My great grandparents, Ole and Margrete Wangen, lived a hardscrabble life in a mountain valley in Norway. They died young - at age 50 for Margrete, 51 for Ole. In the original of this photo, Ole looks like a kind man, with smile wrinkles around his eyes. In contrast, I always thought Margrete looked rather stern. That is, until I enlarged and cropped the photo for my previous post. Now I see a slight smile where before I saw a frown. But I will always think she looks rather scared to have her photograph taken, by the way she grips her youngest daughter's arm.
I think that girl is Jennie, making the next oldest girl my Grandma Julia. For sure, I know the oldest girl is Aunty Marie (pronounced Anty Mary) and the boy is Uncle Olaf. ('ve always been curious about why Margrete, Julia, Jenny and Marie had such Anglicized names, while Ole and Olaf had Scandinavian names.)
Ole and Margrete would never know their dozen and a half grandchildren, or learn that their children emigrated to Canada. That Olaf would be a confirmed bachelor living in wilds of northern Saskatchewan. That both Julia and Marie would end up in Crosby, ND, and have seven children each. That Jenny - like Julia - would marry a Scotsman, and go to live in Whitefish, MT.
(Click to enlarge)
Aside from the group photo, the only other photo brought from Norway was the picture of
"The Farm". It was located in the Gudbrandsal Valley in Oppland County. (As a newspaper reporter at The Journal in Crosby, ND, I had to learn to spell Gudbrandsdalslag, which is a gathering of people whose ancestors came from that valley.)
This was the primary farm my grandparents lived on, called Sore (South) Plassen. However, they also lived on the Wangen farm for a time. In Norway, one's surname was often the place one was from, so in great confusion my great grandparents and their children were variously known as the Wangens, Vangens, Plassens or Pladsens. I know that Julia and Olaf called themselves Wangen in America, so I assume Jenny and Marie did too.
My grandma used to tell me stories about Norway. Unfortunately, I remember so few. How I wish I had taken a tape recorder and preserved these stories.
I do know that Margrete was a midwife who traveled to her patients on cross country skies. Ole was, of course, a farmer. I remember the story of how he came back from a rare trip to town and brought a special pencil back for the children - one end had red lead, and the other, blue. This was seen as a great, great treasure by the children. I also remember that the children cut the whiskers off the cat, and she could not go through her usual crannies and resume her mouse catching ways until her whiskers grew back.
Unfortunately, those are the only thing I remember, except for a few Norwegian words and phrases (Tusen Tak - thousand thanks, Velkommen - welcome, Gladelig Jul - Merry Christmas, God Dag - Good Day, Vaer Saa God (literally, "there you go", as in "you're welcome" after giving someone something, or "here's the food - come and eat").
And then there was her "Nye, nye, nye"( Yulie, Yonny, Ronnie) when we were naughty. But anything else about how the Wangens lived in Norway was lost in the mists of time, until my Cousin Kevin Olsen visited Norway last summer.
Among his pictures, there it was - Sore Plassen - so similar to what it looked like in the earlier photo. That it looks the way it does today is due to an amateur restorationist who rescued the farm from ruin and uses it as a weekend home. He was happy to show Kevin the farm, and a distant relative took Kevin around to the church, graveyard and other places.
Above: a closeup of the carving of the windows. I had grown up seeing examples of fine Norwegian wood carving, but to see the carvings around the windows of my great grandparents' house sent a thrill through me. At last, I can now can begin to imagine their daily life.
I'm sure that, except for the modern contraption on the left, the living room furnishings look much the way they did back then, especially the clock, the simple wooden furniture and the folk-painted cabinet in the back corner.
In the 19th and early 20th century, Norway suffered from terrible famines. The first of the Wangens to catch "America Fever" was my Great-Great-Grandmother Jorgine Wangen, who ended up in Mankato, MN. All the while I was growing up, I never heard her name mentioned, much less the fact that she lived so near North Dakota. Did Grandma Julia not know what happened to her grandmother after she left Norway? (Grandma was very young when Jorgine left.) Why did Margrete and Ole decide to stay in Norway and not go with her mother?
Ole Olson Vangen, 1-7-1859 to 29-11-1910
Hvil i fred (Rest in Peace)
As I enlarged this photo, I uncover one final, previously unknown fact about my great grandparents. My great grandmother Margrete and I share the same birthday.
Hvil i fred, Margrete and Ole.