By Camilla Ager
To my dear Granddaughters –
I have often wished to write down some of the experiences and happy, as well as sad events - with the often miraculous dealings of God - so evident in my life.
As a little girl at Grasvik, a small suburb of Fredrikstad, Norway, I can seem to remember they told me that God had sent me a baby brother and when I reached my mother's room they had to lift me up to see the baby in my mother's arms. I cried so hard and could not wish any baby to have my place. My mother was very wise; she quieted me by telling me that Jesus sent me that baby, he was mine and I would someday bring him with me to heaven, and just think, you can't take your dolls to heaven, but you can bring your baby brother.
He grew up small and sickly, but with a wonderful mental capacity for learning. Our first story book was the Bible where our special love was Joseph - and then the lovely angels - Jesus said that the little children each had one. Mother also taught us to pray, to be polite - oh dear, my brother did not like to be polite and to bow; he said it made him feel as if he had to walk around apologetic like.
We had a little room together upstairs and if our Grandma came visiting she also shared our room. He liked to listen to Grandma (nee Elizabeth Von Otterbeck). She was born in 1799 so she was a youngster during the French Revolution days and she once was on a visit to Paris as a young girl. I do not remember the date and she used to tell us the streets were muddy, the water was so bad and the toilet facilities real funny. She told how men with a yoke on their shoulders attached to two pails and a large coat or cape slung over it - and you could sit down in the street under his cape and give yourself relief for a penny or a small coin in copper. Their travels were by horse and carriage or as they called them "barouche" and their parties were very elaborate affairs. She told of wearing red silk slippers with their toes turned up, like what you now see on clown’s feet, but they had silk bows and tassels on them.
She often said to me, "Camilla, you are not beautiful, but if you just smile - you do have a smile that will help you through life. God has given you a sunshiny smile, a willing hand and a glad heart - and God bless you."
My brother developed into a great reader - read and memorize, and a head for logical thinking. In going to Sunday school and church he refused to sing as he did not understand how Jesus saved him, he was not going to sing a lie - "Jesus loves me, this I know," - "no, mother, I do not know it" - so he was punished when he really should have been helped. We had to memorize the Bible in our school and our grammar school was semi-private and was splendid in its principal and teachers. One of our teachers taught singing, mathematics and religion; I just loved him. He opened school with prayer and had a wonderful understanding spirit. I thought Jesus must have looked just like him. His sincerity in his teaching left its stamp on us all.
The winter when I was eleven years old I was promoted into the highest grade and one day we had notice that all the girls and boys over 12 were to meet in the church to be catechized in the Bible next Sunday. My class was all going except me and I felt bad. When school was out I went home crying. Father was home and he said, "Why did you not ask Mr. Sather (the name of our religious teacher) if you could go". Well, I ran back and arrived in the principal's room while they (the teachers) were all there. When Sather saw me he asked "why the tears" and
I told him I would like to go to church on Sunday for the Exam but was only 11 years old. He looked at the other teachers and then looked at me and said "You can go with us; I know I am not going to be ashamed of you."
Let me see - that was 56 years ago this Fall and I can just see his look and his smile. We came to church; father had bought me new shoes with tassels on and mother had made me a new dress and hat so I was all spruced up. We were seven different schools present and there was quite a feeling of wanting to be with the best.
The bishop and our pastor were walking up and down the aisle and they would have the boys on one side standing and the girls on the other side and the bishop and Pastor Guldberg walked between us. They started with the creation of man and came down through Bible history - Cain, Abel, Seth, and Noah - down to Abraham. Somehow my mate got stuck on a question on Joseph, one subject which to me was real easy. The bishop turned to me and said "Maybe this little girl can answer my question," which I did, and they kept on asking me all down through David - and Daniel - I began to get anxious; I looked over to where our faculty sat. I got a look from my teacher and a smile, then I went right on - I had heard him say "he would not be ashamed of me," so I answered as bravely as I could. Finally, the bishop said "Little girl, what is your name" - I said "Camilla Marie Ager". He put his hand on my head and prayed that the dear Lord would give me strength and grace to live up to the meaning of my name. It left a deep impression on my mind and I had to find out what my name meant.
When I came out of the church my teacher picked me up on his shoulder and carried me out to the street telling me he was proud of me. Years after that I wrote to him and reminded him of this instance telling him that - when I am before the Judge of Earth and Heaven - I want to strive that I then shall see his smile and our Lord say "Well done." Oh, what a meeting it shall be.
I wish I could picture to you, my girls, what a beautiful country Norway is, with its immense mountains with glaciers on top and woods - wild flowers, soft grass, wild berries. Sunday mornings we were up early before Sunday school and how we all loved to go out and pick lilies of the valley, forget-me-nots, maidens keys, anemones, violets and, sometimes, pansies - all growing wild.
I recall one summer we had a couple of our cousins from the Capitol
City Oslo at our house and our school was having a boat trip to Norway's
biggest waterfall - called "Sarpsfossen", a trip of maybe 25 or 30 miles.
The boat would be all dressed up in young birch trees and also flags and bunting, a music band, and, of course, we were all happy planning for it. In the lovely July morning we were all getting ready to go and mother had to get the visitors, our boys and Dad ready and I was to wait, so Dad gave me fifty cents to spend and they left and I followed as fast as I could get ready. When I arrived at the pier the boat had left and was on its way up the big river "Glommen". I was maybe 12 years old; I remembered there was a steamboat line that left East Fredrikstad for this waterfall - near Sarpsborg" and the ferryman was sorry for me and told me he would get me there in time because I was a good girl and did not cry. I remember well how grateful I was for my fifty cents and so paid my fare and as we came several miles up the river I saw our boat. We were near enough that they could see me and we waved and waved our hankies. The purser came over and when he found out that I had lost my boat he was just lovely to me, even gave me my fifty cents back. So I arrived at the Sarpsborg Pier first and was there to meet them when they came. Were we glad; well, it was a wonderful day and we could hear the roar of the waterfall way, way off. Could you once see the trip we had back home. The midnight sun, the wonderful scenery, the music, the children's songs, and the joy of living. Some of these songs have followed me all down through life. How often I have been grateful to our schools in Norway, where most of the children's study is the Bible and our songs godly, religious.
We had a school choir of picked voices. On Easter and Whitsuntide, midsummer called "Sankt Hans"; we would get up very early, climb the nearest mountaintop and sing hymns appropriate for the day. All the windows in the village would be open so they could hear the singing as it came on the breeze to them.
In the evening the children would meet on the village green - a meadow near -for games and to sing. As we grew up we would debate on subjects and tell fairy stories and also ghost stories, till we heard the call to come home. My brother was a splendid reader and teller of stories - Indian tales and Charles Dickens stories. Often he could get the boys to do all his chores while he told them stories and fairy tales. They would run his errands and chop his wood, do anything for him.
He and I started school together. He was little over four and I was six. He learned to read when he was two years old and spelling was just fun for him, while I had to study and work and plug away just to keep one step ahead of him. He was small and bashful and also so much smarter than the other boys they were often ugly with him and I had to fight his battles for him. Dad used to say that it was good for him he had a strong sister. Well, girlies, I cannot write you of my memories of the past without making him a big item in it.
In Sunday school we were given small booklets called "Mirrors of the Heart" with the pictures of good hearts and evil hearts; the good heart filled with lovely angels and a dove; the evil heart filled with ugly devils with pitchforks and hoofs and tails and horns - awful looking things - and he and I used to read them. It frightened me so terribly that I would wake up at night screaming with fright. It was a horrible thing to teach little children. My brother early began to question things and to doubt its correctness and that made me feel still more frightened as our pastor told mother Waldemar was evidently born an agnostic and would die unsaved. How I prayed for him. He was the dearest, most unselfish and painfully truthful boy. He and I would often repeat our prayers together hoping that God would be kind to us and the prayer our mother taught us went like this. "As I close my eyes in sleep, dear Father thou my soul would keep, let the angels that today, guarded me and guided, from sin, from sorrows and danger, two to watch me by my pillow, two by my feet, two to cover me and two to show me all the heavenly paradise."
We loved to read Martin Luther's letters to his son, Hans. It made heaven seem a paradise where everybody was doing kind and lovely things.
Two more little sisters came to our house that both died before they were three days old and then a baby brother that later died in Chicago, 11 years old. He wrote poetry and was very religious; loved to go to church; wrote poems to our mother, etc. It was a dreadful shock to us when he died, and especially for mother.
Father spent most of his time in the Army; several months each year he would be away from home. He loved the Army life and served 27 years there till he wanted to go to America to visit his brother. Mother was the head for business; she had a small store and delicatessen, also was agent for three steamship lines to America. So dad went. I was about 14 years old and getting ready for exams and Confirmation.
After my confirmation mother brought me to the capital city, Oslo. We, in those days, called it Christiania. It is a very beautiful city. Mother got a position for me as saleslady in a grocery store. I was to have my room and board in the home with the owner of the store.
Across the way lived a widow with two sons and one daughter, lovely
people and in my heart I always think lovingly of them. The oldest son
was professor at the university at the technick. His sister, he and I,
used to take long walks together and also take in some lectures of interest
at the students' hall. One of these lectures I will never forget. The professor
spoke on astrology - astronomy - mixed with theology. In telling us of
the layers surrounding our earth - the atmosphere and the stratosphere
- and the peculiarity of the sound waves he said, - When our Lord cried
out on the cross 'It is finished' it would be 1875 AD before the voice
would reach Pleiades and also suggested that the day would come when, from
the outer sphere could be reproduced voices and words spoken. So he said
"It will be a real fact what Jesus said 'What you have spoken in the chambers
shall be heard from the houses tops - it is not what you eat that will
make you unclean, but what you speak." He advised us that we were never
alone, so watch your words and actions, as they will be the ones that will
judge you on the last day, etc. This was in 1884. This talk stayed by me
and it has been a guard, for I have always wanted to be pleasing to the
One Sunday afternoon of two friends and I had been for a walk to "Slotsparken" to listen to the regiment band and we met their cousin, a young man. His father owned a large hotel "Stor Torvet", and we were urged to come in and have my friend play the piano. We were young, the day was lovely, and I was leading us on in a race for the hotel. As we reached the big entrance, French plate glass windows in the big door, my mother's face appeared in the window with a look of sorrow and warning. I stopped right still; I could not go in. I asked my friends to please take me home, I felt sick.
There was a police sergeant living in an apartment on the third floor. He was married, had a very sweet little wife, but he thought that I, as a young 14-year old girl from a small town could be coaxed, or scared, into playing with him. I knocked his nose flat and he got angry and threatened me with trouble. Well, he did try. He stole things out of the store and went and showed it to the man and, of course, I lost my job. Mother came and took me away after just a few months work and she found me another place. By this time I had decided to become a real Christian and devote my life to the Lord. Where I now was they treated me real nice and kind. He had a grocery and bakery store. I was now fifteen years old and mother went back to my brothers in Fredrikstad. So again I was left alone. I had such a lovely room and the servants in the house were kind; only I never had time off so I could go to church. I made this a matter of prayer. It was the first Christmas away from mother and home and was I lonely. We had no letter from dad and mother was worried. After Christmas mother and the boys came in to Christiania. Father had made a loan of money from a rich relative before he went to America. Mother did not have any letters. He (the relative) as legal guardian for mother in father's absence put house and business at auction and sold it and poor dear mother lost everything and had three young children. I was 15 and Waldemar had not yet been 13 and Ferdinand 10 years old. It was winter and I shall not forget mother when I came to see her in a little attic room. I cried but mother said "Never mind girlie, when they said I was poor - I was rich - I do have Christ - I have all."
The people that bought our home never had a true title to the place it was all a piece of fraud.
That was a hard winter for mother. One day Waldemar had a job and that was not much - about 5 krowns a week. Yet, that was a great help and mother took in sewing. Ferdinand went to school.
I went to our little Methodist Church whenever I could get a little time but my hours in the store were from 6 A.M. to 8 P.M. every day but Saturday, then it was 11 P.M., Sunday open from 8 to 10 A.M. and 4 to 6 P.M. I had free Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 and had my room and board and 10 krowns a month.
One day a woman from the neighborhood told me if I would let her have credit and not tell the boss she would let me have a lovely plant she had in her own window to decorate my room. I told her I had no authority, the boss was in the office, she could go there and see him. She got mad but went in there and evidently turned her story around and suggested to him I was not to be trusted as I wanted her flowers so bad I wanted to let her have groceries for it. My boss came out terribly angry and upset and said all he could to hurt me and gave me no chance to say a word. It was midwinter, hard to get work. Mother had a hard time and how could I tell her this calamity. When I was alone I went into a back office and knelt in prayer. It was the only hope I had, that God knew I had to work and he knew I was innocent of any guilt so I had peace in my heart. God knows and he has all power.
I was told my job was up in two weeks. After dinner the boss came over and handed me two krowns and told me I could have the afternoon off and I could go to a concert and try to enjoy myself. I wondered if he was sorry. I thanked him and thought of mother. I dressed and as soon as I reached the sidewalk a strange man stepped up and said, "Is this Froken Ager?" I answered "yes". He said "I heard in the bakery what was told you, that you lost your job and if you will take my card and go to a certain office in Throndhjims veju (?) you will have a nice job." Well, I went there right off and funny, he gave me the job. I had no recommendation - nothing - he just smiled - said he was a judge of faces and my face was O.K. - and now, see how wonderful, I could live at mother's and this store was across the street from our little Methodist Church. We opened the store at 8 A.M. and closed 6 P.M. and closed all Sunday so I could go to the church all I wanted to. I had 24 krowns a month. It was a branch store, he had several of them, and I had full charge of this all alone. I was not yet more than four months over 15 years and it always was a puzzle to me how I kept this store until we left for America nearly two years later. I am telling you this to help you realize it is true what the Bible say of God "Cast all your care upon me for I care for you." That is God's word and when my dear girls are in any trouble try Him and see. He hears and answers prayer.
From this time I really and truly gave my life to the Lord, the best of my thoughts and life. My brother Waldemar would read and would study early and late. As children often we would talk and wonder over what we wanted to he or what we would love to do. I knew - I wanted to nurse the sick - the poor - sing for the old folks and be, for instance, a "Florence Nightingale. Oh yes, I wanted to hitch my wagon to a star, O.K. But Waldemar - poor dear - mother wanted him to be a painter. He had wonderful ability to draw pictures, but paint, oh no. He could not do it. He stayed at his job as messenger boy in a tailoring business. Then all spare time was to read and memorize. One day he was sent to one of the professors of the University of Christiania. He took an interest in my brother and offered him an opportunity to page for him and have a chance to study there at the university. Was he rejoiced. Well, we talked about it until way in the night. What a chance for him. I asked him, "What
will you want to be - what profession to take up?" "Well," he said, "orator, editor, lawyer, something like that." Well, I just laughed right out "Ha, ha." His star seemed way out of reach then - a pipedream. Next day he came home and looked bad and down. On asking what was the matter he said he had been selfish and he saw now he could not take the professor's offer as his friend (I think his name was Harald) needed that chance more than he as he was the son of a widow and he was grieving wanting an education too. "God can, if he is a real God, give me a chance if I am not selfish." I was surprised and so was mother, but this was Waldemar. He could wait, first he must do for others. At this time I had joined the choir in our church and what wonderful times we had. There I met the best girlfriend, Martha. There was a fine bunch of young folks and we met every Thursday night for prayer and testimony meeting at one of the elders' home, Saturday evening choir practice and so at cottage meeting and church - singing, we sang everywhere, even in the streets.
Martha and I had also the use of a little rowboat on the fjord and on the wonderful sunny nights and lovely evenings we would go out in the boat. She had a lovely alto voice and I sang soprano and our voices mingled in song night after night on the fjord. Tampa Bay is very much like it, only the coastline had big mountains studded with white villages and green trees. There you can hear the "cucoo" bird cry - "cucoo, cucoo." The girls would call out "Cucoo bird, tell me how many years till I shall marry?" and then they would count how many times he called out his "cucoo". The whippoorwills widow of the south has some similar sound.
One night we were out-the whole choir-and we were picnicking on one of the many islands. While they were busy cooking coffee Martha and I took one of the boats and gently glided out into the fjord. Coming out a piece, we sang songs of the Northland and, all at once, another boat came sailing around with men. They had their violins; they played the songs we sang, just near enough so we knew where they were. And there we were a quartet singing in the night. Then softly, each boat took its separate course, "just ships that pass in the night and hailed each other in passing."
It seems like a dream now, a lovely dream, of the most gorgeous country for scenery and song. Think of having sunshine all night long, not as clear as in the daytime, but nobody needed any lights from May till September anyway. Winter was wonderful, with all kinds of skating, coasting and skiing, also sleigh rides.
I recall one winter the Crown Prince Gustav, now King of Sweden, brought his bride to Christiania and the whole town was celebrating the event. Up along the Avenue Carl Johan - it reaches up to the King's Castle or "Slot", or similar to your White House, the whole avenue was arrayed like a Winter Carnival. Colossal ice, clear as crystal, built up in figures with lights inside them, lined up on both sides of the avenue. Flags and bunting.
My brother, running errands for his boss, passed the Crown Prince on the way, but did not recognize the Prince. He, (the Prince), with his walking cane, lifted, or hit, the cap off my brother's head and, brother often said, "I was mad - but I kept my hands in my pockets." Of course, you know that is a fine idea when you are mad. Keep your hands in your own pockets, even if they are tied up in a knot.
I recall one day when we were home in Grasvik before dad went to America he took Waldemar and I out to fish way down south of our home. It was miles away and we were so glad to go as we most always enjoyed those trips. We usually stayed a couple of days and mother always saw that we had a lovely lunch with us and plenty. As we got near there one of our uncles, a brother of dad's, came by in his big yacht, a big, nice boat. He sent for dad to go with him and they sent us two kids home alone to row - and row - and row. We had to stop and rest. We cried and worked at the oars and I often think this stuck in my brother's mind as an injustice to us from dad it was hard to get over - but we arrived home.
One time we were all three children out with dad and were storm-bound and stayed out in a cave in a mountain. Dad and I would take turns at night to watch the fire so we could keep warm and dry. Dad used to clean a nice baking size fish, leaving the scales and the head on, wash and season and wrap it in several wet papers and bake it by putting it right in the embers. When done, just slit the paper open with a knife and there is your fish all cooked. Douglas and I have done it often down in Tampa Bay when we were fishing there among the islands.
Waldemar and I had many experiences on that river "Glommen". We were caught in a storm one time. I would row and he would bail out the water - we both of us were real frightened, also in fog. Funny, when you get in the fog you just keep rowing around and around. My brother, John, he was so much older, but I can recall now one night he was crossing the river in the fog. We waited and waited. Finally, mother got worried and we went down to the pier and we heard the cry of John way off - "Oh, mother - mother - mother". I can still hear how lost that sounded. Mother had some men go out in another boat and bring him in.
The home we had in Grasvik laid rather high and had a lovely view of the river and many an evening would I love to sit on the edge of the rock and watch the hundreds of sail ships "windjammers" that were loading there with lumber and porcelain for countries all around the world. I would love to dream of trips somewhere, yet I never dreamt then that someday my grandchildren should drive in their own cars in the Capitol of America - and such dear lovely children at that, God bless them. No, that was never included in my dream.
I used to read a lot about the war in the Balkans and Russia-Turkey, read about them to dad. There I read of Florence Nightingale and she became my great heroine. I wanted to do something like her; go out and soothe the sick and make the world better - make hard places easier to bear.
My older brother wanted to go to Chicago (America) to find dad as we then had no words from him. Poor dad, he had suffered a complete stroke of apoplexy and, as he could not either talk or see or use hands and feet, he was helpless to tell who he was. He was finally sent to the Home for Incurables at Des Plaines, Chicago and there somehow they found out about (from his clothing) who he was and from where he came. The doctors wrote mother that the best she could do was to consider him dead, as there was nothing to do only a question of time till he was dead altogether.
John went, and then mother took our baby brother Ferdinand and left for Chicago. Waldemar and I were to come after. We stayed with mother's half sister, Fru Larsen (Tante Stina) and so we separated and we never again saw Ferdinand. He died the 8th of November the year Cleveland was elected President of the U.S. He had typhoid fever and mother propped him up in bed so he could watch the parade going by. That was too much for him - bless him. How lovely it shall be when, in the Glorious Kingdom, there shall be no more death. How much we have to love God for that is going to wipe the tears from all faces. He shall give us joy for mourning. How I wish I could tell it to all that are in sorrow - that soon shall blessings come to the Earth and all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of Jesus, the Son of Man and come forth.
I did not understand then that God had formed a plan whereby all that
died because of Adam's sin should be awakened from death in God's Kingdom,
when Satan is bound so he could not deceive anyone any more. But I had
learned to love Jesus and fear God. Mother and I were members of the Methodist
Church. Dear Waldemar, he felt Ferdinand's death worse than I did. The
two had so little in common and often there was friction, which I know
made his passing away hard - memory is either a blessing - or a hard judge.
Waldemar and I now began to drift apart. He studied and read books that made him able to think for himself. We had a hymn we sang in church that Waldemar did not like. It was that the saved ones in heaven would play harps and look over the walls and down to hell and see the souls of the sinners burning and sizzling in fire crying for water and they could get nothing to quench their thirst. There - Waldemar would say - you can see what kind of hearts you will get when you come to heaven. Mother and you would work your fingers to the bone to save me from pain now - when you get there you can play harps and praise God knowing I burn and sizzle. No, no, Camilla, I can never be saved, for I cannot believe that. Poor brother - and I was worse off - for I really believed the Bible taught such a horrible doctrine. Brother ' my dear loving, unselfish brother - yes, I would have done anything to save him pain. How glad I am we both have learned today of God's goodness and mercy, it is everlasting, as well as just, and so Jesus died that God could be just and also justify the sinner that repents, that comes to him, either now or in the coming Kingdom.
My best friend, Martha, took sick. Tuberculoses of the throat; she was
a widow's only child. We had great hopes of her recovery. We went out to
a lovely summer place and spent our vacation. There was a lovely fjord
or bay called "Naesodden"(?). We had a boat and we had a fine place up
on a high hill where we made a couch of grass and boughs. She could lay
down and rest and I would read to her. When we were in the boat we would
sing. The rambling roses climbed around our window and a real old fashioned
garden around the house. An old lady and her daughter owned the place.
It was a place to dream about. On Sunday a couple of young boys from our
church came out to see us, Andrew and Markus. Andrew now is in California.
Markus I have lost track of. Well, we climbed the mountains and we picked
berries and flowers. The world seemed so beautiful and we were young. I
wish you could have seen the joy we found to just express ourselves in
song and in hymns. We were all four of us Christians. I must laugh now
when I think of how little it took to make us happy - flowers, sunshine,
birds, long walks, and hikes.
I recall my first bad act to mother in Christiania. There was a large Navy ship in from Holland another American Navy ship. Mother heard us tell that visitors were to be admitted Sunday afternoon and that we would like to go aboard. Mother said no, absolute no. Well, Martha, Andrew and Markus were going - and I went. Markus could talk English some, we could not - some of the officers noticed Martha. She was a very fine appearing girl, and we were not interested in the dancing on the lower decks, so we were taken in tow by two very fine young officers. Markus could talk to them, so we found it very interesting to see the inside - the guns and machinery, etc. One of them showed me a picture of his father and mother. His father was a Lutheran Minister in Antwerp, Holland and every day after that he came to my store and presented me with a bouquet of flowers. We could not talk, but he told Markus he was coming back someday.
Mother, poor dear mother, how bad she felt - her girlie disobedient. I felt bad too, and it took some time before I again could find peace with God and with mother.
Poor Martha, as cold days came she became worse, finally took to the bed. I then spent all my time to help care for her. Mother was in Chicago and auntie did not like it. They feared I would get tubercular trouble too. Her doctor was one of the staff of physicians from the Royal Hospital and he asked me one day "Froken Ager - do you realize you are a born nurse and ought to take that up as your work in life? - and when you are old enough, come to me. I will get you in there." This I did after Martha died, and became my reason for coming to the U.S.A.
Martha's mother worked and I had work in the store, so we took turns
at night and managed the best we could. She loved to have us sing to her
and sing I did till even when she died. While she died I held her hand
in mine singing "We shall meet beyond the river, where the surges cease
to roll." I now took serious thought to be a student nurse. The Head Nurse
of the Royal Hospital was the daughter of the minister under whose care
I was before confirmation and graduation from school. I was named for her
- Camilla Guldberg - one of the finest women of Norway. When I visited
the sick in the hospital I would watch her entrance into the ward. She
brought something - an influence of sweetness, of goodness. It just radiated
from her. I would watch her and pray that if it could be possible I could
just be a little bit like her.
Pastor Guldberg was also mother's friend and I went to see him. After talking to him he was real pleased to think that I wanted to consecrate my life to the care of the sick. He gave me an application to be signed by my mother and dad, as I was too young to go in without that. I was only 16 years and the age should be 21, but I was strong and full of ambition. Well, this application was sent to mother and dad and as an answer came tickets for Waldemar and I to leave Norway for America. Mother thought Martha's death and religious emotions had given me this desire and the thing was to find something new in a new country.
My auntie and I got very busy to fix up things for us to go on our long journey. Waldemar was about 15 and I was some over 17 years old; two kids to go alone, but strange to say, we never gave that a thought. We left Christiania sometime in April 1885. I am somewhat mixed up with the exact date tonight.
I shall never forget our last days - our lovely friends and kind - and the beautiful city - the fjords and mountains.
As we were leaving late in the afternoon Waldemar and I stood alone and watched the last glimmer of lights fading in the distance and went to find our bed. Well, I will pass over the memory of that night. We never went to bed; we sat out on the deck and talked and planned. How Waldemar could talk. He and I looked at the poor emigrants around us; some were drunk, some danced. They evidently were trying to forget who they were and we kids were disgusted. We touched the next morning - the last city of Norway was past and we should cross the channel to reach England Sunday afternoon. We two sat apart watching Norway fading out of our sight and we sang our goodbye to the land of our Fathers, a land rich in story and song. Oh, how we felt we were rich, we were somebody and intended to accomplish things that should be an honor to the land of our births.
How often since I have closed my eyes and envisioned the scenes of our
Homeland and thanked God I was old enough when I left home to carry its
beauty with me in my heart, and I realize after over 50 years that has
gone since then - I owe this land so much. There was implanted in our heart
and mind - Love of Truth - and it was thoroughly hammered into our mind
- that a Norwegian's word stood like the mountains of Norway - immovable
- unbreakable - and you were as good as your word - or that what - you
spoke portrayed you.
How we were taught to memorize scriptures and hymns, and we liked it. Such was the training all children received. The only way we differed from many was that our mother was so wonderful; she taught us the lesson of prayers. Even Waldemar, dear loving Waldemar, full of doubts and fears as to the logic of creeds and catechism, even he found comfort in prayer.
We reached Hull, England Sunday afternoon and as we had met several very nice young people - one "skipper" that was to go to London to take the command of a ship to go to Australia - and a lawyer - and a Scotchman - and a young Norwegian-American and his cousin, a young lady, we had a wonderful time. They were so attracted by my dear brother, he was so cute and quaint in his conversation; they loved to start him to talk. I recall an older man that tried to be fresh and he ridiculed Waldemar for bearing the blue ribbon on his coat, which in Norway was an emblem of prohibition. He asked if he, such a little tyke, had to wear that ribbon to save himself, or show off. Waldemar's blue eyes looked straight at him and said "I wear it to protect myself from the disaster of becoming like you".
We arrived in Hull and went ashore, all five of us, and the first sight that met us was street gospel singers. It was a nice-looking crowd and while we did not understand the words we knew the hymns. We all wanted to see the town so we took in all we could see, beautiful streets and homes - and terrible slums - the most ragged street beggars I had ever seen. Drunken men and women - oh, what a place! In traveling by rail through England it looked lovely, like a big garden with cozy homes overgrown with ivy, but we did miss the mountains; we were used to them.
We arrived in Liverpool and were escorted to the big White Star liner, Baltic, in small launches, and it was some boat. Mother had been agent for this line so we were given special care. By this time we were only four of us, Mr. Eskildsur and his cousin, they-lived in Brooklyn; he could talk English.
Our first day was lovely on the Atlantic and there was a Welsh Methodist
young men’s choir. They sang lovely and, of course, I kept close to where
they were and I soon found out that by saying, "sing-sing" they would sing.
Mr. Eskildsur helped me some and the song leader's name was Edwards. He
was very nice. I did like him a lot, and we tried to pick out words from
an English-Norwegian wordbook. I had one letter from him in Chicago but
I could not answer it so I never knew what became of him.
The third day out we had a terrible storm and we were not allowed on deck, and I had my first real taste of seasickness - and it was terrible. I could not do a thing, and when we finally were allowed on deck, I was so dizzy I could not look at the water. My head was so bad, and my dear brother got real put out with me. I suppose I did not represent a very dignified person, and the worst was I did not seem to care; that made him mad.
After six days on the Atlantic we reached New York harbor and had our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, and then the Castle Gardens. The customs officers went through our trunks and things and there came a missionary and gave us each a New Testament. That pleased me; still, it seemed queer. Yet I never dreamt why this was given us till I overheard at a church meeting a missionary telling of these poor foreigners and how much money they need to buy the word of God to give these ignorant newcomers and was I surprised - and how! When the speaker pressed and begged for money for this purpose I had to let them know right there to make it clear to them that people from the Scandinavian countries did not wish this, as they all were instructed in the scriptures from the days of the ABC and would not appreciate being taken for ignorant, even if they had to learn the English language before they could express what they know. Waldemar, dear, shall we ever forget our trip in the train from New York to Chicago? You remember that nice Irish that covered us up when you went to sleep with your head in my lap.
Mother had written their address very plainly and warned us not to speak to any stranger - look for a policeman - but they would meet us at the station; and when we reached there, there was no one we knew and such a crowd of people. We had telegraphed from New York when we should arrive, so we were real disappointed to find nobody we knew. We picked up our handbags and walked off amid a stream of shrieking cabmen that wanted to take us somewhere, but we remembered our orders from mother and walked off.
Chicago gave us the jitters; so many little wooden houses put up on poles. That looked queer to us; Chicago was not very attractive from the trains then.
We found a policeman and he jabbered something, but we watched the way he pointed and kept going till we met the next policeman and, while we were talking to this one a young man stepped out of nowhere and told the policeman who he was and that he knew where to take us. He was real kind and he brought us to mother and dad. He was a Norwegian.
The meeting of dear mother brought joy and sadness. Ferdinand was gone, our little kid brother, and there was dad, paralyzed, his vision impaired. He was bent over when he walked and you could not understand his talk. I looked at him, walked into another room and had a cry - oh, how it all came over me what poor mother, patient, kind mother, had gone through. It was terrible for me to face, as I had, with the self-will of the young, just considered what I wanted to accomplish, something great to help others - when the one person I really loved, my own mother, needed me more than anyone. This was a shock to me, and I decided that mother and dad comes first.
Two little rooms, but how soon mother knew how to make it home to us all. Now when you read of your Uncle's admiration for Bestemar, "his and my mother", you know she deserves it all. God bless her memory.
We arrived on a Monday morning, and that evening we went to visit an old couple, friends of mother and dad from Norway. They had been young folks together, and we had a lovely dinner. There I met your grandfather Christensen. They had us placed as partners at dinner. He was so easy to look at and so kind. These people, Mr. and Mrs. S, had one son and daughter. Their home was right across from where our little Norwegian Methodist Church was, so it was very easy to stop there on going to church, and we were often a crowd together.
I had decided that I was going to serve the Lord, so I started right away as a Sunday school teacher and to sing in the choir and attend the young people's meetings.
I had to look for work, and what could I do that could not say one thing in English? I found that several jobs in families to do housework could be had for small pay while you learned to speak. This was my best bet - and night school. My first place was with the dearest Scotch family; they had four daughters and they were wonderful teachers. I was dreadfully ignorant as I had never done housework and so I hid my ignorance by not knowing what was told me, and as my lady was very patient, I learned by observing what she did. I had an awful dark little room back of the kitchen. One day she said "Milly - you are such nice girl, you can sleep with our Margie and have room with her." I sure loved the change; she let me have time off on Sunday for Church and Sunday school. God bless them, they were so good to me.
I was so happy that summer. Dad was getting better and brother and I both worked and brought every penny to mother. I saw Mr. Christensen often, and one week he disappeared. He had left town. I was talked into seeking a place where I could be better paid. I hated to leave my place but - I had only $2.00 a week, when mother needed so much.
I had prayed to the dear Lord to help me, and as mother had seen an ad someplace, I went there. And, dear girlies, it was a big frame building, four stories high and, as I opened the gate to go in, a horrible feeling came over me. I did not want to go in, but I tried again. I was to have $4.00 there and I went in on the steps and started to ring that bell. I could not do it. I rushed out on the sidewalk and ran home. Sometime later I was walking by there with your grandfather Christensen and a friend of ours. I called their attention to the place and told them of my funny experience at that place. Our friend's name was "A". He told me how strange, as at that place his own sister had been ruined bodily and he took her back home to Norway and she died on the Atlantic. He said they did not know either that it was a house of White Slaves.
I cannot but wonder and thank the Lord that saved me from this place.
I became engaged to your grandfather Christmas, 1885, he was my first and only sweetheart, and what plans we had laid for doing the Lord's will and what an influence our home was to be for all that was pure and true. We took in night school together. Christensen also studied architecture and worked as a carpenter. Brother Waldemar was now printer's devil on the Norwegian Methodist paper and then one day he was offered a better job on the "Skandinavian", a daily paper in Chicago. Again, he turned the job over to another boy that had to work for his mother, a widow. Being unselfish- Waldemar was wonderful. My older brother, John, was married and had two babies, and all he could do to take care of them. He was real proud of us and loved to have us with him.
I never will forget when Waldemar and I had money enough to buy a big bed couch for dad and a rocking chair for mother. It was still our first summer in Chicago. How we missed the lovely summer nights at home. Here they had lamps lit all evening, and so hot. No wonder at first we felt longing for the land of our birth. We soon learned to love Chicago and the new country. Dad recovered now in leaps and bounds and one of the first things he did was to get his papers as an American citizen and I believe he was proud that he had accomplished that.
We moved into a larger apartment and, oh, how cozy it was. Mother would work and sing and when we were home in the evening mother always had some coffeecake for us. In the evenings we met with nice young people of our own nationality.
As we were Methodists from home, we found mother located in a little Norwegian/Danish Methodist Church, and there I had my real experiences in trying to do what I thought the Lord wanted me to do. I found work as Sunday school teacher and in the church choir. How I then longed to know the Lord better, anxious to help save the sinners, and had ambition to become a nurse, one like Florence Nightingale. One Sunday night I met Mr. Christensen again and he told me I could nurse him all I wanted to, but he wished I would let him be the only one for me. His sister Carrie, "Kaja" we used to call her, was my chum. She stayed with us. I would like to tell you how happy I was when we planned our home and all it would mean to us. We were married just 12 weeks when he took sick; in it all he came through better than I. I stood and sang at his deathbed - he wanted to hear my voice singing "I'm a Child of a King".
When he left me I became hard. God had not been just to us, I thought, and when the awful experiences a young healthy woman goes through - too many to wish to take the place of the dear one gone. Then the coming of our baby - we had both loved the Lord - why should n-V baby have no father?
I was blessed with a wonderful mother. She took me to task, showed me that if I loved Hans - I had wanted to do something for the Lord - here it was, a little life to be formed and taught so as to go to her Father in heaven. Then she explained a family secret kept among the mothers of my folks for centuries, at least since the 13th century. On mother's side we belong to an Old Dutch family, Von Otterbeck. They left Holland and came to Norway after the persecutions of the Catholic Church, who took away all earthly possessions belonging to the Protestant Christians. The secret is that every mother of our family, when she understands a baby is conceived, kneels in prayer and dedicates the little new life to the Lord. Then she lives in mind and thought and being as they want the baby to live, and mother said, "Camilla, there has never been a criminal or reprobate in the family." I did as told and consecrated my baby to the Lord then and there.
People said, what a pity that a baby is coming. This made me more sore – as that was my one joy to look forward to - our baby. And what a great blessing she was to me. It was great fun to try to get her little arms around my neck and hear her call Mama. My father worshipped her and nothing pleased him more than to have her little hands pull his whiskers.
I, when well enough, started to work in a millinery. I did not make much at it, and one day the doctor told me of an opportunity to go to an obstetrics hospital where I could also have my baby with me. I went, and everybody was lovely to us and Hannah was so sweet and dear. The head doctor wanted to adopt her and make her his own heir. His wife seemed so delighted with her too, but how impossible it would have been to live without her. And now, 45 years gone, and she is still the same comfort to me - indeed, God's gift to me.
My brother, Waldemar, had an opportunity to go to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to work on a temperance paper and I gave myself to work for the sick and the poor - and so began my work as a volunteer nurse in Chicago.
If you could have gone with me into these dreary places and seen the misery, shame, neglect, hunger, and nakedness. One night I was called to the Cook County Hospital to visit a poor patient of mine that had tuberculosis. His son was dead, his daughter sick and his wife down in the last stages of tuberculosis. When I first met him he would not listen to my talk of the Lord's power to save. One day I brought my guitar with me and sang to him and played the guitar. Something broke his heart and he talked. He had been a well-to-do furniture manufacturer and was doing fine, his wife and two babies had everything. One year before Christmas they had decided to put on a sale and get rid of their old stock, and so, at the first of the year start full blast to make new models of furniture. With the Holidays over he came down to find a shop pretty well sold out and his partner absconded with the money. He sold what was left and used it to pay detectives to try to find the partner and get revenge. He never found him. Running out of money, he took a job to fix a roof, took cold and tuberculosis set in. His little boy that never had known want took sick and died. His little girl, undernourished, had malaria fever and his poor little wife took tuberculosis from him. Now, he said, you come and say, "God is Love". We talked a lot after that and he began to find comfort. We had to take him to the hospital and here I found him that night. He wanted me to read First John, Third Chapter. I did, and as I talked he went to sleep, too weak to talk.
I noticed a young man in the next bed looking at me intently, and he said, "I heard what you read to that man, - is that all true". I told him it is God's word. He asked me to read it to him and questioned, "Will it be thus for me?" I assured him that anyone that came to God and believed Jesus died for them are saved, for he had said He will not cast them out. I promised I would call on him next visiting day and I did. The nurse met me in the hall and inquired, "Are you Mrs. Christensen?" She said, "Robert died last evening and told me that you were to call today to see him and that I should tell you 'that now he knows it is true, that God forgives sin and he will not cast me out'". I was so grateful for this message, and thought how little I realized when I was sent to see one that there was also another that needed the only friend in the world that can go with us down in the Valley of Death.
One, I regret helping. This was a young man from England who had run away from home. He begged me to write to his folks, which I did. They wrote me the kindest letter in return, and I never will forget the cold winter night a friend came to me and offered him a job if I could get him out of the hospital for the next morning. He had just been kept there because he had no place to go and he served helping the nurses. I went to the office at the hospital and arranged to take him to our home. His only clothes were a thin pair of denim pants and coat. I wrapped mother's shawl around his shoulders at it was bitterly cold. We found him some clothes to wear to work and helped him till he could help himself. He was a beast of a boy; got a nice girl in trouble and left her. Evidently he returned to England. The girl, in her distress, drowned herself in Lake Michigan. How I wish I had left him in his mire. This was one of my sad experiences in my work, trying to make the world a little better because I was there. I guess by this time I was maybe 25 years old, full of great ideals to help and bless others, but this experience was bad.
One Thanksgiving week, it was cold, with snow and slush, a little boy crossed the street. Cold and ragged, his little jacket pinned in front with a nail. I called to him, smiled at him, and begged him to come to me. I gave him my address, told him to come, as I had nice warm clothes to give him, good shoes and stockings. I asked him about his parents; he gave me his address and told me his father and mother both were sick with typhoid fever. He was to call at our house the next morning, but I had been called out in the night to see a little baby that was very ill. I was away for two days and the poor kid came again twice before he found me home. How happy the little fellow was when I got him all dressed up. You see, friends in the church sent me all kinds of clothes for that purpose and certain days we would meet and alter them and fix them up to suit whatever child or woman would be able to use them. I packed a basket of things and went with him and oh, what a place!
Two rooms in a basement and five children. The little baby sat in an old coal bucket, the father in a chair and the mother laid on an old bed spring with some newspapers and rags around to keep her warm. She was very sick but screaming, "I don't want any Salvation Army girl here!" I was on my way to the Crippled Children’s Hospital as I had a little hunchback girl there. She was 35 years old but her drunken father had dropped her when she was little and injured her spine. Her mother was a seamstress; she used to drive her 35-year-old daughter around in a baby buggy one day, as she brought her sewing home she fell and broke her hip and at this time was at the Presbyterian Hospital. Could we picture to ourselves this mother with a baby that never grew up, poor and aged? Then to have this accident; it seemed to me at times, how can God look at all this misery? But it turned out wonderfully. The mother had fine care, the nurses, God bless them, were good to her. Her little girl became a bright spot at the Children's Hospital. She could tell lots of stories to the sick children, entertain them, cut out pictures and sing lullabies, and she taught the children to pray. Doctor Prince, bless his heart, he was both prince and doctor - a small good-natured face and the brightest eyes and snow white hair and beard. When I told him of my experiences that morning, he said, "Can you get a dray - we have a nice bed, spring and mattress, also pillows". I knew where I could go for a dray so I thanked him and left. One of my friend’s husband had a furniture factory and he was glad to send for the bed and things and she added blankets. From the Nurse I s Volunteer Society we got sheets, so back I came to little Tommy's home in the basement. My brother's old sweetheart, Mathilde, was with me. We bathed them and cleaned them all up and sent for the doctor. He told me she could not get well, but she did. Years afterwards I had a patient in St. Petersburg from Chicago. To my great pleasure she was one of the Directors of this home for Crippled Children and, of course, with me, admired Doctor Prince and his generous work for these children. By this time, he had become quite old and the younger doctors were trying to help him.
I am telling you a few of my cases to help you realize God's care over
your mother and myself. I am not able to tell you of all my experiences.
My dear girlies, this is not a biography or history of my life, but just
the history of God's way of leading me through my years of formation, so
that when the severer trials come, you can perhaps understand why God's
love is the greatest thing in the world.