My great-aunt, Olufina Duesund Andvik (“Fina”), was 109 years and eight months old when she died in Seattle, Washington in May of 2001. Her life took place in three different centuries! She lived eight years and four months in the 19th century, 100 years in the 20th century, and one year and four months in the 21st century. She was the first-born of ten children in my grandfather Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson’s family.
While looking through albums and family records, I came across a reference to a book published 20 years ago by the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Washington titled “Voices of Ballard: Immigrant Stories from the Vanishing Generation”. Ballard, Washington is a suburb in the Seattle metroplex. The book is long out-of-print, but a Google search led me to a used copy from a bookstore in Seattle and it arrived this week.
The book profiles 123 Scandinavian immigrants who settled in the Seattle area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is based on oral interviews that museum staff and volunteers conducted over a two-year period. The very first person in the book is Fina. The interview was conducted when she was either 107 or 108! The second person is her son, Odd Bjarne Andvik (Bjarne), whom I’ve mentioned in other posts.
Fina’s husband, Berge Martin Andvik, emigrated to the United States in 1906, four years before my grandfather. He settled in Seattle and began working for the local streetcar company. He married in 1915 and became a United States citizen in 1916. However, after the birth of his second child in 1919, he decided to move with his new family back to Norway and buy the family farm from a sibling. Tragically, within a year his wife, Ellen Anna Tjelle, contracted tuberculosis and died. The local parish minister realized that Berge needed help raising his two small children so that he could continue farming and introduced him to Olufina. A friendship developed and they were married in 1922.
Bjarne, Olufina and Berge’s first child, was born in 1923. Within a year of Bjarne’s birth, Berge decided that the farm life in Norway was not going to support a family with three children so they packed up and moved back to the United States. Olufina admitted that she wasn’t too excited about leaving Norway, but she agreed with her husband that the move was a good idea for the family’s future.
In the book interview she talked about growing up in Norway and said this:
” Oh, we had breakfast and a noon meal and a supper, but everything was so simple in those days. Mostly we had sheep meat. We couldn’t eat the butter, for instance. We had to sell that and get a little money because there wasn’t many things to get money from in those days at home, very little money. We always live simple, all my life we have been used to little things. My father was very satisfied. He worked hard and we got along, and that’s the way of it.”
Fina recalled that she was a “seter girl”. In the summer, families would take their cow(s) and sheep up into the mountains above the fjord where the grazing was good. Girls from the community would go into the mountains to milk the cows. They were known as the hired girls, “the seter girls”. Seter is the Norwegian term for “place of mountain pasture”. Each family built a small hytte (hut) for the seter girls to sleep. The seter girls would stay with the cows until fall, milking them twice a day and making butter. The farm families would visit regularly, bringing the girls food and carrying the milk and butter down to the valley. The seter girl tradition has disappeared in contemporary Norway and many families have turned their huts into rental cabins for recreational hikers.
One other reflection from Olufina’s interview was about learning English when she came to the United States:
“I didn’t have much problem with language. . . . I never went to school in this country to learn language. I took it all by and by. I always liked to read. So I read quite a bit and learned something by that. I’m surprised at myself sometimes when I think how I was able to read the English. Now I read the New Testament and the church paper. I can’t read too long because I just see with one eye and I get tired.”
In 1969, Olufina, Ragnvald, and their brother Olav traveled to Norway for a reunion with their Duesund siblings on the family farm, Klongrevik. That was the last time that they were all together in the same place. Ragnvald died in 1971 and Olav died in 1977. Olufina, the oldest in the family, outlived them by nearly 25 years!