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52 Stories #7—Finding A Spouse

Last week I wrote about how my parents and grandparents found their spouses. This week I will tell how I found mine.

As teenagers, my friends and I often thought about our future marriages. Even in those “Women’s Lib” days, I think most of us wanted to find a Prince Charming–someone tall and handsome. Beyond that, I wanted a guy who was smart, responsible, nice, Lutheran, and a non-smoker.

Looking back, my odds probably would have been better had I attended a Lutheran college. Unfortunately, those institutions were all far away from my small, Wyoming town, and they cost more than the state schools did. So I dutifully went off to the University of Wyoming and hoped for the best. After all, I thought, my parents had met there.

Before long, I, too, had found the almost-perfect person to marry. He was an engineering student, a couple of years older than me. Mutual friends introduced us.

Our first date presented some difficulties. When he first called me and suggested going out, I already had an out-of-town trip planned for that day. Luckily, he called again and suggested another time, which I happily accepted. Then I got sick. Not wanting to postpone again and risk losing him forever, I skipped classes that day in hopes of getting better fast.

That evening, still not feeling great and probably contagious, I went out with him anyway. As the evening progresses, we talked non-stop and found we had so much in common. Same home town. Norwegian heritage. Mothers who were teachers from Minnesota. Interests in music and the outdoors. We even learned that I already knew several of his cousins.

There was only one problem. He was Roman Catholic. This would be a deal-breaker for me. I have always felt families should attend church together, but there is no way I could convert in good conscience to Catholicism and subscribe to some of their beliefs.

Luckily for me, he was not all that committed to the Roman faith himself; in fact, his father’s family was Lutheran. My true love was willing to leave the Catholic Church and embrace his paternal Lutheran religion. And he did.

Yes! Now he truly was perfect, and we married in the Lutheran Church a couple of years later. We still belong to a local Lutheran congregation. Activities there constitute much of our life together. This year we will travel with the church choir to the Land of Luther to see all the German sites associated with our Lutheran heritage.

To this day, my spouse fits the bill—tall, handsome, smart, responsible, nice, and a Lutheran!

 

 

52 Stories #6—Parents and Grandparents

Ah, love is in the air this week, and for this week’s assignment I will retell the stories of how my parents and grandparents met and married.

My Parents

My mom and dad, Earl and Joyce, met in college at the University of Wyoming about 1950. Both needed to work to get through school even though my father had money from the GI Bill after his naval service in World War II. He had always liked to wash dishes, and he took a dishwasher job in the women’s dining hall. My mother worked as a server there. Imagine that, a college eatery where they had wait staff instead of a buffet line. Anyway, they met at work.

They dated for several years, even after my mother graduated and moved on to a small Wyoming town to teach high school. It was important to her to get two years’ teaching experience before she got married. During those years, my dad worked odd jobs around Wyoming and Colorado and went to school off and on.

I asked Mom once about his wedding proposal. All she would say is that it happened in a car.

They married in the Lutheran church on December 22, 1952 in Rapid City, South Dakota, where her parents resided. For their honeymoon, they drove to Salt Lake City because they wanted to see a city that was new to both of them. There, in a store window, they saw television for the first time.

Mom and Dad had been married for 47 years when she passed away in 2000.

My Dad’s Parents

Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935) and Grace Riddle (1896-1976) met when he moved west from Missouri to work on her family’s Nebraska ranch near Hyannis. Herbert’s father, a couple of brothers, and a sister had already moved to the area, so it must have been natural for him to follow them.

Grace’s cousin Henry Evert had previously married Herbert’s sister Bertha. The marriage of Herbert and Grace strengthened the tie between the two families. My grandparents were married by the Grant County Judge on April 18, 1918. I wish I had thought to ask her about her wedding.

Unfortunately, their marriage was not a long one. My grandfather died in a road accident in 1935 after they had been married for seventeen years. Grandma never remarried.

My Mom’s Parents

Bjarne Kaurin Bentsen (1906-1986) and Martha Louise Mattila (1906-1977) met when she left her Minnesota home after finishing college and went to teach at a country school in Montana. Teachers there boarded with the families of their students, and she lived on the Bentsen homestead near the Two Tree School. My grandfather had two younger siblings in her class.

Both Bjarne and Martha grew up in Lutheran families, but for reasons unknown to me, they did not marry in the local Lutheran church. Instead, they went to the nearest bigger town, Plentywood, and married at the Congregational Church on June 2, 1928. Again, I wish I had asked my grandmother why this was. They raised their children as Lutherans.

We always liked to say that theirs was a mixed marriage because he was Norwegian and she was Finnish. Indeed, their marriage was a stormy one that ended in divorce thirty-two years later in 1960, a couple of years after their youngest child had left home.

My grandfather remarried right away, but my grandmother never did. They carefully avoided one another when I was young. We were all surprised when he attended her funeral.

 

52 Stories #5–Friends

As I begin to work my way through the suggested Story topic for February, I come to Friends. Here again, I have some difficulty addressing the proposed subject. I am a bit of a loner.

In my early years, I played mostly with my brother, who is just 20 months younger than me. We served as each other’s best friend. We lived in North Dakota, where the weather often made it too cold to play outside much. In those days, parents never dreamed of arranging play dates. Most kids simply played with their numerous Baby Boomer siblings when we were not outdoors.

Our family moved to a new house when I was a preschooler, and there I met the girl next door, Linda. She was a year older than me, but we spent a lot of time together. By then I was old enough to use the telephone, and on my own I could arrange get-togethers with her. Linda had several older sisters who were even older than us. The one closest to her in age, Linnea, played with us quite often. Linnea taught us how to catch butterflies and mount them in a display case. Linda and I liked to play in my backyard where we had very little supervision because my mother stayed inside doing housework and tending to my brothers. Once when Linda and I were out on my swing, I got my long hair caught on the chain. Linda ran inside to alert my mother to come and free me. Another time, as Linda attempted to climb over our locked gate, her jacket hood caught on a picket and left her hanging in the air. My mother finally heard her frightened shouts and ran outside to lift her down.

We left North Dakota when I was six, and I never saw Linda again. Of course we were too young to keep in touch with letters.

After a couple of moves, my family ended up in Wyoming. During my school years there, I had a couple of good friends. Karen lived nearby, and we met in the third grade. In high school, we teamed up as debate partners for two years, and that required us to work closely and travel together. We went on to the same college where we were roommates for a year. After that, we seemed to grow in separate ways, and we no longer keep in touch.

I met Penny when I was in the third grade, too. She and I sang together in the children’s choir at our church. We both liked to participate in church activities, and you could find us together at those as we grew up. Penny and I served as Maids of Honor for one another when we got married. Our children are close in age, and she is Godmother to one of mine. She now lives in South Dakota, while I live in Colorado, but we keep in touch and have enjoyed occasional visits over the years.

During college, I met Heather, who is just like me. We have so many interests in common—love of history and genealogy, pursuit of handiwork hobbies like knitting and embroidery, interest in book clubs and libraries, and a desire to make music. We moved to different states after graduation but have always corresponded. We often find that we independently do the same things. One year we discovered that we had both planted the same variety of cherry tree so that we could make pies. I see her sometimes when she comes to Colorado to visit her mother.

Nowadays, my husband/tech advisor is my best friend. We do everything together—music activities at church, Sons of Norway events, genealogy. I was comfortable with him on our first date while we were in college, and we have been inseparable ever since. Outside of our little duo, we participate in various civic groups, but mostly we tend to keep to ourselves.

Like I said, I am a bit of a loner. I find it stressful to be around other people too much. It is enough to keep in touch with Penny and Heather and to know all my neighbors.

 

52 Stories no. 4–Achievements

As I attempt to fulfill the goal of recording 52 stories of my life this year, I am having a tough time with this week’s topic. I am to relate the hidden achievements and the greatest achievements in my life so far. I have to say, nothing readily came to mind, but after some reflection I can list a few ideas.

The term “hidden achievements” means those things that I have found challenging even though they might have seemed simple to someone else. Many people find it easy to create beautiful things, but I am not one. I have little artistic ability. Nevertheless, I have some hidden accomplishments in the artistic realm:

  1. I learned to play the piano at a young age. This musical training enabled me to serve as pianist on various occasions ranging from accompanying the choir for my 6th grade Christmas program to serving currently as the Musician for my local Sons of Norway lodge. With my piano background, I learned to play handbells many years ago and participated in a couple of church handbell choirs over the years.
  2. Nearly a decade ago, I returned to the church vocal choir after an absence of many years. I enjoy singing even though I do not have a great voice. With this choir, I have had the good fortune to sing with two wonderful, demanding directors, and a couple of our concerts stand out in my mind. I have successfully sung Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St. John’s Passion (in German, no less!).
  3. My mother taught me to embroider when I was young. Later, I built on those skills to teach myself Hardanger embroidery, a Norwegian craft. I have never felt inspired to develop my own designs, but I have stitched some beautiful pieces from patterns created by others.

Still, my meagre talent does not allow me to truly excel in the arts. Where, then, would I look for my greatest achievement in this life?

Since adolescence, I have felt a strong desire to uncover and share my family history. Here I found my passion. The information I have gathered, analyzed, and documented certainly stands as my legacy and my life’s greatest achievement.

I have devoted 50 years to this goal, and I like to think I do genealogical work on a professional level. I have developed quite a family tree that I continually share with my extended family. I have also contributed to the genealogical community by sitting on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Genealogical Society, by writing articles for their quarterly magazine, and by serving as a judge for their writing contest. I have taught genealogy classes at my local public library. I enjoy everything related to the pursuit of family history.

52 Stories–Goals

Family Search has suggested that we genealogists should write 52 stories about ourselves this year. In this, my third story, I am to discuss my goals—which ones I actively pursue and which ones I have trouble achieving because something gets in the way.

Do I even have specific goals? I guess I do, but I have not formalized them. In general terms, my goal is to stay well-rounded and find fulfillment is various aspects of my life:

  • Genealogy. In an earlier post, I discussed my genealogy goals for the year. I try to work on those every day. Recently, I decided to stretch myself and took on the additional responsibility of judging this year’s writing contest for the Colorado Genealogical Society.
  • Life in the community. I try to stay engaged, so I find volunteer projects to do. I currently serve as my neighborhood’s representative to our civic association. I am the Musician for my local Sons of Norway lodge.
  • Spiritual life. I sing in my church choir, and this year we will tour in Germany to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This trip satisfies a lifetime goal for this cradle Lutheran to see the land of Luther. In preparation, I am reading Luther’s biography this winter.
  • Home life. I meet my goal of knowing my grandchildren by taking care of them whenever I can. I am working on making my home more livable by taking on a huge home remodeling project this spring—the goal is to complete it before my choir trip.

I avoid making goals any more specific than these. Instead, I tend to work more on a To Do list of scheduled tasks. The tasks sort themselves by what has the earliest deadline, hopefully set by me and not by someone else. I work on big, open-ended projects as time allows.

I know, I know. We are supposed to sort work by our A, B, and C priorities and then create timelines and work on the A priorities first. But for me the C priorities often take over my life. I find it more comfortable to do those first to get them out of the way. I avoid developing timelines because I have never figured out how to do it effectively.

When I worked for the local library many years ago, I had a boss who wanted to quantify all our work into goals with timelines she set, but this seemed impossible to me. Too many extraneous matters and circumstances beyond my control affected my ability to meet goals at specified times. This created so much stress. It drove me crazy, and I finally left that job.

Now I have no boss, and I work at a comfortable pace. I do not accomplish all that I wish I could on some goals because I have many family responsibilities that come up. They get in the way of my other goals. Then again, taking care of my family is one of my goals, too. Some of the other goals will just have to wait.

It boils down to what goals I can accomplish in my real life as opposed to what I would like to accomplish in my fantasy life. I must live in the here and now, and my goals must align with my real-life responsibilities.

52 Stories #2—Teaching Myself Hardanger Embroidery

I have some Norwegian ancestry. Because of this, I have sought to learn a bit about Norwegian culture. One aspect of Norwegian life that I have found appealing is their love and pursuit of artistic crafts. Many years ago, I became interested in Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, a type of needlework unique to them. I resolved to teach myself to do it.

Hardanger is a specialized technique of cut and drawn stitchwork, historically done with white thread on white evenweave cloth. It has its roots in ancient Persia, and perhaps the Vikings took embroidered pieces home with them. Back in Norway, the local women adapted the stitches to the materials at hand—linen fabric and thread. The stitchery used today originated in the Hardanger area of Norway, hence its name. By the 1800’s, all young Norwegian girls learned to used Hardanger embroidery to decorate the linens in their hope chests as well as the cuffs of shirts they made for their eventual husbands.

My Norwegian great-grandmother, Sofie Sivertsdatter Bentsen, learned Hardanger when she grew up in Norway. I do not know whether she taught embroidery to her own daughters, one born in Norway and two born in the U. S., or whether any of them pursued Hardanger as a hobby. I do know that family members still have some of the pieces Sofie worked although I was not fortunate enough to receive any myself. I guess that comes from being descended from a son instead of a daughter.

My own mother, who was half Norwegian, knew how to embroider, but she never embroidered anything with Hardanger. I doubt she knew how. She and her Finnish mother both loved to embroider with the more familiar colorful stitches like cross stitch, and we had many pieces around the house that they had worked. They made dresser scarves, table clothes, pillow cases, framed pictures, etc.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my mother taught me the basic decorative embroidery stitches that she knew. Over the next twenty years or so, I happily stitched up many pieces that I used around my own house. Then one day I heard about Hardanger embroidery and its Norwegian roots. I was curious to learn more about it and to try it.

About that time, a woman from the Embroiderer’s Guild offered an afternoon session on Hardanger at the local community college. I took her class and received an introduction to the required materials and stitches. I loved it!

I purchased a couple of stitching guides, some Hardanger cloth, and some perle cotton at the local sewing store and embarked on a mission to teach myself how to embroider this way. I learned increasingly complicated stitches and made bookmarks, wall hangings, and doilies. At one point, I even spent about two years making a window valance that now hangs in my office.

When I joined the Sons of Norway a couple of years ago, I found that members can earn pins for learning Norwegian cultural skills. To earn the first level pin for Hardanger, one must research the history of the craft and then complete three pieces using the basis stitches. I did this and earned my Level I pin last year.

Teaching myself Hardanger embroidery has brought much joy and satisfaction into my life and has really given me a sense of accomplishment. I feel connected to my roots when I work on a piece. When I am finished, I have something to keep that I know I made myself. Mastering Hardanger embroidery has really enriched my life.

 

52 Stories #1–Achievements

Welcome to a new series for 2017. This year I plan a series of posts in response to a challenge by the folks at Family Search for the genealogy community. They want to encourage us to document our own lives in addition to of those of our ancestors. They named the project 52 Stories.

They asked us to write down what we want remembered about our own lives and then preserve it for posterity. Completing this project will make genealogical research easier for our descendants. The January topic is Goals & Achievements.

Writing about myself on this subject seems a lot like bragging—something we Scandinavians are loathe to do—but I will do my best to complete the task with some modesty. First up, lifetime achievements:

  1. Early on, it became apparent that I had a good head for what my family called book-learning. I took Honors classes in school, earned a couple of scholarships, was graduated with Honor from the University of Wyoming, and was admitted to the highly selective University of Texas School of Law.
  2. Post-graduation, I landed a job as a petroleum landman with Gulf Oil Company. Very few women worked in this profession at that time, and I was one of the first.
  3. Years later, after I had left the oil business, I put that law degree to work in the civic arena and the genealogy profession. I have served several terms in elective offices including political party Precinct Leader, Delegate to the civic associations in two communities, and Vice-President of the Colorado Genealogical Society. I am not a politician or a born leader, so I have not aspired to higher elective office.
  4. At home, I am proud of a number of successes. My husband/tech advisor and I raised two fine boys—one a creative architect and the other a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who now serves as a Major in the Army Reserve. Over the years, I guided our sons and helped them along the way by serving as a Scout leader, a Sunday School teacher, and a volunteer parent for swimming, hockey, and lacrosse teams. I saw to it that both boys had years of music lessons. Now I work hard to provide as many enrichment activities as I can for my six grandchildren.
  5. Surprisingly, late in life I have found some success as a musician. The piano lessons I took and the choral training I had as a child are both getting renewed life. A year ago, I was elected as Musician for my local Sons of Norway lodge. In addition to resuming the piano, I also took up singing again. I had the opportunity to join one of the premier church choirs in the Denver area, and later this year we will go on tour in Europe to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

So what has been my greatest achievement? I cannot really say. Of course, I am proud of my sons, but so much of that credit belongs not to me, but to their dad and to them. I am proud of the beautiful civic park I helped develop for the City of Centennial. Mostly, I am proud of whatever I can do to help make my family and my community better.