Memories From Perry Parsonage
By Carla Jacobsen (Volume XIV: Page 139)
This paper first appeared in Symra in 1911 under the title "Minder fra Perry Prestegård." The Reverend Abraham Jacobsen was born in Norway in 1836 and emigrated to America in 1848. He attended Illinois State University in Springfield, 1852-60, and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, 1866-68. He was the first Lutheran pastor in South Dakota, 1861. He died in 1910. For a reminiscent article by Jacobsen see "A Pioneer Pastor's Journey to Dakota in 1861," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 6:53-65 (Northfield, 1981). Jacobson's name occurs in B. H. Narveson's article, "The Norwegian Lutheran Academies," post, 186, 188, 189.
A great deal has been written about life in the old Norwegian parsonages that is of interest to Norwegians who have grown up in America. Who can read Gustava Kjelland's Erindringer fra mit liv (Memories from My Life) or Aubert's Fra de gamle prestegårde (From the Old Parsonages) without wishing he could have visited them?
In America the parsonages first built would have been only about sixty years old had they been allowed to remain in place. Old is here used relatively; the ones that were first built in our oldest settlements were called old in contrast to the newer and newest.
Perry Parsonage, in the southern part of Dane County, Wisconsin, was built at the beginning of the sixties. It was, considering pioneer conditions, quite large. The house was built of large logs; outside it was covered with siding, but within, the walls were merely smoothened with the broadax, and under the ceiling there were only dark beams that had not even been planed.
The first clergyman to occupy the building came from Norway, and it must have seemed a dreary and cheerless' place to him and his refined wife. Not much was done to improve it in his time. The congregations were new and the people were poor. The pastor lived plainly, but his parishioners lived still more plainly. The minister's salary was
small, and the family did not understand how to manage. The wife was not used to keeping house; she was not of a practical nature. Even up to the present day, old women can tell how helpless she was when she had ignorant hired girls, and that happened often.
It was customary for the women of the congregation to bring presents of food when they visited the parsonage. The minister's wife was friendly and always wanted to treat them to a meal, but often there was so little to eat on hand that, as one woman expressed it, the guests sat and ate up the food they had brought. The pastor was such a poor businessman that sometimes he could not get credit at the stores for needed goods. One woman said that once the pastor's wife steeped tea three times on the same leaves; but again, when she had good supplies, she cooked and baked according to the most expensive Norwegian recipes.
In spite of such extravagance the minister and his wife were both loved. Old women would tell how charming the wife was, "She was sweet even when she wept." Poor lady, many were the tears she wept, for there was much sickness in her home and several small children died; then she too died, and the minister and his remaining children went to Norway, where he passed away a short time ago.
My father, Abraham Jacobson, was the next pastor, and it is about his stay at Perry Parsonage, from 1868 till 1878, that I especially want to tell.
When my parents moved to this new home they had to drive twenty miles from the nearest railroad station. They did not complain about this; it might have been much worse. When they at last reached their destination, Mother did not think the house inviting. It had stood empty quite a while, but the Norwegian parochial schoolteacher had moved in with his bride, and they lived there for some time. The house was large enough for both families and neither had a surplus of furniture.
Fru Aubert tells that the parsonage in Lom (Norway) was newly painted, so that it could make a fine appearance when the crown prince was to spend a night there while traveling through the country. The same had been done here before the new minister's arrival, but, alas, without the desired effect. Mother said it gave her a shock when she saw the stairs, painted coal black, so they looked like a row of coffins placed one above the other. The doors were painted in yellow ochre and grained by the artist's drawing a fine comb up and down to imitate the natural grain of the wood. The outside of the house was painted white and looked quite nice.
Father and Mother had grown up under pioneer conditions and were not afraid of tackling frontier problems. The first thing they wanted to do was to try to make the house look like a home inside. They had little money to spend, and in those days they did not dream of asking the congregation to do anything about fixing up the rooms. The walls were covered with heavy pasteboard and, on top of this, with wallpaper. The beams under the ceiling were whitewashed. This was not done all at once, but little by little in the course of time.
Father, while serving in his first pastorate, had ordered some furniture from Milwaukee from the well-known merchant there, Gabrielsen of Farsund, Norway. The pieces were very well made and most of them are in good condition at the present day. Later a cabinetmaker from Valdres made many really fine additional articles of furniture. Mother had rag carpets made to cover the floors. She bought only one carpet while she was there.
The garden had been utterly neglected. Mother had it cleared and, as she was a lover of flowers, she always had a lot of them. Father planted trees that grew and bore fruit. Thus it became a real home for us in all the years we lived there.
Fru Aubert tells how her mother had a right hand, so to
speak, in capable Synne when she came to the Lom parsonage. Mother was just as lucky when, some time after her arrival at Perry, she became acquainted with a young girl in the congregation, Christine Goli, who was very proficient in all womanly arts, but especially in sewing. As the only daughter in a well-to-do family she did not need to go out to work, so it was only through kindness that she spent so much time at the parsonage. When Mother was in need of help and did not know what to do, Christine was sent for and she came if it was in any way possible for her to do so. Mother and she became fast friends and comrades who shared joys and sorrows with each other. Even if Mother was very tired and worn she gathered new life and courage when Christine arrived. Then work seemed like play to them and the whole house resounded with their merry laughter. Christine had a keen eye and a sure ear for the comic and could reproduce many incidents in an amusing way. She did not lack seriousness, however, and took an active part in all work pertaining to the church. She was our faithful friend through her whole life and visited us several times after we left the old home.
During our first years at Perry there was considerable home industry among the farmers' wives. They carded, spun, and dyed the yarn. They knitted all the woolen stockings that were worn and even some from cotton yarn. They set up looms. Weaving had a real boom during the Civil War and was continued for a long time afterwards, for woolen goods were very expensive at that time.
Mother tells that she bought really nice linsey-woolsey goods from a woman living near by. She made a dress from it and trimmed the waist with velvet ribbons. It looked so nice that she put it on and went to call on the doctor's wife to show it off.
When Mother got a girl direct from Norway who was an adept at weaving, they borrowed a loom and Mother and she
exchanged work. The girl first wove a large number of blankets. Later she wove rag carpets for the floors.
The first large sewing machines in the settlement were bought by Mr. Dahle, the merchant, and my father. A machine cost nearly a hundred dollars then. Father was the first to sew on them and he instructed the others. Many came to inspect our sewing machine and Mother had to demonstrate how it worked. Soon there were machines in nearly every house, but everyone did not know how to take care of them. More than once the advice of the minister was asked, and as he was handy, he usually found what was troubling and could remedy it.
The first musical instrument in the neighborhood was brought by Father from Milwaukee. It was a small cabinet organ, bought at second hand, but in good condition. The finest modern piano would not make such an impression on us now. No one in the house could play, but some of us soon learned to play with one finger, like the princess in H. C. Andersen's story, "The Swineherd." Indeed we played "Ach, du lieber Augustin" and many other melodies. Later Miss Bever stayed with us and taught us music, besides common school subjects. Our organ was brought to the church on festive occasions, and Miss Bever would play it. This was something new at that time; now scarcely a church can be found that does not have an organ.
A little later Mr. Dahle, the merchant, bought a piano that left our little organ entirely in the shade. I remember how thrilled we were when Miss Thrane played on it. She was visiting her sister, the wife of a Dr. Hirsch, who had an extensive medical practice at Perry.
We had few opportunities to hear music, outside of what could be provided at home. It was therefore a real event when Father and Mother drove thirty miles to Madison to attend one of Ole Bull's concerts. Ole Bull once visited our neighborhood when he attended a Seventeenth of May
festival in a small village named Moscow, which proud name surely did not fit it. He made a speech which did not rouse any enthusiasm, for he was by no means a speaker. Then he was offered a common fiddle. He was in a good humor and played in such a manner that those who heard him never forgot it. This was perhaps the last American Seventeenth of May festival that he took part in in this country.
Among the well-known men who visited the neighborhood was Marcus Thrane. He came several times, for his daughter was married to our doctor. He gave some crass, evolutionary lectures that were but poorly attended. His daughter did not share his religious beliefs, but attended church regularly. I remember him as a kindly old man. Mother took me along to a Christmas party at the Dahles's the first year we were there. When a party of julebukker (young folks masked and dressed in burlesque fashion) came in I was so frightened that I crept into Thrane's lap. I was only five years old and had never seen anything like this. He spoke to me so kindly that my fears were soon quieted.
Among prominent men who visited the parsonage the first years was Professor Svein Nilsson, who later was editor of Skandinaven. He stopped there while he was gathering information about early settlers for Billed-magazin. Mother remembers him as a cultured, unusually pleasant and interesting man. R. B. Anderson visited the parsonage several times. The Swedish-Norwegian consul, Fleiseher, from Madison, honored the parsonage with a visit. His successor, Halle Steensland, visited us several times.
The Norwegian author, Hallvard Bergh, visited my parents often; he was parochial schoolteacher for a time in one of Father's congregations. The first English juvenile book I had ever seen I received from him. It was written by the well-known American writer, Edward Eggleston. That Bergh still remembers his friends in Wisconsin is clear from a poem,
he wrote some years ago in Valdres, a paper published in Valdres, Norway. Entitled "In Memory of Friends in America," the poem was written about Øystein Blomhaug and his wife. Blomhaug was a relative of my father; a worthy man, but very modest and retiring. Bergh writes fittingly and to the point in praising him. I shall attempt a translation:
He ne'er took the lead while they gathered at church;
With the humble he stayed in the shade.
'Twas only when something important came up,
When questions of helping were made.
Of raising a house to the glory of God,
Of building a bridge or a road,
Of giving to keep up school, language, and faith---
'Twas often a most heavy load;
When straggling along a poor man came
Who had neither friend nor wife,
When vigils were at a sickbed made,
When risked were both health and life;
There Øystein was in the foremost rank,
He sweated his help to make,
So dearly he loved his service to give
Though often his back did ache.
To offer himself, yes, that was his way,
This standard he well understood
There was not a creature he would not help,
His heart was so tender and good.
He felt for all creatures, but most of all
For hearts that in sorrow did yearn;
He felt that his time was truly well spent,
When tears to smiles could turn.
Our most frequent visitor among my father's ministerial friends was Pastor Fjeld. He had to drive through all three of Father's congregations to reach one that he served. He preached there every third Sunday, and as it was a real
journey he usually came to us Saturday night, rested, and continued the journey Sunday morning. He was an unusually friendly man, and all in the house anticipated his coming with joy. Even our dog would run to meet him, wagging his tail. We children were on the watch for him when he was expected and when we spied his high-wheeled buggy up by the church all of us raced to be the first to open the gate for him.
Of all in the congregation no one was in closer relation to Father than the parochial schoolteacher Jensvold. He had been trained in Norway and was a very able teacher. He was dearly loved; many of his pupils are still living who cherish his memory. Father and he became intimate friends from the very beginning. This friendship lasted until Jensvold's death, a few years after we had moved away. His pupils erected a fine monument on his grave.
My father also had the gift of winning the young, and those whom he prepared for confirmation remembered him with love and affection. One of my friends, who had been confirmed by Father, wrote to me after his death:
I can remember Perry people used to say of your father, "He has the gift to teach children." I can't imagine that anything better could be said of a man than that he had a good influence among the young people. Don't you think that in many ways Perry was ideal? Think of Jensvold, too, how he instructed and admonished us to do right! If any of the young people who grew up under the instruction and influence of those two men went very far astray, it would be surprising. I don't know of any who have; do you?
Thus I quote my friend. I don't think that any of our dear ones would wish to be remembered in any other way.
There were gifted young people in the congregation, and many of them attended higher schools. The now departed president of the eastern district of the Norwegian Synod, A. K. Sagen, was the first one from the neighborhood to attend Luther College at Decorah, Iowa. As a young boy he worked
in the parsonage and it was through Father's influence that he decided to go to Decorah. Several others who attended Luther College became clergymen: E. Ruste and O. Syftestad, both dead now, and J. A. Urness, still living in 1944. H. B. Dahle, who has been congressman in Washington, was the oldest son of O. B. Dahle, our storekeeper. He attended the University of Wisconsin, and his sister, Miss Marie Dahle, now Mrs. James Peterson of Minneapolis, was the first Norwegian girl to graduate from the University of Wisconsin.
Few among the older members of Father's congregation had gone to any except elementary schools. In spite of this, there were many well-informed men and women among them. They were very fond of reading and most of them received one or two Norwegian newspapers. These had serial stories as supplements, which were preserved and stitched together. Often they were loaned and passed around in the neighborhood. I remember that I read Ingemann's Valdemar Seier in that way. Alas, the first chapters were lacking and it was many years before I had a chance to read the whole book.
Norwegian rural libraries were established containing varied reading matter. I remember that I read From the Times of Luther, recorded by the Schönberg-Cotta family. Mother says that she read Amtmandens døtre. There were several volumes of Captain Marryat's sea stories, but Father did not think these suitable reading for a little girl like myself. There was not only light reading in these libraries. Mother says they had many volumes of historical works that were very interesting and educational. She even read Lamartine's French Revolution. Bjørnson's and Ibsen's books were not in the library, but perhaps some of Jonas Lie's were. At any rate, we read a couple of Lie's novels at the parsonage.
Professor Breda, who later became well known, spent a couple of summer vacations with us as a theological student. Once a little girl crept into his room when he was away, and read Ibsen's Keiser og galilæer. She probably did not
understand a bit of it; still, some of it still clings to her memory. I should have mentioned before this that beginning in the early seventies Professors Siewers, Landmark, and Bergh of Decorah published the periodical For hjemmet (For the Home). Its purpose was to avoid either polities or polemics, and to try to disseminate useful and educational information among the people. Father did all he could to make this magazine known in his congregations.
Father often lent books that were good and ennobling to parishioners who were fond of reading. One could not find good reading matter so easily then as now, but, on the other hand, people did not then read so rapidly nor so casually as now, but more slowly and thoughtfully. At times the slowness went too far, for books would remain away for weeks or even months at a time and come back worn and dirty. It even happened that they never found their way back home. However, they were usually handled carefully and people were thankful to have an opportunity to read good books.
Norwegian was almost exclusively spoken in the settlement for a long time. Even in the English district school the children preferred to speak Norwegian at recess. I remember how some little girls told each other Norwegian fairy stories. Professor R. B. Anderson had published a selection of fairy stories --- Julegave (A Christmas Present), I think it was called. One of the little girls had a copy. My sister had a book of Hindu stories translated from English into Norwegian. Father translated some German stories for us. I remember one, Spøgelsesskibet (The Specter Ship), by Hauff. We also had a few of H. C. Andersen's stories. Later my sister got Aftenerne på Egelund, by Hanna Vinsnes. My sister was very good at retelling stories and knew a lot of them by heart.
Many of the older people knew little English, but they used a lot of English negatives and affirmatives such as yes-ser-ree, no-ser-ree, and vel-ser-ree!
In those days the parishioners showed their appreciation of those who served them, not by having surprise parties or the like, but by bringing to them gifts of various kinds that were most acceptable. Father received all the stockings he needed from kind old ladies. Mother often received pieced spreads from girls. She then would give a so-called "quilting party." A flock of young girls and women would be invited and they would stitch and make the pieces into quilts for the beds.
I well remember an old woman who often came with gifts. She always brought a basket containing krumkaker (rolled wafers) that she gave to us children. They were stamped with her initials, M. O. D., gracefully entwined. She had a large stock of old stories from Norway with which she entertained us. When Mother was a little incredulous, the old woman said, "Well, you can ask John." John was our faithful hired man. He came from the same district in Norway as she and could testify that he had heard the same stories in his childhood.
There were not so many festivities then as now. The first Christmas tree festival brought much interest not only to the children, but to the grownups as well. Nearly all the decorations on the tree were homemade, but all thought the tree beautiful. We had not been spoiled. The old, yet ever new, Christmas gospel was read. Father made a short speech and read a Christmas story while, in the intervals, Christmas psalms and songs were sung.
The first mission festival held in the congregation was a real event. People came from all directions. Few, if any, of those present had ever seen a missionary, but now they saw a live one, Pastor I. M. Dahl, who had lately come to America. He told about his life in India and about heathendom there. This made a strong impression on the audience, and both hearts and purses were opened.
One winter Father invited his brethren in the clergy to
have a ministerial conference at the parsonage. It lasted several days. A few lodged with neighbors, but most of them stayed in the parsonage. There were services in the church in the evenings, but the other meetings were held in the parsonage and attended only by the clergymen. It took a lot of activity to get everything ready. The whole of the second floor was converted into sleeping quarters. Together with a girl to take care of the children, we were sent to a neighbor, a widow who kindly offered to keep us, for there was no room for us at home. Mother had three girls helping her, but took charge in the kitchen herself and supervised the cooking. She did her best, for she knew that without food and drink heroes do not exist. She received many good gifts of food from people in the congregation, who also undertook to bring the ministers to and from the railroad stations. When the conference was ended all thanked Father and Mother, and they were praised for their ability as host and hostess.
Later Father thought something should be done to show his and Mother's appreciation to the parishioners for their trouble. He invited all who had helped to the parsonage, where a good meal was served. Father thanked them all for what they had done, and after a short devotion they parted mutually pleased with one another. One man said he had heard much about secret ministerial conferences, but he thought that when they ended as this one did they could not be so dangerous after all.
Father's income was fairly good, and as Father and Mother were both practical people they managed to get along very well. The fees for extra services amounted to quite a sum, though it sometimes happened that the minister got nothing for his work. Thus a man asked what he should give after his child was baptized; he was told he could give what he thought fit. Upon this the man said, "Thanks a lot!"
Once a bridal party came to the parsonage from one of
Father's other congregations; it consisted of the groom, the bride, and two witnesses. They came just before dinner, so Mother, who was busy washing clothes, had to stop her work and prepare a suitable wedding dinner. A fire had to be lit in the parlor, as it was winter. On the whole, there was a lot of extra work, especially for Mother. On leaving, the groom, who was well-to-do, took out a well-filled pocketbook and gave Father a dollar. One could not grow fat on this, but such cases were exceptional.
Young people preparing for confirmation often stayed with us. They were expected to help some in exchange for their board. Once, however, Mother was to be paid for the board of a young fellow whose parents had lately come from Christiania, in Norway, to Madison, Wisconsin. They belonged to a prominent family and of course wanted to pay. He stayed with us for several months. He was a smart boy and Father even helped him in some advanced courses. When he was confirmed Father took him home, and Mother went along. For the money she had earned she wanted to buy some chairs and other things. These fine people were to pay the bill. No one suspected anything wrong, but suddenly they departed for parts unknown, and later the bill for the furniture was presented to Father, who had to pay it.
In those days the parsonage was a stopping place for itinerant people of various kinds. Father and Mother never asked any pay for keeping them, and it was in exceptional cases that anything was offered for their trouble.
Many queer personages visited the minister. Among others may be named Gjeitemand (the goat man). He had gotten this name because he had brought goats with him from Norway. These he sold to Americans, but after a while they returned to their former owner, who sold them again. He loved to tell local stories, but when they did not receive the desired appreciation his visits ceased.
Jonsebergen was also a well-known figure. He was very
fond of strong liquor, but as he lived far from town he could not get it easily when the longing came over him. Mr. Dahle, who kept the store, always had spirits on hand, together with various patent medicines, but he only sold them for medicinal purposes. Once when Jonsebergen was somewhat drunk he went to the store to get liquor, but Dahle would not sell him any. What did he do then? Yes, he actually came to the minister and asked him to write a testimony saying, "Let Jonsebergen get a pint of whisky." "The pastor in Valdres wrote this for me," he added. "No," Father said, "If I were to write, I would have to say, 'Do not let Jonsebergen get any whisky.'" Jonsebergen left, stumbling along. Later he said to his friends, "What in the world was the matter with me that I should think of going to the minister when I was drunk?"
Haavelsongutten, who was well known among people from Valdres, Norway, also visited the parsonage. He had a bad record, for he had served a prison sentence at Christiania for his misdeeds. When he was released he left for America. He had acquired a citified speech and did not use his native dialect when he visited the minister. He spoke of the "institution,'' and Father understood that by this he meant the prison. Once he told Father that his daughter was married to a cavalry officer in Christiania. When Father could not conceal his surprise, he said in his stiffest book language, "Do you not know, pastor, that a black sow can have white pigs?"
A most unattractive person, a bookbinder by profession, stayed with us for some time. He was out of work, and so in pity Father gave him work. He bound many volumes of church papers, For hjemmet, and also a lot of paper-covered books. He complained of being sick and said he had "gitar" in his head. Previous to this he had been very insolent to Father, who was now trying to heap coals of fire on his head.
There were many others who visited us so frequently that
their very features appear before my eyes, even now after the lapse of so many years. One of them was old Berentsen. He must have died years ago. He came from Lindesnes in the southern part of Norway; "near the lighthouse at Lindesnes," he said. He had been a teacher of navigation. He tried to get a job teaching parochial school and pestered the minister with his many and lengthy testimonials. Once he was really allowed to try teaching, but he was not fitted for it, for, as a farmer declared, "We might just as well have a cow to teach school as this Berentsen." It was his first and last effort in these parts.
I remember Berentsen well --- the square figure, the red wig, and the straggling wisps of graying hair hanging beneath it. He had all his belongings in a bag that he carried on his back. He always shook hands, Mother said, with such a fierce grip that her fingers tingled. She always treated him like a guest and never showed that he was not especially welcome. It amused us children to see him eat, for he had an unusually good appetite. He was not troubled with dyspepsia. When he had eaten he always read the newspapers. He also read certain books. He asked permission to read Holberg's Comedies nearly every time he came. He sat and read in a half whisper, chuckling as he read. Poor old man! Then he forgot his troubles and sorrows and lived in another world far away, where no doubt schoolmasters led a far more honored existence than fell to his lot.
Old Hans Heegaard was in many respects a complete contrast to Berentsen. Tall and thin I remember him, with an almost military bearing. Father had Professor Hansteen's Reise erindringer among his books. On the first page there was a portrait of the famous professor. We children thought Heegaard looked just like him. His clothes were like those in the portrait. His long, well-worn coat was carefully brushed. He had a large neckerchief that he tied with great care. He would stand before the mirror as long as any lady of fashion.
He would spread his silvery locks to cover his bare head. I remember how pleased he was once when Mother gave him a new neckerchief. He did not like to share the bedroom with John, the hired man who had been with us so long that he was a real factotum.
Heegaard once told Mother something about himself when he was in a talkative mood. In his youth he had been a clerk in one of the larger cities in Norway. He had gotten into gay drinking parties with like-minded companions and so gradually he went down. In brief it was the old story --- he lost, step by step, money, position, friends, health, all. By an accident he came to America, where for some time now he had wandered about in the Norwegian settlements. He had also tried his luck as schoolmaster, presumably with not much better success than his colleague, Berentsen. When Heegaard came to us, he always asked Mother in his most polite manner, "O dear Mrs. Jacobson, may I stay a couple of days? I'm so tired and poorly." Mother, of course, could not say no. The "couple of days" usually became weeks.
I remember the time brother Jacob was to learn to read. He was rather slow and had no liking for the A B C's. As Heegaard happened to be there at this time, Mother proposed that he should undertake to be Jacob's tutor. Heegaard expressed his willingness, and the lessons began quite impressively but were very short ones. The boy read about five minutes and then had a recess that lasted till Heegaard saw Mother, when he would tap at the windowpane and call, "Jacob, Jacob, you must come in again." Soon both teacher and pupil became sick and tired of the reading and the boy had a vacation until Mother took hold in earnest.
Heegaard could not perform any hard labor, for he was sickly --- many thought he was only lazy. I remember we children sang, sotto voce, the first lines of Wergeland's poem, "Nei Ladhans idag får du ikke en skilling, ti lediggang ser jeg er al din bestilling." (No, lazybones, today you get not a
shilling, because laziness, I see, is your entire occupation.) We thought it was written about him.
I have, however, a pleasant memory about old Heegaard. The last time he visited us I was so big that I was helping with the work. I made the beds in the attic and then also his bed. One day he came up while I was doing this. He said I was a real smart and good girl; not all would do so much for a poor fellow like him. He added that God would bless me for this.
He has rested in his last bed for many years. Strangely enough, quite a bit of money was found hidden in his clothes when he died, though no one dreamed that he had a single cent.
Joachim Madsen was from Bergen. He was, as he himself expressed it, a little crackbrained. It was said that he got that way through a tragic love affair. He had come from Norway as quite a young man and had served in the Civil War. When discharged he began his journey around the Norwegian settlements. He made a point of visiting the Norwegian parsonages and could bring greetings from one to another; he was then sure of being well received.
I remember so well the first time he visited us. Father had just brought the organ home from Milwaukee. Our teacher, Mr. Jensvold, had come to see it. No one present knew how to play. When Mother deplored this fact, Madsen hinted that he could play some. On being invited to try, he drew from it the most beautiful harmonies. He then told us that his father had been an organist in Bergen and that he had taught his son so that he could take his place if necessary. He stayed in the neighborhood for some time, mostly with Dr. Hirsch, whom he helped with some work.
At this time I was seized with a great desire to learn to play and was very happy when Madsen promised to help me. The lesson commenced in this way: He asked me to sit up to the organ, then my hands were placed in position,
then he commanded: You're to strike here and then there, and so he kept on till I knew neither up nor down. I got nothing into my fingers and still less into my head.
He was not very dependable but was just like an overgrown child. He could work well enough for a little while, then he grew tired and the work was dropped. He was very fond of all kinds of sweets. When the sugar bowl full of lumps of sugar stood near him he couldn't resist taking several pieces at once. He would put a couple into his coffee; the rest found their way to his pocket.
He liked to be with us children. He did not care much for the grownups, for occasionally one of them would lecture him on laziness and on not being steady and reliable. He did not take this to heart, however, for he often said, "I'm not created for work." By this he no doubt meant manual labor; he belonged to the upper classes and found it beneath his dignity to work for farmers out in the country.
Madsen often came when he guessed we might have some extra treat. When Father and Mother had visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, one can imagine how all in the house were happy because they were safely home again. Presumably a festive meal would be served; at least that was what our good friend Madsen expected when he came to bid them welcome. One can imagine his disappointment when Father expressly asked for plain mush for supper. This was what he liked and wanted, but it was liked as little by Madsen as it was by us children.
We moved away from Perry and heard nothing about Madsen for many years. Then, while visiting friends in western Minnesota, I happened to see a photograph of him. I heard that he was well and comfortably situated near the old home of these friends, in Illinois. He seemed quite sensible and had a position as organist and janitor there. I wrote him and soon received a reply. We exchanged letters for about a year, but then they stopped. Later I learned that
after a severe spell of sickness his interests grew dull and he must have forgotten his old friends. Again he drifted about like a ship without a rudder, but found a haven in a small town in Dane County, Wisconsin, where he spent most of his declining years. People were kind to the old crank, so he did not suffer from neglect. He died in Madison some four or five years ago.
Father often visited Madison and he usually stopped at the poor farm in Verona and visited the Norwegians there. A man named Andersen from Trondhjem, Norway, suffering from an incurable disease, once accompanied Father home. After that he came every summer. He enjoyed these visits so much that he usually stayed several weeks at a time. We children dreaded his coming, for because of his illness he was melancholy and very religious and thought our merry laughter and gaiety sinful. He was a fine cabinetmaker and made a nice sewing table for Mother and many picture frames. When we were older we knew better how to act when he was around and he did not complain about us.
Then the time came that we were to move away from the now beloved home. Father, who had been working without rest, became sick and nervous. He decided to resign from his charge and move to the farm near Decorah, Iowa, where his parents lived and which he had bought. At this place, now known as Cloverdale Farm, he lived until his death in 1910.
Andersen was now to visit us for the last time. We were already packing when he came. He was downhearted because we were leaving. "When new people come, I'll never have a chance to come here again," he said. Another time he said, "So many who want to live must die, but I, poor creature, who long to die, must live."
The next day the house was struck by a cyclone. My father, Andersen, and a woman who was visiting us were moving some big boxes already packed into the summer kitchen,
when the storm broke loose. Everything was whirled about in the air like a handful of leaves. Father was thrown down a short distance from the house. He saw how the outbuildings, the barn, and the granary were lifted into the air, then torn into pieces, how the pieces with lightning speed were carried farther on in the air. A piece of board paralyzed his shoulder, another his head. Involuntarily he ducked it, the piece grazing his forehead and literally cutting off a wart that had always been in the way when he had his hair cut. That he was not killed was a miracle. One can imagine what he looked like, bloody and bruised, but still able to walk.
The woman visitor was carried much farther in the air, but was not injured at all. Andersen lay just outside the door; a heavy box had crushed both his legs. He breathed his last in a few hours, but did not regain consciousness. Thus his prayer was answered, though not in the way he had expected.
All inside the house had escaped unhurt, but it presented a sad appearance. The roof and the walls, down to the second story, were torn away. The chimneys had tumbled down and the whole hall was filled with bricks. All the windowpanes were broken; the pieces of glass had blown about like hailstones. The baby was sleeping in the cradle; the spread was covered with pieces of glass, but not one had hit the little one, who slept safely through the whole storm, which had lasted but a few minutes but seemed like an eternity. I will not dwell any longer on these pictures that still fill my soul with terror.
It was with heavy hearts that we left the dear spot that had been our home so long, and the dear friends. We have never forgotten them and they, too, have shown in many ways through the years that they have cherished the memory of my parents.