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Family Reflections

By Walter Christiansen
August 1995

Walter Christiansen

Walter Christiansen

The only thing interesting about my birth was that Father was building us a new home, and the family lived in a tent with four-foot sideboard walls and a wood floor. We had a coal stove in it to keep it warm, and we had one other building that was just a shed, a one-room shed we used as a kitchen. It had a coal-fired stove for heat and cooking. Springfield, Idaho was part of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. I was born, January 22,1914, the coldest part of the year, and I’m not sure whether I was born in the tent or in the wood building. I have been told by my mother that the squaws from the Indian Reservation came over to see the new papoose. Mother just had a midwife, no doctor.

During World War II, it was necessary for me to have a birth certificate to work on all the Army installations in Utah. We sent to Boise, Idaho to the Bureau of Statistics to get a copy of my birth certificate, and of course, they had none. They sent back a form that we had to answer questions on, and Mother remembered the name of the midwife and a few other events that took place when I was born. We sent it back to Boise. They took a copy of it, and that’s my birth certificate. That’s actually what happened. I got my passport with it. I got the passport when I took Annie to England the first time. I’ve got that birth certificate, and that’s it.

Springfield, Idaho is approximately ten miles southwest of Blackfoot, Idaho. When I was four years old, Father moved to Lava Side, Idaho, and that was about ten miles north and west of Blackfoot in the Rose-Firth area. We lived in Lava Side until I was six years old. I started school there. It was a single classroom building and had all of the grades through the ninth grade in one classroom. We had to cross three canals or water flumes, wood flumes that carried water out of the Lava Side Canal down to the other side of the canals. Of course, Mother worried about us children falling off the plank into the canals.

My education didn’t last long because I held up the right number of fingers to go to the bathroom. When I got outside the building, I headed for home, and I explained to Mother that I had learned all that I needed to know so I left the school. That was one of the first few days of school. She took me right back. Harold, Rolf, and Signe were in school with me. Birger was too young. Mother had her children about two years apart. Birger was two years younger than I. Another daughter was born in Lava Side, five years younger than Birger, and her name was Elsie.

During World War I, there was a flu epidemic and Mother lost two children, Birger and Elsie. Birger was nearly six years old, and Elsie was nine months old. They are buried in Blackfoot, Idaho. I guess we were in Lava Side only a couple of years, and then we moved back to Salt Lake.

In Lava Side there was one thing Aunt Signe and I have always remembered. We had a saddle horse by the name of Buck. The mailbox was about a mile and a half from our home. They’d let us saddle up Buck so we could ride to the mailbox. Everything was fine going to the mailbox and getting the mail, but when Buck turned around to go home, he had a way of throwing us off his back. He wouldn’t go home; he’d just walk a few steps ahead of us, and we’d have to walk home.

On that farm there was an island out in the middle of the Snake River. The river went right beside the farm. The island was part of the farm. In order to get over there, you had to cross part of the Snake River. It was in the spring of the year, the river was quite high, and the cows during the night or early evening after they were milked, had swum across the river to the island. There was no way to get over there because we had no boat. The cows had to be milked. Father went to Blackfoot, picked up lumber, and he built a boat and made oars so he could row over there and chase the cows back. The cows stayed unmilked until we got the boat built.

Father was a farmer while in Idaho. We raised potatoes and alfalfa seed. When we moved to Salt Lake, Father went to work as a carpenter. He worked as a carpenter and a carpenter superintendent until he passed away when I was eleven years old.

We lived at approximately Fifteenth South and West Temple at the time Father died of a ruptured appendix. The doctors did not decide until it was too late that he had a ruptured appendix; they didn’t have the modern day medicine to fight the poison in his system, and he passed away. Luckily, Father had taken out a $3000 life insurance policy a few months before he died.

The family didn’t own their own home; we were renting. With that $3000, she paid the hospital and the doctor bills, got completely out of debt, and ended up with $1000. Mother found a home at 1389 Major Street for sale, and she paid $1000 down so that she could quit paying rent.

Mother, upon the death of her husband, got a widow’s pension from the county of $10 a month, and all the children worked at whatever we could do. Rolf was about 17. He went to work in construction as a carpenter, and we had an agreement in the family that whatever money was earned, it was given to Mother to manage, and some way she took care of our necessities. Mother was pregnant with Simon at the time Father died.

It might be of interest that when we lived on West Temple there was a firm by the name of Stewart Brothers Coal Company. Stewart Brothers had two cows. Mr. Stewart gave me a job cleaning out the barn, washing down the cows to prepare them for milking each night. For that labor, I received twenty-five cents a week.

We lived in Jefferson Ward. The Ward members had just completed a new building, and they had picture shows on Friday night. This activity helped pay for the operating expenses on the building. Of course, all the kids in the ward were anxious to attend the shows on Friday night. They showed comics, a main feature, and a serial that always left the hero in a precarious position so you would come back next week. You would look forward to going the next week to find out what happened to the hero. It cost me ten cents to go to the show, and my sister, who was a little older, fifteen cents. That’s where the twenty-five cents ended up each week. Mother let us do that.

When I was a kid, after supper my brothers and sisters and I would sell magazines. Liberty Magazine is the one we mostly sold. Mother used to make paper flowers, and sometimes she would dip them in wax, and we’d take them out to sell by knocking on doors.

When I was twelve years old, I pushed an ice cream cart in the summertime for National Ice Cream Co. The ice cream was kept cold with salt and ice. The carts had wooden wheels with steel tires, and they were quite heavy to push. I worked real hard selling the goods each day, and I worked extra hard to be sold out by quitting time. If I sold all the ice cream, Mr. Broom, the owner of the ice cream company, would give me a half-pint of ice cream to take home. The ice cream factory was located on Seventh South and Third East. It was a mile and a quarter from the ice cream factory to our home, and I’d run all the way so the ice cream wouldn’t melt before I got there. That’s the truth.

When I reached the age of fifteen, I got a job at Salt Lake Cabinet and Fixture Co. It seemed like their main work came from building church benches. Some of them were real long and heavy. Even though I was only fifteen, I would help load the truck and then deliver the truck and the benches to the church where they were to be installed. I had no driver’s license, but of course, that wasn’t required in those days. I wasn’t sixteen and shouldn’t have been driving. I was trusted with the truck and benches, and that’s something that couldn’t be done now days.

It’s interesting to note that Mother raised five boys and two girls, and she was able to keep us all out of jail. I think that’s a marvelous achievement.

Mother made quite a bit of money with her sewing work. She sewed and embroidered and did work which she sold. She altered clothes for people. That brought in quite a bit of money. Mother worked at home until all the children were finished with high school. She stayed home and took care of the family.

My Father was always a hard worker. He would take us out to Saltaire on occasion. We’d swim in the Great Salt Lake, and we’d always take a picnic and have an enjoyable time. He was a fisherman in Norway, but he never went fishing here. I guess he couldn’t afford it.

He didn’t have a car. He finally got a motorcycle that he rode to work. A truck that belonged to Linnebough Cast Stone Co. hit him on the motorcycle. It didn’t seem to be very serious, but we all think his appendix ruptured because of that accident. People tell me I look like my Father. I think I’m more like my Father than my Mother. All through my life, everybody that knew Father and me thought I looked more like my Father than any of the others in the family.

Father had three brothers that came over here from Norway. Uncle Edwin was a shoemaker. Uncle Signor worked in Idaho farming until he retired. Uncle Waldemar and his wife lived with us for a short time. He studied the brick mason trade and followed that trade until his retirement.

It’s interesting to note that Uncle Waldemar’s wife was named Gertrude. She was born in Germany. She had quite a short temper at times. I’m afraid that while she lived with us, we children played tricks and jokes on her in order get her temper flaring. I remember she would chase me around the room and pinch me. Sometimes I’d get on one side of the rocking chair with her on the other side, and around we would go with her trying to catch me. I remember once I rocked the chair on her toe. Boy, there was fire in everybody’s eyes then.

I worked on the farm for two years in the summer when I was out of school. I worked for Uncle Signor on the farm in Idaho. His dear wife could really cook up some good meals. Mother was a good cook also.

During the Depression, we had a really rough time because there wasn’t enough work around to be had. We applied for work with government agencies where they were hiring people that really needed help. They had projects that you could apply for to go to work. I don’t know which of us, but some of us applied for work on these projects. They wouldn’t put us to work because Mother had a widow’s pension of ten dollars a month. She had to give up her pension so we could go to work and earn some money. I don’t remember the details of where we worked. That about broke Mother’s heart that she had to give up her ten dollars, something coming in regularly like that which she could count on.

Uncle Abel and Tante Borghild (Paulsen) would visit us quite quite often. They would play “Five Hundred,” which is a card game. They just played for fun. Mother enjoyed that, and it was always a special treat when we’d get invited to watch. They all talked Norwegian and that helped us to pronounce and remember the words.

Mother and Father always talked a lot of Norwegian around home so we would learn it. Our grandmother, Bestemor as we called her, never learned to speak English. She lived with us at various times so we all had to speak Norwegian to her.

One of the things I’ll never forget about Mother was that she loved to ski. We used to go to Park City and have someone take us up to the Silver King Mine, which was about two or three miles from the summit that went over into Big Cottonwood Canyon. Sometimes we would go up there on an evening when it was bright moonlight. The Silver King Mine was about half the distance between the summit and Park City. We’d have a great ride down to the city. On moonlit nights, it would get really dark down in between some of the trees, and you had to be really careful and know the trail so you wouldn’t run into trees or some other obstacle.

When Mother went with us, she had a heavy pole that she walked with instead of ski poles; and when she’d come down off the mountain, and she got going too fast, she would put that big pole in between her legs and sit on it like a brake. If you were behind her, she’d throw the snow in your face, and you’d have to stop and let her get ahead so you wouldn’t get clobbered with all that snow. She just loved that ride from the summit down to Park City. I don’t know how often we’d go up there, but we’d wait for a bright moonlit night to go. There were no lifts, no commercial skiing at that time. That’s why we’d get someone to drive us up and then take our car back down so we’d have it when we’d get back down. The whole family skied. Signe was never much of a skier, as I remember. I don’t ever remember her skiing, but all the rest of the family skied.

In the early days when Father was alive, we had street cars, electric street cars on tracks in the city. When it snowed and the snow was right, we’d get on the streetcar and go up to the University of Utah and ski on the hills behind the University. No lifts. Just all walking up and skiing down. It seems that the snow doesn’t get as deep as it did during the winters when I was a kid so not much of that goes on anymore. The lifts make us all lazy, you know.

Rolf learned to play the accordion during the early years of the Depression. Harold learned to play the saxophone, and Marty Turner (Signe’s husband) played the banjo. I was given a set of drums for Christmas one year. I took drum lessons from a drummer who played during intermissions at the old Pantages Theater and for bands at various dance halls around the city. I bought a pad that had leather skin stretched over the top. I would practice on that so I didn’t disturb the family. During the Depression, on Saturday nights, we played for Swede dances. Sometimes there was another accordion player who played with us, but I can’t think of his name. We had a pretty good Swedish band for a bunch of Norwegians. We played hambos and schotiches, waltzes, fox trots, polkas, and all kinds of Norwegian and Swedish music.

I remember a couple of times we played for Swedish dances out at Bingham, Utah. [Bingham City was on Utah Copper property, now Kennocott Copper Co., and in the 1950’s the town was torn down so the copper could be removed under it. In those days the roads were not too good so it was quite a drive from Salt Lake to Bingham and the dance hall. We started playing right after nine o’clock at night. A lot of the Swedish people would not come to the dance until about ten o’clock in the evening. They were usually a little drunk from partying before they came to the dance. At twelve midnight, we’d play “Home Sweet Home.” Those Swedish people would just about go crazy because they hadn’t come to the dance until ten or ten thirty, and they were not ready to go home. We’d sit tight and finally they’d take up a collection and pay us for playing another hour. Even though it was difficult to get home, we’d stay and play.

We played in lodges around the city. We played off and on for seven or eight years. We finally got tired of it and quit. It became a chore, and we had other things to do.

I think my Mother taught me to be honest and upright. Mother was adamant that we went to Church and learned the Gospel. She wanted us to be active in the Church. She never did get Harold baptized. Rolf was baptized on his own when he started thinking about marriage.

Mother joined the Church in Norway. Rolf was a child when they came over here, and she was pregnant with Harold. One thing she made Father promise when they got married was that he would bring her to America and Salt Lake City. She wouldn’t get married unless he made that commitment. It’s interesting to note that Father was making plans to be baptized and become a member of the Church a few months before he died. Mother always said if he’d lived a few more months, he’d have been a member of the Church.

I don’t know if Father wanted to come to America, or if he did it for Mother. He probably thought there would be more opportunities in this country.

I think I must have learned to work from my Father since that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. He was a hard worker. He had a sense of humor. I don’t remember any specifics, but he never beat us. He always taught us to respect him and do what he asked. I think Father taught us to be thrifty.

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