Let's travel back in time to the early nineteen hundreds when my grandfather's parents were just starting out. They lived in Norway and wanted to be married, but times were tough if you weren't the eldest boy. In the Norwegian tradition, the eldest boy inherited everything, and the others had to fend for themselves. My great-grandfather was not the oldest. This meant it was time for some changes. The only logical idea was to move to America where they could find jobs, get married, and start a family. This, of course, seemed like a great idea to them, but was it for their children?
My grandfather was born in August, 1918. He is the middle child of six others, attempting survival while living in two very different cultures. At home it was strictly Norwegian, and at school it was English only. This was actually one of the biggest problems faced. As my grandfather put it,
One of the other problems was discipline. (Norwegian ways are quite opposite to American ways.) Even things as simple as respect were issues. Most people might think that way back in "the old days" everyone was respectful of their elders, but "even then kids were smart-alecs," said my grandfather. Back in "the old country, things like that were not tolerated," he told me, as he waved his fist in the air. I didn't want to ask how they were handled, so I let that question slip by. My grandfather did learn how to adjust though. He would hear different remarks and conversations from children who were speaking of their parents and how they handled situations. Then he tried the same thing at his home; the outcome wasn't promising. He referred to it as "excruciating pain in my backside." As the years went on and the experiences added up, my grandfather quickly learned what was acceptable and what was not.
After that issue was solved, becoming a teen was next on the list. Just as respect was different in the Norwegian tradition, so was what you did as a young adult. While most of the kids his age were getting together, going on dates, and driving around town, my grandfather was doing chores, helping take care of the younger children, and working hard on his studies. Of course, this caused some friction in the household also. My grandfather found out later that helping his mother and father was not only one of the Norwegian expectations, but also necessary. My grandfather said to me the words spoken to him by his mother:
That was, in fact, the last day he saw his mother alive. His mother died of a tumor on her ovaries, which was incurable then. No more than five years later, he lost his dad to polio, which then also had no cure.
Remembering back though such a short time with his parents, my grandfather did recall some stories that they shared with him. One of the most popular stories loved by all the Norwegian children was the story of the "Billy Goats Gruff." They knew the story as the American children did, but the Norwegian children actually believed that these trolls existed under the bridges in Norway. Shops would even sell figures of what they were thought to look like. The other story, which was my grandfather's favorite, was called "Rinercella." This was the story of Cinderella that his father learned backwards to entertain my grandfather. "This story was the special one for two reasons; it was the funniest and the only American story ever shared," said my grandfather. Little things like these are valued by my grandfather even more today.
While I was having this interview with my grandfather, a number of things happened. I not only learned a lot about him and how he grew up, but I felt as if I really connected with him. Even though my grandfather was born in America, being raised by parents that are immigrants does really make a person's life stand out from others. In a way my grandfather had a great advantage: he got the knowledge, language, and traditions of two cultures. I even get the benefits out of it. I have learned some of the Norwegian language and traditions, too, which I hope to share with other generations.
Last update: 5 June 2000