Roadtrip to Grandma’s home state of Minnesota: Part 2 in my continuing Grand Tour series

I was out of town for a few days and have missed bloggin. Sorry about that! Picking up where I last left off in my reflections on our summer road trip…

We arrived in Minnesota at my husband’s aunt’s house on the afternoon of the 4th of July. After the intense driving for three days to get there, it was a relief for my son to run around in a bona fide yard. He kept zooming through the grass and halting only to ask for instructions on his next feat. “Tell me what to do next, Mommy!” And I would make up some ridiculous sequence that included zig-zagging from this tree to that with jumping jacks every five steps, dribbling the soccer ball while patting his head, walking like a chicken, etc.

The next morning we moved on to Alexandria, where my grandmother’s paternal grandparents settled. We stayed with Grandma’s first cousin, John, and his wife Dee. What wonderful folks–so helpful! They had arranged for a visit to the local Historical Society, called various people who now lived on “our” land to make sure we could visit, and arranged a little family reunion, inviting cousins from around the area to come and meet us.

I had rather assumed that I would find little of use for the book on this part of the trip, mostly because we are talking about a very long time ago when the great-great-grandparents, JA and Lotta, settled there (1885). But I was surprised to discover a great deal while there. Like the fact that JA and Lotta had given up farming on Lake Victoria in 1898 and had decided to try their hand at logging in another community further north called Spruce Hill. They abandoned that attempt in 1900, when it became clear that the town was not going to thrive. The railroad had been persuaded to build a station in a neighboring town, so the Spruce Hill saw mill lost it’s chance for easy transportation of lumber. JA and Lotta gave up and returned to “Alec,” this time farming on the eastern shore of Lake Burgen. I had always though Grandma’s Dad grew up at Lake Burgen, but he never lived there. It was Lake Victoria rather.

When John and Dee took us out to Lake Burgen, I felt the strangest connection to the place. I had been there before on my last trip to MN in 1995, when I chauffered Grandma around the area. We had come out for Aunt Evelyn’s 90th birthday celebration. Anyway, this time, I saw the place in a new light. Such a beautiful beach, with the point still named after our family. Water lilies floated along part of the shoreline, the water was a brilliant blue and clear as glass, and the sky that day was a stunning turquoise with a few white, puffy clouds dotted here and there.

My son went nuts as soon as we walked down to the point. Frogs a plenty. Water. Sand and dirt. And big fish lazily swimming along the shoreline, almost so close you could grab em. My son is nine years old. And he is a nature fanatic. He zipped along the shore, carrying an irrepresible grin. And then it got even better. The teenage daughter of the current residents came out with a fishing pole and some bait. My son’s eyes flashed as he caught my eye. I nodded.

Thirty minutes later, after repeated losses of assorted minnows (“Those fish are so sneaky, Mommy, stealing our bait!”) he caught his first fish ever, a good size sunfish. Yes, he tossed it back in. For the rest of the trip it was fishing this and fishing that. “Ya know how dinosaurs were my big thing from 4 to 8 years old? Well, fishing is going to be my thing from 9 to … uh … 70!”

Grandma’s maternal grandparents came from Norway, above the Arctic Circle (more on that in another entry). They were fishermen, catching cod off the Lofoten Islands. I guess it’s in my son’s blood, eh! In any case, Lake Burgen fed my great-great-grandparents’ family during many lean years. Grandma’s cousin, Mildred, who made a recording for posterity (Lord, bless her!) talks about the frequent fish-fries they held at the lake. The men used nets and caught scads of fish. Mildred complained about having to help clean them (UGH) and then they would fry up a couple dozen fish to feed the guests who were picnicking on the lawn/beach.

Back at John and Dee’s were two suitcases full of old photos, one of which showed Grandma’s father, Oscar, and all of his siblings in a boat on Lake Burgen. Oddly enough, Aunt Gerda was the one holding the oars and not any of her three brothers. I suspect she was a feisty one! I heard that she had wanted to marry a Norwegian and was prohibited. She was married off to a local Swede instead. At least that’s how the story goes!

Since my return home, I’ve been able to put a few more pieces together in the puzzle of that side of the family. I’ve finally placed who Aunt Sofie is (JA’s sister, who emigrated from Sweden a year after JA brought his family to America). Figuring out this part is important because I have, through Gerda’s granddaughter, made contact with actual Swedish relatives. They were eager to find out whatever happened to Sofie, so I’m glad to be able to give them some info. I’m really hoping that I will get a chance to visit the “Old Country” next summer. Still some gaps to fill in the first chapter.

We managed to pack quite a few activities into our stay in Alec, inlcuding a visit to a local museum where a real Viking runestone is kept. Oh, and “Big Ole” a giant statue of a Viking. Plus we saw the house and land at Lake Victoria (not so clear a lake but alos lovely people living on “our” land). The only problem was that my visit had uncovered so much that I was a bit spoiled, with too high of expectations for the other locales to come….

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4 Responses

  1. its seems to be a good place to visit i think . i need some more facts . and i hope ill meet your grand masome day .

  2. Oh, yes, it’s absolutely beautiful in Minnesota. Land of a thousand lakes and all that.

    I’d love to travel to New Zealand some day. My friend spent a semester there when her husband was on sabbatical — had a great time. Ah, one day….

  3. Love when kids get all giddy about nature!

    Sounds like you a great trip and got some family research done too. That definitely makes it an A+ trip!

    Thanks for visiting my blog. 🙂

  4. Thanks! It was a great trip for sure. Hard to get back to reality, though…. What is that Zen saying: “Enlightenment and then laundry.”

    I enjoyed your site!

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