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 Mor Goes to the USA


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Borghild Bergstedt Paulsen

In November, 1910, my sister, Ingeborg, went to America, and I took over keeping house for my father and the other children until my sister Charlotte came home from America the following March. By October, 1911, I, too, wanted to go to America. I was a Mormon now and felt altogether different about leaving Norway. So I left on October 4th.

The day I left my father had to go to work. He couldn't get off. The ship passed the sawmill where he worked on a small island outside our big island. He got off work just long enough to row across the little bay over to our island and crawl up on the mountain side, and as the boat went by he sat there waving to me with a big dish towel he had brought with him for that purpose. That was the last time I saw him. Although he lived for 30 years after I left, we never saw each other again. I've known some women here who, when their husbands go away for only a few days, say they are almost out of their minds. The people in Norway are seafaring people, most of them. Many boys and men would be away for years and send home a letter once in a great while; with the sail ships there were months and months between ports where they could even mail a letter. Their families just accepted this way of life because it was their living. I think of the mothers there: how many of them had to see their boys, twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, starting out, going to ports in China, South America, Alaska and all over the world -- just young kids on these old sail ships, many of them being washed overboard.

Before leaving Norway a friend of the family, Storekeeper Knudsen, said there was a young man from our city (Arendal) leaving on the same ship, the Lucitania, from Liverpool. He said, "When we get into town I will introduce you so you can have a little company on the way." But when we got to town this fellow had already gone a few days before so he could visit with a sister in the southern town of Kristiansand. Here the ship stopped to take on passengers for the voyage across the North Sea to Hull, England.

The storm was so terrific going over the North Sea that nobody was allowed on the deck. Among the four girls in the cabin where I was, there was a girl who had just met a sailor, and he came down to visit her. I asked him about this young man from Arendal -- if he knew who he was. He said, "Sure." I asked what he was like and he said, "He is as dumb as that door knob and you would have nothing to do with him if you knew him." So that was the way I felt. I didn't even want to see him.

After we got to Hull, we took the train to Liverpool where we stayed a few days. While I was there I saw some of the sights of Liverpool. Some of the most interesting things I saw were the double decker street cars from which I saw people throwing orange and banana peelings and little kids running barefoot picking up the peelings. The children would eat the peelings. I never had seen anything like that in Norway, so this was really something for me to see. I remember passing a jewelry store and seeing a beautiful watch. To me it didn't look any bigger than a nickel. Oh, I looked at the watch and wished I could have one like it. But I knew I couldn't. Anyway, I enjoyed looking at it. Another place I went was to a great big beautiful graveyard. I went there several times looking at all the inscriptions on the headstones. Can you imagine? It seems unusual now to have done that.

When we got on the boat (the Lucitania), smallpox broke out. Everybody had to be vaccinated whether they could prove they had been previously vaccinated or not. I had been vaccinated as a child. The doctors sent us through like to many cattle to be branded, and they cut about an inch and a half across the upper arm. My whole arm swelled up to large proportions. You never saw anything like it.

I learned who this fellow from Arendal was. Every time I saw him, I tried to run some place on the deck and hide, so I wouldn't have to meet him. When we got on the train in New York, we happened to be assigned the same seat. He was the best looking and the nicest fellow anybody would wish to meet. The sailor who had given me the unfavorable report was drunk at the time, and I was foolish enough to believe him. On the immigrant train, they stopped for every station and every switch like a cattle train. Every stop he would say, "Come on, let's go out and have something to eat." I would say, "No, we can't eat now again." He'd say, "Oh yes, you've got to eat." I know I ate more ham and eggs on the trip than I have the rest of my life. I told him right along, "I don't want you to spend money on me." He would say, "It doesn't make any difference. I have money that I had to show when I got into the country. I've already shown it to the officials and it's mine now, and I can do as I please with it. I have a job when I get to Chicago where my uncle is a foreman in a big factory, and he's going to put me right to work; so the money is nothing to worry about. And you never know, we might starve to death before we get there (from New York to Chicago), so let's eat every time we get a chance." That is what we did. When we got to Chicago my sister Magnhild and her husband Hans were at the railroad station, also his sister and her husband, and we were introduced to each other's relatives. Then he went his way and I mine, and I never saw him again. I went by train with my sister and her husband to their home in La Grange, which is a town about 14 miles west of Chicago.

In Norway I loved to ice skate. When I went to America my sister said, "There is no use taking any clothes with you. Because when you get over there you will want new ones anyway." But, I had a trunk that my sister had left home and wanted back in America. So I had to bring that back anyway. We didn't know what to put in it. We had an apple tree that my father had planted from seeds from an Italian apple he bought. The apples it bore were entirely different from the one my father got the seeds from, but everyone liked them. It was an apple that kept until the end of the next summer. We had just picked all the apples, so my sister said, "Why not fill the trunk with apples? They will really love them." So we did. We put a lot of the latest newspapers from home on top of the apples. Then there was a tray on top that I put my trinkets in which I wanted to bring with me. Also I put a few pieces of clothing and my ice skates. In Customs in New York, they ordinarily inspect everything thoroughly. The first thing the customs inspector saw was my skates. He said, "Do you Skate?" I couldn't talk English, but I knew what he meant and let him know that I did. He said, "Well if you can use them I don't have to look in your trunk." Then he closed it up. If he had seen those apples, we wouldn't have been allowed to keep any of them. We didn't know that then. My sister didn't even know about the regulation on bringing fruit into the country, and she had been here for years. So I was able to keep the apples.

I came to La Grange on a Sunday, and my sister Magnhild had quite a few of her friends there for dinner. That's the first time I had ever tasted creamed corn, or corn of any kind. She dished it up in a little dish for each person. I tasted it, and I couldn't stand it. I thought, "How in the world can anyone eat anything like that. All the men said, "Let me have it." I looked around the table and gave it to my brother-in-law (Charlotte's husband, Ole Williamsen). This was the first time I had met him. When he got it he was tickled to death. Of course it wasn't very long until corn was one of my favorite vegetables. You do learn to like things.

That night they had what they called a "Trunk Party." Whenever an immigrant came, they got together and opened the trunk for inspection and frequently had a good laugh at the contents. I didn't say anything. They inspected the tray that was on top in the trunk, which contained mostly trinkets which didn't interest them a great deal. Then they got to the newspapers, which they lifted off and saw nothing but apples. Before long, we were all enjoying eating apples and reading Norwegian newspapers. One person calling to the others said, "Listen to this, this is the latest," etc. When we were through, they said that was the best trunk party they ever had.

I was able to use my skates quite often in La Grange on the ponds and the river, which froze over so we could skate. Ski jumping tournaments were held in Gary, Indiana. We used to take the train out early in the day to those tournaments and watch the ski jumping, which we always enjoyed. I remember once someone called from the train, "Look there is a mountain", and everybody from the other side of the train rushed over to see the mountain, because it wasn't often you saw a mountain in that area. It was nothing but a big boulder, but it looked like a mountain to them. In La Grange we frequently went cross-country skiing as we had done in Norway. This was one of our favorite pastimes in the winter.

I've always loved to walk. Later, I worked in La Grange, and my sister Magnhild had moved to Western Springs, a couple of miles away. I often ran all the way to her home and back for a visit after the supper dishes were done. I reminded my relatives of this when I was back there in 1967, and Paul Henry said, "You wouldn't do that anymore. Nobody would dare to do that now." (Due to the unsafe conditions on the streets at night these days). Then, I did it often and returned home at midnight alone, and it never worried me. I still love to walk and hike. I hiked up to Timpanogas Cave this past summer (1970) with Kristine's family. About five years ago, when I was 70, we went up to Timpanogas Cave, and I made it just as well as the rest of them. Coming down, all of them were quite tired, and I said to them, "Gee, if we had a swimming pool now, we could jump in and have a real good swim." They were all surprised because none of them would have thought of going swimming, but I really would have loved it.

When I first came to America, I looked for a job in La Grange. My sister Ingeborg, who worked at another home in La Grange, saw an advertisement for a maid in the paper and took me there to see if I could get the job. When they asked her how much pay I would want, my sister at first thought she would ask for $3 a week. That was more than any of them had received to start with, but she decided to add 50 and said $ 3.50 a week. The lady, Mrs. George Howell, said that would be fine, so I got the job. It was a 12 room house where I did the cleaning, cooking, dish washing, and ironing. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Howell and Mr. Howell's father. There were no children. At night when the dishes were done, I was free to go out. Every other Thursday I had the day off after breakfast dishes, but I had to come back for supper. On the other Thursdays I was through for the day after doing the luncheon dishes. This schedule was typical of all the maids at that time. We all liked Thursday afternoon and evening off the best. One who has never worked as a maid under these conditions will never know what that every other Thursday meant to us, when we had the afternoon and evening off. On Sundays we were also free about 2:30 after the dinner dishes.

Not understanding any English, it is really marvelous how you can get along. It wasn't long until I understood Mrs. Howell and she understood me. I talked Norwegian and she English, but some way we could communicate with each other. I started going to evening school soon after I came. This helped me greatly. Another thing that probably helped me was my dreams, when I would dream that people would ask me questions about this and that and I would answer them in English. When I got up in the morning I would still remember the dream, and I would tell Mrs. Howell about it. I would repeat the question I was asked in English and my answer in English. She would say, "Perfect, Borghild, perfect.'' I have frequently found that when I have something I'm trying to learn, that I usually dream about it. I felt at that time that it was wonderful that I could dream sentences and they were right.

I remember too, there was an old gray-haired, good looking gentleman, Mr. Thomas, whom I met occasionally when he was out for his walk and I was on my way down to my sister's house. I would curtsy to him, because we were taught as children to curtsy to our elders. I found out just a few years ago that my brother worked for this Mr. Thomas. He heard Mr. Thomas' daughter say how thrilled her father was when he came home from his walks. He would exclaim, "Today I met that beautiful girl and she curtsied to me and I tipped my hat." He had a cane and a hat. Isn't it strange how small things come back to our memories. I had just taken it for granted that being an old gentleman I was to curtsy to him. But people weren't used to it in this country, and it had really thrilled him.

Several months after I came, the woman who did the wash got sick, so Mrs. Howell asked me if I would do it in addition to my other work. This I did and Mrs. Howell raised my pay from $6.00 to $7.00 a week. That was top wages and as much as I ever earned. I got along fine. Mrs. Howell would write a menu in the morning for the day's meals. She would put the slip on a nail in the kitchen, and I had to learn to order over the telephone the groceries that I needed after consulting the cook book. That way I learned to spell and read, and if there was something I didn't know, I would phone my sister. This way I learned English from these notes and the cookbook. I stayed there three years before deciding to move to Salt Lake City.

Home ] Mor Reminisces ] Mor's Testimony ] Carol Paulsen Memories ] We Love You, Mor!! ] Mor's Ancestors ] Mor's Childhood ] Childhood - Continued ] The Mormons ] Mor Becomes a Mormon ] [ Mor Goes to the USA ] On to Utah ] Mor Marries Far ] Off to Idaho ] Back in Utah ] The Porch Swing ] Mor's Church Callings ] Off to Brazil ]

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