Grandpa Ragnvald was a storyteller

In addition to being an electrical engineer, an inventor, a scoutmaster, a father and an all-around wonderful human, my grandfather Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson was a writer. I found his first published efforts in “The Zephyr”,  the 1918 student yearbook of Augustana College (now known as Augustana University) in Canton, South Dakota (Augustana College moved from Canton to Sioux Falls the year after Ragnvald graduated). He is pictured in several co-curricular groups including the Demosthenian Literary Society, a debate club, but he also wrote a story called “The Power of Love”, which was included in the yearbook the year he graduated. Click on this link to read The Power of Love .

After he retired from a career at Commonwealth Edison in Chicago, he and Grandma Gladys moved to Florida and built a house in Dunedin. One of his projects during those years was enrolling in a correspondence course (think distance education, but using the US Postal Service instead of the internet!) with the Famous Writers School in Westport, Connecticut. He wrote fiction and non-fiction for his adviser as well as speeches and humorous pieces.

I have his briefcase which contains a number of pieces that are drafts-in-progress, all typed double-spaced on onionskin paper. Some of them have redlined comments on them from his teacher. Recently, I inherited a finished piece of his that I’d never seen before. My Uncle Hal (Ragnvald and Gladys’s middle son) died last month and at a gathering after his interment, my cousin Dave and his wife Gwen gave me an autobiographical story of Ragnvald’s titled “The Runaway: A near tragedy with complications (A true story)”. It was several days before I had the time to read it.

First of all, the story itself is well-developed and entertaining. But in addition, it contains enlightening insights into his existential situation and his ability to think on the fly in spite of his limited resources. The context of the story involves his job selling books to South Dakota farm families during the summer of 1916. He financed his college expenses in this way. The plan was to spend 12 weeks selling and then to deliver the books during the last two weeks of summer vacation. The delivery would need to be done with a team of horses and a wagon to carry the books. Here’s how the story begins:

“Happily, my 1916 summer  vacation from school was drawing to a close. The three months spent in and around Flandreau, South Dakota as a book salesman had been crowded with unusual – often adverse experiences. Even the rain the last few days had made the roads difficult for my borrowed team of broncos and had disrupted my schedule for delivery of the books I had sold. But on this clear and beautiful September morning, as I was leaving the farm where I had found lodging for the night, I felt rejuvenated in spirit by the bright rays of the morning sun adding fresh color to the landscape. Well protected from the cold, crisp air by my warm jacket and the lap robe tucked snuggly around my knees, and bent on making up for lost time, I scarcely noticed the jarring as the buggy swung in upon the highway, so very muddy the day before, but now rough and hard from the first frost of the season.

My spirited broncos, their heads high and their ears alert to any strange sound that might trigger them to a gallop, seemed to sense my eagerness to make haste. They quickly assumed a fast gait, and it required a firm grip on the reins to hold them in check.”

Grandpa’s plan was a good one, but as with many well-made plans, things don’t always go the way that they’re supposed to. This time a completely unpredictable event occurred that presented him with a major challenge. The beauty of the story is the way that Grandpa didn’t panic, enlisted the support of local farmers and worked the problem. I believe this was not an insignificant event in his life because he wrote the story when he was in his 70s, more than 50 years after it happened.

I don’t want to give away the ending, so I hope you’ll read the complete story! Click on this link:  The Runaway


Grandpa Ragnvald during his college days




One thought on “Grandpa Ragnvald was a storyteller

  1. Hi Dan, Now I know where you got some of your great writing skills – Grandpa Ragnvald. I love to write, too. Your story about Grandpa here is wonderful. Plus, I had never read either of Grandpa’s stories – “The Runaway” and “The Power of Love.” I can’t wait to share all this with my family. Thank you!

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