Another story from the nursing home as told by my 90- and 92-year-old parents.
“Ta av eders hat, papa.”
When I asked my dad, age 92 and incarcerated in Room 117 of the Knute Nelson Nursing Home, what he remembered about his first day at school in 1923, that is what he said. “Ta av edera hat, papa.”
“What does that mean?” I asked. Norwegian is not my first language, nor my second language, nor any language, I guess. My parents both spoke Norwegian in their homes until they went to school, but by the time my brother and sisters and I came along, we spoke American!
My father’s eyes twinkled. “It’s what I said to my father when we walked into school,” he said.
“So what does it mean?” I asked.
“Take off your hat, papa,” he laughed. His father, my Grandpa Albert, always wore a fedora hat. Felt in the winter, straw in the summer. And when he came inside, he had a habit of pushing it back on his head—not removing it, just pushing it back on his head. It looked kind of jaunty.
So when my dad and he walked into the schoolhouse on that first day, my dad saw the teacher eying his father’s hat. “Ta av eders hat, papa,” little Elmer said quietly. My grandpa removed his hat.
The teacher understood Norwegian—and she remembered that story until Elmer was all grown up. She teased him about it when she saw him, even when he was a man.
I asked my mother about her first day of school. She remembers it was raining. Her father, Edward, was the clerk of the school board, so he felt it was his duty to come to the school the first day and make sure that everything was all ready for the school year. (He was a conscientious, responsible man--honestly, a pillar of the community).
Note: In the 1920s, my mother's grandparents boarded the school teachers at their house. Several of their sons, including my mother’s uncles and my mother’s father, married schoolteachers. Imagine that!
So on the first day of school in 1924, my mother’s father hitched up the horse and the buggy, loaded her and her brothers into the buggy, and headed to the schoolhouse in the rain. She remembers that her father walked with her into the schoolhouse and asked the teacher if everything was all right for her first day of teaching. The teacher said everything was fine, and he left. He had done his duty as the school board clerk.
Some readers encourage me to write more stories from the nursing home. My parents tell me stories, but some of them aren’t so pretty. Even in the old days, there were suicides, still births, tragic broken engagements, brothers angry with brothers, unhappy marriages, and all kinds of sadness. I hesitate to write those stories because there are still people living who don’t want their sadness all over the Internet. I respect that.