"Oline Starts Her Day,"

by Ron Ginther

Oline Madsdatter Vikoren, our family Matriarch over in Norway. What was her usual day like?

Let's go to that little Vik community she and Sjur her young husband lived in. They had Ole, but lost him within a year. It was tragic, but life was tragic for so many young mothers, and she was no different, she had to suffer it and try again.

But they tried to keep going there in old Vik, and soon really couldn't, and moved to Bergen where they did better, finally having more children that survived, and which they brought with them (all four) to America in 1866 on the fixed sail barque, Bodrene, traveling to Worth County, Iowa, to reunite with brother Knud and family, via Quebec.

But back to Vik the starting point. A typical day for Oline, this must have happened:

Oline didn't turn on a light. No electricity. She may have had candles, which she lit, at night only. But candles were a luxury, so they usually went to bed when it grew dark.

In the day, if it was dark in the house, it was dark. She knew where everything was anyway. The outbuildings were dark inside too. So they were just the same. You either knew where everything was, or you felt your way to whatever you wanted.

She got up, leaving Sjur in the warm bed, dressed in whatever else she wore that day, keeping on whatever she wore in bed probably (if this was wintertime).

We don't know where she washed up, but it was probably a bowl, and the water was cold, not heated (no water heater, but if she had a stove she could heat water on it, maybe she kept a water pot there for washing up with, and then had heated water, a little at best for washing her face and hands at least).

She had to get going, as she rose first, to get the fire restoked in the fireplace (no detached iron stove, probably for Oline). Wood?

If she was short, she had to go outside and grab an ax, and chop some, or use some Sjur had already chopped if she was fortunate, but that was a woman's work ordinarily). With an armful of wood, she went back in, sealing the door as best she could against the cold, and got the fire going merrily. Then she went to get breakfast going. What could it be? They had stores of some necessities.

She couldn't go to a store and buy anything, and they had no money usually to do that.

She couldn't borrow, except at rare times, from friends or relatives.

They had to provide for themselves or go hungry.

She had some crocks with food in them, stored up. Some meats and dried fish in the food hut they kept near them. That kept the food safe from bears and birds and also mice, rats, and insects too), since it was up on wooden legs with a spindly ladder few animals could climb. As for birds, the roof was heavy and thick, covered with grass sods and rocks, and they couldn't possibly peck a hole through it.

She climbed up the ladder and got whatever she needed from that little food hut set up on its long legs, enough for the day and sealed it tight as she could, and went back to the kitchen.

Her kitchen wasn't a kitchen to speak of, it had no conveniences at all. It had the fire, some pots and crocks, some eating utensils, some rags, some few benches and bits of furniture. She had some dishes given her at their wedding, or handed down, in a cupboard her husband built.

Her bed was handmade too, and she brought it probably from her father's house to Sjur's.

She had a hand-carved chest to store her best things for attire and her maidenly dowry, but they weren't much, and the chest was small).

She had some few pieces of well-worn silverware. Wooden spoons and utensils sufficed for most uses, however.

She had a few pieces of traditional silver jewelry, and kept them safely wrapped and hidden in the chest, with her own tablecloth she embroidered for special occasions, and other laceries she had worked on. Sweaters she made from the sheep wool, which she made into yarn, she made herself, having been taught by her mother.

She also knitted caps, leggings, skirts, sweaters, wraps, stockings, whatever they found necessary to wear. She sewed the rest from whatever cloth she was able to get by sale or trade.

Just like her shawl and cap, her dress was her own making, it went to the floor, and her leggings and stockings and other items were her own making. Sjur too wore only things she had made. The chidlren when they each came would wear her things too. Sometimes men learned to darn and sew, but usually it was the bachelors who did that for themselves, married men had their wives.

So breakfast, maybe an egg or two from the few chickens they had, or some dried fish (cod), or some bread she had baked by using the flour she had gotten from the miller who processed their grain (she had no millstone probably that could do the job properly). She could make patties with the flour and fry them, and they were very tasty. She could also put out jam or jelly she had made on special occasions. But usually the bread got thick butter she made in the churn.

And milk! She could go and get fresh milk most any time, as they kept a crock with milk in it, to turn into a kind of yogurt to drink, and she could cook porridge with it, by using some flour. She made rommegrot quite a few days in a row, and it was served hot with butter melting on top, and maybe a sprinkle of sugar (she couldn't spare cinnamon for daily use). But honey she had, for use as sweetening.

So breakfast was pretty good as a meal went: some bread in one form or another, maybe some cheese they made, maybe some dried codfish, maybe some porridge. But not a lot of this--they had to keep the portions relativelysmall, so as to last the long, long winter and the even leaner springtime before the garden and the crops could produce anything.

If the cow wasn't giving, well, that was a hardship, but they had to rely on stored cheese and milk turned sour or into yogurt and preserved in crocks. Cheese was a good item to store. Fish also. Eggs could be stored too, frozen or in crocks covered with lard.

Sjur could hunt some, besides fish, and the larder or pantry could have some dried wild deer or wildfowl in it stored in lard or dried.

The breakfast was probably a silent repast, maybe some bits of news could be shared, and something remarked about concerning the day's weather and the work to be done, weather permitting. Sheep and cow needed tending. Oline and Sjur shared that duty.

Their few livestock and maybe a couple or more chickens, they needed to be kept healthy and fed and safe. Where were they? Often in the house, beneath or alongside the house. So they could hear the animals, and tell if everything was okay with them or not.

Breakfast was early, arranged and eaten in the dark of the new day's dawn, and the day started even before they ate, for Oline particularly.

But after that it was serious labor. Seeing to the livestock, going out to work at a neighbor's in Sjur's circle of friends or relations who could use a young healthy man (it paid little, very little, but it helped). They were pretty poor folk, these Stadems, so they counted their pennies carefully and spent them carefully, judging exactly when and for what they were to be spent.

It took saving them for some time to get something more expensive, They couldn't run up bills, and expect not to get in real trouble. They needed to pay taxes too. Since their holding was poor, they probably had more needs than they could supply themselves, but they just had to go without most of the time.

Church was a welcome relief to the daily grind. They had their own Bible in the house, worn and tattered, but to go to church, they could dress in their best, and look and feel like better folks for a few hours anyway, not the hand-to-mouth serfs they really were.

In church God treated people with no respect of persons--so it was in the Holy Word, and they believed the Word. They did not feel like landless peasants there. They were God's people.

And the church had (the grand stone Hove church where they married, then the Hopperstad church in Vik) a fine altar, and carvings, and even the glint of gold, and rich colors painted on various things, the altar and railings and even the walls). It reminded them of high Heaven, how glorious it must be up there, when their lives were over and God took them home.

The service was a rich experience, with the singing of hymns, the ceremonies of the liturgy, the vestments of the minister or his appointed substitute, the words of the sermon that were hard to understand but spoke of holy teachings of the Lord.

Yes, it was a thing to anticipate, being in church, when services were held, that is. They didn't always get to go, as things happened: very bad weather, sickness, the minister going away for a time, and other events.

The daily grind went on regardless. It was the life they knew, and had always known.

But they were still young, they could still dream of bettering their lives and circumstances. Everyone talked these days of America, emigrating there, and so they heard the stories of life over there, and they could compare them with what they faced day after day. Being virtually destitute, they could safely dream of a better life for themselves and their chidlren, if they made the break. That took savings they did not have sufficiency of.

Thus the "break" was to go to the big seaport of Bergen down the coast from Sogn, and thence they went, soon as they were able to quit Vik and their tiny Stadheim farmstead. After all, Knud had proved it could be done, and Sjur and Oline thought they could too, with God's helping provision.

So to Bergen they went, and found some little place to rent and then call home, as Sjur got himself a job as night watchman, being young and strong for such work and an honest family man.

From this base they worked to further their plans of emigration. By the time they felt ready, they had four children.

Even in the outskirts of the big city, with a bit of fenced yard, they continued their farm lifestyle of Vik as best they could, to be as self-sufficient as they could be and save money. Vik helped them along with Sjur's wages. They finally could afford the boat fare, and a little over, to start life anew with in Worth County, Iowa, with Knud and the other brethren.

It was thrilling for them when the day and moment came when they shut the door of their Bergen dwelling, and went and boarded the Bodrene, the ocean-sailing ship, joining the other emigrants, after seeing to their official government papers for emigration and paying the fare at the shipping company office.

Reduced to little baggage, they carried what they could aboard.

A chest, maybe, a couple satchels or bags, some food, some savings, some clothing and blankets, maybe a pillow and a few handmade toys Papa Sjur had carved or made for the children to amuse themselves with on the long weeks of voyaging.


Note on the New Life: Did Oline find it hard in America too? Yes, she did. But little by little, sometimes by quite a lot, they got ahead with all their hard work. America was better than Norway, they could own land now, a lot of it too, and never could that have happened in Norway! Only the rich could own parcels of land there. Here the ordinary farmer could own a lot of land, and not be considered rich for that either. They were given 160 acres by the government, if they would work it for five or six years and live on it. So this they applied for and got, and it was the beginning of a new, better life, and their family grew and flourished.

They also applied themselves to God and the Church. They believed God for all this love and faithfulness to them from their youth, and his provision had been more than sufficient. Thus they were thankful, and gave of themselves freely to God's work in the church, Willow Creek in Berlin Township. Their first child born in America was confirmed there. They also saw a grandson married there, Peder Stadem and his bride Marie Karlson. Their cup was full to overflowing! Yes, they lost their house in the building to a cyclone and had to go live with their sons Ole and Berent Martin on their farm, but there was room for them and they had years to contribute to a better life there. It was a good life in America, despite the hard winters sometime, and the cyclones that came to the area now and then to wreak havoc. As far as deaths, they could come early in life, and they lost several children that way, but that was common to life both in Norway and America, and they left it to God's understanding, not theirs, despite the grief they had losing little children. God was their comfort then, and he was unfailing in his tender mercies, despite the harshness of the Law that sometimes terrified them with thoughts of hellfire. Yet Grace was given them, in the Word, in the Gospel, and that was their hope for their Resurrection, that their sins were cleansed away by the blood shed by Christ on the Cross for them and all men.

This they stoutly and whole-heartedly believed and that belief kept them in peace until they lay down in their beds for the last time, fallen sick and unable to work anymore, and, as the Holy Bible was read to them, their spirits departed amidst a circle of loving family and even the Pastor of their church.

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