Perhaps you have picked up on the fact that I was “raised by Swedes”…and, to be accurate, a few Danes too. You have to be raised by Swedes (or Danes or Norwegians) to really understand the meaning of the phrase. Or maybe you’ve read enough of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” to get it. So here I will share some pictures of the Swedes and Danes I have descended from, with a little background about their lives.
I might start out by saying that growing up I always thought it fascinating that I could be a descendant of the ancient Vikings. But when I was in 8th grade I wrote to ask my great aunt Anna about this and she replied with an unequivocal “No!” We were NOT related to Vikings because they were heathens and our ancestors were all good Christian people. I admit to being a little disappointed at first, because how colorful would it be to descend from Vikings after all? So I decided she must be mistaken, that is until I got older and realized how cautious the Swedes in my family always were. Including myself. But you probably already knew that, right?
I started thinking, how could anyone so cautious have descended from people who would get in a Viking ship and go to sea when it was still believed that the world was flat? Maybe Aunt Anna wasn’t so far off after all! If it had been up to the Swedes in my family, the Vikings never would have sailed because they would still be planning and discussing the trip today!
I even researched this to make sure it wasn’t just me. The following quotes are taken from an article I found about business practices in Sweden. Note: I found the article at the following website, although now (May of 2021) I see the link seems to be broken: https://sweden.se/business/business-in-sweden-an-expats-view/
“Swedes rarely say yes or no. This means that instead of saying ‘ja’ or ‘nej’ they say ‘nja’ which means ‘yes-but-no-but-yes-but’. You see, saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can lead to conflict, so Swedes avoid these words and replace them with ‘it depends’, ‘maybe’ and ‘I’ll see what I can do’….You may wonder how on earth they ever make a decision. Swedish business people themselves have sometimes called this “beslutsångest”, meaning ‘decision anxiety’. Eventually Swedes do make a decision – as soon as everyone has been involved in the process.”
But they must not all be like that, because my great grandparents actually did make it to the US, from Sweden (and Denmark), after all.
Speaking of being cautious, in the picture on the right you can see my Grandma Anderson’s uncle, Enoch Peterson. The story I have always been told is that after arriving in America from Sweden as a relatively young man, Enoch was diagnosed with a heart condition. Believing himself to be in ill health, he came to live with his brother Johannes, his wife Petronella and their children. Each night, “Uncle”, as he was called, would wash his face and say goodbye to all the children, in case he died in his sleep. He ended up living to be 89, which was pretty old for back then. In the pictures of the whole family standing out in front of the farmhouse you can always tell which one was “Uncle” because he was the one bundled up in a coat when nobody else was.
They say that Enoch had donated land to their local Lutheran church for a cemetery, with the oral agreement being that he would be buried there when he died. Since he outlived everyone involved in the deal and there was no written record, the family had to fight to have him buried in his own donated land!
An Element of Risk
These are my two grandfathers. George Anderson, who was Danish, and Emil Johnson, who was Swedish. I never met my Grandpa Anderson, because he died when my mom was 11. But I still remember my cautious Grandpa Johnson saying in his distinctive, crackly voice, “There’s always an element of risk…” The concept of “an element of risk” seemed to become the “mantra” of my family as I was growing up.
Based on the fact that he owned a motorcycle before 1920, I am going to guess that my Danish grandfather, George (who was always referred to as simply “Geo” in letters or on the back of photos) was perhaps our family’s exception to the “cautious Scandinavian rule.” (I don’t think anyone on the the Swedish side would have done this.) You saw this photo in Foster and Panda’s post “Hide and Seek”. I was really excited that I managed to find some pictures and advertisements for a very similar Pope motorcycle!
A Family of Educators
Grandma Anderson’s sister Agda (Peterson) was a teacher. Here she is standing behind her class in front of what I assume is the schoolhouse. Teaching seems to run in my family, on both sides. I have to wonder if Agda was like me, constantly telling her students “Don’t climb on that, don’t tip the chair, don’t run, go wash your hands, you’d better have the nurse take a look at that…” And that’s only the beginning. My students all thought I was so overprotective! One of the most profound things a seventh grade boy ever said to me was, “There’s germs everywhere, Mrs. Tracy, you can’t escape it!” But I digress.
On the back of this photo are the words “Daddy and some babies.” We have always laughed about this caption, (written by either my mother or her sister as children), because nobody seems to know who these babies even were! That’s why Foster mentioned in “Hide and Seek” that when they met up with George “he had some babies”. (You would have to be in our family to have “gotten” the joke there, but now you know.) So while “Geo” is holding these mysterious babies, I’ll mention that he apparently was not as cautious as I would be…Holding someone else’s babies, two at a time, with one on each arm? I think not!
Okay, this is where I draw the line: Geo is seen here (wearing the Texaco uniform) letting my mom ride on a BEAR! Of course the trainer is right there, but still! What if she had fallen off? What if the bear had gotten loose and something had happened to her? I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog! Maybe if he hadn’t passed away so young, Geo would have helped the rest of us not to grow up so cautious!
Here are some more family pictures, all of which have stories behind them. But for now I’m including them just because I like them. We’ll have to do another “Family History” lesson in the future, so you can learn more about the Swedes who “raised me.”