Land of Opportunity: Tough Times in Land of Milk and Honey

Immigrant’s new adventures lead him to homestead in North Dakota in this land of opportunity.

| Good Old Days

They called the United States the land of opportunity, "the Land of Milk and Honey," but soon found out it wasn't all roses. My folks came from Norway in the early 1900s. My dad came first with his brother for their new adventures in America. They settled in Minnesota, working at various jobs for awhile to make a few dollars. Soon they were anxious to go to North Dakota and homestead. My dad lived in a one-room shack for several years until he could get a piece of land, as did his brother. After buying a few acres, my dad got a hold of a few horses, cows, etc., and started a small farming operation.

A few years went by before he met a beautiful young lady who later would become my dear mother. She came to the United States all alone from the beautiful country of Norway. She said good-bye to her dad and sister, never to see them again. She sailed on a ship for three weeks, not knowing anybody and seasick much of the way. She did take her harmonica with her, and when she got too lonesome she'd go to her little cubbyhole room and play a few tunes. She was so musical and sang all the time. In Norway, she, her dad and sister always sang in a big choir. Perhaps that's why her six children were all musical, playing and entertaining in numerous places.

When she arrived in New York after sailing for three weeks, she got panicky. She couldn't speak English and really never knew whether she had taken the right train to North Dakota; apparently she and the train conductor used a lot of hand signs to communicate. She finally arrived at her destination: Columbus, North Dakota, where some friends from Norway met her. They had helped pay for her trip, and she was to work to pay them back. It was a terrible letdown for her coming to the flat state of North Dakota: poor water, no trees and gumbo all over. She worked at a hotel in town for a couple of years, where she eventually met my dad. They got married in 1909.

I still remember a lot of old-timers saying, "Can't understand why a pretty girl like her didn't find a fellow sooner."

They built a small house on the flat prairies of Dakota and raised six children. Times were really rough in the early days: they had to plant a garden and spuds, raise pigs for meat, cows for cream checks, etc., and chickens for eggs and meat. We had to make do with what we had. Food was simple and plain, no fancy pies or cakes and no frills.

Mother made plenty of quilts in the fall to keep us warm; it seemed as if the wind blew right through the house in those days. Straw mattresses were the thing then. Every fall my older brothers would lug the old mattresses over to the thresh pile and replace the old, ground-up straw with a new batch.

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