Twas the night before Christmas and my grading was … done

I uploaded my grades for my last class while setting the table for Christmas Eve dinner.  WHEW!  Pretty pathetic, but, hey, it’s the way my semester has gone. At least its over now and I can get back to writing Grandma’s book now.

I’m sitting alone in the living room, having finished all the last minute gift wrapping and stuffing of socks, at last. Our tree never looked lovelier, it seems to me.  I went with colored LED lights this year, and I really adore them — surprises me cause I’m usually a white lights, red bows kinda gal.  I’ll take a picture later and post, since I want to share some of my special ornaments with you, including the headless little bo peep…

Dogga is snoozing on the top of the couch as per usual. The rain is melting our foot and a half of snow, and the wind is gusting enough to be noticeably noisy.  Our new Westie-dog clock with the wagging tail for a pendulum (gift from the cousins) is clicking away merrily.  And I am trying to just sit here and breathe a bit.  No, I don’t mean some stress-reduction exercise.  I mean literally, I have a cold and my head is all stuffed up. 🙂

Before I hit the hay, as they say, I wanted to wish all a very Merry Christmas.  My your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white….

Two down and two to go

Grades are in for two of my classes — took longer than expected/planned.  Didn’t help that I am sick as a dog!  I’ve got two more classes’ final work to grade TODAY.  Yikes!  Wish me luck…

And Then She Died

Two years ago on this day, Grandma died. She had a massive stroke the day before and let go on July 3, 2006. She was 92.

As fate would have it, this date is important to our family for another reason. On July 3, 1879, also a Thursday like this year, my grandmother’s grandparents left Norway for America. I know this because last week I finally found the information for which I have been searching for the last several months. (Thanks to Norway Heritage: Hands Across the Sea.) All passenger lists of ships sailing from Norway have been destroyed from the time period through which I was searching, but I just learned that the police in Norway kept records of emigrants. The Norwegians passed a law dictating that emigrants had to sign contracts with shipping companies in front of the police. This was to help prevent scams! The further benefit is that these records remain and fill the gap.

Here is what I discovered:

Rikard (Richard) Skaug, though he had changed his name at twenty years old, registered for emigration by his birth name, Hanson. His wife, who went by her middle name, Maria, registered with her first name, Hannah. They sailed from Trondheim, which is the biggest city south of their hometown of Bodø, far above the Arctic Circle. Out of Trondheim, they sailed on the Wilson line’s steamer, S/S Tasso (1).

A total of 48 passengers boarded that ship in Trondheim, including another young family from Bodø, headed for Minnesota. Their ship stopped in two cities in Norway before heading across the open North Sea to Hull, England. The journey took 3 or 4 days, so they probably arrived in England by Sunday.

In England, Maria stayed on the ship until the emigrant train was ready to leave the station at Hull on Monday morning. Women and children were not allowed on the docks. Richard may have stretched his legs and strolled by the Minerva Hotel where many emigrants congregated. In any case, on Monday they took the train to Liverpool, a few hours journey across the industrial midlands. One more leg of the journey over and a welcome stopover in a strange land before braving the trans-Atlantic crossing.

After a couple of days in a rooming house in Liverpool, they boarded one of the Inman line ships, most likely The City of Brussels, bound for New York City. The ship left on July 10th, and it took eight days to cross the oceam in the steam liner. They took their passage in steerage, at about $30 a person. There were 363 passengers. Inman was known as a middle-class liner, with more comfort than some of the most notorious shipping companies, but Richard and Maria would not have been able to afford more than the basic fare.

Once in the United States, they made their way from New York to Decorah, Iowa, where they wintered with friends. The following spring, they headed north to Beltrami, Minnesota, where Richard’s sister Caroline and her husband had already settled. They homesteaded land that is still in our family four generations later.

What must it have been like to leave Norway and all their family and friends, the familiar sights of mountain and harbor, and head thousands of miles away to a land where they did not speak the language, where they would never see the ocean again?

Turns out I found another source, a diary that I didn’t know that I had, written by Grandma’s uncle, who visited Norway in the summer of 1939. He met several people in Bodø and the surrounding villages who knew his parents and grandparents. They told him of the night before the family left and how all the people of the little town of Skaug gathered at the Hanson home crying and singing hymns in unison long into the night. Sounds like a wake. I guess it was.

On this anniversary of my beloved grandmother’s passing from this world, my tears mix with those of my ancestors, mourning and celebrating. Loss and love. On Monday I will “return” to the land of Richard and Maria, my great-great-grandparents. I will walk in their village, pray in their church, sit and face the sea they left behind forever, a beautiful but dangerous companion. Life in this frontier was beyond difficult. I have no romatic notions of how lovely it would have been like to live like that. But, still, it was home to their families as long as anyone could remember. I can’t, as an American, imagine feeling so rooted. How painful, physically excruciating, it must have been to be ripped out of the soil and transplanted into the American Midwest.

I will honor their sacrifice, a sacrifice for the child Maria was carrying inside her during that dangerous journey that began this day one hundred and twenty-nine years ago. The sacrifice they made for me. They braved it all to try to make a better life for us. My grandmother appreciated their sacrifice and wanted to convey its enormity to the younger generations through her book. I have taken up that challenge with her death. I am writing grandma’s book; I am finishing what she started.

Wildlife Refuge? Suburban Yard? Whatever…

Yesterday the neighborhood decided that summer had arrived. For the neighbor kids, who all go to public schools, yesterday was the day after the last day of school. They were running around the block like a pack of wild animals, joyous, leaping, laughing critters.

I went out to get the mail in our box and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a turtle parked on my husband’s side of the driveway (he was at work at the time, so his side of the blacktop was empty). My first thought was that some kid left their toy in our yard. Then, I suspected they were playing a trick on me, watching my reaction behind some tree. Then it moved. EEEK! “A turtle, a turtle,” I yelled to all kids within earshot. And they came a runnin’.

I was concerned that the turtle might turn around and head back towards the road from whence it came. This time of year we see a lot of squashed turtles on roads. It was clearly headed towards the conservation land behind our house, but had stopped when we approached and tried to turn around. Then it gave up and hid its head in its shell. I was eager to make sure this little guy made it to the forest safe and sound. But I knew the kids would all want to see the creature before I ushered it on its way.

Once a crowd of kids gathered around, the turtle decided hiding its head wasn’t the best plan, so it started bookin’ for the forest as fast as its legs would carry it. Not all the kids had made it to our yard yet, so I decided to pick it up so they could get a closer look. That turtle had pretty sharp claws, though, and kept flailing around trying to scratch my fingers as I held it. I almost dropped it more than once.

[hmmm….WordPress isn’t letting me insert a picture here…I’ll try to put it in the comments section later. Sorry!]

Now, on hind sight, I should have asked my son to bring the cardboard box on the porch (filled with “habitat” for the snakes he keeps catching) to me so I could put the turtle in it for the kids to see and touch its shell. What a great educational opportunity lost! But I was worried that the littlest kids would either get bitten or hurt the thing. You may recall my earlier post about the neighborhood snake murderers across the street…

So the kids got to catch a quick glimpse, and I hightailed it to the backyard and let the poor guy go. Man, he took off in a hurry, clean disappeared in the undergrowth in a flash. The children dispersed soon after. Then a lone nieighbor boy started running to our house. Oops. I forgot about that kid. “Sorry,” I hollered across the road, “we already let him go.” Drooping with disappointment, he slowly walked away.

These days, we are getting lots of visitors to our yard: skunks eating the grubs in our yucky lawn, a groundhog family of five eating our clover, and a family of deer running across our yard to get to higher ground. This is what I love. To live side by side with the animals as if we can all coexist peacefully. Maybe that’s why I was in such a hurry to help the turtle on its way — I know we are an imposition on these native creatures and we destroy them and their habitat like we own the place. I wanted to make sure this turtle was not only safe but that its needs came first. After all, we may own that conservation land but it is HIS home, not ours.

Hobbes; or, On Tigers and Boys

As requested by struggling writer, I am posting about my son’s stuffed animal, Hobbes, today. Here is a picture of him (Hobbes, not struggling writer!) in the back seat, where I tossed him Tuesday when I was rushing to go see vomit-boy at overnight camp. Since I never actually made it to camp (see yesterday’s post), Hobbes is still in the back seat, awaiting his boy’s return this afternoon.

Of course, he named the tiger after Hobbes from the popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. One Christmas (was it two or three or even four years ago…?) my in-laws gave him a complete set of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s a set of three massive oversized books (I thoroughly recommend this set as a special gift for kids). I recall many times seeing him trying to maneuver these books into his lap to read comfortably. Now that he’s bigger it’s easier, and he still goes on Calvin and Hobbes binges. He’s also moved onto the Far Side now, though he does not own a comparable set, only second-hand and much smaller books.

Clearly my son wants to be Calvin.

He isn’t.

My child is far too concerned about what other people, especially parents and other adults of note, think of his behavior to act up the way Calvin does. But reading the comic strip gives him, undoubtedly, a chance to live vicariously through the little rebel boy and his wily tiger. Here, Here!!! Everyone needs such opportunities, right? And isn’t that one of the greatest things about reading — to get the chance to live other lives and see other places and experience other times, all through exercising our imaginations?

I can’t wait to pick my son up from school today. Hobbes is pretty excited, too. I caught him doing flips earlier when he thought I wasn’t looking.