Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Marking the Journey of Six Generations

Capricorns from Different Worlds

January 8th marks the birthday of two women who are related, but part of different worlds created by time, place, and cultural, historical, and social influences.

Let's compare brief bios of the two, spanning 130 years--the amount of time in between the dates the photographs were taken. The first photograph is of Thibertina (Bertina) Johnson Winje, a Norwegian immigrant, and the second is of her great-great-great granddaughter, Courtney (my own daughter), who is now close to the same age as her ancestor when the photograph of Bertina was taken.

Bertina (1875)
Born: January 8, 1841, in Nord-Trondelag, Norway
Marital status: married: 13 yrs (1st marriage to a farmer); 56 yrs (2nd marriage to an attorney and judge)
Occupation: pioneer, farmer, homemaker, wife, and mother
Education: rural schooling up to confirmation age
Favorite things: attending school functions; giving dolls to granddaughters
Hobbies: knitting, crocheting, embroidery, and other useful handiwork
Travel: emigration from Norway to America across the Atlantic
Special challenges: feeding and clothing family from scratch, fatigue from physical labor, disease epidemics, crop failure, severe weather, learning a new language as a matter of necessity

Courtney (2006)
Born: (currently 20-something), Washington State
Marital status: single
Occupation: barista; in training to be a computer network specialist
Education: some college
Favorites: cats, chocolate, and clubbing
Hobbies: making jewelery and hair pieces, modeling, playing the flute and guitar
Travel: Driving across the U.S. from Florida to the Pacific Coast, plus visiting British Columbia and Germany.
Special challenges: Working & attending school at the same time; paying bills, inflation, nutrition, keeping medical benefits, sorting through all the choices

I'll let the reader determine any similarities or differences. The point is: we've come a long way, Baby!

When Bertina Johnson Winje set foot on the Norden, the sailing ship that brought her and her small family from the port of Bergen, Norway to America in 1866, she had no idea what the future would bring. In her highest hopes, she sought greater opportunity for her children, and wanted them to be able to have their own land and greater educational possibilities. How surprised and pleased she must have been to see two of her daughters become teachers. One would go on to become a School Superintendent in Minnesota.

But, did Bertina ever dream of the possibilities for future generations? Things have changed drastically for women since she was a young immigrant pioneer woman in Chippewa County, Minnesota. My daughter, Courtney, faces challenges of her own in the present day--mostly economic ones--but she has certain advantages over living in the era of her g-g-g-grandmother: the right to vote, the ability to seek advanced education and choose a career, instant communication with others, relative freedom from life-threatening devastation due to severe weather or disease epidemic, the right to wear makeup and dress however she likes, and the opportunity to work and play in diverse groups. There is also the major luxury of kicking back and eating a prepackaged, microwaved entree rather than chasing the chicken, killing the chicken, plucking and cleaning the chicken, stoking the woodstove, boiling the chicken, getting out the breadboard, mixing and kneading breaddough, stoking the woodstove again... well, you get the idea.

Bertina had advantages of her own, though some may not have been realized until the perspective of history brought them to light. There is much to be said for the age-old human need to be close to the land, and having direct, consequential interaction with nature. Also, a dependency upon family life and utter faith brought security and acceptance during times of strife. Modern media and technology have altered the human pysche forever, for better, or for worse.

Sometimes, I look upon my daughter and wonder which of her genetic traits have come down through the generations, and from which ancestors. Is that slate/blue-gray, geode-like color of her eyes also those of an ancient ancestor's? What about her strawberry blonde hair color as a toddler? Who was it that gave her that slender frame... her nose, her ears? Am I hearing Bertina in Courtney's voice, or someone else? What about that funny little habit of hiccuping exactly three times after eating anything?

I will never know the answers to all of those mysteries. But, one thing is for certain: our ancestors live within our children, and in our children's children, and it was the sacrifices of those who came before that created the opportunities of the here and now. We are forever indebted to them.

Happy Birthday, Gals!


Thomas MacEntee said...

Capricorns rule. I should know.

Chery Kinnick said...

Thomas: Well, then, happy birthday (soon or belated)! I'm a Libra myself, so Capricorns are a mysterious bunch to me...

Colleen said...

Very well put, Chery. Out of five people in my immediate family, three of us are Capricorns. As well as my brother's daughter. We do rule! (at least we did in our house!).

Chery Kinnick said...

And Happy Birthday to you, Colleen!