Check here for a complete list of previous MBOBs.
This is a chapter from the book – so I’m cheating a little today. Previous MBOBs are provided in the list above in case you are familiar with this story and would like to find one you haven’t read.
Those pages became an “Ah ha!” moment for me because he described the world view of our family with almost eerie accuracy. It had not occurred to me that any such understanding of our perspective existed outside of Montana.
Young people in a stable subculture have many advantages and blessings but the distant view of the microcosm they inhabit must be found elsewhere. They truly don’t know that their particular family did not spring fully formed at the point of their own birth. Even the date of their parents’ marriage would be a mistaken starting point for something that actually began to take form a long time ago in a country far, far away. When they do discover the distant view documented by an author or an artist they may still marvel as I did, “He doesn’t know us. So how does he know us so well?”
The minimal interest in self-preservation that Lauring describes is significant in the light of an observation made elsewhere in the book:
Even though the central, basic land of Denmark has been obliged to cede various territories, the nation is nevertheless still there….Denmark has maintained her position throughout her 1,000-year old history. Her inhabitants represent one of the few peoples in Europe that have never suffered from large-scale invasions or population transfers and so today can really claim for the most part to be the descendants of the “Danes” of the Stone Age.
Lauring attributes the perpetual lack of military preparedness to a conviction that money thus spent was “spent unwisely.”
One sometimes has the feeling that the Danish outlook has never developed beyond the idea that, in time of war, you take your rusty battle-axe down from the wall – or go and try to find it in the woodshed where it has been serving a useful purpose – and sharpen it on a grind-stone…Preparedness has seldom been a strong point in Danish history. The Danish people are too tied up with everyday life, are blessed with too great a sense of humour to be eternally en garde. Their mentality dictates their fate.
Mr. Lauring’s observations reflect our family’s unspoken rules:
- Mind your own business.
- Keep your nose to the grindstone.
- Don’t hit back.
- Stay inside your own fence line.
His descriptions of the old Danes sent me to my personal notes to scribble these words alongside quotes from his book, “Well. That explains a lot.”
My maternal grandfather was born in Fyn, (Funen) Denmark in 1864. His future wife was born on the island of Bornholm in 1878. Bornholm is all-by-its-lonesome in the Baltic Sea, located so thoroughly east of Denmark’s mainland that it looks like it could belong to Sweden.
Grandfather immigrated to America in 1892 and lived first in Racine, Wisconsin where he was a house painter and bakery delivery driver. His wife-to-be came to America in 1894 when she was sixteen years old, the only one of her family to emigrate, as was he. They were married in 1897, and neither of them ever saw siblings, parents, or homeland again.
By 1910, when they homesteaded in northeastern Montana, they had six children and he needed a house. He found a 12′ X 24′ building for sale, purchased it, and dragged it to the homestead with a good team of horses. The family of eight moved in, made it a home, and Grandfather began breaking sod. After twenty years, he was able to purchase his first tractor, an Oil Pull Rumley, and eventually moved up to a Fordson.
By 1924, they had eleven girls and two boys. An early dream for the family was achieved when a small pump organ was shipped by train from Racine to supplement the guitar and harmonica music already being made in their home.
My oldest brother, born in 1927, began receiving letters from Grandfather when he was three years old, the first of them in 1930. In the monograph Calvin prepared about our maternal grandparents he describes the old man’s way of writing to a very young boy, “Every letter opens with compliments and is closed with guidance.” He was in second grade in 1934 when he received this note:
I was surprised that you could write and spell so well. I am so glad that you like to go to school. You must have a good teacher since you are learning so fast. It will be nice when your little sister will be going along in another year, and you as a good and big brother can look after her. You know girls, little girls anyway, sometimes need a brother who is willing to give a hand.
They walked two miles each way to the country school house. And, yes – according to the stories they told, it was uphill both ways so a little girl certainly might “need a brother who is willing to give a hand.”
In an earlier letter after her birth in 1930, Grandpa had written to him, I am longing so much to see your little sister and find out for sure if she is as sweet as she looks…I know you will be a very “good little boy” and that is the reason I like you so much.
It was not considered an unkindness to let a boy know that being liked was connected to being good. Grandfather Frederic thought good little boys were easier to like and, of course, he was right about that.
His gentle humor came out in another letter written in Danish to one of his older daughters on April 13, 1937 just after the marriage of one of her ten sisters. The daughter he wrote to was unable to attend the wedding because she lived seventy miles away and had just delivered her third baby, so he shares a personal anecdote from the celebration.
You would have rejoiced in being at the wedding. It was a beautiful festivity, and I had the honor of giving away the bride. My legs are weak but it all went as it should.
Just before we left, Niels and I were sitting in the living room, and I couldn’t keep from saying to him, “Now, see here Niels, if I now come up to the Altar with Anna, and then you are not there to receive her, then I will be very disappointed.” Then he answered in a “Dry Humor,” “Yes, but if now I come up to the Altar and am standing and waiting, and then you fail to come with Anna, then it will be me who will be disappointed.”
There were no disappointments. Everything went as planned previously.
Grandfather Hansen died twelve days after writing this letter.
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