Johnson & Johnson & Johnson & Johnson…

I’m [irony alert] hung over from my excessive Valentine’s celebrations yesterday [end irony alert], so I thought I’d upload another interesting old picture from my scans. Unfortunately I found that the picture I meant to use is in .tif format, which Photobucket is too good to associate with. So I’ll have to make a note to myself to convert that picture, and instead I’ll share this one:

Johnson family

This is one of my favorite family historical pictures. It comes from Mom’s side, the “disreputable” side. It was taken on the family farm, and I believe they were living in Hurley, Wisconsin then. That’s not something most people brag about (Back when I worked at the denominational headquarters, I once told one of my bosses that my grandmother had been born in Hurley. He looked at me and said, “You didn’t tell us that when you interviewed for this job”). I don’t know what year it was taken, but it had to be 1914 or earlier.

Reading from left to right, the fat lady we come to first is Elvira, (we pronounce it “El-VEE-rah” in my family) my great-grandmother. She was born in Trondheim, Norway in 1862. She may be part Sami (that’s Lapplander, but they don’t like to be called that anymore. Never did like it, actually), but I don’t know much about her background (nor her husband’s). She came to America in 1890. She is a devout and faithful Christian, and sometimes organizes Sunday Schools for immigrant children . She will die in 1914, aged 52.

Next to her is my grandmother, Hilda Johnson. She may not be as young as she looks in this picture. She was a very small person. On the other hand, that’s a little girl’s dress, so she’s probably not confirmed yet. She will die in 1959, at the age of 59. I remember her as an old woman with no teeth, but usually kind, and a faithful Christian. She and my Walker grandmother used to bring competing cakes for my and Moloch’s birthdays, which was great as far as we were concerned.

Next is the legendary John B. Johnson, scourge of the seven seas and northern Wisconsin. He was born in 1860. I’ve done some research based on hints my mother remembered, and I believe I’ve identified his birthplace as Grov on Hinnøy, which is almost, but not quite, in the Lofoten Islands. If this is true, he may be the Sami in the family (Grandpa said he thought there was some), since they were more common there than around Trondheim. But Elvira looks more Sami to me.

John B. has lived a colorful life. He worked on the restoration of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim in the 1880’s. He was a cook on a whaling ship, and is said to have once escaped a sinking ship, towing two drowning men behind him on a long swim. Blood was gushing from his nose when he made shore. He’s said to have sometimes taken bites out of porcelain plates when he was drunk (which was often). And a woman once appeared at the door of their house, asked for him, then handed him a baby. “This is yours,” she said, and walked away. He didn’t dispute it, and they raised the child as part of the family.

I don’t know when he died, but it was in Saxon, Wisconsin.

Just behind John B. is John A.—John A., my grandfather. He doesn’t even belong in this picture, properly. He isn’t part of the family—yet. Not many years later he will marry the little girl Hilda, who will be only 18 even then. What he was doing at the Johnson place that day, I have no idea. I’ve told you about him before. He will live a life of struggle and poverty until he lands a job with the Milwaukee Road. When he retires on his railroad pension he’ll find himself suddenly making more money than he ever did before in his life. He’ll die in 1976, at 79.

The other two young men are Hilda’s brothers, Jacob and Alfred, about whom I know little.

About the horse I know nothing.

Pictures like this—roomy images that show whole houses rather than just little clumps of people—please me very much. They give me the feeling that I’ve gotten a peek into the people’s lives. I’ve magnified this picture and studied it in detail without discovering any hidden secrets, but I still like to look at it.

11 thoughts on “Johnson & Johnson & Johnson & Johnson…”

  1. As a Johnson I have no alternative but to comment. I believe my grandparents (at least my grandfather) came from somewhere around Troundheim. My grandfather worked on a merchant ship before he came to canada around 1920? (Unlike you I know little about my grandparents.)

    p.s. – this is just a bit late for valentine’s but I just today listened to lecture about f. schaeffer where he meets his wife edith… they were at a ‘bible’ class taught by a unitarian… whose text was ‘why the bible isn’t true…’ or somesuch… where f. stands up and objects… and e. wonders who this strange person is…. (Horrible old cynic and curmdugeon that I am I was very moved by this story and (almost) had a tear in my eye…. no really. (Jerram Barrs has a 20 lecture series on F. Schaeffer available free at Covenant College.)

  2. Okay, cousin Lars… Now I really am going to send you a copy of the Jensen Saga. We can compare notes. We have lots of history of my grandmother’s side of the family. None, nada, on my g’father’s side. I hope you will find it interesting.

    Searider and Lars – the best kept secret in Chatta is the CBI Poindexter Library. Costs $12.00 to join for a year and they have plenty of material on Schaeffer and L’

    Abri. My only claim to fame is that I got to shake Francis Schaeffer’s hand when he was at Covenant back in the 70’s. What a truly nice man.

  3. What was John A. doing there? Perhaps he already had his eye on Hilda, but was keeping it discreet – a couple of other people in between should help.

    Alas, I never shook Francis Schaeffer’s hand, but when I was listening to his daughter speak at a L’Abri conference in Rochester, MN in 1982, he suddenly came and sat with just one seat between him and me, and left just as abruptly about 30 seconds before her speech was done – I imagine he often did that to avoid being besieged by the crowd. Later I was at Edith’s home in Rochester 2-3 times, and even talked with her on the phone once.

  4. Here’s a story Grandpa Jensen told me that I would have worked into the post if I’d thought of it. When Hilda first started seeing Grandpa, John B. told her, “Dat Yack Yensen is da biggest rounder and drunk in da county.” (He was in a position to know.)

    “So I didn’t take another drink for twenty years,” Grandpa said. “Just to show him.”

    The last time I visited L’Abri, Edith Schaeffer was there (this was shortly before her death). I didn’t introduce myself though, because I never introduce myself to people.

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