Borghild Bergstedt Paulsen
When I was eleven years old my sister Magnhild had a job washing dishes for a millionaire lady named Mrs. Aalholm. Her maid developed eczema on her hands and face and was unable to put them in water. So my sister went every other day to wash the dishes. In Norway at that time they had five meals a day. Even though there were only two people eating their meals in the home, there would be quite a few dry dishes to wash. Magnhild wanted to get another job, so I took the job after her. Every day when I was out playing, it was pretty hard to leave the play and go wash these dishes. I held this job until I was 13, when Mrs. Aalholm died. When the maid wanted to go home for a few days she got the lady who did the washing to come and stay with Mrs. Aalholm. One time she couldn't come, and she asked me to go. I stayed for three days and two nights.
Later on in the spring, she had me stay at her home again when the maid went away. I was to weed all the flower beds and the walks. There were little pebbles in the walks and grass grew in between. It was hard for me to keep weeding because I could hear all my friends outside of the fence playing. I was sick to get out there and play with them. Finally I started to cry, and Mrs. Aalholm said, "What's wrong with you?" I said, "Oh I've got a tooth ache." She said, "You haven't got a toothache any more than I have, and I haven't a tooth in my head." Just then her son came and he could see I had been crying. So he said, "What's the matter with the girl?" She said, "She has been crying. She says she has a toothache but I know she doesn't. She hears her friends out there and wants to get out and play." Her son said, "If the girl says she has a toothache, she has a toothache." He told me I'd better run home and ask Stina (the wash woman) to come down and stay with his mother. There was only one night left for me to stay, and the maid was coming home the next day. I was tickled to death and ran to ask Stina if she would come stay with her this one night. Stina said, "Nothing doing. I'm not going back. The way she acted when we ate while I was there the last time, I just wanted to vomit." I begged and begged her. My regular pay was two crowns (50¢) a month. For these few days I would get a whole crown. So I told Stina she could have the whole crown . I begged and I cried, and finally she went. The minute I was through, I went to play ... to another place where there was another bunch of kids playing. While we were playing, I saw her son come by. I was scared to death and hid so he wouldn't notice me.
Another time that was terrible working for this lady was at Christmas. At Christmas time in Norway, children dress up and for twenty days go around begging like they do here on Halloween. This woman was really stingy. She always had a lot of goodies around to eat. But during the time I stayed there for three days, she never offered me any. She would tell me to bring in her cookies and cakes, and I sat there in the room watching her eat.
One night we were sitting there in the dark as she was eating, when the doorbell rang. She said, "Oh, it's Karl, my son. If he asks why we are sitting in the dark tell him it's because we don't want these kids to come begging. We don't want them to think anyone is home." The first thing he asked when I opened the door was why we were sitting in the dark. I told him it was because we didn't want these Christmas visitors in to bother us. When I got home and told this to my family, my father said, "How dumb can you be. You should have said, 'Your mother has the biggest heart. She didn't want to eat in front of me so she sat in the dark so I wouldn't see her.'"
After she died, the family gave me one of her beautiful dressers and several art objects to put on it. Kristine has one of them and I still have one ... they must have been real antiques. After this inheritance, mother said, "Very few girls have their own dresser at age 13." Usually that's all they could expect to have when they were ready for marriage. I remember one Christmas she gave me a vest. When I got home my mother said, "Well, that is the last Christmas she will spend on this earth. When she has done something like this, the end won't be too far away." The vest was too big, so my mother took it and bought me new galoshes instead, and I would rather have had them anyway.
When I was seven years old my girl friend gave me a little cup. It was gold. It said "Good Girl" on it. My sister Charlotte gave me a silver ring with two hands clasped on it. My aunt gave me red material with a black stripe for a pinafore apron. My mother made the apron. The first day I went to school with it on, we had to pass some men that were digging ditches for a sewer. The only way we could get across was to jump. I jumped the ditch. The man that was there digging caught my apron with a pick and tore it. He could easily have killed me. My brand new apron ... he was just mean. I won't forget that.
While I was working at Aalholm's, my best girl friend, Ingeborg Jensen, lived next door. Sometimes I would say to her when I had to go wash all the dishes, "Maybe I had better quit my job. Then I wouldn't have to be tied up with it." She would say, "Why quit? Here you have your own money." I said, "Well, I know, but all I make is two crowns a month and that is what it takes every month for new soles on my shoes." She said, "So what. It's your own money. You can do as you please with it. I would never give it up. Anyway, we are so close here, when you're through you can run right over to me and we can play after. So don't give it up." This girl's family was well off and she would become one of the rich girls of Norway (there were only she, her brother, and a cousin to inherit the family wealth). She never did work, but I kept working.
When I was in the third grade we had to learn the time tables. It was the nine-table I had to know before I went to school one day. My mother had sent me on an errand for fish in town, which meant crossing the fjord on the ferry boat. When I got home I remembered that I had to learn this arithmetic. The wind had been blowing and my hair was mussed up. My mother was fixing my hair, and I said, "What am I going to do? I haven't learned my timetable." She said, "Which one is it?" I told her it was the ninth. She said, "Oh, that's the easiest one of them all. You know that 10 x 9 is 90. For 2x9 you take one away from the 9 and make an 8 and put the 1 in front of it making 18. For 3x9 you take one away from the previous 8 making 7, and add this one to the previous one and you have 27. And then 36 and 45, and 54, and 63, and 72, and 81, and 90 and there you've got it. You don't have to worry at all." So by the time she finished my hair, I knew my assignment and went to school.
Another time, previous to a test at promotion time, I was rather worried that I wouldn't get promoted. I said to my mother, I'm afraid I won't make it. I'll probably have to go another year." She said, "If you don't make it, no one else will. You will have all your friends with you, so don't let it worry you." And that's the way it was. I made it easy. I was always the first one through ... especially when we had arithmetic.
As you know, we were 13 children, nine girls and three boys. We were one of the biggest, if not the biggest, family on the island. I don't think there were any larger. Everybody kind of wonders sometimes why anyone would want so many kids. One day I went to the shoemaker. They had a new boy there who was an apprentice. He said that he had heard that we had so many children and he wondered how many we really had. I said, "Oh, only 26." He said, "26? You don't mean it?" I said, "Yes, that's all we have." He said, "What are their names? Can you remember them?" I said, "Sure. There is Anna and Georg, Johan, Kristine, Ingeborg, Charlotte, Ovedia Johanne, Gustave, Karl, Herman, William, Magnhild, Caroline, Hildeborg, Ragna, Waldemar, Henrik, Dagny, Louisa, Selma, Pauline, and Borghild, Marie, Emma, and Fredrike. Yes, I think that takes care of the 26." He had been counting on his hands. When I was through he said, "By golly, they have 26. She's telling the truth." What I had done was give each of their two names and kind of mixed them up.
There was a dock where the ships used to come in. They had a big crane there that wasn't being used. We used to hang on it, and it would go right over the water. The boys used to turn the wheel and run us right over the water. There was one fellow who always talked us into getting on the crane. When he got us right out in the middle, he would keep us there until we couldn't hang on any more and would have to drop right in the water with our clothes and everything on. But we had a good time and enjoyed it. Talk about crazy!
On washday everything had to be scrubbed on the scrubbing board. The white clothes had to be soaked the night before and boiled after they were scrubbed. It took all day from early morning to late at night to get the washing done. On that day, we always had rice pudding at noon. That was our main meal. Mother would serve it in a big soup bowl with a hole in the middle and put on a big lump of butter that would melt. We would then put sugar and cinnamon on it. Then we drank milk or fruit juice with it. We mostly used fruit juice because the rice was cooked in milk. This was one thing I didn't like at all. I always said when I came home, "Why didn't you tell me before I left for school that we were going to have rice pudding for dinner. I never would have come home." It was the same thing when we had salted herring. I could eat it at night. Salted herring with warm potatoes at night was all right, but I couldn't stand it in the middle of the day.
I remember once when my girl friend called for me. We were going out to the other side of the island swimming. My mother was scolding me. I can't remember what I had done, but she said, "You are the worst girl in the world." My girl friend said, "Don't believe her. My mother told me the same thing when I left home, and we can't both be the worst." So then my mother turned around and smiled. I could see that, so I knew that I wasn't as mean as she said I was.
One day my father came home for dinner, and he said to my brother Karl, "I see that your friends are running on the rubber ice down in the cove. That's one thing I don't want you to do." By rubber ice I mean ice in the spring when it's getting soft.
We would run on it in rhythm, holding on to each other. It would go up and down just like a wave. Of course when Karl heard all his friends were down there he couldn't wait to get there. He didn't take time to even eat. In a little while he was back soaked to the skin. When my father saw it, he was really mad. He was going to give him a licking so Karl tried to run upstairs thinking there was some place he could hide. Far grabbed him by the leg and held on to him. The rest of us started to scream; we felt so bad for him that we couldn't stand it. My father said, "This is too much for me; let me get out of here." So he went back to work. Nothing more was said about it until about a week later. My dad was on the school board, and they had a meeting and he happened to be sitting by Karl's teacher. The teacher said, "That was quite a feat these boys performed the other day." Far said, "What do you mean?" The teacher said, "When they fell in the water through the ice." Far said, "How did that happen?" The teacher said, "Well, there were about seven or eight of them running. They had decided before they started that if the ice broke and they went under, they would swim right out to the open water where the ferry went back and forth every 15 minutes. So that's what they did. The ice broke and they had to swim under the ice with all their clothes on, heavy shoes included." All the fellows made it. When my father heard what had happened he was pretty pleased that he still had Karl. The teacher said, "Hasn't he told you about it?" Far said, "No, I guess I didn't give him a chance." The reason the teacher knew about it was that Karl had used it as material for a theme he wrote that day in school.
In treatment of sickness in the family, my father was one of these "nature" men. He liked to have good food. If there was anything wrong with us there was nothing like a good water cure. He felt water could cure almost anything. If we had a fever or childhood disease that would break out and come to the surface, he would take the fine seeds of alfalfa that the horses didn't eat and boil them in a big kettle. He had my mother make a shirt or nightie out of gunny sacks. The shirt would be boiled in the kettle with the alfalfa-seed water. Then he would put it on us, as hot as we could stand it, and roll us up in a woolen blanket tightly around us. Then he made us drink a cup of hot sage tea, which I hated, as most of my brothers and sisters did, except Selma. She loved it and drank it every night with father. It did seem to do the trick, to bring out any impurity we had in us, and we got over our illnesses quickly.
I remember when my brother Karl had Saint Vitas Dance; he was only about 12 years old. At the time there were four or five other children in the neighborhood who had it. Far more or less cured him, although they did have a doctor. Far had him run bare-foot in the snow about a block each day for weeks. When he returned home, my father had dry, hot stockings ready to put on his feet. He had this disease as bad as any of the others, and he seemed to get over it as completely and faster than any of the others. Evidently my father knew what he was doing.
My father also believed in eating the right foods. He had mother make sting-nettle soup, which was really delicious. They boiled salted meat, then added sting-nettle leaves and cooked it for a few minutes. It was better than any cabbage that you could have had. It was the same way with all our food. He wanted good, healthy food. My mother was a good cook, and we ate well.
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