Saturday, November 15, 2008


Note: Another long Carlisle story from the nursing home as told by my 90-ish parents. You might want to go to the bathroom first.

“Oh, please,” I pray to Saint Ufdah, the Norwegian patron saint of broken dishware and other minor tragedies, “please don’t let me be the one to break Mrs. Skogen’s bowl and plate.”

When my parents moved from their home to a smaller apartment in 1999, my four sisters and brother and I divided up family treasures that my parents couldn’t fit into their much smaller space. I was fortunate enough to get a cut glass serving bowl and plate that were on the table at every family holiday I can ever remember when I was growing up.

Along with my new ownership of the cut glass bowl and plate came the enormous, self-imposed responsibility of keeping them safe. The dishes had been in our family since June 13, 1941, a wedding gift given to my parents by my mother’s family’s neighbors, the Skogens. The fact that the Skogens truly did not have two nickels to rub together and could not afford such a beautiful wedding gift made it all the more special.

Cut-glass bowl and plate, a 1941 wedding gift from the Skogens

The story starts in May 1920 in rural Carlisle Township, Minnesota—ten miles from the nearest hospital in Fergus Falls. Mrs. Evjen, who doubled as the area midwife and owner of the Carlisle grocery store, was on high alert. On a farm west of Carlisle, Mrs. Skogen was expecting a baby any day.

Even in a rural Norwegian community like Carlisle, where everyone farmed and everyone belonged to Hedemarken Lutheran Church, prosperity did not come equally to all. Some of the farms around Carlisle were rich and fertile, but Skogen’s farm was small and filled with sloughs. Mr. Skogen struggled to make a living for his family. With three children already, Mrs. Skogen’s impending delivery just meant another mouth at his supper table and one less piece of potato lefse on his own plate.

When Mrs. Evjen, Carlisle’s official midwife, was summoned in the middle of the night, she could tell right away it would not be an ordinary birth. Mrs. Skogen was about to deliver twins and the Mrs. Evjen would need help. My grandmother Emma, who lived on the next farm, was quickly summoned. Emma was not a midwife—just a former one-room school teacher with six children of her own. But she had a knack for handling newborns—and with two new babies, Mrs. Evjen would need help.

When Emma arrived at the Skogens, half awake and out of breath, she was immediately aware that something unique was happening. In the tiny one-bedroom Skogen house, there was no private bedroom for the births to take place. Mrs. Skogen lay in labor in the same room where her three older children were sleeping.

Throughout the night, Mrs. Skogen bravely endured the labor and birth of her twins in absolute silence, concerned the entire time about not waking her other three children. The three women worked silently together as a team, and finally two healthy babies were delivered.

When Mrs. Evjen broke the news to the father about the twins, poor Mr. Skogen, without a Hollywood script to read, ensuring that his words would be compassionate and fatherly, sighed and uttered the words that were in his Norwegian-farmer heart: “I’d rather it would have been a bin of calves.”

Emma went home from helping with the births of the Skogen twins completely in awe of the brave mother who hadn’t uttered a single cry during the delivery. Mrs. Skogen became a new measuring stick for bravery at my grandmother’s house. “Was she as brave as Mrs. Skogen?” Emma would ask whenever another baby was born in the community.

In addition to the five Skogen children in this story, a sixth girl was born later. According to my mother, all the Skogen kids grew up and “made something of themselves.” Emma would probably tell you that the children’s success was due to their good, brave mother. She would have given very little credit to the father who would have rather had calves.

So in 1941, when my mother opened the wedding gift containing the beautiful cut glass bowl and plate from the Skogens, she assumed that somehow it was a ‘thank you’ to her mother, Emma. Mrs. Skogen was acknowledging that silent team of women who worked to bring two more babies into the world while not waking the children sleeping on the next bed.

So please, dear Saint Ufdah, don’t let it be me who breaks that bowl or plate. But if I do, please make me as brave as Mrs. Skogen in dealing with the broken pieces.


bd said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing the tales of Carlisle!

Anonymous said...

bd shared your blog site. I grew up 1/2 mile south of the Skogens. I knew 'the twins' well. It was good to take a walk back in time to our roots in Carlisle.

Elaine said...

You are a truly gifted story teller--and it's a great story!

2to4aday said...

Thank you for your comments! It's wonderful to get some feedback--although feedback from readers risks creating a monster.

If no one ever commented, I would probably eventually quit writing in this blog and go back to my former covert habit of writing secret thoughts in clandestine journals that I furtively hide under an undisclosed corner of an unnamed mattress. But a little encouragement gives me the will to persist!

Thank you!

j9 said...

I remember you telling us this story when we were young! What a great tale! It doesn't seem real, however, Norwegians have an odd high tolerance for pain. What's our problem?

j9 said...
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