Sunday, June 05, 2016

Elmer Strand, Norwegian-American Bachelor, Continued

As a child, I was occasionally delighted by the mystery of new adults entering into my sheltered world.  They came through the front door, often smiling, and left behind new sights, sounds, and stories.  From their visits, I developed a little more insight into human behavior, as well as a wider sense of connection, and sometimes good gossip to digest.

Relatives, relatives by marriage, or even friends from "back home" in Minnesota would sometimes land in our living room for a mere few hours.  They always left fully-fueled, since my mother's Norwegian-American habits would not have permitted her to let a guest leave without being offered the usual round of coffee and sandwiches, or cookies, fruit... whatever we had on hand.  As a quiet and cautious youngster, I did not ask many questions of my parents, but I could not ignore my curiosity about family connections or how my parents, who had obviously experienced things further afield than I was aware of at the time, came to know people. 

I clearly recall Elmer Strand, a lanky and laid-back older gentleman.  Our visit with him during the summer of 1965 was complemented by the experience of a new location, which was outside the comfortable frame of familiar surroundings at home.  The summer before I entered middle school, my mother asked Dad to drive the four of us (Dad, Mom, my 6 year-old sister Becky, and me) to Sonoma County to visit Elmer.  We had just moved from our house in Richmond, California (San Francisco East Bay), to nearby El Cerrito.  After all the work involved in moving, Mom probably looked for a little rest and recreation.  A drive to Sonoma County from the San Francisco Bay Area was the nearest thing to a pleasant day trip into the country you could manage in a large metropolitan area.  Sonoma County, part of the beautiful Redwood Coast area in California, is also wine country, with long, meandering two-lane highways that climb, dip, and roll gently past vineyards and farms, toward the rugged Northern California ocean beaches I knew and loved as a youngster.

Elmer Strand with his family, to that point (left to right):  Thomas (father), Theodore, Elmer, Arthur, and Regina (mother), ca. 1895, Chippewa County, Minnesota.

When I asked my mother who Elmer Strand was, she could only say that he was a longtime friend of my grandfather's.  Elmer, who was the eldest of his siblings, had never been married, and my maternal grandfather, Ernest Johnson, had been a widower for many years.  The two men were close in age to one another.   Elmer Strand was born on March 4, 1890, and Grandpa (Ernest) was born on January 23, 1889, both in Chippewa County, Minnesota.  Elmer eventually moved to California from Minnesota as an adult, as did Ernest. When Ernest Johnson retired in the early 1960s from the Ford Motor Plant in Campbell, California, he sold his house and took an extended vacation on the southern Oregon coast. Elmer Strand went along.  The two men lived in Ernest’s trailer for a few months and did a lot of fishing.  It must have been old Norwegian bachelor heaven!

It was not until many years later, after I began genealogy pursuits in earnest, that I found out Elmer Strand was not just a friend of my Grandpa's--he was a cousin.  Not even my own mother had been fully aware of the family connection.  Elmer Strand's parents were Thomas and Regina (Winje) Strand.  Elmer's mother, Regina (see post entitled Duty, Fate, and Beauty), was the younger half-sister of my grandfather's father, Ole M. Johnson.

Elmer Strand as a young man, ca. 1918.  Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

In Elmer Strand’s later years, he worked as a ranch hand for a landowner in Sonoma County. Though he developed diabetes, he was wiry and still quite lively at the time my family visited him in 1965. Elmer lived simply, without many belongings, in a trailer on the ranch owner’s property. He ate his meals up at the main house. At the time of his death in 1985, he was a resident at the London House Convalescent Hospital in Sonoma. Elmer was a member of the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco for some years.  Though Elmer was originally a Lutheran, it is thought that the ranch owners converted him to their church, since he had the opportunity to ride along to services with them.   After his death, his ashes were scattered in the ocean, just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, in a communal, clergy-led ceremony aboard The Neptune Society’s yacht, the Naiad.

Related posts on Nordic Blue:

Elmer Strand, Norwegian-American Bachelor
Duty, Fate, and Beauty

Elmer Strand (center) with Ernest Johnson, and my mother, Doris Johnson (Wheeler).  Photograph was taken ca. 1948 in the front yard of the flourplex where Ernest's sister, Mabel Johnson, and daughter, Doris, lived in Richmond, California.

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