Monday, January 4, 2010

A Story of Love 71 Years Ago

My maternal grandparents, Edith  (of Danish descent) and Olav (of Norwegian descent) married on January 4, 1939. Theirs is a simple love story which paints a picture of the Depression era in the U.S. Olav died in January 2007, shortly after they celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.

The above photo was taken recently, just before Edith's 90th birthday. She is holding her first great-great-grandchild.

The following is an excerpt from a family history I compiled in 2002. My grandparents both have meticulous minds for details, and they were also record-keepers.

Olav and Edith first met at a neighborhood party when Olav was 17 and Edith was 14. They saw each other periodically over the next few years. One evening when Edith was 17, Olav came and took her out to the movie Shangri-La in Albert Lea, MN. On the way home, about a half mile from where Edith lived, Olav parked and said, "If I ever get suitable employment, do you think you could spend the rest of your life with me?"

Edith responded, "I think I could." The date was November 2, 1937.

Olav's main goal was to find work so he could provide for his bride-to-be. In February 1938, he worked for his brother Ing in the woods of northern Minnesota. They cut tamarack trees for firewood and cedar trees for fenceposts. They did most of their work with curved Swede saws. It was swamp country so they only worked during the winter when the ground was frozen. In order to get water, they would break the ice over a ditch and fetch it out with a bucket. When spring arrived, the peeled the cedar fenceposts and sold them. Olav worked for his room and board, nothing else--a common occurrence during the Depression.

Later Olav spent time in Crookston, MN with his brother Adolph accompanying him on trucking trips to the Twin Cities. In the spring of 1938 Olav started driving for Adolph. Olav picked up cattle from various farms in the area during the day and then started driving to South St. Paul by about 5 p.m. He delivered his load in the morning and then thoroughly washed out the truck. After that he spent the day picking up freight throughout the Twin Citites, and by nightfall he would drive his load to Crookston. In order to make the trip profitable, a return load was essential. When he arrived in Crookston, he unloaded the truck. He often worked for more than 24, or even 36 hours, at a time without sleep. Occasionally he would take a catnap. When he started driving for Adolph, he made $7 per round trip. Later he made $8 per trip plus road expenses.

All this time Olav was living 350 miles away from his fiancee. He bought a 1928 Model A roadster in 1938 for $50. He used it to make one trip to Frost, MN to see Edith. This was the only time they saw each other during their engagement. After he returned to Crookstron, he sold the roadster a month later for the same price.

During their engagement period, Olav accumulated about $65 which he used to furnish a place for his bride. He bought a bed, a table, and chairs. He would often hunt for bargains on household items such as the iron he bought for firty cents. They still have the solid maple dresser that Olav bought for $2.50.

Edith kept busy during the engagement year by doing housework for others in the winter and helping on the farm in the summer. She did housework for a family in which the husband was blind and the wife had heart problems. She had Thrusday afternoons off, and was paid $3 per week. She worked for three other families for a short period of time. She spent her hard-earned money on clothes because she did not have many.

In early December 1938, Edith made plans to travel to Crookston in preparation for their marriage. She took a bus to the Twin Cities and Olav picked her up there in the truck and drove to Crookston. Edith stayed with Ing and Myrtle until she and Olav married just a month later. They had planned to marry on Edith's parents' anniversary (December 30), but Olav had the opportunity to make a few more trips to South St. Paul with a deadline of January 1, so they postponed their wedding a few more days. Olav completed four round trips from Crookston to South St. Paul. The distance each way was 320 miles and his driving speed with 35 mph. He literally worked around the clock during these trips, stopping only for short naps. Olav joked to the man who needed the urgent shipment of cattle: "You sure loused up our wedding plans!" The generous man then gave Olav a $10 bill as a wedding present.

On January 4, 1939, the Lutheran minister was out of town, so Olav went to see the Presbyterian minister, Pastor Hibbard, to see if he would marry them that night. Pastor Hibbard's wife and daughter were the only witnesses. Edith wore her only nice dress which was wine-colored with a matching lace vest and shoes. She still has the dress. Olav wore his only suit which he had purchased in St. James, MN. After the ceremony, their wedding meal consisted of a hamburger and coffee in the railroad depot cafe in Crookston. The honeymoon was short-lived as Olav took off on another trip to South St. Paul the next morning.


Geri said...

I loved this story! I've been following your blog for several months. My husband and I are getting ready to move from California to Jos to work with the Rafiki Foundation. When I as searching for info in Jos I came across your blog. It's been great - fun, informative and gives me a little slice of life from Nigeria. I love reading about your work with the women there, as well as the tidbits of everyday life. We'll be living in the Rafiki Village about 20 minutes outside of Jos, but will be coming to town for church and shopping etc. We don't have a blog, but we are on the Rafiki website: We are the Sullivans under "Who We Are" and the link "Read more about ROS" Thanks for sharing - Geri Sullivan

Geri said...

I neglected to mention - sobering and even tragic at times. The story of Baby Joshua made me cry. I know your work with the HIV positive women is not easy, yet is so wonderful. Thanks again for sharing your work and life.