881-83.  BOTTOM ROW (left to right):  5) Cropped image from Malla's marriage certificate with Ole M. Johnson in 1886; 6) Cropped image from wedding photograph with Ole M. Johnson in 1886; 7) Cropped image from Johnson family portrait, ca. 1907, Fosston, MN; 8) Cropped image from Johnson family portrait, ca. 1910, Fosston, MN. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Family Bonds--Fast Forwarding the Years

Getting together with my first cousins in August reminded me of how quickly time passes, leaving memories a bit faded, but the impressions as vivid as ever.  We shared a few precious visits together during our youngest years, and they were very bonding experiences.  One visit occurred when I was about two and a half years old.  Dad drove me down to Campbell, California from our home in Richmond so that I could stay with my mother's sister, Phyllis Rice, while Mom was in the hospital for a routine procedure.

Although I do not remember the exact event, my cousin Cheryl tells me that before Dad even left to go back home, Cheryl and I managed to get into a jar of Vaseline and experimented with it as beauty cream and hair gel.  She chided me that while Dad took me immediately to the bathtub to scrub the sticky grease out of my hair, she was left to deal with her own unfortunate circumstances.  Being the only girl in a family with two boys, she was often expected to be a tad more responsible than her years.  She probably also had to look out for me after Dad's departure, being the elder of us two girls.  Ah, the unfairness of childhood.  And, we were off to such a fine start with the Vaseline incident!  I'm sure that Dad drove away wondering if Aunt Phyllis would ever want to babysit me again.


"Our Gang" in 1956

Three siblings and a first cousin at the Rice home in Campbell, California, 1956.  Left to right:  Curtis Rice, Chery Wheeler (me), Craig Rice, and Cheryl Rice.  Cheryl and I are wearing matching dresses with multi-colored pockets, made for us by my mom.


My cousins and I had a grand time during those visits in Campbell.  I have always felt sorry that my sister was born a few years too late to be a part of it all.  We were all about the same age, with Craig born the same year as me, Cheryl one year older, and Curtis, the eldest, was two years older.  We often resembled a step ladder while standing all together.  I was a little frightened and lonely after Dad drove off and left me behind for that first stay of about a week.  Being so young, I did not understand what had probably been explained to me quite thoroughly, about staying with my aunt and cousins for a short period of time until my parents could return for me.

That visit at age 2-something is the first real memory I have of my aunt and cousins, though they were familiar to me at the time from our earlier get-togethers in Richmond, where my parents lived and where my Aunt Phyllis lived before moving to Hanford, and then Campbell.  After allowing myself to mope a little about being left behind, I set about to have some fun with my cousins.  We spent hours tearing around as Cowboys and Indians, and climbed on the dead tree trunk in the yard.  We scrounged for prune plums through and over the fence of a nearby orchard, and hunted polliwogs, caterpillars, and other unsuspecting creatures.  We caught glimpses of shows like "Annie Oakley" and "Tugboat Annie" on my aunt's console television while waiting to get our hair washed in the huge laundry room sink.  At meal times, I admired the multi-colored octagonal Fiesta ware plates that my food was served on.  I was just starting to get used to the idea of hanging out with my cousins when my parents returned to take me home again.


"Our Gang" in 2013

Three siblings and a first cousin at the wedding of Matthew and Chelsea (Johnson) Rice in Aurora, Oregon, August 17, 2013.  Left to right:  Curtis Rice, Chery (Wheeler) Kinnick, Cheryl (Rice) Nibler, and Craig Rice (father of the groom). Although it was not planned, Cheryl and I are again wearing clothes with  a similar pattern and colors!

I still enjoy hanging out with my cousins whenever I have the opportunity, which has not been frequent due to our inevitably busy family lives and work schedules, plus the driving distance between states.  But, we have found ourselves in each other's company a couple of times over the past several years, as our children graduate from college and settle down to married life.  Soon, those children will have children of their own, and there will be new little cousins to form bonds with each other.  The importance of extended family is sadly neglected in the increasing busy-ness of modern life.  But, I can say that whether my cousins and I are near or far from each other, it is comforting just knowing that Curtis, Cheryl, and Craig are out there, sharing some of the same childhood memories and family experiences.  I hope we will continue to have many such reunions as the years progress, though our activities and conversations are bound to be a bit more sedate than those of decades past!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Identified: Ingebrigt Larsen Winje from Vinjeøra

I believe I have identified photographs of a member of the Winje branch of my family who emigrated from  Vinjeøra, Norway and arrived in America in 1869.  The history of Lars Eriksen Winje, his wife Ragnild, and sons, Eric and Ingebrigt, was discussed in my 2008 publication:  A Long Way Downstream:  The Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer.  The only photo of the entire family that I have seen is the one below, made available online through the Hemneslekt.net genealogy website.  Though the image is of poor quality, it is possible to determine facial features and family resemblances.  The carte-de-visite size photos of the parents, Lars and Ragnild (also below), were taken in Chippewa County, Minnesota.  Their eldest son, Eric Larsen Winje, has been clearly identified due to various family-held photos of him as an adult.  The only family member whose adult image had not been found or identified was Ingebrigt's... until now.


A positively identified photo of the Winje family, prior to
 emigrating to America.  Taken in Trondheim, Norway in 1869.
Seated in front are Ragnild and Lars, with Eric standing
behind his mother, and Ingebrigt behind his father.
Lars Eriksen Winje, ca, 1880
Montevideo, Minnesota














Ragnild Winje, ca. 1880
Montevideo, Minnesota

















Among a batch of unidentified carte-de-visite size photos that once belonged to my great grandparents, Ole and Malla Johnson of Leonard, Minnesota, were the two images below.  The photos were taken in Montevideo, Chippewa County, Minnesota by the same photographer, A. Brandmo.   The features of the man on the right, in particular, haunted me for some time.  It finally occurred to me that the unknown man looked somewhat like Eric L. Winje, and when I thought to compare his image to the other male members of the immigrant Winje family, it became clear that he was, indeed, a Winje,  The members of that family were very limited during the 1870s and 1880s.  The only Winje it could be, according to the age of the man and the age of the photos, is Ingebrigt Winje, son of Lars and Ragnild Winje, and younger brother to Eric L. Winje.

 
Probably Ingebrigt Winje, ca. 1886,
Montevideo, Minnesota

Probably Ingebrigt Winje, ca. late 1870s,
Montevideo, Minnesota










Ingebrigt Winje was born at Vinje, Hevne, Sør-Trøndelag in Norway.  His parents were cotters (tenants) at Skeistrøa, and they later leased a lot at Vinjeøra.  At age 12, he came to America with his parents and brother, sailing on the Franklin and arriving by way of Quebec in 1869.  In 1870, he wrote back to a friend in Norway:

...I live well with my health and soundness and find myself here in America.  I have now gone to school one month and I had to begin anew with my ABCs which was very different pronunciation of them than in Norwegian.  ...I see from your letter that you ask me to write how it was with me at sea.  On the sea it was very fun and I had many friends there but I was not sick one single day.
 
The letter was signed "Yours faithfully, Ingebrigt Larsen."
 
Eric L. Winje (5 Dec 1850-8 Feb 1930), was six years older than his only brother, Ingebrigt.  Eric became one of the first licensed attorneys in Chippewa County, Minnesota, and studied law while "rocking the babies" and helping out his wife out at home.  After passing the Minnesota bar exam, he practiced law in Duluth and later was elected municipal court judge.  He also worked as an attorney in Sacred Heart and Detroit Lakes.  In comparing Eric's identified photo to the two unidentified men (above), it is clear that they possess many of the same facial features:  a broad forehead with the hair parted on the far left, high cheekbones, and a similar shape and size to the eyes and eyebrows.  Ingebrigt appears to have had the same wide, strong jaw as his father, Lars.

Official photograph of Eric L. Winje,
 ca. 1885.
Whereas Eric, the elder brother, chose to leave farm life behind and build a professional career, Ingebrigt stayed on his parents' farm in Sparta Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, to help his aging father with the heavy labor.  If health had permitted, he would have inherited his parents' farm property and carried on much as his father had.  But, at age 31, he contracted diphtheria during an epidemic in Chippewa County and died on May 26, 1888.  "Black Diphtheria," as it was called, was a much-feared disease in which a membrane growth covers areas of the throat, resulting in airway obstruction and death in the most serious cases.

Several months after her uncle's death, 16-year-old Regina Winje, who was living with her uncle and grandparents on the Winje farm, wrote to a family friend from Norway who was temporarily living in Seattle, Washington:

I must now send you some lines as an answer to your letter to Ingebret [sic] Winje, since he can not.  Your childhood friend is dead!  He died the 26th of May 1888.  He was sick for nine weeks this winter from arthritis but  then he got a little better again, so much so that he could work, but then he became again lame in his right foot and had to in the end, be in bed and was so frightfully sick of two weeks that he lost his understanding right up until the last hour; his last hour he was, however, calm.  here there were many people who followed him to the grave...


The Winje farm in Sparta Township became the property of Ingebrigt's mother, Ragnild, after the death of her husband, Lars, in 1890, only two years after Ingebrigt's passing.  Lars and Ragnild Winje's eldest grandchild, Regina Winje Strand, then took over responsibility for the farm, along with her husband, Thomas E. Strand.  Strand eventually purchased the farm after his wife Regina passed away at young age in 1899, but he continued to support his grandmother-in-law, Ragnild Winje, until her death. 
 
Without direct descendants to carry on Ingebrigt Winje's memory, an impression of him as an adult has been indeterminable for some time.  But, I am now fairly confident that we have rediscovered an image of a much loved Norwegian-American son, brother, and uncle.


Ingebrigt Larsen Winje
Born:  12 September 1856, at Vinje, Hevne, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway
Died:   26 May 1888, Sparta Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota
Buried:  Saron Lutheran Cemetery, Chippewa County, Minnesota
Occupation:  farmer














 

 
*****
 
Sources:
 
--Winje, Ingebrigt Larsen, letter to Wessel family of Vinjeøra, Norway, 1870.  Courtesy of Astri Wessel, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway.
--Winje, Regina E., letter to Doran Wessel in Seattle, Washington from Chippewa County, Minnesota, October 1888.  Courtesy of Astri Wessel, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Try to Forget Me and Be Happy"


Ella Pederson Drews

When You're Down and Out, Nobody Likes You


Ella Mathilda Pederson, ca. 1894/95;
 a serious looking young girl 
Saved between the pages of an old Pederson family bible are a couple of letters written by a woman on the west coast to an older brother in the Midwest--a brother she had probably not seen for years.  Alfred (Fred) Pederson resided on the family farm in Northland Township, where they both had lived with their parents while growing up.  Fred kept two letters from his younger sister, Ella, and placed them inside the bible for safe keeping.  Many years later, they were still in the possession of one of Fred's grandsons in the exact same place.  It was through the loaning of the family bible from cousin to cousin that I eventually learned a little about Ella, who was unarguably a child of misfortune.

Ella's mother, Karen (Larson) Pederson, was an older sister to my maternal great grandmother, Malla (Larson) Johnson.  Karen and her husband, Erick Stallen Pederson, became farmers in Northland Township (East Grand Forks area), Polk County, Minnesota during the late 1870s.  They had four children:  Clara, Alfred, William, and Ella.  The Pedersons are a branch of the family I have known little about, until now.  What is now realized about Ella's experiences, though told in her own words. is just the tip of the iceberg and does not fully represent the trials she began to face at a very early age.

As a young girl in the cropped photo above, Ella Pederson looks older than her tender years.  But, it is unmistakably Ella, with her uniquely crooked nose and mouth--both slightly pulled downward on the left side of her face--and her prominent, knobby chin.  She appears quite the same as in the photographs of her as a younger girl (see below).

This is probably the early Pederson farm in Northland Township, Polk County, Minnesota.  The photo belonged to Malla (Larson) Johnson, a sister of Karen (Larson) Pederson.  On the verso is Malla's handwriting in Norwegian:  "Denn farm var Karen dem er dode" (Loosely translated:  "The farm where Karen had died").

Ella and her siblings dealt with a double tragedy in 1892, when their parents died within months of each other.  Both contracted tuberculosis (consumption), probably at around the same time.  "TB" was a common disease among young adults, and was often spread by drinking raw cow's milk--a dietary staple of farming folk.  The children's mother, Karen, died on January 9, 1892, and their father, Erick, on May 17 the same year.  Ella, their youngest, was only 5 years old at the time.

The untimely deaths of both parents left the eldest sister, Clara, with much of the responsibility to care for her sister and brothers. Clara was only 13 when she was suddenly laden with this heavy responsibility.  Unfortunately for all, Clara also contracted tuberculosis and passed away three years later, on June 8, 1895.  The Minnesota Territorial census for Northland Township during the summer of 1895 lists Ella as living alone with her brother, Alfred.  One can imagine that as the only remaining female in the household, though just 8 years old, Ella must have had a daily round of chores that taxed her well beyond her years and capabilities.  As for her brother, Fred, it was undoubtedly a lot for him to assume the role of "man of the house" as a youth, and he deserves credit for keeping the rest of the family together for as long as possible after the deaths of his parents and sister.  Relatives local to the area must have helped the children, but it is unknown just how much assistance was offered, and/or how much of presence they really had in the household.  The children may also have taken turns living with other family members or friends in order to attend school, or just for security reasons.


The children of Erik and Karen Pederson of Northland Township, Polk County, Minnesota, ca. 1890.  Left to right:  William ("Willie"), Ella, Alfred ("Fred"), and Clara Pederson.
Ella Pederson (left) with her sister, Clara Pederson,
 ca. 1892.

Ella must have continued to live with her eldest brother, Fred, on their parents' Minnesota farm until close to the date of her marriage.  At age 23, she married Adolph Karl Drews in Seattle, King County, Washington, on October 23, 1910.  It is possible that she eloped to the west coast with Adolph, and in doing so, may have been judged in a negative light by some friends and family back home.  Witnesses for the couple's wedding in Seattle were E. Johnson and Jennie (?) Peterson.  Adolph, the groom, was 12 years Ella's senior.  He was born to a German couple on March 21, 1875, in Poland, and arrived in the United States in 1900.  If Ella had married a foreign national a few years earlier, she would have been required by law to renounce her U. S. citizenship according the to Expatriation Act of 1868.  Happily, she was not required to make the difficult choice between marriage for love versus keeping her native-born citizenship, for the law was altered in 1907.

A son, Arthur, was born to Adolph and Ella on April 22, 1911, just six months after their wedding.  Their address in the 1912 Seattle City Directory was  listed as 127 Victoria Avenue, but they moved to 1737 Victoria the following year.  Work was difficult to find at that time in Seattle, and even more difficult to keep.  The United States was in a recession just prior to World War I.   Many Midwesterners headed for the west coast in hope of finding work, but economic difficulty was widespread.  For the average unskilled laborer, job hunting would not improve until a few years later.  Once the war began, Europeans began purchasing U. S. goods for war and American manufacturing jobs became more numerous.  Also, when the U. S. became involved in the war in 1917, the military draft helped to lower the unemployment rate.

By 1914, Adolph had moved on to Portland, Oregon in hope of finding work.  Between 1914-1916, the family seemed to change addresses in Portland at least once a year, living first at 288 Jefferson, then 201-1st St., followed by 285 Hall Street.  The frequent change in address may have been due to difficulties with meeting the rent, which Ella alludes to in her letters.  One challenge her husband faced while seeking employment was the negative reaction he may have received as a German immigrant in the United States during World War I.  It was a time when many Germans were viewed with suspicion, and sometimes with downright hatred.  An example is the war propaganda of a Liberty Bonds poster (now in the public domain) depicting the German soldier as an evil "Hun."


"Beat back the HUN with LIBERTY BONDS." - NARA - 512638

"Beat back the HUN with LIBERTY BONDS"- NARA - 512638.jpg 

In 1914, Ella wrote a lengthy letter to her elder brother, Fred, who was still living on the family farm in Northland Township, Polk County, Minnesota.  Dated November 30, the envelope displayed a return address of "Mrs. A. Drews - 301 1/2 First Street, Portland, Oregon."  She was responding to a letter she had just received from Fred, announcing the birth of his son.

Thanks for your letter which I received last Saturday. I am so glad to hear that you are getting along so well, no doubt you work hard but then you are working for yourself and have your own home, and don’t have to pay rent and be afraid to talk for fear of making too much noise.
And surely that little fellow will brighten your home so much more. Well Fred I did not want to write much about myself because I have had some pretty rough roads to travel for some time. I have worked hard all the time, and when I didn’t work I was sick. 

She explains further about her unfortunate circumstances while living in Seattle:
 ...My husband [Adolph] had gone to Portland [Oregon] in hopes of finding work, and I didn’t have the money to go along. He was going to send for me when he had made enough to do so, but instead he didn’t have any luck and I took sick and Arthur [her baby] got the measles and no money nor nothing when Pete happened to come and help me get on my feet again. I took in sewing and then my husband got work. [Pete Mattson was the widower of Ella's first cousin, Emma Basgaard Mattson, who lived north of Seattle near Mount Vernon, Washington.]

I went to Portland and we done pretty well for a while, but it seems like it’s going to be worse than ever this winter. Here are thousands of families destitute; you couldn’t get work if you beg for it. Adolph has wore out a pair of shoes running around looking for work but in vain. He is big and strong and will do most anything. He is well liked by those he worked for but they have nothing for him to do it seems, everything is shut down.

I am living in a small back room in a Jap [sic] dump, I haven’t paid rent for two weeks and I expect he will kick me out, unless we get some work soon. We have been looking for farm work. I mean where we can go out and take care of some farm, but they are not to be gotten either. They say Seattle is worse than this.

In her letter, Ella painted a picture of life in a big city as less than desirable.  She commented on a cousin's move from the farm to town living back in the Midwest, saying it was a foolish decision.  With World War I having created shortages everywhere, she claimed her cousin would at least have been able to find food on the farm, whereas in the city it would be hard to get.  "...These rich buggers is what makes it so miserable for the working man. They expect a man to work for 50¢ a day and pay food and rent out of that when the rent is from 50 to 75 cents a day and there is no heat or any conveniences at all."

Ella continued to get part-time or piece work whenever and wherever she could, wanting desperately to provide a good home situation for her son, Arthur.  During the family's last two summers in the Portland area she did some seasonal labor in a hops field, and described what happened to a family that had worked alongside her:  "There was a family of 6. The mother and father worked like slaves and the mother was not well. [Three] days after we came back from the fields she died. The city would not bury her so they burned the remains and drove the family out of the house to shift for themselves when some poor people picked them up and took care of them. It makes me wonder if that is the way I will go someday."

She had not wanted to say much about her circumstances to her brother, though she put up a brave front while writing.  "You know the reason why I didn’t write, it is because I did not want you to know how poorly I am living and what we don’t know don’t hurt us [...] but when I come to think about it, I should not be ashamed to tell anybody, as we have both done our share--both Adolph and I, when there was any work to be gotten."  Ella still could not help but wonder why she had not heard from her other brother for so long.  "I did not hear from Willie at all for a whole year now. I don’t understand it, as every letter I write is returned to me unopened."

...It seems I never will get out of these stuffy rooming houses. ...Here [in Portland] I don’t know nobody and am lonesome sometimes. But am glad too, sometimes, for when you’re down and out nobody likes you. It’s that almighty dollar that people like. If you haven’t got that they have no use for you. So I’m satisfied to know that my husband and little boy is with me and if we should have to part I would not want to live no more. So I would only be in the way with no one to love or to love me, of course I think of my brothers Fred and Willie. But I am satisfied to know that you are both happy with your little families and got a little home of your own and I have no right to but in-- [sic].  ...And I shall always wish you good luck and hope your days to come will be just as bright as they are now.  As for me I don't worry any more as what's the use I guess I'm no good anyway.  ...So don't mention anything to the folks around there and don't worry yourself.  But try to forget me and be happy yourself, that is my wish.  --With love and best wishes from Adolph and myself and little Arthur.  Your sister, Ella.

Even with the depressed dismissal of her life and circumstances at the end of her letter, Ella could not help but add a postscript that pleaded for her brother to "write again soon and tell [her] all about the folks around there."  Underneath the apparent acceptance of her grim lot in life, she still held a desire to connect with the friends and family of her childhood, though she had previously labeled some of them as "gossipy old hags."

Adolph Drews relocated the family from Portland to San Francisco in about 1918, where they lived at 805 Golden Gate Avenue.  He registered for the draft on September 12, 1918, while he was working as a warehouseman on Main and Folsom.  On the registration card he is described as a man of medium height and build, with blue eyes and brown hair.

Years go by before we have any further statements from Ella herself.  In 1930, she was living in Los Angeles and although she was still legally married, she was listed as the head of the household, pressing clothing for a dress manufacturer to make ends meet.  Her son Arthur, 17, was driving a truck and delivering lamp shades.  Adolph and Ella were divorced by 1940, with Adolph living on Towne Avenue by 1935.

The second letter written by Ella and tucked inside the Pederson Family bible is dated June 16, 1941.  It was postmarked with a 3 cent stamp and addressed to "Alfred Pederson, RR #2, East Grand Forks, Minnesota," from "Mrs. Ella Drews, 1130 E 42nd Street, Los Angeles, Calif."  Many years following her letter of 1914, Ella's attitude of bitter acceptance had not altered, and her situation had become decidedly worse.  In an ironic twist of fate, she, too, had contracted tuberculosis--the same ailment that killed her parents and elder sister so many years earlier.
I have been very sick, oh yes T.B.  – had fleuroscope [sic] and X-ray showing everything. Oh well, I am old enough, but why do I have to suffer so long. I just had a nurse here a few minutes ago suggesting I go to the Sanatorium, but from what I know that means, Goodbye.  ...I do not want to be killed, although it would be better than to suffer the way I do.  ...I am writing this letter in jumps but doing my best. I haven’t heard or seen anything of Arthur [her son] since about September, last.  He was such a good pal  but has forgotten his mother completely, I do not know why but all the children are that way nowadays.  ...So you see I am all alone. I do not make friends as here in California friends are dollars and I do not happen to have any. It is very lonely.
Ella's opinion of her (then divorced) husband, Adolph, had also changed, not withstanding the complications of his being German at the onset of yet another World War involving Germany:  "It so happens my husband is a German. I do not know where he is right now. Nor do I want to know. He was a lazy no good – although he had lots of opportunities, his own son kicked him out so I am not to blame."  In closing, Ella included no salutations, but wrote that she hoped her brother would write again soon before it was too late.

Ella Pederson Drews passed away on October 19, 1941, four months after the last letter was written.  Her ex-husband, Adolph Karl Drews, became a naturalized American citizen on October 8, 1943.  He died in Los Angeles on November 4, 1964, and was buried in Glendale.  The couple's only child, Arthur E. Drews, continued to live in Los Angeles until his death on April 9, 1972.

The location of Ella's remains is unknown, and we can only assume that, sadly, her end may have been as unceremonious as that of the mother who met her demise while struggling in the hops fields near Portland, years earlier.

Wherever you are resting, Ella--we hope you are at peace now.



Special Acknowledgment:
Ella Pederson Drews' letters were made available thanks to Robert, the grandson of Alfred Pederson of the East Grand Forks area, Minnesota, and Nancy Larson of Warren, Minnesota.

*****

Sources:

--California Death Index, "Ella M. Drews," "Adolph K. Drews," and "Arthur E. Drews."
--City Directories:
    Seattle, Washington: 1912, 1913
    Portland, Oregon: 1914, 1915, 1916
    Oakland, California: 1918
    San Francisco, California, 1920
--Drews, Ella Pederson, letter, 30 November 1914 from Portland, Oregon to Alfred Pederson, Northland Township, Polk County, Minnesota.  Held in 2013 by the Pederson family in Polk County, Minnesota.
--Drews, Ella Pederson, letter, 16 June 1941 from Los Angeles, California to Alfred Pederson, Northland Township, Polk County, Minnesota.  Held in 2013 by the Pederson family in Polk County, Minnesota.
--"The Economics of World War I."  National Bureau of Economic Research, (http://www.nber.org/digest/jan05/w10580.html; accessed 9/10/2013.
--Minnesota State and Territorial Census, Polk County, 1895.
--U. S. Federal Censuses, Los Angeles, California, 1930, 1940.
--U.S. Naturalization Records: Declaration of Intention for "Adolf K. Drews," issued 26 July 1921 in Los Angeles District Court, California; naturalized on 8 October 1943.
--Washington Marriage Records, King County:  "Adolph Drews" and "Ella Mathilda Peterson," 23 October 1910.
--World War I Draft Registration Cards, San Francisco, Adolf K. Drews (9/12/1918).