Friday, June 12, 2020

Preface to "I Couldn't Milk Another Goat"

Preface to 
"I Couldn't Milk Another Goat"

My Grandmother Carrie was almost 91 in 1969 when she put her green-ink-filled fountain pen on paper to start her memoir.  Her working space was a gnarly old desk in the study on the second floor of their house on McKinley Street in Northeast Minneapolis.  She made it to almost 10 pages but then couldn’t finish it.  She’d been in the States since 1903 but rarely wrote anything in English - not even the grocery lists she gave to her husband, Rasmus.  She didn’t want us to have to translate from Norwegian, so she felt miserable when she stopped writing.   I was the one who had encouraged her to take on the project, so I was the one she telephoned. 

-----    “Paul, I vont you to help me vit my story. You kun ask me kvestions and you can write down my answers. Ven are you koming home?”  In 1969 my wife and I were at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas for my first assignment in what turned out to be a near 30-year Air Force career.  “Grandma, we’ll be there with you in Minneapolis for Christmas so don’t worry about a thing,” I said.  At that moment we had a contract.  Over the next five years when we saw each other I’d keep plugging away taking notes and making audio recordings for the manuscript.  -----


She had an absolutely amazing memory.  This collaboration lasted until just a month before she passed in 1974, just shy of 96 years of age.

One of the first things I asked her was why she had left such a beautiful village on a Norwegian fjord. Without hesitation she said, “Da truth is I just couldn’t milk another goat.”  She followed that up by saying she knew that answer was too simple and that there was much more to her story, but her quick initial response told me we were going to have fun with this project.  Granny had a sense of humor.

Her firm wish was that I write the book as if she were dictating it.  She gave me license to “add some spice” – akin to the way she thought about adding flavor to her sometimes “mild tasting” Norwegian cooking. “I’ll let you add da pepper” she said.  This book is, therefore, a historical novel.  The main entrée is hers with complementary side dishes I provide. 


Since our collaboration on Carrie Thorson’s life story took place almost 50 years ago, you might rightly ask… why a book now?  Why her?  Of what possible interest is this lady to me?  Well, see if any of the questions below are ones you might ask.  If so, Carrie Thorson has some answers.

Norwegian History
Why did so many Norwegians immigrate to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?  What was the process many went through to make the trip?  What did immigrants give up when they left the “old country?”   What was life like when farming machinery was not yet available?  What were the options when farms could no longer sustain a family?  What were rural Norwegian schools like in the 19th and early 20th centuries?  How did the Nazis occupation change Norwegian life during World War II?

Minnesota (especially Northeast Minneapolis) History
What kind of a city was Minneapolis like before cars, telephones, radios, and residential electricity?  Why was 1918 one of the worst years in Minnesota history?  In what ways did the Great Depression affect life in Northeast Minneapolis?  What did families do for entertainment?  Who were the early politicians of renown in the city and state? 

Until recently I don’t think I truly appreciated the gift Carrie Thorson had given me during our talks.  Her memory for events was amazing.   It took me several years to realize just how revealing she had been about subjects many people were curious about.
Here are a few things she had hand-scribed in Norwegian before electing to do the oral history sessions with me:

I hated tending the goats when I was a girl.  They wiggled and fidgeted and jumped and bellowed a weird noise.  It was like a wrestling match for me to get a full pail of milk. And I had to do it for each of them.  If we’d had just a few goats it would have been alright, but in 1896 Dad bought eight more than the ten we already had and I was typically all alone to hold them down, get my stool in place, position the pail, and then pray they didn’t jolt.  It wasn’t the way a young girl dreams of spending her summers. But don’t get me wrong.  I think very fondly of my early days in Norway, but it would have been better without the damn goats.

Let me also explain my “given” name change.  In Norway it was “Kari” but when I got to America, I immediately changed it to “Carrie.”  It wasn’t really my idea but that of the attendant at Ellis Island who said she knew how it “should be” spelled.  I thought that was rude but didn’t want to get in an argument with someone on my first day on American soil.  I could see me being deported for insubordination.  In my head, I’m still Kari.  

You’ll see many newspaper clippings that I’ve saved over the years.  I have a good memory, thank God, but I liked saving things I cut out of the newspaper.  There were often more interesting things in the news than were happening around our house.  I figured the clippings would help me remember them when I got old.  I was right.

Carrie wanted her book to include a map of Northeast Minneapolis showing how many residences her family lived in from 1905 to the time she had to sell the house on McKinley
Street in 1971.  While they did live in all nine listed below,  four were vacated and kept as rental properties after only a few months stay (#s 1, 2, 4, and 6). 

To see a 40-second video clip of  Carrie Kirkeeide Thorson in 1971 go to: www.tinyurl.com/CarrieKirkeeide


Another highly recommended video you might view before continuing.  In 2013 two young Norwegian fellows (Lars Gathe and Hartvig Johannsen) toured the U.S. to document the lives of descendants of Norwegian immigrants.  
It’s an amazing 51 minutes well worth your time:


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