The other day I realized that I’ve written much more about my grandfathers in this blog than about my grandmothers. It hasn’t been intentional, but it made me somewhat uncomfortable to recognize that fact. It’s true that my grandfathers took most if not all of the photographs that I have. It’s also true that all of the documentation that I have of their collective lives was written or recorded by the grandfathers. Still, the pictures show clearly that my grandmothers were ever present at most of the functions and activities that are in the record.
My maternal grandmother, Josephine Karine Tryggeseth Femrite, had two nicknames, Josie and Jo. That’s how my sister, Martha Jo Bergeson, came by her middle name. I suspect that my grandmother was named Josephine because her mother had two sisters named Josephine, both of whom died as children. Some might call it bad luck to be named for recently deceased relatives, but I completely understand the desire to remember and honor young family members taken too soon by death.
Josie was an only child, the daughter of Nils Johan Tryggeseth and Hansine (Sina) Lindseth Tryggeseth. Their family portrait is at the top of this post. Josie was born in 1897 in Dawson, Minnesota, a small town on the western edge of the state. Her parents were both Norwegian immigrants, Nils from a town called Saebo and Sina from Bødo, both coastal communities on the western edge of Norway. Nils came to the United States in 1887, two years after his brother Kolbein, while Sina arrived with her whole family in 1887.
Both Nils and Kolbein were farmers, each owning and working160 acres in the same section of Hamlin Township in Lac Qui Parle County. Nils also raised Aberdeen-Angus cattle.
Hiram Miles Femrite and Josie were married in Madison, Minnesota in 1922. I have individual portraits of them from about that time, but I’ve never found a picture of them together on their wedding day. For several years after they were married, they managed the Red Owl grocery store in Madison. (I included a picture of them in the store in a previous post “Retail Runs in the Family”). When my mother was born in 1927, Josie became stay-at-home mom.
My mother, Patricia Femrite Bergeson, was an only child, just like Josie. When she left for college, Josie likely thought that her child-raising days were over. In 1947, however, when my mother was a rising junior, Hiram’s sister, Hannah Femrite Pomeroy, died in Seattle, leaving behind two young boys, one nine years old and one six. Hannah’s husband worked for the railroad and couldn’t raise his boys alone with that kind of occupation. As a result of that reality, my grandparents welcomed the younger of the two boys, John Charles Pomeroy, into their home.
1947 was a very emotional year for my grandmother. She lost her mother, Sina, in January, young John came to live with them in August, and she lost Nils, her father, in October. Josie was John’s mother for eight years until her death. (I wrote an earlier post about John if you’re interested: “Cousin John Pomeroy”). It’s really hard to wrap my head around the fact that when I was born in 1952, my grandmother was the mother of an eleven-year-old boy at the age of 55. She must have been an incredibly special person.
Unfortunately, I have no memory of Grandma Josie since she died suddenly when I was just three years old. Mother always told me how much I would have liked her, but for me, it’s as if I never met her. Still, even though I have no memory of her when she was alive, I do have vivid memories of the day she died and the days that followed, since her death was such a crushing tragedy for my mother and our young family.
It was January 1956. My family had lived for the previous two years in the far northeastern corner of North Dakota in a town called Edinburg, 50 miles south of the Canadian/US border. Dad was a circuit preacher there with three different rural congregations. In late 1955 he received a call to be the pastor in charge of youth ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield, Minnesota and he accepted the call. We moved in late December and he was installed in his new role on January 23. My grandparents had traveled to Northfield to help with our move-in and celebrate Dad in his new job at Sunday services.
After the services we had a celebratory dinner in our new home. Hiram and Josie left Northfield mid-afternoon for the return trip to Madison. A couple of hours after they left the phone rang. I don’t know how I can remember this from the age of three, but I will never forget the terror in my mother’s voice while she was on the phone with her dad. Josie had had a heart attack in the car and Hiram had stopped in Bird Island, Minnesota for assistance. To this day I don’t know if she died in the car or lived long enough to get to a hospital or a doctor. Many years later I learned that one of Josie’s first cousins lived in Bird Island and that’s where Grandpa must have gone. That’s where he made the phone call to my mother.
The next couple of years were challenging in our family: new town, new job, starting school for my sister and me, and the loss of our grandmother. However, I know that we did OK despite the uncertainty and the sadness. Looking back on those days, I want to remember my very special parents and grandparents smiling. I think this picture does that well for me.