May 6th…“WHAT COUNTRY DID OUR ANCESTORS COME FROM AND WHAT ARE SOME INTERESTING FAMILY FACTS?”
“Ja vi elsker dette landet” (translation = Yes, we love this land) …..I can just envision the musical refrains of “A Song For Norway” echoing off the crevassed walls of the glacial fjords of my ancestral homeland. Likely, my paternal (father’s family) Great Grandfather heard or sang that song in his youth before emigrating to this new land of America and settling into the State of Wisconsin. My paternal Grandfather, Edwin Noorlun, there in Wisconsin, was the first generation to be born here in the United States in the year 1888. His father, Arne (pronounced either ARnee or ARnuh), saw life start in the mother country of Norway.
Our beloved mother, Clarice, also had Norwegian roots in her family heritage. Her paternal Great Grandfather, Ole Sletten, was born in 1825 within the south central village of Aurdal, Norway. My Great Great Grandfather Ole Sletten so loved his newly adopted country of America, that he served with the Union Army during the Civil War between the States in the 1860’s.
In their former homeland, our Norwegian ancestors could enjoy the peaceful, lake-filled valleys of the fjords or the wind-swept wildness of the mountains and Troll’s Tongue.
For benefit of the young ones in our family, the motherland of our clan is nestled into the northwest coastline of the European Continent. It must’ve taken some hardy souls to glean a living from that chilled and rugged part of the world. For all we know, those aforementioned conditions may have been some of the very reasons that brought a change of mind and heart to our forefathers. They then had to make the life-changing decision to make the trek of a lifetime as they boarded ships and emigrated to the new land of The United States of America.
To this day, and especially on festive occasions, Norwegians will bring out their fashion finery to share the elegance in attire that is worn by both old and young.
The new American saga of our two families continued as they set up new lives in this grand land of opportunity called The United States.
Maybe it was the wide-open spaces, versus the confined quarters of the motherland of Norway, but a great majority of Norwegian immigrants tended to settle their families into the Midwest heartland regions.
My Dad was born and raised in northern Minnesota before eventually migrating to northern Iowa to look for work on farms in that area. His parents and siblings eventually followed their son by also moving to northern Iowa and finishing out their lives in a town called, Lake Mills.
My maternal grandfather, Clarence Sletten, like many other Norwegian sons, was born in the Midwestern State of South Dakota, but life drew him and his young family to the northern Iowa town of Scarville, where our mother and her siblings were born on a farm just north of that tiny village. Farming, being an arduous way of life and susceptible to hard times, was going to come to an end for our maternal grandfather as they lost the family farm during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Clarence had to feed his young family, so he began work as a drayman (delivered supplies on flatbed horse-drawn wagon or truck) in the nearby village of Scarville and also worked for the grain elevator there. As years went by, our Grandfather Sletten, and his lovely wife Amanda, took their family to the southern Minnesota city of Albert Lea and went to work for Rilco Laminated Products as a laminate worker who glued giant wooden construction beams together.
Spices in a kitchen cabinet are used to flavor the food on your table. The spice in my Norwegian elder’s lives was the “flavor” of the way they spoke their English. Even after moving America, the generations born to our elders were bilingually fluent in Norwegian and English. Yet, the Norwegian tongue was still dominant in the ways they tried to pronounce English words.
The Norwegian language was still dominant, even in my father’s generation starting in 1918. There is a photo in our collection that shows our young daddy and his three other brothers. The brothers are dressed nicely in their Sunday School best of clothing. Yet all showed sour and serious scowls on their faces. When I asked our mother why such faces, she responded, “You’d be a sour-faced grump, too, if you had to sit through TWO church services each Sunday. One in Norwegian and the other a repeat in English!!” My Dad used to talk about commonality of speaking to one parent in Norwegian and then spinning around to chat with his second parent in English. That’s how common the Norwegian language had survived in the families since coming over from Norway.
A fun Norwegian treat, when I was a child, was the eating of Lefse. They look like the Mexican tortilla, but are actually a potato flatbread that is grilled, then buttered, sugared, rolled up and eaten with great delight whenever family would gather for holidays or just a good old Norski fun time. There was another culinary favorite of Norwegian families called, Kringla. That delicacy was a soft cookie made to look like a pretzel. It would be lathered on its flat bottom with rich creamery butter and relished with each succulent bite.
My generation picked up a scattering of Norwegian words as we grew up, but what was fascinating was watching our parents interact with their parents when we were all together for family gatherings. Since our parents and the elders were fluent in the Norwegian language, they’d use a tactic that I called, “shifting gears” when we little kids were around. If there were sensitive family issues to be discussed by the grown ups, they would “shift gears” from speaking in English to each other and, instead, would begin to speak only in Norwegian. We little ones were now “in the dark” as to what they were talking about. Over time though, I began to discern that if the subject matter was “hush hush”, the adults form of voice tones was usually low, dark and serious. I’d think to myself, “Yup, something bad or naughty has likely happened and they don’t want us kids to know about it!” Yet, on the other hand, if our parents and elders wanted to share a risque family incident or “off color” joke, again they’d “shift gears” into Norwegian………only THIS time, their voices were light and bright and with smiles on their faces until the “punch line” was delivered and then all the adults would roar with laughter!!!! Even as children, we got to where we could “read between the lines” and at least knew what MAY have been happening in the language of our ancestors.
To keep our family’s history alive and well, some dear souls have done research and have websites to share stories, photos and information of our history here in America and back to the mother country of Norway. One of those websites is called, http://www.sletten.name. Another website is called, http://www.rogness.com.
Such is a taste of the historical origins of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.