Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Letters From Norway

Sadly, my grandfather Hjalmar never returned to Norway after his youth. Except for one brother, Nikolai, who was lost at sea during W.W.II, the rest of his family never left Norway to visit the states. My grandfather left behind his mother Hendrikke (she died in 1956), three sisters Bertha, Gunhild, and Borghild, and four brothers Nils, Hans, Klaus, and Johan.

Over the years the family corresponded by letters and cards. In the 30's, 40's, and 50's my mother remembers getting packages with home-made mittens, hats, and
scarfs. Apparently my grandfather's sister Gunhild was very talented at knitting and embroidery. In the 1960's and 1970's correspondence tapered off to an occasional holiday card.

When my grandfather passed away in 1986, we sent a letter to Norway informing his family. At the time we were not even sure if any of his siblings were still living. It turns out his sister Bertha, and brothers Klaus, Johan, and Nils were still in Norway. Thus began a re-correspondence, as I took up interest in reacquainting with the family. It was difficult, as the oldsters only wrote in Norwegian, and could not read or speak in English.

Hjalmar's sister Bertha, who was in her 80's at the time, was the sister I corresponded with. Unlike my grandfather, Bertha's personality was cheerful and interactive. From the late 1980's to the early 1990's, we wrote to each other several times until her death in 1994.

In 1992, I went to visit Norway and met Bertha and Klaus. It was a joyous occasion and one of the most memorable of my life. Bertha seemed at peace to finally meet one member of her long lost family. When she saw me, she clapped her hands and said in Norwegian, "Oh yes! I can see the resemblance!"
Below is the translation of a letter sent by Bertha.

--------------------------------------------------Klaus, Great-grandmother, Bertha, Nikolai

"Dear all of you! Hearty thanks for your letter and the pictures you sent us. We become thereby better known to each other. Those who see John (my uncle) say he resembles Kjell (his cousin). Yes we miss Nils who was always the happy boy from when he was little. He and Hjalmar and Klausen were inseparable. Now we are all old. Johan has had the same as Hjalmar-- heart infraction. It was rather light, so Johan could come home from the hospital. He has help in the house 3 times a week.

Klaus playing his fiddle in 1992, and as a young man

You write about a trip to Norway. Don't know if I can manage such visits now. Had it been 10 years ago it would have been nice for us. We waited for Hjalmar for a long time. Many regards to your mother for us. You have a lovely mother and Hjalmar had a good wife. I shall buy a frame for the nice picture of her.

I will become 85 this summer, so you can understand my writing is not as good as it used to be and I have some trouble gathering my thoughts. I am happy for what I am. I do things around the house okay. We are fine, but there is alot of evil in the world today which destroys a lot of people. We expect Kjell to come home. He will help Klaus with some work.

You write something about the house at home in Grimstad. In those days all houses were built with two livingrooms, kitchen, a hallway, a loft upstairs, and 2 rooms and a hallway. Where we slept as children we called ..... . There were 4 beds, and the boys slept 2 and 2 together in one bed. I can remember my mother banging with a broom handle to wake us in the morning so we could eat and go to school at 9. It was fun. We were 8 neighbors in Grimstad and a lot of boys.

It took a long time before you got an answer back. I have had a bad knee and was not allowed to walk on that foot without support. I am better after I got medication from the doctor.

These houses in Nymark are big houses. We used to be two families. Now we are only 2 people left. That's the way it goes. Those days were cozy when we were all alive. Hearty greetings to all of you from all of us--- Klaus, Johan, and Bertha. You must give many regards to your mother! I will send more pictures later!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Don't You Want Somebody To Love?

This past weekend was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. My only claim to fame regarding this historic event (I was six years old at the time) is that I know two people that were actually there!

There's been a lot of press in the past week or so about Woodstock. What did it all mean? Looking back at the line-up of bands during those three days, it seems Woodstock really was a milestone event of the "Baby Boomer" generation. The themes of the songs-- messages of peace, brotherhood, racial equality, free love, experience, and freedom-- typify the generation.

Many folks have also pointed out that 169 Americans died in Vietnam that weekend. This just adds to the complexity of the late 1960's in American history (and the world), and the complexity of what the 60's generation contributed to American culture.

Personally, I do not consider myself a 'baby boomer.' I came of age during the early 1980's Reagan era. But along with the "flapper generation" of the 1920's, and the 'greatest generation' of the 1940's, I look up to the 1960's generation as one of the greatest and most influential of the past century.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Merchant Seaman

My grandfather, Hjalmar Nilson Grimstad, was a merchant seaman or 'merchant marine' for many years. During the early 1930's he worked for the Department of Commerce, particularly the Bureau of Navigation and Shipping Service. As a sailor on various freight ships, he had the opportunity to sail to Panama and the West coast of South America. He may have been as far as Argentina. After each voyage, he was 'discharged' from service. Through 1929 to 1932 he was discharged in Baltimore and New York, and then later in 1933 in Boston, where he ended up settling and getting married.

He kept records of the various ships he sailed on. Interestingly, one of the ships he sailed was called the S.S. Carolyn, and it was the only ship I could find a picture of! Unfortunately, this ship was later utilized during W.W. II and was torpedoed and sunk in 1945.

click on documents for closer view

Monday, August 10, 2009

Naturalization Papers

I just took a course about bilingual children and education in America. I learned a lot about language, language loss, and second language acquisition. I thought a lot about my grandfather's eventual loss of Norwegian through the years. We also discussed immigration and culture, and the 'American Story' in general.

Below are two documents aptly illustrating my family's story-- the naturalization papers of my great-grandmother Mary Margaret Downing and my grandmother Margaret Gwendolyn Grimstad.

As an amateur genealogist, if you can find the naturalization records of your ancestor, you will glean a lot of information. Some of the details given are birthplace, port of entry to the United States, children, address, physical description, signature, and usually a photograph. There is a website, Footnote.com, that has naturalization papers, but it costs money to access them.

Obviously I didn't get my height from this side of the family!

click on documents for detailed view

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Happy, in that we are not over happy.....

Positive psychology, or the study of what makes people happy, is becoming more and more a growing topic in the world of neuroscience. I'm very interested in positive psychology, as I am a person who's suffered from depression and the propensity towards negative thinking my whole life. Dan Gilbert is a professor at Harvard, and he's written a book called "Stumbling on Happiness." Here he gives a short and interesting talk about how people interpret events much differently than we expect.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Left or Right? Authoritarian or Libertarian?

My Political Views
I am a center-left social libertarian
Left: 2.96, Libertarian: 4.43

Political Spectrum Quiz

Eastern or Western?

What philosophy of life do you follow? I guess I mostly have an Eastern philosophy outlook. (Not surprising) Take the quiz and find out for yourself.

You Are Eastern

You see yourself as a very small part of the universe - and you're still trying to figure out what your role is.

Discovering who you are and the meaning of your life is very important to you.

You see life as a journey, and you hope to learn as much as you possibly can.

You believe that living a virtuous and reflective life is how to reach enlightenment.