Updated: May 1, 2019
The following was written by my mother for a classroom assignment. I think she did a great job, and shows how storytelling has moved through the generations of our family. It also illustrates the gift story sharing brings to future generations. Enjoy.
Written by Ellen Torgerson, April 5, 1963
Class English, 11 Teacher: Mrs Hadely
The rain fell in torrents around the small shanty. Theodore Ole Torgerson sat dejectedly beside the small window. His hair was prematurely gray, and there were deep lines of worry on his kindly face. The flax that he had depended on was gone. The Clearwater River had again flooded its banks and the low land, like quicksand, was sucking in all that he had. His home, too, was gone having been destroyed by fire that summer. Theodore had aged a great deal these last years.
Life had made many demands on Theodore. His parents were poor Norwegian immigrants who had settled in the southern part of Minnesota. School had interested him, but harsh necessity had made it secondary. The heavy responsibility of supporting his parents, six brothers and sisters was laid on him at the age of thirteen because their father was completely disabled by a stroke.
To fulfill his obligations, he had traveled by railroad and on foot to the harvest fields of North Dakota and Canada. In the winter, he had sought employment in the lumber camps of Northern Minnesota. Theodore was only five-foot-eight, and weighed one hundred sixty pounds, but could keep up with the best of the lumberjacks. However, he had preferred to cook. The memory of the tall stories the lumberjacks had told still seemed funny even though he had heard them long ago.
He had felt welcome wherever he went. Though he had been popular, he sometimes thought that what the people liked was the music he could play on his violin. Surely Ida had been attracted by it. What a lovely bride she had been, full of laughter and life, and she had had talent as well.
Homesteading in Hangaard Township hadn’t been what they had expected. There had been many floods. In winter it wasn’t unusual to be snowbound. How lonely they had been! This was especially true as long as they had only oxen. Ida had wilted in these surroundings.
After the birth of their first child, Beatrice, they had decided to visit her parents at Penn, North Dakota. The trip had been spoiled, for Theodore had contacted typhoid fever. He could still recall the aroma of good food he had been forbidden to eat.
Two years later their second child Orvin had been born. There was great joy in the household over the birth of a son. Many were the plans made for the infant’s future.
The following winter was severe, and the young couple felt fenced in. There were no telephones, radios, or television in those days. Not even the mailman could come through all that snow. Ida and Theodore had skied to a house party carrying their babies and the violin. One of the guests was a small pox carrier, and the dreaded epidemic soon overtook the community. Both children had had mild cases. Ida was in delirium for days due to a high fever. It had been a heavy price to pay for one night’s fun.
On March 29, 1912, Ida ill with double pneumonia, had given birth to a premature baby and died. Gone was his life’s companion. He had been forced to give the new born infant away. She was so tiny she fit in a shoe-box, and she had no toenails or fingernails. She was named, Mabel, and had lived thanks to the careful nursing of Mrs. Andrew Johnson. Heavy-heartedly Theodore turned to the task of being both father and mother to Beatrice and Orvin.
That had been six months ago. Now, with a new determination, he lifted himself from his seat by the window and began the preparation of the evening meal. Theodore thought that even though his flax crop was ruined, he would stay here.
The railroad had come to Gonvick in 1910, and already there were some people who owned automobiles. Yes, this country had potential and Theodore would stay to help put that potential to work.