Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with Olaf Kvamme, Part 1

  • By Jennifer Carrell
  • Posted 9/18/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5746

Olaf Kvamme (1923-2013), a tireless leader of the Scandinavian community, Seattle church historian, former teacher, and Administrator for Seattle Public Schools describes his early life. Born in Norway, his family immigrated to America for economic opportunity. In Part I of this Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Oral History Project Interview, he talks about his family's Norwegian traditions, going through the school system with an accent, and he describes the various jobs he had: milking the cows in the mornings, picking vegetables on a Japanese owned farm, and working in a market to put himself through college. He also has this bit of advice for us: "Don't ever tangle with a Swedish Finn. You'll get cleaned out." Jennifer Carrell interviewed Olaf on May 2nd, 2000.

This is Jennifer Carrell . . .doing an interview for the Vanishing Generation Oral History Project about Ballard. Today is the second day of May, 2000, and I'll be interviewing . . .

Olaf Kvamme, or also Olaf Johannesen Kvamme.

And we are in Shoreline, King County, Washington, and we're going to begin the interview.

You mentioned something interesting about your name and the two different names that you use. I'd like to know more about that.

Well, when we emigrated from Norway to the United States, when I entered, somehow my first name, which is O-L-A-V, got changed to O-L-A-F. I don't know how that occurred, whether it occurred -- probably not at the immigration activity but probably after they arrived in Tacoma and just sort of it naturally happened. And then my middle name was never used here in this country. I assumed I never had a middle name. It was Johanneson, my dad's first name, Johannes, and that, you know, leads to another story.

My dad's name was Johannes and his middle name was Olson, his father's first name. His older brother had the same name, Johanneson -- Johannes Olson Kvamme, two brothers with the exact first name. So, that's a little unusual.

And then how did you tell the difference between them in the family?

Well, one was Litle Johannes, Little Johannes, and the other one was Store Johannes, Big John. Well, they -- you took the names John from Johannes when they came here.

Okay. Well, going back to the beginning, where did all of this start back in Norway?

Well, we're from a, what you would call in Norway a gard, a series of homes, seven homes, in a little valley, Kvamme, right near Bergen. Ytre Arna is the -- was the nearest town that -- at that time it was in the County of Haus, H-A-U-S, and now it's part of the Bergen city limits, but it's still fairly rural in its appearance.

And you have visited there?

Yes, I have been back a number of times. I have cousins, first cousins galore, in the area.

What is the landscape like, or how would you describe the area?

Well, it's a narrow valley, hillsides on both sides, and not too fertile but good enough to have cattle munching on grass in the area. And not overly scenic except for the fact that it is hollowed out after -- sort of an isolated area.

Having been there and lived here, do you see any similarities or differences between those two areas?

Yes. I -- I think that there is a -- you know, the climate is not that different. Maybe a little rainier in Bergen than here, maybe just a few degrees colder in winter and fewer warm days. From a weather point of view, it's -- it wouldn't be a hard adjustment to move from one to the other. And from a physical appearance it's similar.

All right. Okay. I'd love to know about your family, the order of your siblings and their names and your parents'names and anything you might want to mention about their heritage.

Well, first with my parents, they lived across the road from each other. And in fact, as a five-year-old, my mother's family temporarily lived with my father's family and then eventually bought some property from my father's family and built a home right across the road so that those two families were very close. And the two families are very close here so that some of the older children in that family have more in common with the kids across the road than with their younger siblings because there were 12 kids in each family so that there -- you've got 24 aunts and uncles there, and that can generate an awful lot of cousins.

Yes. So, when you say "here," here in the United States?

Yes.

And those families have come over?

Yes. About -- I should really know the numbers, but, say in my father's family, Big John came, Malla came, Magnus came, Ole came, Trygve came, Oscar came, Gudrun came. And --

And who stayed?

And the ones that stayed were not as many. Ovidia stayed, Harald stayed, and Ragnhild stayed. I don't know if that's 12 or not --

Okay. Close.

(Continuing) -- but that's on my father's side. On my mother's side, Kristine came, Sverre came, Knut came, Ole came. And the ones that stayed were Borghild and Marta and Magnus and, oh, I'm forgetting --

Well, we can pick it up later.

(Continuing) -- the next one. So, anyway --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- you get the picture.

So, your dad's family had 12? So, there's 12 children in the family?

Yes.

And your mother had --

Twelve children in her family.

(Continuing) -- twelve also. Okay. And her maiden name, I see the spelling here. Is it R-I-V-E-N-E-S?

Yes. Rivenes.

Rivenes. Okay. So, her full name would be?

Was Eli Alvhilda Rivenes.

Okay. And your father?

Johannes Olsen Kvamme.

Okay. And then, do you know the year that they got married and where they were married?

Well, they were married in -- da in Kvamme as they say in -- and I would have to guess either 1919 or 1920. I should -- well --

We can -- I'll make a note of that.

Yes.

Okay. And then your siblings?

My -- Miriam, or Marion, Esther, Ruth, John, and Donald; and they were all born in -- here in the United States.

Okay. And what is your order?

I'm the oldest and then in that order; Miriam, Esther Ruth, John, Donald.

Okay. Now, I see that you arrived in this country quite early on in your life.

Yes. I was born in June, June 21st, 1923, and we arrived here in mid-August, just a little -- maybe August 15th, 20th, in that area.

Okay.

So, I was two months, two and a half months old.

What were you told about why this great move happened?

Well, it was really for economic opportunity. That was -- the -- you see, with that many boys in the family and one farm, and the process of turning the farm over to your one son, or to your family, just didn't work, and there would be no way to have it occur in terms of maintaining farming experience that has -- my dad's father had had. And so that meant trying to get other kind of work and it wasn't -- the economic opportunities were very, very slight, of course, at that time in Norway.

So, I'm -- from what I'm hearing, your father was not the eldest son?

No. He was the second eldest.

And did the farm, by tradition, go to the eldest son?

By tradition, but what happened is that, in this instance, it went to the youngest. The -- all of the other boys were here in the United States. They had all emigrated by the time it was ready to turn over. And so the -- each successive boy was asked if he wanted to come back and take over the farm, and there was no at the first one, no from my father, and then the third, Ole was the third, and he was asked, and he said, "Well, maybe. I'll think about it." And then his mother wrote back. Well, she says, "Well, if you do that, I don't know what's going to happen to Harald." He had stayed home and had done the farm all these years. And so, Ole said, "Well, okay. Let Harald have the farm."

A little help making the decision.

Yes.

Okay. That's a good story. So, you being a month old or --

A couple of --

(Continuing) -- a month and a half old --

Yeah.

(Continuing) -- a couple months old, this journey was made, and do you know any of the events that transpired, how that happened, the story of that trip?

Well, I know the route we took and, for example, we went -- left from Bergen to Newcastle, which was a fairly traditional route.

Yeah.

If you were going to go on some of the Cunard Lines from -- and then took the train down to London or Southampton and then got on the ship in Southampton. It took you across the Channel to Calais but -- they would take on passengers and then on to Quebec. And then we took the Canadian train directly across Canada and down to Seattle where we were met by a relative, who had been here since around 1905, who had been back to visit family members. So, my parents had probably seen him in the last four or five years, and he met them at the rail station, at the Union Station now, in Seattle and drove down to Tacoma, and they remained there the rest of their lives.

Do you believe that this relative that was here, do you know that person's name?

Yes. Bert Paulsen.

Bert Paulsen? Do you think he was instrumental in pulling them to Seattle, or how did they choose there of all places?

I'm not certain why they came here. The other members of the family, the other -- my dad's brothers and, in fact, my mother's brothers, most of them had a stop, a very brief stop, in Wisconsin, where there was another uncle and worked on the farm, some as short a period of time as four or five months before they came out, others for maybe a year.

Okay.

The one that stayed four or five months determined that he might as well be back in Norway if he was going to have to work that hard. So, he called his aunt who was out here and asked, "Is anything going on out here?" and she said, "Oh, sure. Come out and you'll have a job." And that was a Friday, and on Monday he was on the train.

He wanted it bad.

Yeah.

Now, what sorts of things did she -- did she tell him about work that was available?

Well, yeah. That's -- that he would be able to find a job.

Okay. Okay. That's a good story.

Which he did and -- oh, beginning as a sweeper in a mill.

Okay. So this would be a sawmill?

Yeah.

Of which --

Or it was really a cabinet shop.

Okay.

He eventually became a very, very skilled cabinetmaker.

And who was that?

It was Oscar, that was Oscar. He was my dad's brother, I mean.

Okay.

But we came directly.

Okay. Now, did your parents --

To Tacoma.

To Tacoma. Okay. Did your parents share any stories about the trip or what they could bring or the cost or anything like that?

Well, maybe a couple. My dad tells a story about coming to Quebec. There was a time to wait for the train, so he wanted to get sort of -- a chance to get cleaned up, and so -- and a haircut, and he went into this barbershop or -- in the area and -- to get a haircut, and, of course, he didn't know a word of English, didn't know what the fellow was saying. And so, the barber said, "Well, would you like a shave?" And he didn't know what he had said, and my dad just, when he heard, just nodded his head and so he had a shave. And the barber said, "Would you like a shampoo?" So he nodded his head, and he had a shampoo, and then, finally, "Do you want a manicure?" And he said, yeah, nodded his head --

Oh, no.

(Continuing) -- and he said, "What a wonderful place. You come in for a haircut and just look what they do for you."

That's great.

Another one maybe, in terms of how I made it across Canada on the train, my mother made out of a blanket or a shawl, a sort of a hammock and tied to the baggage racks that -- they were open baggage racks in those times, and so I --

Over the head?

Overhead.

Okay.

And so I swung across Canada. And the other thing my mother always complained about was that with us was my dad's sister, older sister, and his next youngest brother. And the older sister was to come along to help her and take care of her, but she was seasick the whole trip, and so my mother was -- had her also to take care of.

Oh, no.

So, those are a couple of the stories that -- my mother also complained that when they were in England waiting for the boat --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- she had to stay in the hotel and take care of me while the others were out on the town sightseeing, so. So, she was --

It's something that stayed with her?

It was -- yeah, stayed with her in the years.

Oh, gosh. I can't imagine coming into a country without the benefit of language --

Uh-huh.

(Continuing) -- and with a small child and these relatives with you and -- that's challenging.

But when you got here, when they got here, then there was a community of Norwegian-speaking or Scandinavian-speaking people. So you could -- you were then encompassed with friends or acquaintances or similarly speaking people.

Familiarity.

Yes.

Yeah. Now, in -- they came to Tacoma. And what part of Tacoma did they settle in?

Well, it would now be referred to as Hilltop, but it's the area between, say, 23rd South and K, and up to 11th or 9th, and from I or J Street up to Sheridan. Up in that whole general area was -- there were many, many Scandinavians. That's where the Scandinavian churches were located. The initial Scandinavian churches were located in that area, and Normanna Hall, the Sons of Norway, is on K Street.

Uh-huh.

So that there was an enclave or a group there.

Okay. Now, I'm curious, having grown up in that area myself, I have always heard that there were neighborhoods of immigrants from particular countries. Was it true when you were there that the Swedes may have stayed a little bit to themselves, the Norwegians, or was there more of a mixture between?

Well, I really, you know, I never distinguished between Swedes and Norwegians. We never had a -- in my instance, in my case, so that it was -- there were -- there were Scandinavians. We used the term Scandinavians.

Okay. Kind of generically --

Uh-huh.

(Continuing) -- to mean everybody. What are some of your first memories of that community, buildings or things that you remember seeing, sounds?

Well, I'm -- the streetcars, of course, and the cable cars.

Yeah.

The cable car that went from A Street up to K Street and the streetcars that were in the area. You know, putting pennies on the street car track and smash -- having them smash down, and the ice truck that went through the neighborhood and following the ice truck to get chips of ice, that sort of thing. Of course, there was the -- you had all of the things that the dot com companies now are advertising. You had home delivery of milk, home delivery of bread. You --

Uh-huh.

You could -- home delivery of veg --the vegetable truck was out there. So --

Not a terribly innovative idea, actually.

Yeah. So, you -- the meat market would -- you could deliver the -- you could have the meat delivered if you -- if that's what you wanted to, eventually. And I think -- we didn't have a telephone right at the very beginning, I don't think, but you had telephones fairly early, and there were delivery boys, and so groceries were delivered easily.

So, the -- you had a pretty good idea as a kid, at least in my family, where the boundaries were in terms of how far from home you could go. You know, you didn't -- we had a gulch down below the -- about a block from the house with a gulch and then a railroad track. Well, you stayed on our side of the railroad tracks, not because of a different neighborhood, but because of the -- you entered an industrial area or there was danger and -- from traffic and that sort of thing so that --

The other thing that probably is the most important impression I had was the -- when my dad and sisters -- my dad and mother's sisters and brothers, particularly brothers, came. They came a year or two or three after. They would stay at our house, and we had what we called boarders.

Okay.

And that, as -- we'd have as many as four of them at a time, and with very small kids and boarders, it's a pretty heavy load. And so my mother did have a little bit of part-time help when there were as many as four. But these fellows were anywhere from 18, 19 years old, maybe 20. I think the youngest one left when he was 16 or 17, and -- but it was from them that I learned Norwegian nursery rhymes or little songs and things. They had the time and the inclination and -- to fool around with a little kid who was just, you know, two or three years old, four years old, in that age bracket. And so, that those things -- I can't remember my mother or my father teaching me or fooling around in that kind of a way, but with them that was fairly common.

They took time.

Uh-huh.

Now, these boarders were separate from your family members that came?

No, they were brothers of my mother or father.

Young working --

Yes. And they would get a job and then eventually, you know, maybe get married and they -- and some -- we had somebody living with us, an unmarried fellow was living with us that were brothers or -- mostly all brothers, up until as late as the 1936, '38 --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- before the last one got married.

So, you would have been in high school or something about that time?

Yeah. About -- right around, yeah, I would have been in what, seventh, eighth, ninth grade, in that area.

Okay. I want to go back to those nursery rhymes and the things that they shared with you, your uncles.

Uh-huh.

Do you remember any of those?

Yeah. I remember them, and the -- I don't always have the correct pronunciation because I remember them as I learned them as a three-year-old. So, if I had, maybe the word is not precise, but the general concept, I do remember.

Okay.

And so.

Do you -- would you feel comfortable sharing any of those?

Oh, I -- As I may have indicated, I'm a ham, so I could do that.

Well, I missed out on those growing up with my Norwegian heritage, so I would love to hear those.

The -- here is one I've just done some communication with another Seattle person about, this one: (certain letters not supported)

R?ven satt p? s?ter

H?rde litle lam l?te

Tei du still du litle lam

Jeg skal b?re deg til mamma di fram

? nei, det vil du ikke

Du bit meg i bogen

Og s? dreg du meg p? skogen

Og s? henger du meg p? en liten gren

Og s? pitla du t?

Mine sm"e bein

Og s? dilla du p?

Fantetjuve rumpa di

Now, do you -- does that --

I only picked up a few words. Can you translate?

Well, the fox was up in the upper pasture, the summer pasture. I heard a little lamb crying. The fox said, "Be still, you little lamb. I'll take you to your mother." "Oh, no, you won''t," the lamb said. "You'll bite me in my thigh and you'll drag me into the forest and you'll hang me up on your -- on a little branch, and then you'll bite off, or eat off, my little bones, and then you'll, funny, dance around on your mischievous hind end."

That's great. I have never heard that one. I love it.

And I don't know whether I could find it right now, but I had it written down, and then I had a person do some correction of the words here and there, and then she wrote her version of the same thing from a different part of Norway. She was from Nordland. And so I thought it would be interesting to take her version and my version and then see if there's some way to communicate and have different people give their versions as the -- as something moved from one isolated area and moved to another area, and what the changes were and how you have the same nursery rhyme, but it's different in each little valley. It has some different part of it or the words change.

Did you notice anything different with -- between the two of you?

Yes. There were changes, and I'm not going to be able to identify them, but I could probably hunt it up.

Okay.

But not now.

Okay. Well, eventually we'll get to Ballard, but this is important stuff. I want to spend some time in Tacoma, too. Any other little rhymes or songs or stories that you can --

Well, if -- yeah, I can, yeah. One thing that you did with the kids is have them sit here on your (indicating), and then you say in, as a "horse"-- ride ride ranke, hesten heter Blanke, nei han heter ikke s?, han heter Abelgr?, vi skal ut og frie, p? en Uten jente, det var ingen hjemme, bare to sm? hunder, s? jeg "voff, voff, voff.".

Okay. You'll have to translate that one, too.

Oh.

This would be a child -- if your leg is crossed and you're sitting down --

Sitting down --

(Continuing) -- and the child sitting on your ankle?

Child, straddling, yeah.

Okay.

And --

Okay. And you're holding their hands?

Yeah. And they're -- as if they're riding a horse.

Okay.

You know, hip, you know, well, what do we use for hippity, you know, hippity --

Giddyap, or --

Yeah. Hippity, hippity, the horse is named Whitey, Blanke -- or no, he's not named Whitey. He's named Apple Grey, or Dapple Grey, maybe.

Okay.

We're going up to woo, or woo on a (inaudible), a nice little girl.

All right.

And there's no one home, only two small dogs that will go "woof, woof, woof, woof, woof."

And the whole series of that, you know, that one common one that most of the people would know, the -- whoops. What is it? I've blanked on it now --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- but there are --

We can come back.

(Continuing) -- you know: Jeg har en tulle med ?yne bl?, med sulkeh?r og med ?re sm?, og midt i fjeset, en Uten nese, s? stor som s?

I have a girl as large as this with, you know, (Norwegian) in the middle of her face and nose and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. That, you know, that -- those kinds of things. There may be 10, 12, 14 of that kind of little rhyme, and put to song, many of them.

And these would have been your uncles that--

My uncles that would have taught me those, and that was at a period, of course, when I was learning to speak and also learning English and their Norwegian, and I don't ever remember talking Norwegian to -- responding in any way. I -- that's -- I may have, but I don't remember that because the whole pattern is, you hear it in Norwegian, and you respond in English.

I noticed just last week some -- two Hispanic women with little two-, three-year-olds talking to them in Spanish and the kids responding in English, and it's same -- the same thing.

Familiar.

Uh-huh.

Now, when you came to Tacoma in 1923, is it true that neither of your parents spoke English?

No, no.

And neither your aunt that was traveling with you --

No, none of them, no.

(Continuing) -- or your uncle--

No, no. There was no one, no.

And what were the names of the aunt and uncle that came with you?

Amelia, or we called her Malla, Tanta Malla.

Okay.

And Ole, and Ole is still living.

And Ole was your father's --

Brother.

(Continuing) -- brother. Okay.

And he's around 96 or so and still living in -- well, he's in good shape. Oscar is still living. He's also in his 90s. Malla lived into her 90s, but --

Did you have particularly close relationships with any of those aunts and uncles? I mean, as you grew older?

Well, we -- when you say "particularly close," we saw each other fairly often. As we were growing up, there would be -- initially, we always had -- we spent Christmas Eve with Ole and his family, and then New Year's with Oscar and his family and -- but families, you know, start to peel off .

Right.

And so, we see each other at funerals and at weddings and a few other events. The -- I'll be back.

Okay.

It doesn't take that long.

Okay.

I'll get something that -- I thought -- we had a family reunion of the Kvammes and the Riveneses in recognition of -- we had to have a reason. It was the 1923 -- it was the 70th anniversary of when we arrived. And so, you can see --

Great.

You can see, you know -- there was the sequence of immigration from the various members of the family and some after the war.

I would love if you would read this list, the sequence of immigration. That would be wonderful.

Well, the very first was Knut, my mother's brother, in 1922; then Oscar in 1923, my dad's brother; then Ole Rivenes in 1923. Then we came, my father and my mother and myself, and then Mala is my dad's sister, and Ole, my dad's brother, all in 1923. And then later in 1923, my dad's oldest brother, John, Big John, in 1923; Magnus in 1925; Sverre, my mother's brother, in 1925, Trygve, my dad's brother in 1926. And then, it was after the war, Kristine, my mother's sister, in 1948, Gudrun, my dad's sister, in 1948, they came together with -- my folks had gone back to Norway after the war --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- to visit and when they returned, my mother's sister and my dad's sister came with them back to Tacoma. And then the last, Oddvar, last name Ronhovde, Miriam Ronhovde, those are cousins on the --

On whose side?

They're on my dad's side. They're the children of my dad's youngest sister who still remains in Norway. So, the -- but it was fun doing this because this has -- this sort of has excerpts from oral histories and the follow the leader. This tells the first one who came to Wisconsin and staying at the farm and, sort of as a reception center at the farm and --

Oh, this is wonderful. Who did some of the interviewing?

I did all of that, so. . .

Bless you. Now, is this something that the Nordic Heritage Museum has or were you --

They don't have it, but at some point -- the problem is that I haven't gone through all of the ritual.

Okay. I know how that feels. Okay.

But there's some interesting --

This is wonderful.

(Continuing) -- interesting things that -- and this was a -- tells the story of a -- the composing of a folk song -- or you -- I don't compose a folk song, but I -- something played on the fiddle, and at the reunion we had that song played and it, well, it's a nice little memento.

That's wonderful. Well, we'll have to come back to this, too.

Yeah, yeah.

I really -- this is wonderful.

And that's the passport, see.

Oh. Johannes --

Olsen.

Olsen Kvamme. Kvamme?

Yeah.

How --

They had said Kvamme.

Kvamme?

Kva (phonetic).

Kva.

Kvamme.

Kvamme.

Kvamme.

And you say Kwammee (phonetic) here?

Kwammee. I have no idea how they changed that to Kwammee.

These things do happen, don't they?

Uh-huh. But it's not unusual in that other Kwammes, say somebody in North Dakota that lived in a different spot, they had the same thing.

Well, it would be wonderful if we could have a copy of this at some point.

Yes. I could show you some things. I may even have something now.

Okay. And I think I interrupted you a while back. I made a note. About being in Tacoma and growing up there, what were your experiences with language in the home? You mentioned that you had heard Norwegian and answered in English. Was it -- did your parents mix the languages, or how --

It -- I've been trying to think of when that may have started to occur, but it certainly didn't occur in the first ten years or so. Then maybe there was a transition, half Norwegian and half English, and to the point where they didn't know which language they were speaking when they were talking at home.

And what was your father doing at this time and your mother?

Well, my mother was at home the -- with small kids, and she never did work outside the home. She did in -- we lived in Tacoma until the Depression. And we had purchased a home on 25th and K. And then the Depression came, and people were out of work and the home was no longer worth the payments you would have to make on it. And so the home -- we lost the home. We then -- my dad was out of work from time to time and we -- he -- I don't know how these arrangements were made, but a woman had seven acres of land out in the Valley Fife, and he made an arrangement with her he would build the house for her -- a house for her on that property in return for seven years of free rent or free lease. And so he -- that was his payment for the -- and she provided the materials, and he'd do the work, and so we lived out at Fife in that particular location for seven years. And my dad would -- by that time, was working in town at various -- maybe as a carpenter, or at the end of the period, maybe in a boat yard, boat building. And then we had cows, as many as six cows at a time, and so it was a seven-acre -- it was two jobs really.

Yeah. I was just going to say. Now, the Fife area, would there have been an address at that time that you've --

Yeah. We had a Route 6, Box 496.

Okay. Now, what was your relationship, speaking of the cows, to those seven acres and --

Well, I had to get up in the morning and help milk the cows, and at night -- milk the cows before I went to school. Although, at Route 6 -- I should hold off maybe -- at what point? Because I was, well, right around 13 or so. Yeah, that would have been about the time I would have started to do that. We moved to another house, and there I was more involved with the cows and the haying, taking in the hay in the summer and all of that sort of thing. I -- it never was something that I particularly enjoyed. It wasn't -- I knew that that wasn't what I was going to do for a living.

You learned early.

Yeah.

I know we're skipping back a little bit, but going back to the house in Tacoma, that's the 25th and K, how old -- what were the ages that you lived in that house approximately?

Well, we probably moved into that house when I was maybe one. We rented a house at 17th and K -- well, between K and L --

Uh-huh.

(Continuing) -- for a short time. And then I was in the third grade, so that would have been nine, eight, nine-years-old when we moved out to Fife. And so from 1924 to 1931, '30, '31, something like that.

Okay.

You know, in that general area.

How would you describe yourself as that young boy, say seven, eight, about the time that you were still living in that house in Tacoma? How would you describe yourself? How you looked maybe, but also what things you liked and --

Obedient. No. The -- you're going to have to -- you'll have to take a look at a picture to -- in terms of how I looked. Nah. It -- I was just a normal, got along okay in school except that I failed the first half of the first grade. I had measles, mumps, and chicken pox in one semester. And so that meant I had to repeat the -- that semester. We had mid-year promotions at that time. Kids could enter school in September or they could enter school again or in January, you know, January, February.

Okay.

So, there -- what we called mid-year entry, so. . .

You had a rough start.

So, that was a tough time. You know, you can remember what the -- I don't know who it was that had something where we had a quarantine sign, you know, on the house, where you don't -- saying "Keep Away" and that sort of thing. There was a lot more of that, obviously, at that time, so. . .

And how did you recover from all of those illnesses?

Never did.

You never did. Now, would a doctor have come? Would you have gone to a doctor?

I think that there would have been a public health person of some kind in -- when all of those epidemics were going around, to determine whether there needed to be some isolation and that sort of thing. But I -- truthfully, I can't really say. I would not remember a family doctor other than the obstetrician, and it was unusual but none, even my brothers who are considerably younger than I am, all of the -- everyone in our family, all of my siblings were born in homes, never in the hospital. And with a midwife, but a doctor also involved. A doctor called, but a competent, maybe not a professional midwife --

Uh-huh.

(Continuing) -- but going to someone's home and being born in --

(End of tape one)

Okay. We were talking about births and how that occurred for your siblings.

Yeah. It typically -- I remember Mrs. Sondeno, S-O-N-D-E-N-O, Sondeno, N-O, yes. And you would -- my mother and the child would stay there. It would probably be extending out to almost two weeks or so ordinarily with a -- I would -- if I remember correctly, one of the kids in the family was born in our house and --

Who was that?

I think Esther was born in our house. I can -- I just have faint memories of -- well, I know my mother was -- a bed was made in the dining room for my mother to stay in during that time, and so that -- I would have been four, maybe four, five, four.

Uh-huh. Now, were you able to visit her during the two weeks that she would have been --

Yes, yes, yes.

(Continuing) -- at Mrs. Sondeno's?

Uh-huh. And Mr. Sondeno was a massive man, and whenever we had to take in hay in the summer, we'd get him out on the farm with a pitchfork, and he could lift the whole stack of hay up into the loft.

A great person to have around.

Yeah.

That's a wonderful story about the -- like a birthing home or a --

Yeah. So -- and the doctor, I don't remember his first name, Dr. Johnson, and he probably was at the birth of all of the Scandinavian kids in town. He was -- I know when he retired, that was long after I was away from there I think, but there was a huge, huge civic event for him.

Everyone knew him.

Yeah.

From the beginning.

Uh-huh.

When you started school, would that have been first grade or did you have any -- was there a kindergarten program or any kind of preschool that you would have attended?

No. I started, I think, first grade and there was -- the name of the school was Longfellow, and it's -- the building is long gone, and stayed there until the -- April of the third grade when we moved out to Fife.

To Fife. Now, how did you get to school, or where was it located in reference to your house?

Yeah. Well, I walked to school and it was at, if I remember correctly, is it on I Street or Tacoma Avenue and then I, J, K -- well, about either 23rd or 25th and --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- and I Street or somewhere --

Very close.

Close. Within walking distance. Not a problem.

What are your memories about school about that time? Any teachers that stand out or friends that you had then, atmosphere?

Well, the first grade teacher's name was Miss Egan, and the only reason I remember -- I don't remember my teacher's names very well, but I remember Miss -- the name Egan because I can remember sitting down in the -- what they called the playroom or the basement, and we would have a bench, sitting next to a kid that -- and I made a reference to her as -- referred to her to him as Miss Eagle, and he said, "I'm going to tell on you." And -- which was frightening. And that --

You were an obedient kid.

And so, therefore that's what I remember as --in terms of her name.

Another thing I remember is being really, I don't know if the term is humiliated, but when -- I remember I was in the front seat, and it must have been the second or third grade, and I'd been asked to say something, and the teacher corrected the pronunciation and made some reference to "your Norwegian accent," or something of that kind, and she -- and I'm sure she didn't mean it in terms of damaging or anything of that kind, but I insisted it and it was not, I did not

So, the other thing I remember is, you know, you lined up to go in, and, you know, we refer to now as that whole Hilltop area, and here was the first black kid in the school and that he was assigned my part -- a partner for me in the lining up. We were about third or fourth back in the row, and he was my partner, and so that's something I remember.

How did you feel about that? Did you-- do you remember anything about that?

No, no. I do remember that the kids -- there was some harassment, and so it was a -- it's interesting because now, you know, I'm a widower, but I have a very good friend who is a black woman, and so I think of the beginning and the end.

That's great. Well, it's interesting what you remember when you're that age, too.

Yeah, yeah.

What stays with you.

(Interruption)

We took a little break for a phone call, but you were mentioning that some of the kids at your school still wore knickers. Does that mean that that was a fashion that was --

Well, it was --

(Continuing) -- fleeting or --

well, it was -- yes, it was in a transition period where boys did not wear long pants until they achieved a certain age. And so, I'm not sure what that age may have been. Seven, eight, six, seven, eight, something of that kind, maybe older at one point, but they're trousers that buckled right below the knee --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- and they're sort of a blouse over. Like you might see a golf -- some old golf player may --

Classic.

Yeah. So, that -- so, kids were -- and then it was right at the point where kids were beginning to be teased to where if they were still wearing knickers because of the transition that was taking place socially.

Some things never change --

Yeah.

(Continuing) -- do they? I just was thinking of something that I wanted to ask you about. Oh, about your home. At this time when you're in early elementary school, I was just curious about if I were to walk into your home on a weekday morning, what would I see, what might be going on, say, mid-morning?

The only thing that I can really identify is my mother would be doing something in the kitchen. She would either be ironing or baking bread or fixing dinner or doing something of that kind. That's -- and I have absolutely no -- in terms of when we were living in Tacoma --

Uh-huh.

Continuing) -- I have no vision of what my dad would be doing or what, you know -- well, I do remember that there would be mornings when he would leave home with his lunch pail out looking for work, you know, not knowing where he was going to find a job for -- and then he would find a job, and maybe that would last for a couple, three weeks or something of that kind, and then there would be another layoff period. And so, that I do remember that period of the -- during the Depression when we were out of a job, but he -- but we didn't really have it all that tough 'cause he eventually got a job with the Public Works Administration. This is a little different than the WPA. He had -- in order to get -- he was a skilled artisan, so that in -- but in order to get a job with the Public Works Administration building, you had to come off the WPA rolls.

Okay.

And so, he got on WPA for one day and then -- that was a ditch-digging job kind of a thing, and then got to the PWA job working out on the Washington State Hospital at Steilacoom, those buildings that were being built there as part of the government's program of construction during the Depression.

And you were saying he's skilled -- his --

Yeah, he was a skilled artisan, so -- and then, eventually, of course, the work at the boatyard with -- he worked most of the time at Tacoma Boat Building after that. And the pilothouse of -- first on the tuna -- what they called tuna clippers. There was a -- building those for the south of Pacific -- not South Pacific, but the San Diego area and the Mexico area there. They had these very, very fancy boats that were going down there and the -- (phone rings) -- I'm sorry.

Oh, that's all right. Okay. We're going to --

(Interruption) If that's something you wanted --

Yeah. I want to talk about that. You started to say something about your mother's mother?

Well, my mother's mother died at my mother's birth. And so, at -- in those days, you know, that meant the child was going to die unless you could find a wet nurse.

Uh-huh.

And I don't -- it gets so complicated, and so, it so happened that the people across the street had -- across the road, had a -- a woman had just had childbirth and -- and anyway so, when I said my -- there were 12 in the family, there were two before my mother's mother -- before my grandmother's death, and then there were another ten. So, that she has half-brothers or -- and ten of them are half-brothers and sisters, but we never --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- looked upon it in that way. There were -- my mother was a baby, you know, grew up with --

With another mother?

Yeah, with another mother.

With a (inaudible).

Yeah.

So, the -- your -- the mother's mother's name, your mother's mother's name, would have been what?

Oh --

Her birth mother, I guess I should say. Something --

That's funny. I only remember her last name, which is --

That's fine.

(Continuing) -- Ytre Arna, the place they lived, Ytre Arna.

So, that's Y-T-R-E, and then another word, A-R-N-A?

Yeah. Yeah. It -- A-R-N-A, but the -- they spelled it differently. A-R-N-A, A-R-N-E --

Oh.

And the old name you -- in the family books it's adne, A-D-N-A, with a A. You're familiar with the books that have the family genealogy?

The bygdebok?

Bygdeboks.

Bygdebok.

Yeah.

Yes.

So, you'll find it spelled all different ways.

And those are usually by region.

Yeah.

So, there'd be one for the Bergen area, and --

Yeah. I don't know if there's any point in -- I'll get -- I remember now somebody has used them. I remember somebody -- I forgot that --

Oh. Someone's borrowed them?

I forgot --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- that they had them. I see the coffee is done, so I'm going --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- to get my coffee while I'm up.

Oh, that's great.

Shall I take a cookie?

Absolutely. Help yourself.

All right. Oh, these are something that I've not had in this format anyway.

Well, I hear that a lot. I -- they're an old Norwegian cookie, brunekake, but most people have not heard of them. They're from --

They're good.

They're from First Covenant Church, Tacoma.

Yeah. Ninth and I, is it? Tenth or --

It's where you --

Huh?

That was -- I think that's the location.

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. Now, I have to confess, I can't always spell the word bygdebok.

Uh-huh.

B-Y-G-G --

Byg, B-Y-G --

B-Y-G -

-- D-E, bok -

B-Y-G-D-E --

B-O-K.

B-O-K.

B-O-K I know.

Okay. Okay. So, B-Y-G-D-E-B-O-K.

Yeah, I think so.

Bygdebok. Well, we can go back to that another time. But I don't know that I asked you, I -- since we're on the family thing, we talked -- on the break you said that your mother was -- I'd asked you if you had a lot of the family papers, that you were sort of the keeper of the family heirlooms, and you said it was amazing that you had anything because your mother was ruthless --

Uh-huh.

(Continuing) -- about getting rid of things.

Uh-huh.

And I -- it just sparked an idea that I wanted to know if I'd asked what your father's parents' names were and your mother's parents' names?

Yeah.

Do you know those?

My father's parents were Ingeborg and Ole, and my mother's was Martinus and -- that's terrible.

And on that piece of paper --

Yes, the (inaudible) --

(Continuing) -- (inaudible) daughter. We'll consult the family reunion --

Yeah. It's here. Oh. There is my mother's birthmother, Anna. See here, they used Adna, Adna.

Oh, yes. Anna, Olaf's daughter.

Ytre Arna.

Ytre Adna.

Adna.

Adna, A-D-N-A.

They don't use that anymore. Then Berta is the -- and then --this is -- he remarried after she died, but that was quite a while later.

Okay. So, the original -- your father's parents would have been Olav and Martinus Johannesen Kvamme?

Yeah.

And then your father's mother, Ingeborg Johannes -- daughter, Hoglund?

Uh-huh.

And then later on, much later on, Olav married Magnild?

Uh-huh. Yeah.

Andre's daughter Hoglund.

Uh-huh. Magnild, yeah.

Okay. And Magnild is the --

That was sort of a scandal.

Was it?

Yeah. She was -- he was a -- by that time elderly, when his wife died, and he died -- he married this Magnild that was probably in her mid-30s or so who was marginal mentally alert. So, not -- maybe not quite feeble-minded, but --

Questionable?

Yeah.

Okay. Okay. And going back to the --

And that went over big.

I'm sure. And did that -- that happened well after --

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

(Continuing) -- everyone was here?

Well, I was an adult or --

Okay. And you remembering hearing --

Well, just --

(Continuing) -- family talk --

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, we were -- there's --just like my mother said, "I'm glad we're this far away."

Oh, and here's the dates even. We have Olav and Ingeborg Kvamme, married in 1893. And then Ma --

You can have that book.

Oh.

Yeah, yeah.

I'd love it. Magnild married him then in 1945.

Uh-huh. See?

Oh, so you'd already been in the war and --

Yeah.

Okay.

Uh-huh.

And then I'll just finish with the Rivenes family.

Yeah.

Rivenes. Martinus Jonson Rivenes?

Yeah, yeah. Martinus.

Martinus Jonson Rivenes married Anna Olavsdottir. And then help me with the last --

Well, Ytre Adna, that's the --

Ytre Adna.

Uh-huh. And then --

And that was 1897.

And then she died in 1900 when my mother was born.

Okay. And then in 1901 he married Bertha or Berta?

Yeah. See, and that was when my mother was one-years-old after -- and --

Berta Curina, a Knutane?

Knutane, yeah. And that's the -- the person he married was the oldest daughter of the woman who was his wet nurse, Marta Olavsdottir Kvamme.

Across the street?

Yeah.

Okay, okay. So, and that was not your father's family but another --

No.

(Continuing) -- neighbor?

But they're related.

Oh, related, okay.

Cousins. My dad's -- my grandfather was a cousin with somebody in that family.

Okay.

It's --

All close. Well, speaking of heritage here, I'd love to have a copy of this reunion book. What would your father have been known for? I mean, sort of in the community, in the Scandinavian community, or friends, what would they -- what would the impression be of him?

You want this?

Yes.

He was a -- would be known as a kind of a direct person. No -- very limited in probably what we'd consider social skills, a leader in church and extremely hard-working and willing to sort of take a chance. And of the family, maybe not so much -- I'm not sure that it's attributable to him, but we were the center of the Tacoma group of relatives in terms of where we got toge -- when we got together. So -- and I don't know if that -- he was, you know, sort of lean and knew how to use a hammer.

Okay. You said earlier he was a skilled craftsman. Would that have been woodworking and --

Yes, woodworking. And where he ended up finally is, you know the pilothouse of boats has all of these strange angles and all that sort of thing and it -- and he was usually in charge of the construction of the pilothouse on boats.

Okay.

Boats that were not ships, but, you know, maybe up to 150-feet boats or 200 feet --

Ocean-going.

(Continuing) -- that sort of -- it could be a large ocean-going fishing boat like the tuna clippers, and then later the mine sweepers that were -- the wooden mine sweepers that were built at the beginning of the war that didn't have metal because the metal would -- the detection devices could detect metal, so you had the wooden boats in order to have the boats not detected by the mines and that sort of thing.

Okay.

But that changed about midway, I think, during the war.

So, he -- but he was doing a lot of it up until that point?

Yes, uh-huh, and stayed with boat building.

How about a pleasure, or hobbies, or anything that you remember? Did he ever have things that he liked to do with -- did he have any free time?

No, I don't -- no. There was no time for foolishness.

Period. What would your mom have been known for in the community, or in your family, the larger family, and what do you remember about her?

She would like to think of herself as Martha in the Bible who is so serving.

That's a great description. And so her home was --

Yeah. It was -- our home was open, and, you know, with -- there were four of us and then a -- there were -- my brothers and sis -- my sisters, my three sisters, that were very close with me, and then there was a five-year period with no kids, and then two brothers then after. So that most of the time I, you know, I associated with my sisters rather than my brothers, so.

Okay. The older half --

Yeah, yes.

(Continuing) -- so to speak. About that time would there have been memories about holidays and church events --

Yes.

(Continuing) -- and celebrations and things?

Yes. The -- of course, Christmas Eve was the big day and --

Tell me about that.

Well, it was typically with one of the -- my dad's brothers, Ole at first, and -- until the family got so large that we split up into our own families, but the one thing that I -- that might be unique was that we didn't have a Christmas tree. And this related to a strong -- my dad had strong religious issues that were involved in various things. And I can't quote the part of the Bible where he had this reference to things that were symbolic and so that -- but -- so that we didn't have a Christmas tree in the house, except that, oh, upstairs we could put a little Christmas tree upstairs in the, you know, if -- whatever we wanted as long as it wasn't dominating the area.

In terms of the food at Christmas Eve, early on lutefisk was involved, but that sort of disappeared over the years, and there were other things for a while. Leg of lamb became a Christmas Eve meal, and then eventually it sort of -- we weren't strong in terms of the -- of what the entire tradition would be at Christmas Eve, but there was the regular, you know, cookies and -- that gr't og bakels, berlinerkranser and fattigmann and that sort of thing.

No calories in any of those. No butter.

And so, on Christmas Day, it usually meant going to somebody else's house, as I remember.

And so, 4th of July was a -- always a big day in that it was a Sunday School -- they called them Sunday School picnics, but they were really church picnics. And initially the first I can sort of remember -- what I faintly remember is that Lemon's Beach, which is the University Place out there, and I'd love to go back and take another look at that. Where was Lemon's Beach?

It's near the island.

Uh-huh.

Beautiful -- it's a beautiful stretch of --

Yeah, yeah.

(Continuing) -- beach there.

And then it moved to American Lake later, and --

And that would be out in Lakewood --

Yeah, uh-huh.

(Continuing) -- area?

And that was an all-day kind of thing. My dad was one of the founding, I don't know if you'd call them deacons or not, of the Scandinavian Pentecostal Church, and their first location was, well, about 11th and J or L, in a sort of a storefront, and then moved down to 11th and -- no, 11th -- to 11th and J, L -- it was L or M for the storefront and -- but then moved down to the old Swedish Methodist Church building. Well, the Swedish Methodists had folded by that time because the Methodists, particularly the Swedish Methodists, transitioned out very early. They didn't stay as an ethnic church very long.

Were they absorbed into other --

Yes. They --

(Continuing) -- denominations --

No.

(Continuing) -- or into other Methodists?

The other Methodist Churches I think.

Okay.

And so, that church then was available at 11th and J. It's interesting that subsequently it has transitioned into a Black church and so that there's -- it's had an ethnic orientation over the years.

The -- in terms of this -- of the church issue, it's interesting in that I didn't become a citizen until I was in the Army. Typically, when your parents take out their citizenship papers, the children become citizens if your parents do that before you're 18. Well, my parents did not become citizens until after I was 18, and that was a provision of having to swear allegiance. And there's a provision in the Bible -- there was a fairly strong, at some point back in the late 1800s, 1900 area, maybe, where that was an issue, and so he would not swear allegiance. And he eventually became a citizen because the wording was then changed where you could have an alternate. You romised or you, you know, pledged, or you did something that wasn't attributable to swearing allegiance, because you swear allegiance to only one God, and so that was the occasion of the -- becoming a citizen.

In the Army I can remember the big Army truck coming out in the field up -- down there in Camp Roberts down near -- well, south, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and somebody telling me to get in the back of the truck and then driving down to San Luis Obispo, herding us, a few of us, into a courtroom and said, "Put up your arm and swear allege" -- "yes," and down, and back in the truck, and we were now citizens.

Very moving experience.

Yes. So, anyway that's an aside.

No. That's -- I loved hearing about -- I want to come back to that, too. Church has come up quite a bit, and I want to know more about --

Well, the church -- yeah.

(Continuing) -- what you remember about that, what that was like in your life.

Yeah. Well --

What kind of role --

Well, it -- the church was the whole -- everything -- your acquaintances, that is my parents' acquaintances, their social gathering, all of that revolved around the church. There was no involvement, say, with the Sons of Norway or any of the outside kinds of organizations and so that -- and, of course, there was church Sunday morning, there was church Sunday evening, or, for a long while, there was church Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening, and during the week there would be. And so, although we, as kids, very seldom would go during the week, but morning and evening, that was common.

Another thing that I remember that related to church was that once a year on Pentecost Sunday all of these Scandinavian Pentecostal churches -- when I say all of them, I don't know how many that there would have been, there would be, but there would be people from Stanwood and Poulsbo and Tacoma, and we'd go up to what we referred to as the Jones Avenue Church and now the Philadelphia Church.

And that's here in Ballard.

In Ballard.

What are the cross streets? Do you know approximately?

At that time it would have been about 60 -- 66th or 67th and Jones Avenue.

Okay.

And that was an all-day event where you got ready in the morning. You had to make sure that you had air in your tires and you had oil and ----in the -- that it was a trip, you know. And --

Right. What would you have been driving at -- what would your family have been driving at this time?

Well, probably -- maybe a '28 Chevrolet, and then maybe, after that, maybe a Willys-Knight or a Falcon Knight.

Describe that. Like a Willys Jeep Company?

Well, no. It was a larger -- it was a -- I'm not sure if it's -- if it was a forerunner in the Oldsmobile. The Falcon Knight was a sturdy, big car, fairly good-sized car.

How many would it seat?

Well, I know when we -- there were times when -- well, it would seat all of -- I mean, maybe not seat all of us, but we could all get in.

Okay. And how many would that be total that would have to--

Well, it would be -- it could be eight --

Okay.

(Continuing) -- but sitting on each other's lap was not unusual --

Okay.

(Continuing)--but I'm not a good car person.

So, but at any rate the -- at Ballard, at the Jones Avenue Church, there would be the morning service and then there would be food, and the food would always be great, good food. Everybody brought, you know. And then there would be an afternoon service, and that's where some of the kids, particularly the boys, would try to take off and play ball someplace. In fact, there was a vacant lot nearby that sometimes somebody would come and try to shepherd them in. And then -- and I think sometimes we wouldn't stay for the evening service, but other times we would. So, that was a big event.

How long did that trip take you as a family if you were driving from Ballard back to Tacoma?

You know, I don't know. The U.S. 99 Highway must have been built during that period, and I don't remember the old way from Tacoma to Everett or Bellingham, which went by over here in Lake City and up that way. So, it must not have been a terrific long distance. I know that as kids you always feel getting there always seems longer to me than going home, so. . .

I remember that, too.

Yeah.

Yeah. Now, as a kid were you aware of what this Sunday was celebrating? I mean, the meaning behind the celebration of Pentecost Sunday?

Yeah, I think I was, uh-huh. And there were also the, what they called fellowship meetings, and that's when people from different churches would gather together. And then there was a -- the person that met us at the Union Station, Bert Paulson, was sort of a lay preacher. He became -- the family became a very successful family, Paulson Furniture. Paulson Appliances, Paulson's Jewelers, that whole family, those are relatives. Just, you know -- but he had a church at 14th and M that seemed to be not a membership church, but he was a -- it was his building kind of like, and he scheduled activities and he would -- so they would have, I remember, fellowship meetings at his -- at 14th and M. He was a --

Also I remember, in terms of church, that we would walk down, my father and I, we were the only ones, would walk down 25th to the Black church on Saturday night. And I can remember the potbellied stove and that place was full of people, and the singing, you know, and -- I don't know how many times I went there, but more than once, you know, more than once or twice. But, anyway -- because that was within walking distance.

Another church-related issue I remember is that Aimee Semple McPherson and an atheist were going to have a debate, and this is really past her prime. And my dad was going to go, and I wanted to go with him, and I could only go if I would eat this anchovy. I would never taste an anchovy. And this --

Was this his challenge to you?

Yeah, yeah. And


Sources:

Audio Cassette interview by Jennifer Carrell, May 2, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.


Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You