Sunday, June 05, 2016

Elmer Strand, Norwegian-American Bachelor, Continued

As a child, I was delighted by the distraction of new adults entering into my sheltered world.  They came through the front door, often smiling, and left behind new sights, sounds, and stories.  Blood relatives or relatives by marriage, and even my mother's friends from "back home" in Minnesota would sometimes land in our living room for a few hours.  They always left our house fully-fueled.  My Mom's ingrained habits would not have permitted her to allow a guest to leave without being offered the usual round of coffee, sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, or whatever we had on hand.  As a quiet and cautious youngster, I did not ask many questions, but I had a great curiosity about family connections and how my parents came to know these visitors.

I clearly recall Elmer Strand as a lanky and laid-back older gentleman.  Our visit with him during the summer of 1965 included the experiencing a new location outside the comfortable and familiar surroundings at home.  The summer before I entered middle school, Mom 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 and setting up a new household, Mom was looking for a little rest and recreation.  Back then, driving to Sonoma County from the San Francisco Bay Area was the equivalent of a pleasant day trip into the country.  Sonoma County, part of the beautiful Redwood Coast area in California, is also wine country, and has 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 said 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 in Sparta Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, and Grandpa (Ernest) was born on January 23, 1889 in nearby Granite Falls Township.  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 Milpitas, California, he sold his house in Campbell 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 actually a cousin to Grandpa.  Elmer Strand's parents were Thomas Einersen Strand and Berthe Regine "Regina" Winje.  Regina (see post entitled Duty, Fate, and Beauty), was a younger half-sister to Grandpa's father, Ole M. Johnson.  Elmer was the oldest of a large family of siblings.  His brothers included:  Arthur (1892-1967); Theodore (1894-1973), Lambert (1897-1969), and Thomas Raymond (1899-1981).  A sixth boy, name unknown, did not survive birth.  After giving birth to Thomas Raymond in 1899, Regina died unexpectedly, leaving a widowed husband with five young sons.  When Thomas E. Strand married Beate Matilda "Tilda" Nelson in 1902, Elmer was further blessed with eight half-siblings:  Alvin (1902-1989), Isella (1904-1908), Noel (1906-1959), Gerda "Sylvia" (1908-1994), Stella (1910-1910), Olaf (1910-1982), Maude (1912-1968), and Margaret (1915-2003).  One of his half sisters died as an infant, and the other lived only to about four years of age.  Elmer headed a list of Thomas E. Strand's offspring that numbered three girls and eight boys that survived to adulthood.  Perhaps this large number had something to do with Elmer eventually striking out on his own and never marrying and raising his own family.

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

Elmer was confirmed at Saron Lutheran Church in Chippewa County, Minnesota on October 15, 1905.  His WWI and WWII draft registration cards indicate that he had black hair and light blue eyes--a striking combination.  Judging by the photo to the left (cropped from a family portrait), he was an attractive young man.  He was 5 ft. 8 ins. tall, and at age fifty-two, he weighed in at a lanky 120 pounds.  His main work was as a farm or ranch hand, and it appears he traveled around for various jobs.  In 1910, at the age of twenty, he was still helping out at his father's farm in Sparta, Chippewa County.  After leaving home, he boarded on Foster Ave. in Baltimore, Maryland, and by 1920 was working as a reamer at the shipyards.  In 1930, he was renting a place on his brother Theodore's property in Stony Run, Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota.  He applied for a Social Security card in the state of Illinois before 1951, and may have even worked in Canada.

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

In Elmer Strand’s later years, he was employed as a ranch hand in Sonoma County and was still quite lively at the time my family visited him in 1965. Elmer lived simply, in a trailer on the ranch owner’s property. At the time of his death on October 29, 1985, he was a resident at the London House Convalescent Hospital in Sonoma. Though raised a Lutheran, Elmer became a member of the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.  It is thought that the ranch owners converted Elmer to their church since he had the opportunity to ride along to services with them each Sunday.   After Elmer's death, his ashes were scattered in the Pacific 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 sources:

--Border Crossing:  From U.S. to Canada, 1908-1935.
--California, Death Index, 1940-1997.
--Social Security Death Index.
--U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940.
--U.S. Federal Censuses for 1910, 1920, and 1930.
--U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
--U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.

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