Monday, December 31, 2007

Who's the Gal with the Legs?

Left to right: Doris Johnson, Bennie Johnson, George Johnson,
and Phyllis Johnson. Leonard, Minnesota, ca. 1930.

Even farm kids need a little comic relief now and again. For a good laugh one day, my mother and aunt changed clothing with their boy cousins, and someone came around with a Brownie camera to snap a photo. I'll bet the boys were cringing a few years after this one...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Go Gently, 2007

I usually pay little heed to the idea of New Year's resolutions. I've never been much for making or adhering to lists. I just can't seem to get organized enough, preferring to rely on my intuition instead. But, things seem to happen somehow.

In 2007, there were some successes, a few challenges, and a few sorrows: a slice of life, in other words:

  • During the summer, I wrapped up six years of research regarding the Johnson side of my mother's family, and I am SO close to sending the finished product to the printers. It should have been there several months ago, but life happens and alters one's timing. "A Long Way Downstream: the Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer," will be out in print in 2008.

  • I learned how to give more of myself as a human being when my husband had both hips replaced this summer, and he relied on me for many everyday things he'd never had to before (because he is a ski instructor, this was doubly frustrating for him). In November, I had another chance to give my understanding and support when my only aunt passed away, and 10 days later my sister's house burned, displacing both her and our mother. Mom flew out from Alabama to live with me, and although it's been an adjustment, it is one I gladly make. Now we will have much more time to discuss family history.

  • On October 8, my very first book was released through Arcadia Publishing: Snoqualmie Pass, by John and Chery Kinnick. I love the research and putting-together part; John loves the marketing and autographing (there's something for everyone in publishing!)

  • I was also excited to have the comraderie and support from Luci and Cathy, members of my writer's support group: the "Nearby Norwegians." We are plotting our next Norwegian projects, which may be related to the upcoming centennial celebration of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, held in Seattle in 1909.

  • In the autumn, I participated in the Nearby History seminar for writers and local historians through Seattle's Museum of History and Industry: my second time around. This is a unique program (if you don't believe me, just try to find another like it). Those of us who have been a part of it can attest to the encouragement and opportunity it has provided to writers of history, whether it be family, local, regional, or other types of history. "Nearby History" is defined as "history that is close to the heart," not just near to Seattle. Our blogging friend, footnoteMaven, is a fellow participant, and she's, well... uh-uh! You thought I was going to give her identity away, now didn't you? I'm afraid you'll have to wait for her to raise that curtain herself, if ever, but I can tell you that she's every bit as clever, helpful, and wonderful a person as she seems in her blog posts, and real purty, too!
  • I began blogging in earnest this year, and I must say, there need be no lonely or boring moments out there for anyone involved in such a supportive venture as genealogy/family history writing. We come from near and far, answering the siren song of our computers, whatever corner they are hiding in at the moment, and we share ideas and inspire one another. Now, what could be neater than that? I am proud to be a Genealogy and Family History blogger--a GREAT bunch!

In 2008, my plan is to:

  • Work hard at keeping in contact with the many cousins and interested parties I have been in communication with while doing my family research. An important part of research is networking, and through it, coming to care about people that I haven't met yet, except through the internet. I even have an invitation to Norway, and I'm raking my brain trying to come up with a way to go as soon as possible. Oh, my! I can't think of a better plan for 2008 than visiting Norway.

  • Be very committed to my next book project, which deals with Seattle local history. Wish me luck! I will have to spend many hours in archives with my neck cranked and my fingers glued to my laptop, for starters.

  • Spend as much quality time with my family as I can possibly manage. My husband and I have decided to move from our mountain pass home, and although I won't bore you with the details, I'm hoping to decrease my stress levels and improve the quality of my "haven" at home with this move. I'm a nester, and I haven't had much of a chance to nest lately.

  • Be a Nearby History participant again in autumn 2008.
  • Continue blogging and seeking inspiration from all of you!

Image: Free Gifs and Animations

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas 1983

Merry Christmas, Munchkins!

This one is just for you.

Love, Mom

Friday, December 21, 2007

Musical Musings from Christmases Past

Advent Calendar, December 21: Music

Chestnuts roast on open fires,
snowflakes nip at Nat King Cole's nose;
Crosby dreams of a white Christmas,
and where's Dean Martin? No-one knows.

In the manger, Johnny Mathis
awaits a sleigh ride just with you;
while in St. Louis, Garland hangs
a shining star on highest bough.

Burl Ives spreads his holly jolly,
and Chipmunks just can't stand the wait;
"Oh, Hurry Christmas, hurry fast!"
And, Santa don't you dare be late.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wish Books and Hardwood Floors

Advent Calendar, December 19: Shopping

In the early 1960s, shopping was such a special occasion that my entire family went on purposeful expeditions only several times a year: one 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. Right after, Mom struggled to get a coat and hat onto my fidgety little sister, and then checked for the 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. Magnified through rain drops on the glass, the color and sparkle of nighttime lights 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 elevators bells and far-away voices on the intercom captured my attention as we wove around islands of neatly piled clothing and other shoppers. In 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," all autumn. Though tempted at what we saw, we never begged; we were taught restraint. Even so, my active little sister found it quite difficult to keep from touching all of the glittery treats among the displays, because she loved everything. But, greedy? 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...


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. 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 toys was completed and any grumbles had been quieted, Mom took us to look at clothing - the 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. Afterwards, 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.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Christmastime Lesson Learned

Advent Calendar, December 16: School

Today's the day Santa's coming to our classroom! Wow, what will he bring?

Alvarado Elementary School,
Richmond, California

Funny, Santa doesn't look really old. I thought he'd have a lot of wrinkles, like Grampa Johnson. He sure is big, though, a lot bigger than anybody else in the room. The red suit looks really soft. I'd like to find out what it feels like, but Teacher warned us not to touch. What do you think would happen if paste got all over Santa's suit? He'd have to go back to the North Pole, and Mrs. Claus would have to wash and iron it all over again, and then we'd have to wait for our presents.

We shared some cookies and punch with Santa, then we opened our presents and sang Jingle Bells. When Santa left to go to the next classroom, he almost got stuck in the doorway with his large pack. Boy, he must be eating a lot of cookies.

Everybody in class got a little white china bell with a picture on it. How cute! They sound pretty, too. Some bells are round, and some are square. I like the square bells best, but I got a round one. Oh well, it's pretty anyway.

After school, I walked home with my friend, Kathy. This boy I didn't know ran up and held a square bell in front of my face. "Hey, wanna trade?" he asked.

I looked down at the round, white bell in my hand. Even though Santa had given me this one, I didn't think it would hurt to trade... and I did like the square bells a little bit better, so I said: "Sure."

The boy took my round bell and gave me his square bell. He ran off a few steps, stopped, and then held his arm way out over the sidewalk. He opened up his fingers and let go of the little bell Santa had given me. It fell and broke into a hundred little pieces on the sidewalk.

Did he just do that on purpose? It sure didn't look like an accident!

The boy hurried back over to me. He was trying to look angry and upset at the same time, and he yelled in my face: "Gimme mine back!"

I was afraid of bullies. I didn't want to give the bell back, but I did, mostly because I felt guilty about trading.

I walked home in a daze. As soon as Mommy opened the door, I started to cry. I cried so hard that when she tried to find out what was wrong, I couldn't talk. She took the lunch box out of my hand and helped me take off my coat and scarf, and then made some hot cocoa. Pretty soon, I was able to tell her about the bell and about the boy who wanted to trade... and how he broke it just to be mean.

I lost my bell. I wished I had kept the round one. Now I didn't have any!

Aunt Mabel had been listening from the dining room table. She told me: "Chery, put your coat and scarf back on. Let's walk down the street and see if we can find it."

"Really?" I sniffled and choked. "But, it's all broken up!"

"Well, let's just go take a look."

We walked a few blocks back to school, and I showed her the spot where the bell was dropped. Instead of a bell, there were lots and lots of white specks everywhere. Aunt Mabel bent down and began to pick them all up and put them into a bag - even the tiniest pieces, and I helped.

A couple of days later, I woke up and went into the kitchen for breakfast. I couldn't believe what I saw: there on the table was my little round bell! It was missing a little bit on one side, but it looked pretty much the same. Mommy told me that she stayed up late after putting my baby sister to bed, and then she glued the bell back together.

I had my bell back! I hugged her and felt like crying again. I told myself I would never trade a present again, whether it came from Santa Claus, or from anyone else.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Blog Caroling We Will Go...

Thanks to footnoteMaven for coming up with the idea of blog caroling! I'm going to pick one of my 87-year-old mom's longtime favorite carols. Can't you just picture her grooving to this in her purple and lime green "Grumpy" pjs (of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves fame)?

Though Mom would prefer a hot chocolate and a cozy spot near the woodstove while listening to Nat King Cole croon, I'll opt for an Irish Coffee and catching my Hubby under the mistletoe.

Now kids, don't let that fire go out while you are busy singing along!

The Christmas Song

(Merry Christmas to You) or
(Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.

"The Christmas Song" was written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells in 1944 during a blistering hot summer. It was first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946, and his 1961 version remains a favorite today, even though the carol has since been recorded by many artists, including: John Denver, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, the Jackson Five, James Taylor, The Supremes, Chicago, The Lettermen, Natalie Cole, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Carpenters, Trisha Yearwood, New Kids on the Block, Twisted Sister, Charlotte Church, Al Jarreau, Whitney Houston, and, whew! Well, there are a lot...

Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Traveling on the Cusp of a New Millennium

The current Carnival of Genealogy topic is the New Millennium. Where was I at the start of the 21st Century?

The 21st Century has long been revered as the epoch in which all technical aspirations would be achieved, all poverty ended, and the mysteries of the universe solved, once and for all. Well, time marches on, and it doesn't look much different from here than it did from several decades ago, except that everyone has more electronic toys at their beck and command. I'm not sure our lives are getting any easier, though.

But, they are ultimately more enjoyable! On New Year's Eve, 1999, I was at my mountain pass home trying to get some respite from long winter commutes to Seattle. My husband and I were reviewing slides from the trip of a lifetime we had taken in September of that year. We were gone so long that our poor dog nearly died from loneliness...

After coming into some insurance money, I decided I wanted to visit Europe for the first time. Rick Steves of Europe Through the Back Door became my hero. Following a year of planning, in September 1999, John and I flew into Copenhagen, and then drove through parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and took the train to Prague in the Czech Republic. The experience just blew me away, and changed my life in many ways. After coming back home, I put my mental house in order and dropped out of grad school, deciding instead to focus on the things that were of real importance to me. I didn't need an extra degree for that!

During our travels, we enjoyed the Rhine from both castle ruins above the river, and from aboard a cruise boat; we walked the ancient wall in the quaint medieval German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We also drove the Romantic Road, which has signs in Japanese, as well as in German, and we later found out just what our rented VW Golf could do on the Autobahn - not bad, even though two Lamborghinis flashed past us like we were children playing in the dirt.

In Switzerland, we explored Roman ruins in Avenches, and later enjoyed fondue on the terrace of an old pension in Gimmelwald, high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner Oberland. Our "modest" dining view was of the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger peaks at dusk. As I sipped local wine, I heard the lonely, far-off call of a train from across the valley. Looking way down, I spotted a single headlight winding its way near the base of the Jungfrau. When our fondue pot arrived, the hostess warned us with a smile: "If you forget to stir ze fondue at ze bottom of ze pot to keep it from burning, then you vill vash ze pot!"

A panorama of Gimmewald in the Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Ah, the Alps! The Berner Oberland is a slice of heaven, and we were fortunate enough to have clear weather during our entire stay. Walking the winding paths of Gimmelwald under the stars, local house cats, all looking alike, came out to greet us. Early the next morning, we took the Jungfraubahn (train) up to the Jungfraujoch, known as the Top of Europe, and on the ride back at noon we were the only passengers. From the Kleine Scheidegg station on down, my husband rode up front with the conductor, who proudly pointed out his house with his own laundry hanging in the yard, as the train passed by. I had the entire Oberland: its peaks, glacial moraines, sloping valleys, trails, hikers, and cows, all to myself from the passenger car behind...

If I could pick just one city to re-visit in Europe, it would be Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires. If you want to know Prague, listen to "Die Moldau," a symphonic poem by Smetana, and you will understand and feel his love for Bohemia. If you want to get close to old gothic Europe, get thee to Prague.

The Old Town Square in Prague
Discover Czech

So, on 12/31/1999, while a new Millennium rang in on the clock, my husband and I sat clinking our glasses in private, listening to the occasional "pop-pop" of illegal fireworks in the national forest outside our door. We were busy reliving the many details of our three and a half weeks spent in Europe that September.

I certainly don't want to wait until the next Millennium to plan a similar trip. If we are all adequate caretakers of our lovely earth and its diversity, the fulfillment and learning to be had by traveling among other cultures will still be available to us throughout this century of great promise.

Bonne joyeaux!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Not So Perfect Gift

Advent Calendar, December 10: Gifts

Christmas Eve was always so special: a splash of color, glitter, mystery, and excitement to break up the everyday lull. I think Mom was the most excited of all. For a patient woman, she seemed decidedly impatient to get on with the fun of Christmas.

Early on, she started a family tradition where my sister and I were each allowed to pick a present from under the tree and open it on the night before Christmas Eve: "The Night Before the Night Before Christmas," as it were. We always knew to scrutinize each present before the 23rd of December came around - ready to pounce when given the go-ahead, thereby lessening the possibility of her changing her mind at the last moment.

But, why is it that no matter how many wonderful, thoughtful, lovely, and brilliant gifts we receive, it's always the weird ones we remember the most?

During our family get-togethers with "the other side" of the family (Dad's side), we usually had a dinner party. Names were drawn ahead of time for gifts. Each party-goer knew exactly who they would need to bring a present for, so there was always one perfectly chosen present per person.

Not so perfect, in some cases, unfortunately.

On one of these Christmas gatherings, I watched as family members each received their single, anonymous present. Oh, how lovely they all were, or appropriate, at least. Everything seemed to fit. In past years, I had received talcum powder, a carved jewelry box, selections of lacy handkerchiefs, or some sort of feminine treat of the type usually offered to a young girl.

I waited calmly for my turn, because I felt certain I would not be disappointed.

Near the end of the gift exchange, someone called my name and placed a wrapped box into my hands. Savoring the anticipation, I slowly removed the ribbon, peeled off the tape and unfolded corners of the paper. Hmmmm, it smelled a little like soap. There were fleeting thoughts of having to take more baths, but, oh well, I could live with a pretty pink soap, or whatever.

When I opened the cardboard box, a lumpy, dark, waxy round thing spilled out on the end of a thick string. "Ackkk... what is that?" I wondered to myself before I dared touch it.

I gingerly rolled the thing from side to side, looking at it from every angle. There were three small round indents on one side, like someone had pushed a pencil top into the surface. The sphere felt soft and sticky, and did indeed smell like soap, but strong soap, sort of like the Old Spice aftershave Dad splashed on before going to church on Sundays. Attached to this blucky, waxy, green-black sphere was a coarse, burlap rope that was scratchy to the touch.

I was still puzzling it over when someone nearby took the thing in hand, and said, "Oh, that's a soap on a rope... looks like a bowling ball."

Green-black soap on a scratchy rope? Bowling ball?

Dear Reader, are you wondering what gentle, hopeful yuletide dreams were dashed that evening?

What person would give an undebatedly ugly bowling ball soap on a rope (a man's gift, and a bad one at that) to a ten year old girl?

You know, I'm still pondering the answer to that question myself...

Image: ©2000 Denise Van Patten - Doll Collecting at

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oh What Fun It is to Make...

Advent Calendar, December 7: Grab Bag

During the 1960s, Mom often browsed her magazines in search of inexpensive crafts to make in time for the holidays. There were more craft materials available to consumers than ever before, and at reasonable prices. Before modern media took a firm hold of our ears and tugged us into a heavily commercialized future, homemade gifts were common. They were fun to plan and make, and the recipient usually appreciated the effort, even if the end result didn't quite have that "je ne sais quoi."

--Large glass marbles baked on high heat in the oven and then cracked in cold water made spectacular pendant necklaces.

--A couple of hours spent knitting little multi-colored squares and sewing them together created nice doll afghans, especially in popular colors of the day: harvest gold, orange, beige, and chocolate brown.

One time, Mom found a fox fur remnant at a second hand store and made lined fur stoles for my sister, my cousin, and myself, or rather, for our Barbies. We felt like queens!

She also saved prescription bottles--clear plastic back then--and made little angels or elves using bits of paper, pipe cleaners, tiny styrofoam balls, sequins, and angel hair. Once the figures were glued into the bottle and a hook was attached to the lid, they made unique Christmas tree ornaments.

One craft I particularly enjoyed was making "fish" bathroom decorations using little more than a bar of soap, pastel-colored netting, sequins, pins, and beads. I was proud of the fish we made in so many beautiful colors (lavender was my favorite); I wish I had a photograph to show. If there is a child in your life, she/he would love your help in making one of these.

So, here is a description of how to make a SweetHeart soap fish, at least as far as my fuzzy memory allows:

To make a SweetHeart soap fish:
  • Use an oval bar of soap as the body for your "fish." SweetHeart soaps were traditionally used for this craft because of their light, sweet scent, and they can still be purchased at The Vermont Country Store.

  • Cut a large square of pastel-colored netting; position it around the soap and tie the ends together with a small strip of netting to make a fan-type tail.

  • Take four hat pins with elongated pearl tips; place other shiny or pearlescent beads on the hat pin to fill up about 2/3 of the pin. Stick all four hat pins into the bottom of the soap (through the netting), and position them apart at outward angles, creating four "legs" for the fish to stand on.

  • Using three more hat pins (decorate those with extra beads, too), insert them at an angle into the top edge of the soap to create a "fin." You'll want to graduate the lengths: the longest pin should be closer to the head of the fish, while the shortest should be placed closer to the tail. You may also use hat pins, or extra netting, on each side of the fish to create side fins.

  • A heart-shaped red sequin should be pinned to the front of the soap for a mouth (use a small-head sewing pin).

  • An eye (one on each side of the soap) can be made from a small shiny black sequin pinned onto a larger, silver flower-shaped sequin. Once again, pin them together, on the fish, using a small head sewing pin.

Is your fish standing level? Does it have eyes, a mouth, a tail, and fins? Then, voila, you have it, a vintage Christmas craft. Place it on a bathroom shelf and watch the child in your life--or the child in you--smile.

Monday, December 03, 2007

No Ode to Lutefisk

Advent Calendar, December 3: Foods

Being from a Norwegian-American family, I should be looking forward to the traditional holiday fare of lutefisk and lefse just about now. Lefse, ya sure, bring it on! I love lefse with butter, and sometimes a little sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on.

But lutefisk?

For those of you not familiar with lutefisk, it is reconstituted cod: long-dried cod brought nearly back to life using lye.

It may be interesting to know that the typical native Norwegian no longer eats this. Then, why in Thor's hammer is it on many Norwegian-American tables at holiday family get-togethers, potlucks, church suppers, and even offered at buffets on ships cruising the North Sea?

It boils down (literally!) to the Viking spirit.

Lutefisk was a poor person's food in Norway, and it was also a source of protein that could be produced no matter what the weather. The method is timeless: catch the cod, dry the cod, store it in a shed, wait copious amounts of time, retrieve as needed, beat off any dust or dirt, soak in lye for several days, boil or bake well, and then serve up with riced potatoes, small cooked frozen peas, and a look of nonchalance.

Because of the longevity of dried fish and the plentiful supply of fish in Norway, lutefisk found its way to many early Norwegian farming tables whenever a little extra something was desired, especially at celebrations. Now that Norwegians are no longer as poor as they used to be, this food is ignored, and even downright shunned in its place of origin.

But, in America, lutefisk is a source of pride. It's a symbol of survivorship - proof that you can't keep a good ole' Ole down.

Ya, ve have da Viking blood coursing tru da veins!

Come harsh weather, near starvation, emigration, poverty and hardship on the prairie, you name it, the lutefisk will go on... and on... and on...

and on.

A Norwegian-American saying goes: "... about half the Norwegians who immigrated to America came in order to escape the hated lutefisk, and the other half came to spread the gospel of lutefisk's wonderfulness." [1]

I remember my mother prepared lutefisk for Christmas one year when I was young. My grandfather, great aunts and uncles, and many other relatives had arrived at our house for dinner. The women chattered off and on in Norwegian, so that the kids couldn't understand all the gossip. The little living Christmas tree in the living room was hung with ornaments, and the plastic Santa and Snowman were glowing in the front window. The dining room table was set beautifully, draped in a white tablecloth decorated with embroidered pointsettias, an evergreen centerpiece, and Mom's best silver laid out next to pearl colored cloth napkins.

This is one of my family's favorite photos of my "Grampa" (Ernest Johnson), wearing his characteristic flannel shirt and argyle socks.  Christmas, early 1960s, in Salem, Oregon.

Why, the lutefisk even had its own special holiday serving platter. And, resting in the mucky, jiggly, yellowish slush was a beautifully engraved, antique silver serving fork... turned green. It had actually turned green from the lye!
My chin was not much higher than the table, but I remember giving the lutefisk platter the once over, at eye level. After all the excited talk about this "delicacy," I was anxious to try it; that first taste held promise.

But, after spying that green serving fork, I decided that lutefisk wasn't for me. They could disown me as Norwegian offspring, but no morsel of that jiggly stuff was going to get past my sealed lips and turn my insides green. Uh-uh!
And, it never did.  But, the lefse... oooohhh, the lefse!


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Winter Memories in Minnesota

The first big winter storm has come to Snoqualmie Pass, Washington: over two feet of snow within 24-hours!

My 87-year-old mother, Doris, has just moved in with my husband and myself - in time to enjoy a very white Christmas. It's quite a change for her from the sticky, warm weather in Alabama over the past seven years.

In honor of winter memories from times past, I'd like to share some images from her childhood, and some from even earlier. These photographs were taken of the Ole and Malla Johnson family near Fosston, Polk County, and Leonard, Clearwater County, Minnesota, in between 1910-1944.

Let it snow!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Little Living Tree in Richmond

Advent Calendar, December 1: Christmas Tree

When I was a child, my parents would not think of using an artificial Christmas tree. The smell of fresh evergreen always uplifted the spirits and helped us believe that Christmas time had finally arrived, at least indoors. Outside our door, there were no snowy sparkles or delicate icy sculptures, only the oily, stinging, and unconvincing December rain of Richmond, California--home to a huge Standard Oil refinery complex, among many other Bay Area industries.

Having a Christmas tree was important to my mother, in particular, because her grandparents were not in the habit of putting one up on their rural Minnesota farm until she was nearly grown. All that waiting must have stuck with her, for she wanted to make extra certain that my sister and I did not miss out on the joy of celebrating the holiday with a beautiful, glittery tree.

For a few years, my family used a living tree, more to reduce overall cost than anything. It came planted in a large redwood tub, and though small, it tried very hard, and willingly gave center stage to all the ornaments it could possibly hold. But, it spent the rest of the year outside on the back patio, looking lonely and forgotten, simply biding its time until December rolled around again.

When the living tree became depressed from too much waiting around--we could tell by its dingy and brown-tinged edges--we planted it in the yard and went back to buying a cut tree each Christmas. Though larger and flashier, these doomed visitors were not any better at their job than that trusty little living tree, perhaps because they were more impersonal, not to mention, well... expired. Once their grand entrance wore off, they never remained long, hardly enough time to make an acquaintance.

That little evergreen from my childhood, long set free from the constraints of its redwood tub, is probably still spreading its limbs and sheltering birds from the stinging December rain, oily as ever. Each year, when the fading autumn light gives way to the winter solstice, a misty, sensory memory sends a shudder through its boughs and needles. I like to imagine our old friend straining toward the dim winter daylight, searching for the familiar weight of ornaments from times past, and feeling for the reverberation of childish laughter, which once rang like Christmas bells through the house.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Norwegian-American poetry: Robert Bly

When I was an English Lit major, not too long before I switched to history, it was poetry that captured my imagination, ranking alongside Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and other writers of well-known classics. Years ago, I went through a period of writing poetry: a time when every coat and sweater pocket contained torn bits of paper with scribbled phrases, fleeting descriptions, and seldom captured words. I even had the great privilege to take a class with Nelson Bentley, one of the University of Washington's most respected and beloved poets and professors. But, it was during a period of my life when misery was too close to the skin's surface for comfort, and although mooning around made better than usual poetry, I could no longer create quite the same when my mood lifted.

I have not lost my awe of poetry, and I wanted to share my recent discovery.

Robert Bly, an American icon now in his 80s, was born in Minnesota to Norwegian-American parents, and attended St. Olaf College and Harvard. His poetry illicits movement and hidden possibilities, like harvest soil crumbling rich through the fingers or crystalline sapphire waters surging at the head of the Mississippi.

Poet Robert Bly Gives Voice to Men's Movement

Earlier this month, a close family member of mine passed away, and when I read this November poem by Robert Bly, it seemed to capture perfectly the mixture of change, loss, and chilling beauty that is late autumn.

Excerpt from "Solitude Late at Night in the Woods"

The body is like a November birch facing the full moon
And reaching into the cold heavens.
In these trees there is no ambition, no sodden body, no leaves,
Nothing but bare trunks climbing like cold fire!

My last walk in the trees has come.
At dawn I must return to the trapped fields,
To the obedient earth.
The trees shall be reaching all the winter...


and because I can't resist, here's one for those of us emeshed in genealogy and family history, especially during the Christmas season:

Excerpt from "Driving my Parents Home at Christmas"

As I drive my parents home through the snow
their frailty hesitates on the edge of a mountainside.
I call over the cliff,

only snow answers...


Intrigued by Robert Bly? So am I! You can learn more about him at: Robert Bly, American Poet

Monday, November 19, 2007

All I want for Christmas... a time machine. That's all... just one basic model, functional, reliable, user-friendly time machine. Sure, I'll take pretty if I can get it, but I don't really need the fuss of all that leather, brass, and crystal ornamentation, a la H. G. Wells. Simple is okay.

Time machine image courtesy of Danny Cardle, artist and creator of Visual Engineering

Forget for a moment, if you will, about asking if a time machine is plausible, or just plain crazy. Forget the fact that Santa can't possibly fit it into my stocking. Shoot, he probably can't even fit it into his sleigh.

I'm not really asking for much. It doesn't even have to go into the future: we'll leave exploration of that to genealogists and historians who will come later on. I just want to be able to travel purposefully and selectively into the past, as any historian dreams about.

Oh, the people and the sights I would see! The questions I would ask! The notes I would take! A time machine would provide hour after hour of useful entertainment. It's such a good idea for a present... so, well, educational.

For starters, I'd like to go back to about 1917 and meet my grandmother at just the time when she was tying the knot with Grampa. "Howdy-do," I'd say. "I'm your long, lost granddaughter. And by the way, lay off that cow's milk, will you please?"

If Grandma hadn't drunk cow's milk, she probably wouldn't have gotten T.B. If Grandma hadn't caught T.B., my mother wouldn't have been orphaned so young, and perhaps she wouldn't have been left with such a complex, and maybe (just maybe), I would have gotten yelled at a little less. I'm kidding of course. Mom's done a fine job, but I sure have missed the particular pampering of a grandmother all these years, not to mention the extra Christmas cookies and overnight stays.

All I want is one basic, easy-to-use time machine. I'll clean and oil it regularly, and make regular insurance payments... promise.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The 161 Meme

"Turn around, Bright Eyes..." and there's another meme challenge! Well, this is a whole lot more fun than chain letters. So, here goes. My friend, footnoteMaven,, has tagged me for this meme. The rule is: pick up the book you are reading, turn to page 161, and divulge the contents of the sixth sentence on that page.

One of the books I am currently reading--the most grab-able one, anyway--is a biography/autobiography: "Hazel Wolf: Fighting the Establishment," by Susan Starbuck, University of Washington Press. Wolf is known for her environmental activism and connections with the Seattle Audubon Society, and typically used plenty of smart one-liners to help throw her modest weight around. An incredible Pacific Northwest woman...

Wolf's statement on the sixth line of page 161 is:

"I"m going to clam up, for the simple reason that if I say that I know them, they're going to be tarred as Communists, and they'll be hounded and harassed, and I'm not going to have that happen to any of my friends, or anybody that signs anything or is associated with me in any way."

Hmmm, who do I tag? The rule is five people. I'm going to go with a smattering of geographic locations, from Spokane in my home state of Washington, to Carmichael, California, and then on to St. Louis, Missouri, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; finally, across the Big Water in the UK:

Ladies and gentlemen, consider yourself tagged for "161":

Miriam of AnceStories

Craig of GeneaBlogie

John of Transylvanian Dutch

Brian of Zalewski Family

and Nikki-ann

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Woolly Dog Nights: Tale of a Prairie Blizzard

On January 7, 1873, the day before my great great grandmother's 32nd birthday, a severe blizzard struck the upper Midwest. It was swift and overwhelming in its onset and lasted for several days. Many Minnesota and Iowa settlers and their livestock perished from it.

Bertina Johnson had been widowed only six months before. Baard Johnson, the husband with whom she had emigrated from Norway in 1866, was dead prematurely at age 37, from typhoid fever. Johnson lay permanently at rest on his homestead of five years, and could not know what challenges lay ahead for his wife and two children.

The day started out quite warm for that time of year, and the snow on the ground began to melt. The break in the cold weather provided an opportunity for people to go outside to work, or to run errands and make visits that were long overdue.

By afternoon, a frightening change occurred. Witnesses reported a rumbling in the northwest that sounded like distant thunder, followed by a hundred-foot high white mass that bounded across the prairie at a terrifying speed. People caught on the prairie without shelter were enveloped in an avalanche of whirling, blinding snow, along with an intensely cold wind. Many were without coats or extra protection because of the warm afternoon, and they froze to death.[1]

The annual meeting for the Wegdahl Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chippewa County, Minnesota, was scheduled to be held on January 7th at Ole Anderson's cabin, a couple of miles from the Johnson homestead. In 1873, the congregation did not yet have a chapel, so meetings were held at various locations.

The following is an account of what actually happened to many of Bertina Johnson's friends and neighbors during the blizzard of January 1873:

About 11 o’clock [on January 7th] the sky became cloudy, and by noon it began to snow and blow and shortly a big storm came up, making every object invisible. Stranded were 35 men who had come for the meeting in the one-room log house of Ole Anderson with the wife and children, 38 in all. The storm got worse and very cold. Luckily a few days before Mr. Anderson had been in New London and purchased a sack of flour and a gallon of syrup. They made [mush] which they lived on for 2-1/2 days.

The chopped wood gave out and the wood pile was completely covered [with snow]. Near the house was a pile of wood rails, so the men made a line from the door of the house with Mr. Anderson at the end. This made a line long enough to reach the pile. One by one they handed the rails to each other until they had enough to hold out.

Pastor Edward Eriksen was there and had devotions every day. When the first night came, the bed was given to [Mr. Anderson's] wife and children. A big, brown woolly dog had come with one of the members. It also had to come in the house during the storm. Pastor Eriksen, who thought of occupying the place under the bed, had the dog as something warm to sleep by. The postmaster of Wegdahl also crawled under with them, and slept with the rest of them on the floor. Every few hours they would change off so all could get some sleep

On the third day, the storm let up at about four o'clock. No one was allowed to leave alone. In small groups, homesteaders and farm hands helped each other to get home. At one farm, cattle had to be dug out of their stalls before they could move at all. At another, a man was helping shovel snow when he uncovered a rooster, which promptly jumped out of the snow and crowed in relief.

Although Bertina Johnson may have been fortunate enough to have some family members at home when the blizzard struck, many neighbor women could not have been equally as lucky. If thirty-five men were stranded at the cabin of Ole Anderson, it meant that nearly as many local families awaited the return of the head of the household after the storm. As it often happened, pioneer women were required to fend for themselves and use their own wits and strength to protect their children, elders, and livestock during disasters.

Lars Eriksen Winje, Bertina Johnson’s soon to be father-in-law, was probably among the men stranded at the Anderson farm during the blizzard. Lars Winje was a charter member of the Wegdahl Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, first organized in 1870. There were 99 Norwegians, 16 Swedes, and 2 Danes (25 voting members and 115 persons) making up the initial membership.

Among the initial tasks of the church’s charter members was to determine where to locate a permanent church and cemetery. They decided on 80 acres on County Road No. 6, along the south edge of Leenthrop Township in section 31, bordering Granite Falls Township. The Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad donated ten acres of land to the community, and the remaining 70 acres were purchased for $650.00.

In 1886, the existing Saron Lutheran Church, a gleaming, gothic chapel, was built at a cost of $4,750.00. The church’s initial framework was later damaged during a windstorm, so the height of the steeple was lowered a bit during the rebuilding. The cemetery went into use soon after the land was secured.[3]

Saron Lutheran Church, Chippewa County, Minnesota, from a postcard, ca. 1900. Johnson Family Collection.

All four sets of my maternal great grandparents met during the early settlement years of Chippewa County, and many relations are buried at Saron Lutheran Cemetery. As a family historian, I can't help but ponder just how many of their stories, whether spectacular, humorous, poignant, or mundane, could have been preserved. Instead, many details have filtered down through generations of family lore, and have since slipped into the dark whirlpool of unrecorded history, much to the dismay of those, like me, who long to know.

From "Waves of Grass," Chapter 3 in "A Long Way Downstream: the Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer," by Chery Kinnick.



[1] The Midwest blizzard of January 1873: Tvedten, Lenny, “Blizzards in Martin County,” Martin County Historical Society. (accessed 15 January 2006).

[2] Saron Lutheran Church annual meeting and the experiences of attendees during the blizzard of 1873 are described in: Christianson, Mrs. John. Our First 100 Years: 1870-1970. Chippewa County, Minnesota: Saron Lutheran Church, 1970, 7.

[3] Details about the Wegdahl Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church and the building of Saron Lutheran Church is described in Christianson, Our First 100 Years: 1870-1970.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

"Yule" Love This!

There is a treat coming up for anyone in the Seattle area who is interested in Scandinavian culture. The Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard is hosting its annual Yulefest on November 17 & 18.

I would love to show you the very colorful poster for the event right here, but you'll need to go to the following site: and click on the Yulefest link in order to see it.

The Yulefest features live entertainment, Scandinavian arts and crafts, and best of all, those wonderful pastries, lefse, and other cultural reminders of your childhood and Grandma's way of doing things. Come and see the wonderful costumes, and maybe buy yourself a Norwegian sweater.

I never miss this event.

Var so god!
(loosely translates to "there you go!" from Norwegian; the phrase is commonly used as an invitation to partake.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Peas, Porridge & Pie: Food on an Early 20th Century Farm

Phyllis Johnson (left) and Doris Johnson (middle), shelling pease on the kitchen stoop with their grandmoterh, Malla Larson Johnson.  The family dogs are Cubby and Teddy.  Leonard, Clearwater County, Minnesota, 1938.

What better way to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday than to think about food? For family historians, that means the food of days gone by: slow food... real food... the sustenance that our ancestors spent most waking hours growing, preparing, and preserving. The following excerpts deal with day-to-day life on a Norwegian-American farm belonging to my great grandparents, Ole and Malla Johnson, three miles outside of Leonard in Clearwater County, northern Minnesota.  The information for this piece was gathered during a 2002 oral interview with their granddaughter, Doris Johnson Wheeler (my mother). Doris and her older sister, Phyllis, lived on their grandparents' farm from 1922-1945, after the girls' mother died from tuberculosis and left their father a young widower.

Each year, the Johnson women canned meat, pickles, string beans, peas, and other vegetables. The girls gathered blueberries and raspberries, and they sometimes walked many miles in order to find enough, though continually plagued by flies, mosquitoes, and ticks along the way. There were wild plums to be plucked, and gooseberries that grew in the pasture, as well as wild strawberries, currants, choke cherries, and pin cherries that would be made into wonderful jams and jellies. Malla Johnson raised ground cherries in her garden, little yellow berries with lots of seeds, from which she made sauce. Her husband added to the summer bounty by buying one or two lugs each of peaches and pears. Ole Johnson never forgot to include a basketful of dark blue grapes, because he loved grape jelly so much...

To feed her perpetually hungry family and hired hands, Malla Johnson liked to make traditional Norwegian porridge (groet), lefse, Johnnie cake, and feather cake, always without frosting. Breads, cakes, cookies, pies, and puddings were produced regularly. Mabel Johnson, the youngest daughter, seemed to be allergic to yeast, since she always got a tremendous headache whenever she baked bread. She had to do it anyway, because there was no such thing as skipping out on a chore.

When Phyllis Johnson was old enough, she began to help Mabel with the baking. One time, Malla asked her granddaughter to make a batch of lemon pies for the threshing crew. Phyllis had never made a pie before in her life, and she was nervous about presenting her novice efforts to an insatiable and highly expectant work crew. Much to her relief, the pies turned out fine, and no one complained...

Like many men from Norway of his generation and earlier, Ole Johnson drank hot coffee from a saucer in order to cool it quickly. He also ate peas with a knife, which was a custom of uncertain origin. The habit of lining up peas on a blade may date back to the Stone Age when there were only knives and bowls. Or, it may have started as a sporting challenge between men in Viking society. However it began, the custom was passed on through many generations as sort of a cultural icon in Norwegian-American society. Years later, at least a few of Johnson's sons were observed still struggling to mind their "peas and q's" in a similar fashion.

Ole Johnson was not a big coffee drinker, but he did enjoy a glass of milk, especially with a slice of warm apple pie. To his disappointment, warm apple pie was difficult to come by. One reason was that apples were not grown locally, and they were bought only during the holiday season. Another reason was that freshly made pie was always cold by the time he came in from work on baking days, and it was not easily reheated. So, whenever the family was in nearby Bagley and had the opportunity to drop in at Mogster's Hotel for a bite to eat, the most important thing on Johnson's agenda was warm apple pie...

A typical holiday meal with the Johnsons included: lutefisk, mashed potatoes, vegetables, lefse, butter, milk, coffee, and a dessert--like the apple pie that Ole Johnson never quite caught up to while it was still warm...

Before Christmas, Johnson would hitch two horses to a sleigh and ride into town to buy the annual Yule treats for his family. Everyone looked forward to their Christmas goodies, as simple as they were: a couple of boxes of apples, and a big bag each of peanuts, mixed nuts, and hard candy. Baking cocoa was available, but chocolate candy was not a regular treat, even though Ernest Johnson did bring some to his daughters, Phyllis and Doris, upon occasion. A shortage of chocolate would be a nearly unimaginable hardship to many of us now, and even Doris later became quite fond of a morning cup of Swiss Mocha coffee...

The Johnsons enjoyed eating traditional Norwegian food, like the primost (cheese) they sometimes bought. Ole Johnson especially liked fish, and he often went fishing in Clearwater Lake where he kept a cedar-strip boat. Many years later, the lake became so polluted from sewage that fishing was no longer possible. Doris said it was no wonder that her grandfather moved way from the homestead in Chippewa County, because the area had so few lakes and he loved to fish so much...

All excerpts are from "Clearwater Days," Chapter 7 in "A Long Way Downstream: the Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer," by Chery Kinnick.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Thanksgiving on the Other Side

Becky (Boo Boo) and Chery, 1961.
Richmond, California.
By "other side," I mean the other side of my family. The non-Norwegian side, to be specific.

While growing up in the Bay Area, my mother's Norwegian-American relatives lived mostly in Oregon and Minnesota--too far off to see during the holidays. Dad's family was close by, so we exchanged many visits for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Dad never minded cooking the turkey. Each year, one was provided to him for the holiday season as an employee of the Bell Packing Company in Berkeley. He loved the attention that cooking the turkey brought, being an extrovert who craved attention and interaction and didn't get enough of either. So, Thanksgivings were often held at our house. There was little to look forward to aside from the company and the meal, because in the Bay Area, you don't get brisk weather and beautiful fall colors; instead, you get rain.
While waiting for the turkey to cook, all of us snarfed up plenty of olives, and celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese, heartily seasoned with beau monde. Beau monde is little more than MSG, which I now avoid like the plague, but, who knew in those days? Just how many brain cells I lost over Thanksgiving holidays has yet to be determined.
The only other time I remember Dad being interested in cooking was when he taught my little sister to make a sandwich, all the while singing: "...a pickle in the middle with the mustard on top!"

Dad (Bill Wheeler) and his turkey.
Thanksgiving Day, 1965, El Cerrito, California.

Dad was a cannery retort operator, and Mom was a homemaker, so my upbringing was pretty modest and low key. It was exciting to have a group of people descend upon us at any time, let alone during the holidays. The variety of people on Dad's side of the family was interesting to a shy girl who led a quiet life and was hungry for more information about the world, in general. While my little sister, "Boo Boo," ricocheted off people, the dog, and table legs, I sat on the sidelines and sopped everything up like a sponge, always longing to participate more in life than I was.

Uncle Bob

Bob was the proverbial "bachelor uncle" who came to each family gathering equipped with a pocket protector, and all the latest gadgets and accompanying knowledge. Tallish and slender with dark hair and black rimmed glasses, he looked like the stereotype of the engineer that he was. Bob worked for the 3-M Company, and in his spare time he tinkered with his old Volkswagen and all the technical toys his workplace could provide. Due to the nature of his job, his holiday gifts were amazing. For me, they included my first portable tape player (no, I mean the early kind, with REELS), and a telescope just at the moment when astronomy had become my passion. Oh, every kid from an income-challenged family deserves an uncle like Bob.
Uncle Buzz and Aunt Marge

Buzz was one of those rare creatures who actually made a decent living as a musician. His real name was Elmer, but, come on... if you were part of the San Francisco Beat scene, wouldn't you be tempted to change your name?

San Francisco has always had a nonconformist reputation. In the 1950s, it served as a catalyst for social change and the avant-guard, which included the Beat generation. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen coined the term "Beatniks" to describe the young writers, philosophers, and poets who gravitated to the North Beach area in search of artistic freedom and intellectual expression. "Beatniks" was originally meant to be an unflattering term, but was later embraced to become sort of a badge of honor.[1]

From about 1948 on, the Purple Onion, a celebrated cellar club in the North Beach area, personified the Beat era with its jazz and folk music, and smoky ambiance. Buzz was the resident bass player at the Purple Onion for many years. The intimate, 80-person setting hosted many up and coming entertainers: Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, the Smothers Brothers, and the Kingston Trio, to name a few.[2]

Excerpt from the Oakland Tribune, 16 July, 1958, p.35, col.6

...Tonight is the night to revel it up a little with the East Bay chapter of the Hungry i, Purple Onion and Opus I.  If you are considered avant garde in your circle--this is aimed as a direct suggestion.  Buzz Wheeler at the piano, Gene Duncan's "Jericho" and Carol Frances are all people to go home talking about.  Nightly except Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Buzz's main instrument was the piano, but as a highly respected bass player on the Beat scene, he was sought after by many other musicians. He performed with Charles Mingus, and was included on the 1949 recording of "Lyon's Roar" and "Pennies from Heaven" from the LP: "Baron Mingus and his Rhythm."[3]

He also played upright bass on all of the tracks on the Kingston Trio's first album (Scotch and Soda, recorded on February 5, 1958. Album: THE KINGSTON TRIO, Capitol T-996. Released June 2, 1958). Buzz was enlisted in order to give "some polish to the group's somewhat rough, 'homegrown' accompaniment." The track provided Buzz with a "showcase that decades of future bass practitioners have envied and sought to emulate."[4]
Scotch and Soda
(partial lyrics)

Scotch and soda, mud in your eye.
Baby, do I feel high,
oh, me, oh, my. Do I feel high.
Dry martini, jigger of gin.
Oh, what a spell you've got me in,
oh, my. Do I feel high.

And, if you ever watch old Woody Woodpecker cartoons, listen carefully to those jazz tracks that include a bass... that's Buzz, too!

Buzz's wife, Marge, was also in the music business. She sang, while Buzz played accompaniment on the piano, and writers, lurkers, and music lovers sat in half-lit shadows, clinking their whiskey-flavored ice cubes and stirring martinis with stemmed cherries.

When I knew Marge, her long, straight and frizzy red hair, which she always wore in a high ponytail, had faded mostly to grey. But, in earlier days, with that pretty, welcoming face and red ponytail, she must have looked striking on stage in a black turtleneck and leggings.

Her sweet, breathy voice turned raspy after years of hard smoking, but her everyday speech was lyrical in itself. Marge was relaxed and she knew how to laugh. She was also a huggy-kissy person, much to my mother's dismay, but not in an ungenuine way. It's just that Mom's rather stoic farm upbringing dictated that while it was okay to kiss one's children on the lips, the line should be drawn at in-laws.

When I was a child, I had no knowledge of Marge's artistic inclinations. It was amazing enough that her favorite color was orange and that she shopped regularly at import stores. I didn't even know where to find one.

Grandpa McKinley and Grandma Margaret

McKinley had the congenial and deliberate air of a southern gent, but he hailed from the Midwest. He was fond of wearing western ties with white shirts.  Unfortunately, that gentlemanly air hid something much darker that many family members knew nothing about until years after his death.

His wife, Margaret, was a woman who would give you the blouse off her back, but if she talked you into her big white Pontiac to let her help you run an errand, she would soon have you hiding in the back seat, under a blanket, repeating a prayer. Everything about Margaret was fast. She drove fast, talked fast, and she walked fast. As a matter of fact, she ran: in the house, and outside. Margaret always ran instead of walked, and she wore her slippers everywhere.

Margaret had three sisters who were close in age: Lillian, Florence, and Vivian. The sisters must have had a lot of fun growing up together in the urban Bay Area, when rapid growth following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake changed everyone's life for the better. One can image them sitting for a photograph on the steps of a glorious old Victorian house, posing in proper, lacy, white dresses with huge satin bows at the backs of their long tresses. Straining to hold both breath and facial expression for a minute, when given the signal they rose in a competitive, congenial whirlwind, as only sisters can do.

The Cousins

I had a cousin who was exactly the same age as me, and one who was younger. But, it was their two older sisters who provided the most entertainment.

To a 1960s pre-teen girl, the world of makeup, hair, clothes, and dating was like a different planet. Just sitting and listening to these girls talk provided plenty of input to digest until the next Thanksgiving rolled around. It was even more exciting when a Scottish cousin moved in with the family to get an American education, and joined the holiday mix. Fresh from the land of the Beatles (Edinburgh was close enough), with bright red hair and copious freckles, Jane was like heather wine, an exotic representative of the world at large.

The others complained that Jane liked to tell stories in order to get attention. I wouldn't have known the difference, because I had a hard enough time understanding her thick accent, anyway. But, I did enjoy my alone time with Jane once when she spent the night, and we giggled under the blankets with our "Black Cow" candy after being frightened by the movie, "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

Afterwards, she told me a story about her school, and how the boys and girls had physical ed class together. One day, the girls somehow all lost their uniforms and the teacher made them go to class in their underwear. I asked, "Didn't the boys mind?" She replied in all seriousness: "No, of course not!" She was 13 or 14, and I was 10, and maybe she hadn't realized I was just a tad too young to get the joke.

Uncle Ralph and Aunt Evelyn did their best to keep their charges in line, but the notion of a family having by-laws and using allowances and fines was strange to me. It was even stranger to think that a girl could get punished for something like wearing green eyeshadow. Worse than that was the idea that you could actually break a rule and live to tell about it. (Okay, so I was pretty naive.)

The people who filled the holidays of my early years are remembered and respected for the uniqueness they each brought to the family. There may never be another gathering for me quite like those of my childhood, but family interaction is important to the human spirit, especially to an impressionable young person. It is in the early years that indelible bonds and impressions are forged, and though the effects may not be realized immediately, they are long lasting.

So, go forth and make happy memories. The stress of modern life should not deter us from making human connections. Best yet, be sure to record those memories for generations to come.

A very happy and memorable Thanksgiving to you all.

1 San Francisco: In Depth: History: The 1950's: The Beats,
2 Wikipedia,

3 The Charles Mingus Catalog,

4 The Kingston Trio: The Guard Years:,Rynolds,Shane)/GuardYrsPages/.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Snoqualmie Pass" now released!

by John and Chery Kinnick



"Arcadia Publishing is the leading local history publisher in the United States, with a catalog of more than 4,000 titles in print and hundreds of new titles released every year."

  • Snoqualmie Pass (ISBN: 073854809X), was written as a cooperative effort between my husband and myself, and was meant as a tribute to the history of the community where we live.
  • Recently released to the market on October 8, 2007, Snoqualmie Pass is part of Arcadia's Images of America series. The book is available for $19.99 through the publisher's website:
  • As of October 22nd, Snoqualmie Pass has made the "Most Popular Items in Washington [State]" list on; more than 1,000 copies have already been sold through various booksellers!

Description from the back cover:

Situated in the Cascades about 50 miles east of Seattle, Snoqualmie Pass is intersected by the most heavily used route connecting eastern and western Washington. In the 1800s, use of the old Native American trail by explorers, cattlemen, and miners created a need for a wagon road. A railway and highway followed, and Snoqualmie Pass quickly developed into an all-season recreational paradise with over a half million visitors annually. Known for easy access to snow sports and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, nighttime ski operations, and the world-famous terrain of Alpental, Snoqualmie Pass is also a community of neighborhoods with both full-time and part-time residents who share a unique mountain lifestyle.

Snoqualmie Pass will appeal to skiers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts of any type, also to those who are attracted by the beauty and unique history of the Cascade Mountains and the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

The Images of America series celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the county. Using archival photographs, each title presents the disctinctive stoies from the past that shape the cahracter of the commuynity today. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We'll miss you, Karna


Karna Lou (Winje) Franche

April 28, 1938 - September 1, 2007

(Left to right), back row: Kenneth Moore, Bonnie (Simmons) Winje, Albert B. (Abbie) Winje, and Dennis W. Johnson; front row: Lori (Winje) Moore, Chery Kinnick, and Karna Franche. Photograph taken at the home of Abbie and Bonnie Winje, Salmo, British Columbia, August 2004.

Only a few months ago, Karna Franche was told she had incurable cancer, and was given a very short time to live.

Is there ever a perfect time to pass the baton? There will always be moments we wish we could steal, however near or far into the future. I'm sure that Karna, who was full of life and always busy, struggled with this. Caught up by a love of organization and planning, she had to try and accept that some of her projects would remain incomplete, and that come next spring, it would not be her own hands around the hoe that would stir the the soil of her garden into awakening. All too soon, her scrapbooks and notebooks would be closed and packed away, and many of her belongings scattered. How we mourn the loss of our tools that define our creativity, our needs, and our identities.

The oldest sibling in a family of five, mother to one, and "Auntie Karna" to others, Karna Franche died at age 69 on September 1st, and was buried at Slocan Cemetery in Slocan, British Columbia, Canada, next to her first husband, Keith Elmes. Her parents, Albert Lien and Agda Feddersen Winje, and grandparents, Edward Theodore and Bess Lien Winje, also rest there. Karna is survived by a daughter, Joanne Elmes, her husband, Roy Franche, a sister, Aloria (Lori) Moore, and three brothers: Albert (Abbie) Brian Winje, Edward Richard Winje, and Eric Dale Winje.

Edward Theodore Winje (1881-1969)

I only met with Karna once, but I shall always remember her energy and infectious enthusiasm for everything, including family history. I contacted the Winjes in British Columbia a few years ago because they are descendants of my great great grandmother, Thibertine Johnson, and her second husband, Eric Larsen Winje. Several family members pointed the way to Karna, who I was told was the keeper of the family mementos and photographs. We wrote long, informative letters back and forth. She was very excited about the family history book I was preparing, and we exchanged quite a lot of family information and materials.

Karna and Roy Franche, early 1990s.

In late August 2004, I went to up to the Kootenays to visit the Winjes, along with a cousin, Dennis Johnson, from Hayden Lake, Idaho. We stopped for a visit with Ken and Lori Moore in Creston, and enjoyed a family get-together at the home of Abbie and Bonnie Winje on their lovely farm in Salmo. We also stayed with Karna and her husband, Roy, and were given the royal treatment. Roy fixed us his special omelets for breakfast, and then he and Karna showed us around every corner of the Slocan area. All the while, Karna told us numerous stories about her father, Albert L. Winje, a one-time bush pilot, and her mother, Agda Fedderson Winje, who was born in Denmark and had served as Slocan's mayor. Agda Winje was mayor during a volatile part of the town's history, and Karna remembered with trepidation how her father and brothers watched for snipers from their windows at night.

After the deaths of Karna's parents, their house was leased out. The renter, while talking with Karna one day, asked who the lady in the pink bathrobe was, claiming she had seen a unfamiliar woman wandering through her kitchen. When she went to take a closer look, the strange woman had vanished. Karna replied that she didn't know anyone who currently fit the description given, but that her mother, Agda Winje, had always worn a pink bathrobe. (Was the Mayor still restless about the state of affairs in Slocan, or was she simply checking on the welfare of the family she left behind?)

Karna's father, Albert Lien Winje, was a colorful character. He and his brother Hugh grew up on the plains of Alberta and Northern Saskatchewan, and "had enough adventures to put Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to shame." [Winje, Albert L. It Happened in My Lifetime, p.7.] As a youth, Albert worked on his father's farm and in local sawmills. In 1946, he bought a war surplus Tiger Moth and taught himself to fly, becoming well known as a daredevil pilot. He made many mercy missions across the skies of the northern prairies, either bringing in medical care or flying people out to hospitals. After moving his family to Slocan, B. C., Albert became an avid collector of guns and farm machinery, and also created unique metal sculptures. His machinery and sculpture display ran for nearly half a mile along the British Columbia highway near his home. A man with a need for self expression, he devoted his last years to writing his memoirs, which were published in "It Happened In My Lifetime."

Winje, Albert L. "It Happened In My Lifetime." Kelvington, Saskatchewan: Kelvington Kronicle, 1995.

Karna had more than a few stories of her own to tell. Her grandfather, Edward Winje, enjoyed hunting and fishing while the family lived in Saskatchewan. Karna and her younger sister, Lori, often went along on the fishing trips because they loved the picnic lunches their Grandma Bess made. Typical teenagers, the girls thought they were really something sitting in the back of the car with their hair blowing in the wind. On one trip, some young fellows passed by in another car smiling widely and making eyes. Feeling smug because of the flirtatiousness of the boys, the girls were later mortified when they discovered Grandpa Winje’s old car was missing a tire. He had been driving on one of the rims all the way home, and that had been the real reason for all of the attention!

Karna Franche's personal legacy continues. Her love of family history, perhaps her greatest tool, has helped to ensure that future generations of Winjes will know something of their origins. Thank you, Karna... we'll miss you.