30 - 31 aug 2003
THE NIELSEN NARRATIVE
Compiled by Esther, Ejner, Borge, and Doris, children of Theodor and Marie Nielsen for the benefit of generations yet to come who are interested in this particular bit of family history. Sister Gudrun passed away before this project was started.
“He’s so ugly; just twist off his head from his body.” This
was our great grandfather’s first reaction to his new grandson who was our
Nielsen; not a very impressive introduction into the world which began in
Verninge, Denmark on April 2,1882. This ignoble beginning was not a harbinger of
what our father was to become however, as he evolved into a man of honesty and
integrity and one who earned our respect as a loving father and provider.
the son of Mads and Kirstine Nielsen. Mads was a tough cookie. Dad told of an
incident when he and his brother Kristian made a deal with their father to
perform a certain amount of work on the ranch during the summer and receive an
agreed upon amount of money at harvest time. When it came time to settle up,
grandfather just brushed the paper off the table and said “Væk med det skidt”-
“Take away this crap.” No wonder Dad did not want to farm. Both his father and
his grandfather served as the local constable of Verninge and received the Cross
of Dannebrog from the Danish government for their achievements and outstanding
work in the community of Verninge, where the farm was located.
Dad had 3 brothers, Emil, Niels, and Kristian and 5 sisters, Marie, Katrine, Johanne, Lydia (his favorite) and Mathilda. When our parents left Denmark, he never saw any of them again, but after his death, his youngest brother Kristian visited us here in America on his way back to Denmark from New Zealand. Several members of our family emigrated to New Zealand for several years, but later returned to Denmark.
Dad was a great story teller and many stories were told about him as well. Many of the recollections would start with the expression “Emil og mig” (Emil and I) or “Niels og mig” or Kristian og mig”. One of his stories concerned the mystery that surrounded the whereabouts of Dad’s nephew, Axel, who moved to Canada and disappeared from sight never to be heard from again. Two other nephews also moved to America Einer Steffensen to New Jersey, and Kristian to Brooklyn. Most of our cousins still live in Denmark.
Now to the distaff side of the family! Our mother never changed her name. She was born Inger Marie Nielsen, the daughter of Jens and Ane Marie Nielsen. They had 12 children, but all died in childbirth except three hardy girls - our mother, Johanne and Hedevig (Doris’s namesake).
Ane Marie must have been a very determined lady. I think we’d have given up long before the l2th one!
born Feb. 15, 1889 in Aalborg. Her mother died when she was seven, so her father
raised the three girls. He was an inner city missionary and book colporteur.
This Christian atmosphere shaped our mother’s deep faith in the Lord at an early
age, and instilled in her a love of books and poetry. She wrote a lot of
poetry--one poem was penned for the 35th anniversary of the Ladies Aid Society
of Pella Lutheran Church which is included here, although it is chronologically
out of place in this narrative.
Dad worked in Aalborg from October, 1907, to November, 1911 and during that time, he became acquainted with Inger Marie Nielsen. Dad decided to take organ lessons from her, (a clever boy!! None of us ever heard Dad play a note!) and their friendship blossomed into a relationship that resulted in their engagement in 1908.
After becoming engaged to Dad, I guess she felt that she needed some help in learning the things needed to become a wife and mother. I don’t imagine her father was much help in that department. She went to Herning to a cook and baker’s school. She was a fast learner and soon returned to Aalborg, where she was an excellent cook and baker at the hotel where Dad was staying. They were married in Budolfi Church in Aalborg in 1909. They then moved to Aarhus where Dad worked as a mechanic and Esther was born in 1910. They lived in an apartment complex, neighbors to Hans and Rosa Jorgensen, (Agnes Madsen’s parents) who were friends of Dad’s from Verninge. There was a courtyard between them, so they rigged up a rope from each of their apartment windows and rolled notes to each other when they wanted to communicate. No telephones of course!
A year later, Dad and Mom moved to Sandager on the island of Fyn. Three more children were born there - Einer on January 12, 1913; Gudrun, on July 25, 1916, and Borge on Jan. 8, 1920.
Dad was the owner and operator of a blacksmith and machine shop called the “Bien” (the bee), where he worked at everything from shoeing horses to inventing and manufacturing and selling a sugar beet harvester that would lift the sugar beets out of the ground, ready for topping and delivery to the local sugar factory. His shop also assembled farm machinery such as McCormick harvesters, that were boxed and shipped from the United States.
As the years progressed, his shop also became the local headquarters for the up and coming automobile age, becoming the Model T Ford dealer, again assembling and modifying them upon receipt from “Copenhagen Von Bulow Auto Agency.” He manufactured and installed the truck bed on the first Ford truck ordered for the local cooperative general store. He then took driver’s training lessons and passed the exam so that he could teach others to drive.
The local doctor owned and drove an old “Overland” and whenever he would receive a night house call, he asked Dad to go along in case he would get stuck, especially during the winter time.
Dad also bought an old German car, a Brandenburg, which he overhauled and eventually took the family on a trip to Aalborg. According to Ejner’s recollection:
While on this trip, we broke a rear axle, which he had to repair before we could proceed further. We wore out a set of tires, the carbide lights failed to burn, and finally we had to walk the last mile to reach our family in Aalborg.
On the return trip, we broke the windshield, driving into a car shed at our Uncle Emil’s home in Randers.”
Mother always had a maid. Dad usually had 3 or 4 men working for him and they all roomed and boarded with the folks. The fellows had their sleeping quarters upstairs in the machine shop. The maid had her sleeping quarters upstairs in the loft of our house, where there were 2 bedrooms. When Esther was old enough, she got the one bedroom. Mother had a rough time with the maids, as they would often steal, and never stayed very long. Esther remembers one instance when they discovered the maid had stolen some of mother’s silverware. They fired her on the spot and she had to walk with bag and baggage to Assens to catch the train. After she left, they discovered more items stolen and the eggs were gone, so Dad went after her on the bicycle and caught up with her near the sugar beet factory. He went through all her baggage and brought the stolen items back.
Their closest friends were Jens Hansen and family who had the “Brugsforening” (grocery store). They had 3 girls and one boy about the same age as we were, so the children played a lot together. Esther had kept up correspondence with her girlfriend, Agnete, ever since leaving Denmark in 1923. Jens Hansens were also instrumental in having a picture taken of their 3 girls and Einer and Esther before they left for America.
The children were growing up, and education was of great importance. Being the oldest, Esther probably has the most vivid memories of her school years so the following paragraphs are a gathering of remembrances from Esther:
“When I was 6 years old, I started taking knitting lessons. My first project was knitting a pair of long black wool stockings for myself. I was also taught to embroider; first cross-stitching, then hand hemstitching and embroidering holes in fancy designs. I never learned to sew my own clothes, as we always had a seamstress that did all the sewing for us.
I started school at the age of 6. Here I was informed by my teacher, Mr. Nielsen that my name meant “Star”. It was a country school with only 4 grades, and we went to school every other day; first and second grades together on even days and third and fourth grades on uneven days. We went to school through the fourth grade, which is the same as 8th grade here, and were then confirmed at fourteen.
Mr. Nielsen was the superintendent and teacher of all grades. He also taught organ, privately, which I took from him. He played the violin, so we played organ and violin duets together, not in public, but in their home and in our home when the folks invited him and his wife for dinner. (The fruits of this early instruction paid off for Pella Lutheran Church in Selma as Esther was organist there for seven years.) Mr. Nielsen also started to give private English lessons, which I took for about a year before we left Denmark.
In the Danish schools, we had to have a yearly exam, which was presided over by the Church Council, and the “Provst” over our community. They could ask any questions they wanted and our writing books had to be on exhibition for them to see. They contained arithmetic, story telling and writing exercises. We also had Bible story telling time at which time we had to repeat a story when called upon by the teacher. Our teacher had a special grade book with the list of our names and the grades for each week or month. Once in a while we would sneak up to see when our turn was coming. Then we would study very hard on the lessons given to us a day ahead; history, geography, Bible Stories, etc. I remember once when I knew my name was coming up for the story of Nathaniel, I memorized the whole thing and got “UG” which was excellent. That was sneaky!
When I was about 10, I joined the YWCA Girl Scout movement in Assens together with a girlfriend, Astrid Thompson. We would bicycle in the evening to meetings once a week in Assens, where we would learn all about scouting, tying knots, and the Morse signal system with flags, etc. We would go on weekend camping trips, march in parades through little villages, singing with a band. When we marched through Sandager, Dad and Mom opened up the blacksmith shop and served us all homemade pastries (baked in a bakery) with some kind of fruit drink, (saftevand). Sometimes we would go on bicycle trips to the beach, to one of the castles, or to the forest. We also had Bible study. I was given a small New Testament in leather, by my Girl Scout Troop when I left. I really enjoyed our times together. I remember too, when we would be bicycling back from these evening meetings, Dad would always meet us half-way on his bicycle. In those days, we had carbide lights on our bikes, and not much traffic so at that time of night, seeing Dad’s bicycle lights was always a welcome sight.
We started to take folk dancing in school and we loved it. I had one boy I really liked, so we always paired up. My folks didn’t seem to object to that type of dancing, but to take dancing lessons over in the Community Hall was an absolute “no no”. Sometimes we peeked through the windows and watched them step ”En, to, tre, og saa et lille hop” (one two, three, hop). It seemed very harmless to us, but the folks didn’t agree.
The church in Denmark is government controlled and there was no such thing as Sunday Schools or other religious activities other than Confirmation instruction, and church attendance which very few took part in.
Dad and Mom were very concerned that there were no Sunday Schools for children, so they started one. Dad built the benches to sit on, and set them up in our home, and we had Sunday School there every Sunday afternoon. Many neighbourhood children came to hear Dad and Mom tell Bible stories and read Christian children’s books. Dad was a great storyteller and Mother played the organ, and we all enjoyed singing the old gospel songs. One of my friends, who was a teacher, wrote me later that she never forgot those stories Dad would tell, and she used one of the books, named “Ruth” in her School work to read to her students.
There were also many evenings that we enjoyed as a family, when Dad would read humorous stories to us, and then stop reading at the most exciting part of the story, so we could hardly wait until the next evening to hear what happened next. Those are great memories!
Whenever there was a special children’s service in the big church in Assens, about 25 or 30 of us would all get on our bicycles and ride to these meetings. Dad was very generous, so when it came time for the offering, he gave each one of us a quarter (equivalent of $1 .00) to
put in the collection plate.
Children didn’t go to church in Denmark very often. If we did go, Gudrun and I would sit with mother on the left side of the church and Einer and Dad on the right side. Borge was too little to go at all. Dad went to church more often than Mother, and sometimes I would go with him as I was getting close to confirmation age. If I remember right, I must have sat with my father; I don’t think I would sit by myself.”
This ends Esther’s personal recollections of her school years.
Mother and Dad were very active in the Inner Mission movement, as the State Church was very dead spiritually, and they would often invite foreign and Inner Missionaries to come and hold mission meetings for those in the community who were interested. There were Christian friends in the surrounding villages with whom they got together for mission meetings and Bible Study once a week, much of which our father taught. He also had devotions at the table for all the help. (Mom and Dad tried to continue these home Bible Study groups in the church at Selma, but I think the local pastor thought they were “subversive “and threatening to his ministry.)
Bicycles were still the major mode of transportation and they would ride to various homes. As Esther grew older, she had to go along too. Everyone really enjoyed singing all the old gospel hymns at these Bible Study meetings. Whenever there was a special mission meeting, .Dad had special flyers printed announcing these meetings and Ejner and Esther were delegated to bringing these flyers to each home in Sandager. “We didn’t like it too well because we knew people wouldn’t come and probably laughed at us after we left, ”said Esther. In Sandager, we were the only professing inner mission family. The rest were Grundtvigianere, 50 we got together with the other inner mission friends in Aborg, Fjeldsted, Aarup, Dreslette and Glamsbjerg. We would bicycle to these towns for conferences occasionally.”
Dad was a member of the Church Council, so it was a big ordeal when they had to call a pastor. He worked hard to get an Inner Mission pastor, instead of Grundtvigianian. He succeeded in getting an Inner Mission pastor, who turned out to be a great disappointment. He was an excellent speaker in the pulpit, but a recluse as far as mixing with the people, and his wife was worse. She was beautiful, but few people ever saw her. He was still there when our family left Denmark, and it was not a point in Dad’s favor that he gotten an Inner Mission man who was a “Dud”! (Ah, well, things haven’t changed much over the years, have they?)
PART II - LOOKING TOWARDS AMERICA
Now the question arises, “Why, when they had such a successful business and community relations did they emigrate to the United States?”
Various circumstances contributed to this decision. First of all, Dad suffered greatly from bronchitis in the winter and couldn’t continue to shoe some of the wild horses the farmers would bring to him. The doctor recommended that he leave the cold damp, windy weather of Denmark and move to a warmer and drier climate.
Secondly, they were very dissatisfied with the church in Sandager. They missed the Christian fellowship of other inner mission families and Dad started to check around for another area to buy a machine shop, but he didn’t seem to find what he wanted.
In 1920, our grandparents on Father’s side celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary and Dad’s younger sister, Lydia, was married on that same day. Their good friends, Hans Jorgensens, were visiting Denmark at that time. They had returned from Montana in the USA after a ten years’ stay. Dad and Hans renewed their friendship and began talking to Dad about coming to America. Hans, Rosa, Edna, Ruth, Lily, and little Agnes were going to move to California. That sounded like a good climate and they took up a lengthy correspondence. Hans and Rosa said they would sponsor our family.
This meant leaving a thriving business in Sandager, which Dad was able to sell. It also meant putting all of their beautiful furnishings on the auction block. The kids thought this was all very exciting, but the day that all of their possessions were sold at auction in the front yard was especially hard for Dad, and he really cried a lot. Dad’s Father told him it was a sin to take all those children to America. (It didn’t take long for the folks to realize that it had been a mistake, and they would have returned to Denmark, had it not taken all of their savings to move and subsist that first year. They were trapped!)
When everything was sold, the family moved in with Grandpa, Uncle Christian and Aunt Amine on the home place in Verninge for about 4 months. It was not an easy time for the two families living under the same roof. Our Aunt and Uncle had maids, and one of the maids caused distrust between Mom and Aunt Amine by telling lies, so Mom and Auntie didn’t talk to each other for days. Esther remembers Aunt Amine was sick a lot, but she took Esther into her bedroom and gave her an ivory rose pendant as a farewell gift.
In October 1923, they took the train to Copenhagen, boarded the ship, “Hellig Olav II” and sailed for America. Since all 3rd class passengers had to go to Ellis Island, they traveled second class, so that they would not have to endure all the humiliation associated with that experience. It was a stormy ocean trip. They were all sea sick except Einer, and Dad’s bronchitis was really severe. The ship’s doctor told Dad he was fortunate to be going to California, a warmer climate for his condition.
There was no one to meet them in New York, and they knew very little English, but somehow they got on the right train. Unfortunately, Hans Jorgensen, for some unknown reason, directed the folks to take the southern route across the country. They were very disappointed as they traveled through the poverty stricken southern states, where they saw only negroes, small cabins, and huts, and they wondered if this was what they had to look forward to in California. Perhaps a ride through the northern United States would have been a more pleasant introduction to America.
The five-day train trip from New York to Selma was in a chair car, and their limited knowledge of English posed some problems. For instance, the time zone changes were something new to the folks, so at one time when they went to the dining car, it was not open at the usual time; they were an hour early because the clock had been set back an hour. Much of the time, they ate “samuses and coffee” that a black porter sold as he walked through the train. Sandwiches sounded like samuses to Dad!
They had an eight hour layover in New Orleans to change trains, but they had been warned about the heat (this was in October) so they did not venture outside the train station for fear of “sun stroke”. After New Orleans, they had been told there would be no more change of trains, so when everybody left the train upon arrival in Los Angeles, (after a hot and dusty trip through Texas and Arizona) they stayed in the train car. The porter tried to explain to them that they had to get out, but they didn’t understand. The porter finally grabbed their luggage and placed it on the outside platform, and then they had to follow. So there they were on the platform with their luggage, not knowing where to go next.
But as God would have it, a passer-by who could understand Danish (an angel maybe?) heard them talking and helped them out of their predicament. He found out what their destination was and got them on the right train to Fresno. They arrived in Selma in late 1923 and stayed at the Hans Jorgensen home on Dinube Avenue about ¼ mile east of the Mill Ditch. Some of the kids slept in the tank house.
One of the first items of business, was to get the children enrolled in school. Thanks to a very efficient and thoughtful Supt. of Schools, Charles Edgecomb, a special class was arranged for Esther, Ejner and 2 others, a Mexican girl and a Chinese boy, to learn English. Mrs. Glendenning was the teacher. This was in October. By February at the start of the second semester, they were ready to go into a regular class without any problem. Kids learn a language easily, so there is no need to have bi-lingual education. Just teach them English.
That first summer Hans Jorgensen paid for Esther to go to summer school so that she could skip 7th grade and start 8th grade because of her age.
Dad first rented 20 acres and a house on Thompson Avenue between Dinuba and Floral Avenues. Our neighbors were the Clevelands, (Mary Louise was the Selma librarian for years and Nina was a schoolteacher), and the Shafers. One day when it was raining, Dad decided to drive his 1919 model T to pick up Esther, Einer, and Gudrun from school. The car ran out of gas in front of Shafer’s place and Dad walked back to our house for some “benzin”. Borge really got scared because he had heard stories that Shafer had a shot gun, so he ran back to our house as fast as he could, running right by Dad who was headed for the car with the gas.
This first house they rented was quite primitive; no indoor plumbing and no electricity. They used kerosene lamps and a wood-burning stove. Can you imagine how difficult this was for our parents as they remembered what they had left in Denmark? The ranch had a large onecylinder engine to pump water which had a long depth from engine to pump. Part of the land was covered with large weeds (telephone poles), and the vineyard part was very dirty with bermuda grass, which was dug out by hand. Dad was disillusioned, discouraged and frustrated. Trained as a blacksmith and machinist in Denmark where he had designed and built farm implements like cultivators and sugar beet harvesters, this farming was too much. He longed to return to Denmark, but as was mentioned before, it was impossible financially.
In 1926, the family moved to a 20 acre ranch on McCall Avenue (where Thrifty Drug is now) and a big two story house. Dad bought the place from Martin Juul, who had recently repossessed it from the previous buyer due to lack of payments. They enjoyed the move to a house with electricity, water pressure system, but still the outdoor privy and wood stove.
Here a new baby Doris Hedevig arrived on the scene. (I’ll bet Mom was rea]ly excited about that!) Dr. Dagmar Petersen, who later served as a missionary doctor in the Santal Mission in India attended the birth. Mother had a lot of problems with varicose veins, and could not be on her feet very much, so after her first year of high school, Esther had to stay out of school a year to help care for Doris and Mother. (Thanks Esther. That must not have been easy). Borge started school that fall and Esther went with him on his first day of school, as he knew no English, but he was alright after the first day, Esther said.
Sam Heisinger was our neighbor to the south. He was an assemblyman and raised turkeys which had a habit of wandering over or flying over the fence to feed on Dad’s alfalfa, trampling it down so it could not be mowed. One day Dad stuck a hay fork in one of the turkeys, killed it, and tossed it over the fence. Sam was awfully upset by this, but he did try to contain the turkeys after that. Then Dr. Binkley bought the place, and became our neighbor. We didn’t fraternize much. There were the sons Bob and Ted and Mrs. Binkley. Everyone remembers her as quite a singer who practiced a lot! He also had a Doberman Pincher that scared the living daylights out of Doris every time she passed the place on her bicycle going to and from school. One day, she was out in the apricot orchard and the dog bounded over the fence and knocked her down. To say she was terrified was an understatement. Dad confronted the Doctor with her scratches and soon after, the dog disappeared.
Dad worked for Martin Juul a lot to make some extra money and he often hauled vine stumps home for fuel. He loaded them on the vineyard truck and towed it behind the Model T. The load was so wide that Dad could not reach his arm out far enough to signal a left turn when he arrived at our driveway. It was Borge’s job to be out in front and signal to him if a car was coming from behind. One day Borge was not there and Dad started his left turn just as a car started to pass him.
They collided. No one was hurt, but Dad had to pay for the damage. Borge was in deep trouble!
In front of our house, there was an old large, palm tree stump, and one day Ewald Nielsen turned into our driveway too fast and ended up in a skid that left his car straddling the stump. Ewald had a reputation for being a wild driver. In fact, for quite a while Gudrun prayed the Lord’s prayer using the words, “Deliver us from Ewald”!
The following paragraphs will reflect some remembrances of various incidents and situations as Borge remembers them while the Nielsen family established their roots in California.
“I remember the annual pig slaughtering during Thanksgiving week, the gathering of the oranges from our two trees, hauling raisins in sweat boxes on the lumber wagon pulled by our two mules, and our wheat crop, cut by hand, using a hand scythe that Dad imported from Denmark. We needed to get it thrashed, but there were no threshers available. Dad found an old worn out threshing machine at Smeaton’s place on South McCall. He towed it home and completely overhauled it, so he could thresh our wheat crop. I remember going with him to Townsend’s blacksmith shop and hand forging teeth for the drum. I helped cut threads on the teeth. We bought parts from S.O. Child Hardware Store.
I also remember the sweat box loader that Dad designed and built, and the cutting shed where we cut and dried the apricot crop. Here also were stored the wooden trays used in grape drying. I learned to operate the hay mowing machine, the hay raking machine, and helped haul hay into the barn for feed for our cow and two mules. All the kids cut peaches at Chris Thygesen’s place too. Ruth Linhart was a very fast cutter. Helen Hoegh also cut fruit there, and she sometimes gave me a ride in her open top Buick sedan with jump seats. Later, I graduated from the cutting shed to the field to pick the peaches. I picked for Walter Iverson for l5$ an hour, 10 hours a day. Later he upped my pay to 25$ because I was such a hard worker. Bob Rasmussen was picking too, but he did not get a raise and he was really mad. Of course, we all worked hard on the farm tying vines, picking grapes and burning, stacking and boxing the raisins.
Another thing I remember were the many car collisions on the corner of McCall and Dinuba. Dr. Binkley would come tearing out in his car and treat the injured. The wrecks usually ended up on “Put-put”Lauritzen‘s front yard.
Emil Petersen was the mail carrier and one of our neighbors to the north. I.spent a lot of time there playing with Carl, Clarence, (Cabbage) and Vernon (Bassy). Emil built a tennis court and operated a ham radio in his basement. I remember Emil storing gas in 50 gallon barrels when there was a gas war on, (probably about l0$ a gallon!). Willard Nielsen used to deliver gas to customers’ ranches. He used cans, like milk cans to transfer the gas from his truck to the customer s container, and always wore leggings for protection. Clausens lived just to the north of us. I remember Rick, Esther, Margaret, and Gearhard. They had a tennis court in their front yard. I used to deliver a quart of milk to Thygesen several times a week. One time, I was walking by Clausen s and there were several people out playing tennis. One of them was Bill Jensen, Ben’s brother, who was a wee bit overweight. I yelled, “God dag din store tyksak”. (Hello, you big fatso) Einer was walking with me and of course, he snitched on me. Did I get my backside warmed up! I can still feel it!
I can remember the marriage of Eli Vig and Margaret Clausen. The reception was held at the Clausen residence. I delivered something from Mom to Mrs. Clausen a few days before the wedding, and she was cleaning a lot of chickens. Old Mrs. Otis lived there too.
Across the street lived Mathilda Jensen. She made life so miserable for her husband, Jens. They always drove the old buggy to town. Finally, someone talked her into riding in a car. It was one of those high top heavy closed sedans (bathtubs on wheels, we called them). The thing overturned with her, and she was hurt. Needless to say, she never took another ride. Dad discovered Jens one time up in his vineyard, sitting under a vine and crying, “She is so rough on me, that I can hardly take it anymore.” (I guess nowadays you’d call that husband abuse) She was really a character and ordered Jens around like she would a dog.
Dad was not perfect. He was a little crude in his talk sometimes, especially when he had to visit the outhouse. He was also quite critical sometimes and seemed to enjoy making fun of people. (Aside from Doris-maybe this was a human reaction to his feelings of frustration at being what he considered being a nobody, after coming from a very active life in Denmark where he felt like somebody). He never liked gum chewers. They had a wild stare in their eyes, he said.
There were so many Danes in the area with the same last name that often times other names were used. For example, the name of the town from which they came originally was attached- Potter Nielsen, Audubon Nielsen, and Chicago Andersen. And then there was “Rige” Petersen (rich Petersen). That was Hans Petersen’s Dad’s nickname.
Confirmation instruction usually started at age twelve with confirmation at age 14. Instruction was held each Saturday morning from 9:00 to 11:00 during the regular school year. Except during inclement weather, Vernon and Cabbage and several other kids in the neighborhood walked with me every Saturday 4½ miles round trip to the church. Rev. Axel M. Andersen was our teacher. After 2 seemingly endless years, we were ready for confirmation, preceded by an oral examination in front of the congregation in front of the church. Rev. Andersen fired questions at us, and we tried to answer them. We were also asked to recite scripture verses from memory. All this scared us nearly to death, but I will say that it put some teeth into our confession on the following Sunday. (a little aside about memorizing scripture. During the Saturday sessions when we were asked to repeat verses from memory, there was always a smart guy who quoted John ll:35 ”Jesus wept.”)
On April 29, 1934, 5 of us were confirmed into the Christian faith-—Geraldine Nelson, Clarence Petersen, Brenton Petersen, LeRoy Sorensen and me, Borge Nielsen. The night before my confirmation, my mother conducted her own examination. She and I were in our little pantry, and she asked me in Danish, “Hved du hvorfor du vil blive konfirmered?” (Do you know why you want to be confirmed?) I answered her also in Danish. “Det er fordi at jeg vil høre Herren til!” (it is because I want to belong to the Lord.) This seemed to satisfy her. And in all humility, I can say that I have belonged to the Lord ever since; not always in a perfect relationship on my part. Sometimes the Lord has to nudge me back in line. And sometimes He has to take stronger action to get me back in line. I’m glad He did and does!
When Hitler’s storm troopers invaded Denmark in 1940, Dad exclaimed, “Now I know why God directed us to the U.S. in 1923, so that our family would not have to live in occupied Denmark.” From then on Dad learned English a lot easier even to the point that he sang a solo in English in public. Wow! “Holy. Holy Is What the Angels Sing.” is the song he learned. The next line goes, “And I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring.” I know that’s what he is doing today. Dad was much more relaxed, but the stress and hard work had caused damage to his heart too severe to overcome.
For a long time, Dad would not partake of communion. He said “jeg kan ikke forstaa hvad di siger.” (I cannot understand what is said.) To us it seems that the symbolism of Holy Communion is so obvious that it is not necessary to understand the words. (I attended communion in New Guinea in the Enga language of which I knew nothing.) However, when Pastor A. Husted-Christensen became our pastor, he said the words in Danish when he came to Dad. It meant so much to him.
Dad fought to keep Danish language services at Pella much to the disgust of the majority of members, who could read the handwriting on the wall as far as Danish language services were concerned.
Mom and Dad struggled to pass the test to become citizens. Learning the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and memorizing the names of all the Cabinet Secretaries. For example--Sec’y. of War--Henry Stimpson.
Dad and Mom were great readers of books on theology by such Danish theologians as Olfert Richard, Vilhelm Beck, A. Fibier, and Assenfeldt Hansen...but not Nikolai Grundtvig! too liberal!!
Mom learned English quickly and was soon writing articles to the National Church’s Danish monthly. Later, she wrote articles in English. She also taught the adult Sunday School class in English at Pella. A very nice write up in the church periodical, “Luthersk Ugeblad” was in
the paper after Mom and Dad died.
Many “ifs” can be said about Dad. “If only he had been able to converse halfway decently in English, he could probably have gotten a job in a blacksmith or machine shop and been 100% happier.” Ah, yes, all those ifs!”
Time to switch gears again as Doris’ s memories are added to this narrative.
“I generally escaped much of the heartache of the early years in America and most of my memories are pretty happy ones. By the time this youngest upstart was old enough to remember anything, my older brothers and sisters had started working and the financial crunch had started to ease a bit. I was pretty spoiled comparatively speaking. The other four had born the brunt of the very strict disciplinary code that my parents enforced. (not to our detriment, I might add) I think the folks sort of panicked and did not know how to handle this youngest one who had come into such a worldly place. Older siblings were going to bowling alleys (whoever knew what happened in those place?) and movies (for shame) and football games (weren’t they rather dangerous?)
As a very young child, one of my fondest memories was of trips to Fresno with Mom (on school days yet!). We would go up with Gudrun in the old model A when she went to work and sit in the car drinking coffee and eating Danish pastry until 9:00 a.m. when the free market opened. The rest of the day was spent shopping, having lunch at Woolworths and resting, reading and crocheting in Courthouse Park before going home with Gudrun again at 5:00. Those days were pure heaven for me.
Other pleasant and meaningful memories were the vacations we had at Mt. Herman Bible Camp where we stayed in rented cabins. Mom cooked for a half dozen or so young people and we attended the meetings and campfires together. Some of my strongest Christian convictions were forged at those Bible Camps. I loved the Bible studies, the singing and all the fun involved with the trips to Santa Cruz Beach in the afternoon. (Can’t help but notice the similarities between these activities and the activities my family took part in in Denmark.)
Life on the farm was in many ways a bitter-sweet experience. We picked grapes for weeks it seemed, but some of our friends from town were out in the fields too. Roy Lund and Vernon Nielsen were some of the older ones and later, Anna Lisa Andersen, Nadine Sorensen (Smith) and Mary Beth Kirkegaard (Avery) made the job more enjoyable. We mitigated the tedious jobs by resting in the shade of the vines, carving the dirt clods into balls and then pitching them at each other, until Dad caught us. Flicking black spiders out into the middle of the row with our knives and watching them curl up and die on the hot sand provided further respite as the perspiration rolled off the end of our noses. Mom always fixed punch and coffee and other goodies for us that we enjoyed under the umbrella trees in the backyard at 10:00 a.m and 3:00 p.m. every day. Sometimes there were wonderful banana sandwiches.
I hated tying vines the most because it was so lonely out there, so what happened? I caught chicken pox one February, and not being very sick, had to spend my days out of school tying vines.”
End of “I remember when” from Doris.
After the school years, our lives went off in various directions. The following paragraphs will serve to inform whoever might be the reader of this narrative as to what happened to the family members in later life.
After being out of school a year taking care of Doris, Esther was16. She had a hard time deciding if she should go back to school or stay home and hire out as a housemaid. Fortunately, she decided to go back for her sophomore year. She took a business course, bookkeeping, shorthand and typing and loved it. Mr. Leonard Simms, the bookkeeping teacher was a big help to her, so when she graduated from High School, he helped her enroll at San Joaquin College of Commerce. She corrected papers for her tuition. After about 4 months in summer school, she got a job with Harvey Jacobsen, District Manager for Farmers Insurance Company, a new insurance company in town. His wife, Lily, had helped him get started so Esther took over from her. Dad and Morn lost heavily on their move to America and were desperately poor in the early days in the U.S. When Esther got a job, she was able to help out considerably. She bought our first 2 door Ford Sedan, which was great, as the folks were still driving a Model T Ford Touring car with side curtains. Thank You, Esther!
Esther worked there until Nov. 21, 1935, when she married Marion Petersen. After that, she worked half days for a while and Gudrun took her place as Harvey’s secretary. Esther and Marion had 2 children, Carolyn Joan, born Aug. 26, 1938 and Beverly Lynette, born March 2, 1942. They now live in Easton where they are enjoying their retirement years.
When Einer graduated from High School, jobs were scarce and he started looking for work of any kind. He was finally hired by Lewis Nelson as a laborer on the construction of the Safeway building in Selma. Einer wheeled wheelbarrows of sand and cement up ramps as the building grew. He often came home totally exhausted, but he would not quit. Then came the job for Carl Pilegard working for Jensen and Pilegard in Fowler. Then came the call from the Navy that a job was available in San Diego. Einer was torn in two. He liked his work with Carl, but he had tried so hard to get a civil service job, that he decided to make the move. We can all remember when Einer left, the first to leave the nest! It turned out to be a smart move. In San Diego, he met and married Margaret Krantz. During the war years, Ejner joined the regular Navy and served at Palmyra Island for a while. He returned to San Diego after the war as a civilian employee of the Navy and lives there still in a beautiful home on Point Loma.
One part of this family story is missing. Our beloved sister, Gudrun passed away before this history was started, so although we do not have her personal recollections, her after school years are recounted here. As mentioned before, Gudrun went to work for Harvey Jacobsen, when Esther quit there. The war years came along and all the guys went off to war. Gudrun and Elmer Larsen had been dating before he left for the army and they were married on September 20, 1942 when Elmer was home on leave. Gudrun spent many months “on the road” as she moved with Elmer from army camp to army camp. When he was shipped overseas to Germany, she returned to Fresno where she worked at Banner Packing Company. Doris lived with her in Fresno while she attended Fresno State College.
Three children were born in the Larsen family--Grace Louise born on June 1, 1948, Muriel Marie, Oct. 28, 1951, and Bryant Elmer, born Sept. 1, 1954. Gudrun became ill and had open heart surgery in 1981, but passed away about a year later on May 19, 1982. She was the first of our family to leave us to take up residence in heaven.
Borge graduated from high school in 1936 at the tender age of 16, having skipped a couple of grades along the way. (He was the brainy one!) When Ejner left for San Diego, Borge went to work for Jensen and Pi]egard, and helped Dad get started raising chickens for egg production. This, together with the higher raisin prices helped to ease the financial situation for the folks. He worked there as bookkeeper-truck driver until the war. He spent 4 years in the Army, 3 years of that in New Guinea. After the war, he married Alice Jensen of Easton and he returned to Jensen and Pilegard in various managerial positions - first of the Elm Avenue store, then the Fresno G St. store and finally as general manager of the whole J and P chain of stores. Three years of that gave him ulcers! So in 1975, he and Alice went to New Guinea to work for a Lutheran Mission Station, where he used his business acumen to set up an auto parts store, and taught the local natives to run it when he left there in 1977. When he returned, he went back to J and P in a new department called Research and Development, then worked as credit manager until he retired. Two children were born into the Nielsen family--Jane Alice, April 14, 1948 and Clifford Brian, April 30, 1950. Borge now lives in Selma in a Mobile Home Park located on some of the same land that he grew up on on McCall Avenue, where he picked grapes and prunes and all of those other good things. Sadly, Alice is not with him, as she was killed in a tragic automobile accident in January, 1989. We all miss her very much.
Doris graduated from high school in 1943, and because of financial constraints, was the only one fortunate enough to get to go to college. Doris says, “ I loved every minute of it, even though it was the war years and there were only 800 students at Fresno State, 700 of them women. I lived with Gudrun and Esther and Marion in Fresno, because those were the days of gas rationing, and I am so grateful to them for helping me out in this way. It made it possible for me to graduate with a BA in education in June of 1947. That year I also married Ralph Jorgensen, a lifelong acquaintance on November 22. We moved onto the Jorgensen homestead and have lived there on the ranch ever since. Three children were born there --Arlene Ann, Oct. 30, 1950, Howard Jerome, April 5, 1953 (Easter Sunday), and Kay Diane July 25, 1960. I taught elementary school in the Selma schools off and on between children for 25 years, and retired in 1981”
Dad passed away in May, 1948 from a heart attack. The long days trudging along behind the horses trying to eke out a living from a sand hill, and sulphuring the whole place with a machine he carried on his back took its toll. He passed away at the age of 66, just when life for him could have become more pleasant, as the war pushed the price of raisins up to where he could pay off his debts and fix up the house to be more comfortable for them. Who said life was supposed to be fair?
Mother took Dad’s passing very hard. She had always been dependent on Dad for everything. She moved in with Marion and Esther when they lived in Oleander. They had a big house so mother got the spare bedroom, but she lived only 7 more months and passed away at the age of 59 in December of 1948. Perhaps she died of a broken heart. She had not recently been ill. Both are buried in Selma Cemetery, but are singing praises with the angels in heaven.
In all at this, we cannot minimize the importance of the deep Christian faith at our loving parents and our nurture in that faith in our home and in the church. It has shaped and blessed our lives in ways which we cannot begin to comprehend. Thank you, Theodor and Marie, dear parents, for moving to the United States of America. While you endured incredible hardships, you gave us all the best. Opportunities were available to us here that would not have been available to us in Denmark. Thank you for instilling in us the values and giving us the training to be “successful” in all of our lives and the lives of our children.