Thursday, May 14, 2009


(Another memory from my 90-ish parents, telling stories from the nursing home.)

My mother admits that she was pretty old—probably around fourth grade—before she realized that God wasn’t Norwegian.

At the time she was a little girl—in the 1920s—Norwegian was the only language spoken in her home. And on Sunday mornings, at Hedemarken Lutheran Church, the service was in Norwegian, too. At school, the children were taught in English and all their books were in English; but their school books weren’t about God. All the prayers she knew and all the religious material she read about God were written strictly in Norwegian.

The great realization came when she was around ten years old. Many community social events were held at the one-room schoolhouse in those days (just like you see on Little House on the Prairie). At this particular community event, the Beske girls were in attendance. The Beske sisters did not attend Hedemarken Lutheran Church because they were German—and the Germans had their own church. My mother remembers that one of the Beske girls picked up a piece of chalk and started writing some words in German on the blackboard. When my mother asked what she was writing, the Beske girl explained that the words referred to God.

My mother was shocked. She had no idea that a person could write about God in German. She had thought He belonged entirely to the Norwegians because everything she had ever heard or read about God in her short, sheltered lifetime was in Norwegian. She never said anything to the Beske girl, and she never asked anyone about her newfound knowledge or discussed it with a grownup. It was just like a light bulb had gone on in her head.

Hedemarken stuck to Norwegian services long after many of the parishioners (the younger generation or people moving into the community) could no longer speak the language fluently. It wasn’t until Pastor Salveson came that English started creeping in because he had pity for the non-Norwegians in the congregation. First he got the congregation to agree to every other Sunday—one Sunday in Norwegian and the next in English--before he switched over to English completely.

Some old-timers were staunchly opposed to the English services. My Grandpa Albert was church treasurer at the time, and he remembers one stubborn parishioner in particular who wrote on the outside of his offering envelope, “For the Norwegian Service ONLY.”

My dad had sat thoughtfully while my mother told this story. Then he said (mostly with a twinkle in his eye) that he was so slow that he probably didn’t realize God wasn’t Norwegian until after he was confirmed because all their confirmation lessons were in Norwegian, too—including all the prayers, creeds, and Bible verses they memorized. Then more seriously, he said that for many years, he always thought about God and talked to God in Norwegian, convinced that Norwegian was the language God understood the best.
P.S. More memories from my parents can be found at: 5/5/09 (Aunt Clara), 4/17/09 (Great Friend and Good Neighbor, Ralph), 3/9/09 (Family Military History), 2/24/09 (The Readers), 2/4/09 (First Two Men in My Life), 1/26/09 (Evening), 12/9/08 (Horse Memories), 11/15/08 (As Brave as Mrs. Skogen), 11/22/08 (My Parents' First House), and 8/25/08 (Stories from the Nursing Home).

1 comment:

Sara and Zach said...

If I may put in a request- ask your mom for stories about my grandpa Clifford and Fred & Elmer. I love reading the stories from the nursing home and make my husband (Zach) sit by me while I read your blog to him!
Also, give your parents a hug from me and tell them I say HI!
-Sara Fjestad Lange