At times, I have a longing to hear the Norwegian-American brogues of my great aunties again. These women, who have been gone for many years now, were especially important to me as a child, since I did not experience the love and indulgences of a grandmother while growing up. My maternal grandmother died of tuberculosis when Mom was not yet two years of age, and my adoptive father was orphaned while still young.
|Mabel Johnson, Thea (Johnson) Humberstad, and Cora (Johnson) Moen. Richmond, California, November 6, 1946.|
My great aunts were among ten children born to Ole and Malla Johnson, who were both of Norwegian-American immigrant families. The Johnsons began their married life in Chippewa County, Minnesota, and then moved to in Fosston in Polk County, and spent the last decades of their lives farming near Leonard in Clearwater County, where my mother was raised. The ten children were: Bennett, Ernest (my grandfather), Cora, Thea, Odin, Mabel, Oral, Ruben, Carl, and Frank. All lived to a ripe old age; I'd say that was quite an accomplishment for young parents starting a family in the late 19th century.
One of my cousins jokingly refers to the photograph of the middle-aged Johnson sisters in their winter coats as "The Three Stooges." I had to laugh the first time I heard that, because there does seem to be something reminiscent of the mock severity of a Moe, Larry, and Curly portrait in their demeanor. But, perhaps the joke is on us, because both my cousin and I are now older than our great aunts at the time their photograph was taken. How time changes one's perspective! But, no one can deny that they were once the sweetest little babies, as cute as a mother could ever hope for...
|Cora and Thea Johnson, ca. 1893.|
|Cropped image of Mabel Johnson, ca. 1899. Granite Falls, MN.|
Thea was the first to leave her home state of Minnesota for Oregon, where her husband, Carl Humberstad, a lumberjack, saw job prospects with the prolific west coast lumber business. Cora and her husband, Emil Moen, followed to Oregon soon after. Mabel, who never married, left her job at a hotel laundry in St. Paul, Minnesota, to ride west on the train with my mother, Doris Johnson, in 1945. The pair were following my grandfather, Ernest Johnson, and my aunt, Phyllis Johnson, to Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mabel rented an apartment in a Richmond four-plex until she retired in the early 1960s and then moved to Salem, Oregon, to be near her sisters again. After that, it was necessary for my family to go on vacation in order to see nearly everyone in my mother's family, especially after Grampa Ernest moved to Salem, as well.
Cora Johnson Moen: born July 15, 1891 in Montevideo, Minnesota; died May 28, 1975 in Salem, Oregon.