Finding Home

An Annotated Bibliography

Bookshelf of Classic Norwegian Authors, including Henrik Ibsen, Björnstjerne Björnson, Alexander Kielland, and Jonas Lie

If I asked you who your family is, what would you tell me? Their names? Their occupations? Their personality? What could you say to describe them?

My family is an essential part of who I am. I was raised with four sets of grandparents, 10 aunts and uncles, and a multitude of cousins. I have two siblings that mean the world to me, and my mom and dad are my best friends. To talk about my family is to talk about myself, my life, my heart and soul. And yet, much of who my family is is a mystery to me. When you’re young, your family is your family. They love you and play with you and give you what you need. It’s only when you’re older that you begin to realise that there’s more to them than that.

I learned how human my parents are when I was fairly young. I’ve always been fairly observant, and I could see the tension build in the house when Mom and Dad were upset with one another, or when money was tight. I learned when it was a good time to ask for something, and when asking for a new book or toy would be too much. I realised that parents have problems too, and that sometimes parents don’t have all the answers.

But when life was hard, there was always a grandparent there to help. There to play with me; there to tell me stories; there to give me some supper, or some sweets. My Nanna would knit me scarves, and my Papa Bill would give me a book. My Grandma Carolyn would take me to dance class or the library, and Papa Hill would give me a cool tie. When my Grandma Margie and Papa Mike were down from Virginia, they’d be there to tell stories and go walking or swimming. And my Grandma Virginia and Papa Gene, well, they were always there to talk and take me to church, or to teach me how to tie my shoes, or to help me with homework after school, or so many things I can’t even explain.

So to be told to pick a grandparent to write a project about was difficult, because they were all there. There to help and hold and love. But I had to choose. So I looked around and decided to find out more about what was unknown. My Papa Bill is a historian, and he’s told me a lot about my mom’s family history, but what about my dad’s family? What were they like? I had no idea. So I decided to do some research and find out more. And when the research is done, I’m going to talk to my Papa Gene, and find out what his life was really like.

For now, all I know is that my dad’s family is from Norway, and that my grandpa was in the Army in Korea and was a draftsman for Boeing and Gulfstream. So I have gathered some sources of all types, to try and understand more about family and about my Papa Gene, not just as my grandfather, but as a man.

A Dictionary of Christian Denominations.

Day, Peter D. London, Continuum, 2005.

As a child, Sundays were for going to church and having brunch at Grandma and Papa’s big yellow house. On Wednesdays, my siblings and I went to the children’s ministry, again taken by our grandparents. My grandparents are strong Baptists and have been as long as I’ve been alive. Knowing that most Norwegian-Americans are Lutheran because of Denmark’s forcing of Protestantism on Norway in the 1500s. I knew that both Baptists and Lutherans are Protestants, but as I’ve never been to a Lutheran Church, I had no idea if they were at all similar.

This book contains all of the Christian denominations that the author could fine, with a description of each. Every faction gets a description for both their history and their basic beliefs. By looking at the entries for Southern Baptists and Lutherans, I found out a lot that I didn’t know before.

The Lutheran Church follows the ideas of Martin Luther, a German priest who objected to several of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. According to legend, he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church on Halloween of 1517. He believed that people are saved through faith in Christ alone, which went against several Roman Catholic practices. Roman Catholics would frequently allow for nobles and merchants to pay fees or do other things to atone for sins that they confessed to. Luther also believed that baptism was necessary to become saved and that the Lord’s Supper was literally the body and blood of Christ, once the bread and wine have been blessed. Several other Roman Catholic practices were kept nearly the same though, such as priests giving specific sermons, and hymns being sung.

According to this book, published in 2005, there around 9 million Lutherans in the US, presumably mostly Norwegian-Americans.

Trondhjem Norwegian Lutheran Church in Minnesota

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was created in 1845, when they separated from the Northern Baptist Church. They separated because the Northern Baptist Church refused to accept missionaries who owned slaves. The SBC strongly believes in sending missionaries and spreading their faith. If you live in the so-called “Bible Belt” of the US, you’ve certainly seen them around, especially considering there are around 15 million members. They share some of their beliefs with the Lutherans, believing that salvation comes through faith and baptism. There is a lot of variation between churches though, with different pastors giving different messages, and different churches following different rules.

North Salem Baptist Church in Georgia, where my grandparents have gone for 30 years

From Viking Stronghold to Christian Kingdom.

Bagge, Sverre. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, U of Copenhagen, 2010.

Norway isn’t really a country which receives much focus or discussion in American history classes. Maybe it’ll be mentioned that Vikings existed and came partly from Norway. Or maybe a teacher will talk about Leif Erikson. Regardless, most American students don’t know much about Norwegian history unless they have a particular interest in it. I am no exception. Out of curiosity over the years I’ve learned some basics — about the Danish and Swedish control of Norway for example — and some other things I’ve learned from pop culture or from random places — about Norwegian metal bands and the historic connection between Iceland and Norway for instance. But beyond random titbits and scraps of knowledge, I don’t know much about Norway as a country, beyond the fact that it’s Nordic and cold.

To fix this, and to understand more about the country my family is from, I chose to read this book. It’s essentially the history of Norway, particularly of the Norwegian government, from 900–1350. This may seem a bit long ago to be looking for information, but I felt that learning more about the roots of Norway itself would help me to understand my roots in Norway. The book spends a great deal of time discussing the changing of religion in Norway, from the pagan religions that existed initially, to the conversion to Christianity which came later. Learning about this change, and essentially discovering how the Norwegian people respond to it, was something that not only interested me, but something that I wanted to use as an application in my life. How do my reactions to change compare with the Norwegian people’s? Does my Papa Gene react the same way? These were the kinds of questions that this book answered for me.

Vikings across the Atlantic: Emigration and the Building of a Greater Norway, 1860–1945.

Olson, Daron. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2013.

As soon as I was old enough to be able to ask, I’ve known that my family is Norwegian, but that didn’t really mean anything concrete to me. We don’t speak Norwegian at home. We don’t have traditional Norwegian meals. We don’t celebrate Norwegian holidays. So why does it matter? Have my family’s roots affected me at all?

This book is an account of the ways that the Norwegian-American society changed and evolved from 1860–1945. I know from research on Ancestry.com that my great-great grandparents immigrated in the 1890’s. It helps to explain why my family doesn’t really seem Norwegian from an outsider’s perspective.

During the early 20th Century, there were hundreds of thousands of Norwegian-Americans living in the Midwest. They built their own Norwegian Lutheran Churches, and formed Norwegian communities where businesses and people conducted their affairs in the Norwegian way. They even stayed heavily involved in events back in Norway, with many of them writing to the US government in 1905, asking them to support Norway in their break from Sweden. The Norwegian-American presence was so strong and well-known in fact, that Norwegian schools added a new volume to their primers entitled Norge i Amerika (Norway in America). Norwegian-Americans were also viewed well by Americans when compared to other immigrant groups like the Italians and the Jews.

But with the coming of the World Wars, and the xenophobia that they brought, the Norwegian-Americans were pressured to assimilate to avoid discrimination. Many Lutheran Churches which previously held services in Norwegian began conducting their sermons in English. Many began to try and highlight their similarities with Anglo-Americans. The culture was summarised in a series of essays by Ole E. Rølvaag, called Omkring fædrearven (Concerning Our Heritage) in which he defines seven traits of Norwegian-Americans:

1. An idealistic view of nature
My grandma’s garden in the summertime

A long standing facet of my grandparents’ house is my Grandma’s garden. She plants roses and lilies and sets out feeders for the birds, especially hummingbirds. My Papa always helps her, mowing the lawn for her and making sure their home has a space from which she can view them, even if he has to build it himself.

2. A love of home

It seems as though my family seems to find home late in life. My great-grandparents lived in three different states across the Midwest before settling in Annacortes, WA, and that was after they moved from Norway to the US. My grandparents and my parents have likewise moved around several times, but though my grandparents have moved many times, both before I was born and more recently, every time I come into their home it is the same. The instant I walk in, I know that I am safe and loved and at my Grandma and Papa’s house. And no matter what, they never go far, always living just 15 minutes or so up the road.

3. An innate sense of freedom

This past year, my Grandma and Papa finally finished something that they began a long time ago. They finally visited the last of the 50 states, taking a vacation to Hawaii. Throughout their lives, they have taken multiple trips across multiple states, driving up Route 66 one summer, and cruising the coast of Alaska the next. Especially now that my Papa has retired, they are free to journey wherever the road takes them, and return home to Savannah when the day is done.

4. Respect for the law of the land

Serving in the military for 21 years, most of which were spent in the National Guard, my Papa spent a long time defending this country and her laws.

5. A desire for knowledge and appreciation for art
6. A strong inclination toward religion

My grandparents have been active members of North Salem Baptist Church for as long as I can remember. My siblings and I went there for a long time as well, taken to Sunday School and children’s ministry there every week.

7. Freedom for the individual

As a strong Conservative, and a Baptist, my Papa has strong ideas about personal freedoms and choices. Politics and religion are strong topics for family dinner discussion, with the adults at their table growing nearly as rambunctious and noisy as the children as the debates heat up.

These ideals are ones that I can see in my Papa every day, and they help me to see my heritage more clearly than I ever would have imagined.

“News from Lake Wobegone”

Keillor, Garrison. “ A Prairie Home Companion, Minnesota Public Radio.

“Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out there on the edge of the prairie.”

In order to discover if you make or break a stereotype, you have to know what the stereotype is. It’s similar to how writers can break and bend rules in grammar once they know what the rules are. So what are the stereotypical Norwegian-Americans like? To answer that question, I turn to the popular comedy radio show A Prairie Home Companion and their monologue “News from Lake Wobegone”.

Lake Wobegone is a fictional town in Minnesota, of mixed German and Norwegian heritage, full of strange and interesting people going about their daily lives. The typical broadcast informs the viewers about the goings on at Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church, the weather in town, and the happenings of the various townsfolk. Perhaps this week Pastor Liz has found someone special, or the Whippets — the town baseball team — has a game on. Whatever the news is, it’s guaranteed to be funny and stereotypical of Scandinavian Mid-Westerners.

Listening to this program not only gave me an idea of what some of the stereotypes are for Norwegian-Americans — hate the hot, Lutheran, bachelor farmers, eating lutefisk — it also simply made me laugh.

“Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Big Fish.

Wallace, Daniel, and John August. Colombia Pictures, 2003.

If I had to choose an adjective to describe my family, it would probably be loud. With as many of us as there are, family gatherings are guaranteed to be noisy, but on top of that, we love to talk. We debate, we argue, we tell stories. Some of which are more outlandish than others.

My Papa Gene loves to tell the story of how my Grandma Virginia said she would go out with him over the phone and then asked “Who’s this?” My Dad loves to talk about the time when he got contacts and everyone in the school thought he was on drugs when it was windy because he would get sand in his eyes. If my brother falls off of his motor scooter, the next thing you know he’d flipped it over twice before running into a tree while swerving to avoid a truck. Even if you were there to see it happen, my family will tell it again, nearly unrecognisable in its outlandishness.

The movie Big Fish, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, is about a similar set of stories. It is about a young man named Will seeking to reconcile with his dying father Edward. Will has been distant from his father for years because of the stories Edward always told Will about his life. When Will was a kid, his father was a traveling salesman, and he believed every one of his father’s stories. From seeing his death in the eye of a witch, to rescuing Siamese twins from behind the borders of North Korea, Edward’s life was exciting and fantastic, perfect for the imagination of a young boy. But as Will became older, he stopped believing his father’s stories and he left.

The stories are told through a series of flashbacks, as Edward tells his stories to Will. Edward claims to have met a witch who showed him his death, which then made him brave enough to go on various adventures, knowing that he wouldn’t be killed. He befriends a giant, works for a werewolf, falls in love, goes to war, and has a son, whose birth involves a catfish who ate his father’s wedding ring. Hearing only these stories again, rather than what he thinks of as the truth, Will continues to be angry at his father. But he slowly comes to realise that all of the stories are true, though exaggerated, and when his father dies, the two are happy. At the funeral, the various characters from Edward’s stories are in attendance: the giant is simply a tall man; the werewolf is a hairy one; and the Siamese twins are simply identical. Seeing these people makes Will realise the truth behind his father’s stories, and he chooses to pass them down to his son.

Edward meeting the giant in the Big Fish movie

This tale of exaggerated stories and the truth behind them really spoke to me, both when I watched this movie as a child and when I re-watched it for this project, for multiple reasons. The first being that Edward could easily be any member of my family. Everyone tells stories, and most of them are outlandish, and yet each of them has at least a grain of truth hidden in amongst all of the crazy. On top of that, I feel like this story is easy to relate to the story of my Papa Gene. He traveled a lot, and got drafted into the military, and traveled for work before he got a job working for Gulfstream. He and my Grandma Virginia talk about how they would only see each other in passing a lot of the time during those days, with my Grandma working from 9–5 PM and my Papa working from 6–4 AM.

Getting to use this movie as a source made this project even more special to me, since I watched it frequently as a kid, sometimes even with my grandparents.

“Nordic Eats: What’s the Deal with Licorice?”

Bowe, Jessica. Nordic Visitor. 19 Oct. 2016.

“Don’t eat all the black ones!” This phrase was a common facet of my childhood, and one of the things which I feel always ties me to my Papa Gene. Because this phrase was uttered in reference to the jellybean jar which to this day, sits full on a tea table in the entryway of my grandparents’ house. It was then followed by my Papa proceeding to pick out a few black jellybeans to eat himself.

It may seem like a trivial, silly little thing, this back-and-forth with the jellybeans, but it’s something which ties me closely with my Papa. Because the unpopular, liquorice flavoured beans are one clear example of the similarities in taste between me and my Papa, as well as an inside joke which has lasted my whole life. And when I began searching for more knowledge of my family, I realised that the source of this shared taste maybe just help to pull us closer to our family’s Norwegian roots.

When I started this project, in hopes of discovering more about how my family’s history has directly affected my life, I went digging for information about Norwegian cuisine. Maybe something that I had always eaten had roots in my family’s past. But when I went searching for that special meal, or strange dish I found something else. Liquorice. In Nordic countries — as well as Germany and the Netherlands — black liquorice is incredibly popular, much moreso than in the US. Specifically, a particular type of liquorice, which in Norway is called lakris or salt lakris, which is coated in ammonium chloride and is very salty.

Some Norwegian salt lakris TRY IF YOU DARE!

This article is just one of many about the Nordic love of liquorice with some of the people giving possible explanations for its popularity with varying degrees of seriousness.

“It was probably cheaper to make at some point than, for example, chocolate or else the ingredients were more readily available.” — Brynjar
“Because it is delicious! And we really like to jeopardize our health.” — Sara

The article also mentions a few other foods that are popular in Norway which my Papa and I likewise share a taste for, like various rye breads and some seafoods.

Drafting: Technical Communication

Wright, Lawrence Sydney. [1st ed.]. Bloomington, Ill.: McKnight & McKnight Pub. Co, 1968.

While my Papa Gene has been both soldier and salesman, he has first and foremost been a draftsman. Before he was drafted into the military, my Papa worked for Boeing in Seattle, and afterwards he drew military drafts. Even after that he worked for Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah. But what does a draftsman do? Well, to put it simply, they draw. To be more specific, a draftsman draws the technical designs for a variety of different things, depending on the type of draftsman. If you’ve ever looked at a map, or been frustrated by a set of visual assembly instructions from IKEA, you’ve seen the work of a draftsman.

Some vintage airplane drafts which are here printed on a piece of cloth

The book I’ve selected here is a textbook explaining what a draft is, what it’s used for, as well as how they are made. It’s a bit older than most of my sources, but as my Papa Gene became a draftsman in the early 1960s, a few years before this book was published, it accurately describes what my Papa’s job would have been like. I mainly focused on the first two chapters of the book, since those were the sections about history and general concepts, and the rest was more about the specifics of creating a draft. Drafting was an important concept to figure out, since it was such a large part of my Papa Gene’s life. On top of that, I study languages and not engineering, so I had no idea about what a draftsman is or what they do.

By talking to my Papa Gene the last time that I was home, I found out that he started out as a mechanical draftsman, and then learned to be an electric draftsman after he started working for Gulfstream because that was who they needed. This means that my Papa drew the physical parts of aeroplanes initially, and then later learned how to draw the electrical wiring and panels that are necessary for the running of the plane. Here’s a brief description from the book about some of the key skills and traits of a draftsman.

In these positions, they must use some mathematics. They must spell correctly. A draftsman spends many hours working at a drafting table. He must have the patience to sit long hours and do detailed work. Good eyesight is important.

Many of these characteristics fit my Papa to a ‘T’. He is a very intelligent man, and a patient one. He would have to be, to raise five kids. The last trait made me laugh though. Nearsightedness runs in my family, and my Papa is the prime example. Both he and my Aunt Cindy can run into walls at night without glasses or contacts, and I’m not far behind.

Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected and New Poems 1950–2013

Bly, Robert. New York, NY, W W Norton, 2013

Excerpt from “Visiting the Teacher”

I’ve always loved poetry. Letting the words flow in whatever direction they choose, pulling them apart again to hear what they have to say, it’s much more free than prose, oftentimes. When learning more about Norwegian-Americans as a whole, I’ve found that this interest in poetry isn’t uncommon amongst them. There are many Norwegian-American poets and writers, some of them quite famous. One of these is Robert Bly.

The book Stealing from the Castle is a collection of works by Robert Bly, including both poetry and short prose. Bly is an American poet who was born in 1926 and had Norwegian grandparents, similar to my Papa Gene. He also travelled to Norway in 1956 in order to meet his family and translate the works of Norwegian poets such as Rolf Jacobsen and Knut Hamsun into English. He also translated the works of other famous writers like Hafez, Kabir, Rumi, Mirabai and Ghabir. His work in both poetry and translation made him stand out to me when I went searching for Norwegian-American authors because not only do I love poetry, I want to be a translator/interpreter when I graduate from college.

Bly’s writing also frequently relates to problems he sees in society, especially absent fathers and what he calls “half-adults”: men who struggle to be leaders while also being responsible for their work because they didn’t have a father around to show them how to accomplish this. His famous book Iron John: A Book About Men is all about this concept and is world renowned. He takes a lot of inspiration for it from myths and also from the Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales.

Soldiering: Observations from Korea, Vietnam, and Safe Places.

Gole, Henry G. Washington, D.C.: Potomac, 2006.

The affection among men who shared risk and discomfort is a felt phenomenon that cannot be gleaned from reading. It’s one of those “doing” things of great intensity and duration. Even to discuss it may seem condescending to those who have not routinely risked their lives with trusted friends, but there it is. -Henry G. Gole

“I come from a military family.” It’s something that’s easily said, especially for me. My grandfather, my great-grandfather, two of my uncles, all of them have served in the military. It’s something I’ve always known, but never something to linger on or ponder about. So, my grandpa was in the Army, and?

In recent years, I’ve started to realise what I suppose every child must at some point: everyone in your family is a person. It seems like something obvious, hardly needing saying, and yet it’s not something that really becomes true until you’re older. My grandfather is not just the man who cares about me and took me to church and fed me supper as a kid, he’s a man. One who has had his own life shaped by experiences that I have no way of truly understanding. But despite this, I’m going to try.

Choosing to read this book is one of the ways that I’m trying to better understand what being in the military is like, so that when I talk to my grandfather about his experiences, I’m not just listening to a cool story, or a tale of adventure, I’m listening to a man talking about his life.

Soldiering is written as a series of autobiographical vignettes from the life of Henry G. Gole. He was born 1933 and served in the military for 30 years before retiring and he tells the story of himself, his family, and the men he served with in a way that is understandable, personal, and incredibly moving. He portrays himself as a young man in New York City in the ‘30’s, and ‘40’s, highlighting the changes and shifts in perspective that rapidly occurred, particularly in regards to people of different races and nationalities.

Many of my friends were Italian or German kids. They seemed OK to me, but life was complicated. The Russians went from bad to good very quickly from 1939 to 1941. The Chinese were good before turning bad in 1949. The Japanese were bad Japs before becoming good Japanese. Same with the Germans who were Nazis and Krauts before becoming Germans again.

He goes on to discuss the feelings and events that shaped his life: joining the Army, getting to go to West Point, meeting his wife and having a son, fighting in multiple wars, meeting people of all races and creeds along the way. The small stories and snippets that are what we see of Gole’s life are true and moving to the point of tears. I feel as though, by reading this book, I have glimpsed barely a fraction of this world that I never even knew existed.

Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea.

Vogel, Ezra F., and Byung-Kook Kim. Harvard UP, 2011. ProQuest Ebrary.

By the time my Papa Gene was sent to Korea, the armistice had been signed for over ten years. America was in the midst of drafting soldiers to fight in the Vietnam War, yet many men were still being sent to Korea, to aid the South Korean military and defend the demilitarised zone. But why? Why send valuable men to South Korea, instead of using them to fight in Vietnam?

Park Chung Hee, 1970

This book details what was going on in South Korea from 1961 to 1979, when Park Chung Hee was the president of South Korea. It looks at the situation from all angles, taking into account the economic, political, and diplomatic circumstances of the time to provide an analysis of the choices which shaped the time. It highlights the use of US military support to keep the peace, both between North and South Korea, and in South Korea by itself. Park Chung Hee even specifically sent South Korean soldiers into South Vietnam to support the US there, in part in order to keep the US from moving its own soldiers from South Korea to Vietnam. Supporting the US’s endeavours in Vietnam also helped to put South Korea on a more equal footing in the alliance between the two nations, which before had consisted nearly solely of the US’s support of South Korea.

By sending soldiers to South Vietnam and making agreements with the US for the support, Park was able to keep the USFK (United States Forces Korea) troops in place to defend the DMZ and to respond to any attacks from North Korea. By learning more about what was going on in Korea when my Papa was stationed there, I will hopefully be better equipped to understand when he tells me what it was like there for him.

M*A*S*H

Gelbart, Larry. CBS, 17 Sept. 1972

For those who don’t know, M*A*S*H (short for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is a TV show which follows the story of a team of doctors and military staff stationed in Uijeongbu, South Korea during the Korean War. It ran for 11 seasons from 1972 -1983. The show is primarily a comedy, although some episodes do have a more serious tone.

The M*A*S*H main characters

Seeing how men and women interacted on base was important for me trying to understand my Papa’s life in the military. The fact that the show is set entirely on base was also incredibly helpful because, as an officer, my Papa wasn’t allowed to leave the base to visit the local town. The fact that these interactions are exaggerated for comedy makes it even better for me, because as I mentioned before, my family loves to exaggerate.

Freta A. Nelson v. Milo P. Nelson

Superior Court of Washington for the County of Skagit. 1948.

When beginning to try and find my family history through Ancestry.com, I had difficulty finding the correct records for my paternal great-grandmother, Freta A. Nelson. After talking with my Papa Gene about the problem I discovered why. My great-grandmother was married nine times. This meant that her named changed, and some records that seemed to be about someone else were indeed referring to my great-grandmother. After talking to my Papa about his mom for a while, he gave me something that he thought I would find interesting: my great-grandparents’ divorce records, specifically the court summons that was served to my great-grandfather.

Reading through the document is an interesting endeavour, with some of the reasons for divorce seeming reasonable, like the complaint that “the defendant constantly frequented beer parlors” and “frequently participated in poker games and squandered earnings,” and yet others seem more humorous, such as that my great-grandfather “left the marital home on week-ends and resided with his mother.” It becomes even more humorous after going over it with my grandparents, who say that my great-grandmother often served the drinks, and then won the poker games when the men got too drunk.

Not only did reading and discussing this tell me more about my great-grandmother, it also gave me some more information about my great-grandfather and his job; he worked at a mill. The divorce ended with my great-grandmother having custody of my Papa Gene and his sister Eugenia, as well as her children by a previous marriage, and receiving a child support payment from my great-grandfather.

In addition to the divorce records, my Papa Gene also copied some old family photos and the obituaries of both my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather.

My great-great grandfather Ole Nelson’s obituary
The obituary of my great-grandfather Milo “Shorty” Nelson