[Having no useful thoughts to share this evening, I turn to the second installment in my translations of a series of letters from my great-great-grandfather in Norway to my great-grandfather in America.lw]
Letter addressed to: Mr. John Walker, Millington, Po., Ills., Kendall Co., North Amerika.
Kvalevaag, the 30 June, 1891.
Mr. Jan H. Olson
Having received your lively letter, for which I am very thankful, and say thank you for, and from which we can see and hear both of and from you, that everything is well and good with all of you in every respect, ja, it is precious to hear from one’s dear ones that everything is fine in every way, for which we must thank the Lord, who upholds us each day. Ja, it is grace upon grace for our part that He does not turn His back on us also, as so many others have done in our misery, and at an inconvenient time. Ja, thanks and praise to His holy name for all good both for soul and body. Ja, I can also tell you today that we are all sustained in life by God thus far, although in many infirmities, so that we aren’t always so brisk in health, we who are now old. Mother especially has [been] and is so very poorly, and so she has been for a long time now. She spent no little time in bed, but now in Pentecost she has been in bed most of the time. But what shall we say? We have to suffer through anything. We endure much evil and hard work every day, for we haven’t much help in our old age.
I myself have been sick a while, but now, thank God, I am better again; and it’s a good thing, because I haven’t had much of anyone to help me with the farm work this year. There’s me and Marte [sister] and the mare—we are the ones who have done the farm work this year. I myself have plowed every furrow this year. I haven’t hired a day-laborer this spring, but now I am going to have hired help with me in the peat bog, for you have to have people for that, and I was ready, although I was alone, as soon as the others. And for that I can thank the Lord, who has strengthened and helped me, and He is a good helper to have with you in everything.
Ja, it is certainly hard to think that we, who have brought up so many as we have, are now alone in our old age. Ja, it is sorrowful to think of, that we should have two sons in America, and [they] go and work for day wages, with nothing of their own to hold on to, and will not be at home in their own home and country. Ja, it is amazing how a person can be, ja, I often wonder about it when I think of you, that you could forsake your dear home, and live in that America. Ja, it is certainly said of America, this time by me, “for I would not live there, although I got gold and green forests.” Ja, I know that for sure.
You, Jan, are scared to come home, you say, because you have to go to Madla [a naval base. A reference to military conscription, I think] you say; ja, setting aside the fact that you have to, for you aren’t too good for that place, nor is anyone else; for as surely as you are, and want to be, a Christian, there is something the Lord has commanded, that we should submit to God and king. I ask you not to refuse this, for think how the Lord could lay upon you something that might be worse for you if you avoid this; for I can tell you that there are many who have been punished by God for it. And if you mean to stay in America until you are free from the Excise [military service], you will have to stay there through your 47th year. What harm would it be if you had to be there a few weeks? It is at most the first year too, however; so you shouldn’t be scared, since you have flat feet.
Ja, you will have to do as you will for me, but something must be done now, whether you decide one way or the other. If neither of you comes home, Mother and I will turn ourselves over to strangers now, for we don’t need to go on slaving as we are doing. I’m saying it right out to you now, that [both of] you will have to deal with us so that you can answer for it to God and Man; for we now have nobody but Marta home, and if she didn’t have sympathy and conscience toward us, we would be all alone.
Oh, if you hadn’t gone to America, and had been home since the fish returned, we’d be comfortable people now. There was uncommonly good seine fishing, as there has been here for two years now. Think, those who had the berth here at Kvalevaag got 615 kr[oner]. for each man. We got a nice unloading share ourselves in Kvalevaag; we got 1115 kr., 93 øre in one load, and we got another 600 kr., and out of this I got 334 kroner, 38 øre for myself. Ja, thank God for that, who gave it to us. And from the codfish I took in something over a hundred kroner. Herring wasn’t so much for us, for we weren’t at it as long. We were at Sira [island] only a night, then we were at Urter and the Feøy [islands] 3 nights, but we got nothing there; we didn’t get any herring before it came to us, and then we got 3 leaks in the boat the first day, but she made it short and good [?] that time; she was near our area [?]. Ja, God be praised and thanked for all good things, who is so good toward us in all ways. I got myself 60 or 70 kroner’s worth of herring; that was nothing unusual; but if I had managed, just managed to get out with the seine, we would have done well, for think how the fish have been here two straight years now, and we have been so faithless and not believed that there would be any fish, and have let others have our own berths and inlets. Oh, how it hurts me that I couldn’t get men in the boat for myself; that I would have done well with the seining. Ja, now it is too late for regrets, but it cost us; and everyone who has salted herring has done very well this year, likewise those who have salted cod have also done well, and that’s fine and good to hear, for if we live and make it to winter we can expect to get a good price for everything.
I can also tell you that there has been a big mackerel catch this summer at Drevgamne [?], something that hasn’t happened in many years, so that people almost sank themselves. Two mackerel boats were lost—the one from Akkresogn, and all 3 on the boat were married, and there were 3 widows and 18 or 20 children left behind; and the second boat was from Sveisogen, and it was the man you called the South Wind [?], they disappeared without a trace as well; it was a Saturday morning which blew up a big storm out of the northwest and the heavy sea which was the cause of their being lost. They were forsaken by all the mackerel they had taken that night. Ja, 2 men were lost codfishing this winter from Sovik; they were Peder Skuteberg and his brother Johannes. There are also many children left behind. They lie now west of Kaholmen; there is their grave; ja, now Peder has sailed enough.
Also I will tell you a little about the weather now. It has been very dry and cold this spring, so that it doesn’t look as good on the farm this year as it did at this time last year, but now we’ve gotten much warmer weather and rain, so that we may hope now in the Lord that He will remember us this year also with His blessing on the land as on the sea.
You ask if we’ve gotten many lambs. We got 21 lambs in all, and now 3 of them are dead. You got 3 lambs, and now the fox has taken one from you on Jellaa. We still have pigeons and six chickens. I will tell you that we lost another cow this spring. It was 2 ½ years old. It hadn’t calved yet. That is now the third cow we have lost since you left. I also lost the pretty blue mare, ja, that was a loss of money to me; but it isn’t mine—it is the Lord’s, all I have; I am only His steward over it; for He can take and give when He wills. No one dare say anything to Him; but we want to do the best we can toward Him.
You ask me if I have talked with Lava’s [John’s wife’s] family. No, I haven’t done that. I was in Stavanger 3 days, before Christmas, but I didn’t find anyone. I was there to get Ole, we thought, for a Christmas visit, but no. When Mother saw me coming over the grass hill parcel, she called out, “You are coming alone!” Then you know what she did, cried and shrieked, “No, I will never see him again!” But I will get there as soon as I have time, for you may believe that I have it busy now, since I am alone and have so much to manage as I have, ja, ja.
You [both] will have to do as you think best, but one thing must and shall be done now—either one way or the other, you must say and do [it] now, for I will not go on any longer this way, like a slave. If you want it, you must come and take it right away, otherwise we will turn it over to outsiders and get maintenance [from them]. You should come home in the fall, if you want it, and to fish. So you would be along with the net fishing boat, and I would go with the seining; then we’d see if we couldn’t make some money if God wills. Now you have heard my opinion and what I would like you to do. Now do something.
Ole Olsen Jr.
[There are further pages attached to this letter. I will post them at a later time. lw]