I was visiting Norwegian relatives in Odda on the Fourth of July in 1971 when they took me to the town square, where the U.S. flag was flying high over their village nestled on the mountainous shores of Hardanger Fjord.
“Did you know there are more people of Norwegian descent in the U.S. than there are in Norway?” they asked me. Maybe this is no longer true with the higher standard of living afforded by the North Sea oil industry, but I don’t know.
My father’s parents, Ingeborg Øyre and Ragnvald Olson, became acquainted while working on neighboring farms in North Dakota. After marrying, they came west looking for work.
They did not speak Norwegian in the home as they raised their seven children. “We are Americans now,” they simply explained. Grandma Olson, however, shared her knack for making krumkake, lefse and fattigmann, and it isn’t Christmas until I have done the same.
My mother’s father, John Veroske, and his brother, Luke, fled Belarus during World War I because they were sending Polish farm boys to the front lines to be slaughtered. They walked north to a Baltic seaport town and stowed away on a ship bound for Canada. When found out, they shoveled coal into the ship’s boiler engines to pay for their passage. Somehow they made their way to coal-mining jobs in Kimberly, B.C. One of the oldest of 16 or 17 children, it was more important for John to help raise food to eat than go to school.
Luke Veroske was deported for trying to organize a miners’ union. We have translations of two letters from him pleading for money, but there was no other contact after that. Raising five children on a ranch up the Entiat River during the Depression, my grandparents had struggles enough of their own. There was nothing extra to send.
I asked Grandpa Johnny a time or two to tell me how to say “bread” or something in Polish. “Oh, you no needa know dat!” he would bark back at me. I still think it sad he thought he had to let go of his past.
Ina Pearl Anthony, my maternal grandmother, was born in 1904 in southwest Missouri. She often spoke of the day the bank auctioned off everything the family owned when they lost their farm in North Dakota. The Anthonys lived near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, then Kimberly before settling in Withrow.
Grandma Pearl graduated from the eighth grade in Withrow, cooked for the wheat harvest crews that summer, then became the very young wife of Johnny Veroske. With $500 in the bank, he was rich and very interesting to a girl who had grown up with few comforts.
Pearl’s father, John Anthony, ran a successful shoe repair shop in downtown Chelan. An Anthony’s Shoe Shop ad is painted on the historic Ruby Theater curtain which hangs in the Lake Chelan Historical Society’s museum in downtown Chelan. He was also a popular fiddler for the Saturday night dances, and could quote a few Walt Whitman poems from memory. His English grandfather, Grandpappy Burns, fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, was injured and had a comfortable life with a $7 a month disability pension.
As you can see, I know what it means to come to the U.S. from another land. I know what it means to savor U.S. citizenship. That’s why I am involved with citizenship efforts here in the Lake Chelan Valley in the north end of Chelan County, where not much has been done to help people fit in and feel like they belong to the place where they work, pay taxes, raise their American-born children and follow the laws of our land.
My mother, a 1941 graduate of Chelan High School, can still hear the jeering voices calling her names out on the playground of the little schoolhouse near Ardenvoir. My father, also a ’41 CHS grad, had to leave home and work hard to put himself through high school.
I want to help others become legal citizens with a secure place in American culture, to have the successful lives my grandparents sacrificed so much to secure for themselves and their descendants.
Vicki Carr writes about the Chelan area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org