Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with Sissel Peterson

  • By Deborah Dodson
  • Posted 9/22/2004
  • Essay 5757

Sissel Peterson (b. 1922) left Norway at age three, traveling with her mother and siblings to meet up with her father who had come to America looking for work. She vividly evokes the journey and her acclimatization to America. Moving to Ballard when she was five, she describes her childhood there in the 1920s and 1930s. She talks about her Norwegian traditions, her involvement in organizations such as the Daughters of Norway, and community events around Ballard such as the May 17th Constitution Day celebrations. This interview by Deborah Dodson is part of the Vanishing Generation Oral History Project in the Nordic Heritage Museum and took place on May 24, 2000.

This is an interview for the Vanishing Generation Oral History Project about Ballard. Today is Wednesday, May 24th, 2000, and I will be interviewing Sissel Peterson. We are in the home of Sissel in Ballard, Washington.

Good morning, Sissel.

Good morning.

And if you could give us your full name as your --

Well, I happen to have a long full name.


My name is Sissel Hedvig Birgitta Almaas Peterson.

Okay. That's great. Well, I'd like to ask you some questions about kind of your initial experience in coming here to the United States. And you are from Norway, correct?


Right. If you could start with -- I'll ask you some questions here about coming over to the United States. Tell me about your experiences coming to the United States. For instance, how old were you and what year was it?

Well, I was three and a half. We came over in 1925 from Haugesund, Norway. My father came -- left Norway in 1924, a year before. And the next year my mother and we three children followed.

Okay. And what kinds of preparations do you remember for the trip?

Well, of course, being three and a half, I don't remember any preparation, but I know that it must have been a burden for my mother to get ready because she had to do it alone. My brother was almost nine, so perhaps he was some help to her. And my sister was five. My sister, Elsie, was five, and I was only three and a half. My mother had some English in high school, so she could understand a little English, which helped her on the trip.

Okay. And could you describe or either what you remember or what your sister has remembered about your travel experience, the actual experience on the boat?

Well, in Bergen we boarded a small boat and crossed the North Sea to Newcastle, England. And I understand the North Sea was very rough. And our bunks were so that when the ship's bow went down, we were on our feet and our heads the other way. My mother and myself and my sister, we were very seasick, but my brother Olaf was just fine. A young Swedish man took her -- took him under his wing. And one night after dinner Olaf came back to our cabin, and Mama asked him what they had for dinner. And when Olaf said pea soup, she got sick all over again. And one thing that we -- that had to be done on board, we had to have vaccinations. We got two in case one didn't take. They both got very sore. Then the nurse began searching our heads for lice. This was a practice they did. She did Mama, Olaf and Elsie. But when it came to my turn, I guess I screamed as soon as they came near me, and the nurse looked at the rest of us, and since she didn't find any lice, she let me go.

When we got to New Castle we took the train to Liverpool, where we boarded one of the Cunard Lines, the Ascania. And we finally got over being sick, seasick. So my sister, I guess, got into a little trouble. She was up on the rail. And my mother had to grab her before she did anything bad. And my sister learned that -- or I learned that there was a little shop on board that had bananas and goodies. I guess I was always hungry before dinner, so Mama brought us a banana. This got to be too much for our thrifty mother, and she asked the waiter if she could have something for the children to eat in the afternoon. He fixed a little lunch for us, and when I started in about being hungry, Mama brought out her little package. This is not what I had in mind. I told her, "Mama, I was hungry for bananas, not bread."

After crossing the Atlantic, our ship sailed along the St. Lawrence Waterway to Quebec. While on board, Mama learned that the Canadian government had a settlers' train at a very reasonable cost that went all the way to Vancouver, B.C. She decided to turn in our tickets for the less expensive train, therefore, saving a lot of money. After our mother's death, we found a letter written in English by the travel agent. This letter stated that Mrs. Almaas was traveling alone with her three children. She would appreciate any assistance she could get. And I have the letter here.

The letter was apparently shown to waiters, stewards, redcaps, and the like and proved to be healthy. But I don't think my mother ever gave that letter to the porter, because she had never seen a black man in her life, and I think, I think this was a little shock. I saw my first black man on that train. I told Mama I'd seen a man who had never washed himself. Do you want any further on that?

Yeah, now we're kind of moving out of the -- would you explain to me so that the people -- the person's who's doing the transcription on the tapes understands that you're actually reading something, and do you want to explain what that is that you're reading?

Well, my sister has written this story of our trip across the ocean, and I'm very grateful for that because being three and a half, I didn't remember it as much as she did because she was older.

Now how old was she?

She was five and a half.

Okay. And then I noticed that you have kind of, at certain points, kind of ad libbed in there, or given -- interjected a few of your own viewpoints.

Yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh.

Okay. Do you remember what you brought with you on the boat, and how you --

My mother brought everything. She brought everything she owned.

Okay, 'cause this was a move, a serious move.

Yes. Uh-huh. No, she brought everything. And that's --

There was nothing left?

Well, probably the big furniture and that sort of thing, but she brought all her personal and, I mean, that clock and those things that are on the fireplace. And she just brought everything. And I don't know about the furniture, maybe she brought some of that, too, I don't know, because we have a very nice shelf downstairs where she hung cups and saucers and that sort of thing. So I think she brought whatever she had.

Okay. Do you have any idea of the cost of the boat trip over?

Yes, I have that right here.

Oh, great. And do you want to explain as you pull that out what that is?

(Tape turned off)

Okay, you have found something there, a document?

Well, it's Cunard Line. I think for the furniture -- it says 260 -- I really -- I really -- I don't think that's the one for the pass; I think that's for her furniture.

Oh, what is it -- I'm just curious, what does it say on that document about the furniture?

Well, it says -- it's talking about 260. This is for the ticket, 150 kroner. Well, I just can't really tell if it's 150, and then a comma, two zeros. So that's 150 kroner, but what that's for -- $40 for something. I think he made a -- I think it was 260 kroner for the trip. That doesn't sound quite right, does it?

I don't know the kroner translation into dollars.

No. I'll look in here and see what this says.

Yeah, maybe there's another in there. She's looking through her stack of documents here that she thinks might have the answer.

Yeah, here it is, 2,501 kroner.

For just a person?

For us.

For all of you? Okay.

This is to my dad in Tacoma. It was written to him. We went third class. Third class tickets from Haugesund to Vancouver.


Washington, yeah. No, no, Vancouver B.C. And it's 2,501 kroner total, and that includes photographs and American counsel and the passage and the tickets.

Okay. That's wonderful to still have that information.

I know it. It's just unbelievable.

And why did your family immigrate to the United States?

Well, it was for economy reasons. My father was a brick mason, and there wasn't very much work in Norway at that time. And so he decided -- and having relatives in Tacoma, Washington to go to, he decided that he would try it over here and see if he could make a better living.

And when you say relatives, how close were they?

He had three aunts in Tacoma.


And his mother was one of their sisters, his mother, in Norway. And the others had gone to America, you know, many years before. And so they loaned my father the money to come over to pay for the passage. And of course, he paid it all back, you know, in due time. But that's why he left Norway was economics.

Okay. And do you remember during the journey how you passed the time? I know you described a little bit of it already. Was there anything more you wanted to add to that?

Well, the ship had all kinds of -- you know, had a, you know, recreation room with, you know, things to do. It was a very nice ship, I understand. And, you know, so we had -- there were things to do there. I'm sure there were things for children to do. Let's see where was that. You know, that thing. There it is right there.

This is what you were looking for?

Yeah. I think they sent out a wireless news sheet every day, and they had a --

Do you want to describe what you're looking through right now?

Well, I'm looking at a little paper that came out on the ship that's called the "Wireless News Sheet," and it was from the Ascania. And it's dated Sunday, July 5th, 1925, and it's, of course, the Cunard Line. And they had just like the cruise ships now days, they had things to do. And this is sort of a newspaper telling what's going on in the world.

Could you kind of list a few of the activities that are shown on there?

Well, they have deck chairs, rugs and deck chairs you could get, so you could sit out on the deck.

Well, that must have been quite something in that day, though?

Yes. And it looks like here there's a playroom for children, there's a rocking horse, I see. And I suppose we just kept busy. It was only a nine, ten-day trip.

Ten days. Okay. Do you recall any -- while you were on the trip itself with your own family in terms of entertainment, did you have games or anything that your family traditionally did that you were doing on the ship?

Well, my mother read a lot to us. She was quite a reader. And so I'm sure she kept us busy. Yeah, she was a very nice mother, of course.

I'm sure she was. Do you remember any games, though?

No, I don't. No, no.

Okay. Okay.

And I think we had toys to play with, you know, she -- because when we were on the train, somebody gave me -- this is the one thing I do remember, somebody gave me a black cat that was, you know, a toy cat to play with, so. But I'm sure we just were -- we just entertained ourselves. But I don't know of any games that -- I'm not aware of any.

Yeah. There may not have been those kinds of things so prevalent back in those times as there are today.


I know you talked about the meals. Is there anything more that you'd like to share about the meals?

Well, we were, of course, the lowest class, third class passengers. But I'm sure the meals were nice. It was, you know, an English ship, and I'm sure they had nice meals, too. You mean on board?


Yeah. But my brother evidently -- the only place where my sister mentions meals was he had pea soup, and so I'm sure the food was just like, you know, typical English food.

Now what port did you leave from? Maybe you've already said this, and I didn't catch that when you left Norway.

Oh, we left from Bergen.


And went over to Newcastle, England, and took the ship from there.

Oh, okay, okay. And then how to come around to -- you docked now where in the United States? You said Vancouver, B.C.?

In Vancouver, yes, and we took the train from Vancouver to Seattle.

Okay. Now, how did the ship -- what route did you come to reach Vancouver? What was --

Well, we took -- we landed in Quebec, and we boarded a settlers' train in Quebec.

Oh, okay.

And I guess my mother said she was the only woman on board on that train.

And the rest being -- well, I know males, but --

Working men, yeah.

Okay, the timber men or lumbermen, that kind of thing?

Uh-huh. Yes. And I guess we had to cook our own -- have our own food on that train. I'm not positive about that, but it doesn't sound quite right, but this is what I heard.

Well, I'm wondering, too, what happened to the rest of the passengers on the boat?

Oh, well, they probably went to different --

In the East Coast line there? Okay.

Yeah. Well, they went as far as the Midwest. Many, many people settled in the Midwest.

That's true. That's true, uh-huh. And what was the hardest thing about the journey for you?

Well, I guess when we left Norway, I was not -- I wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to my own bed in Haugesund. I was very difficult. My uncle had to carry me down the gangplank and put me on the boat. I guess I just screamed, and it was just really awful, awful.

And the rest of your siblings were not -- they seemed to be more comfortable with traveling?

Yes, they were -- well, they were older.

They were older, right.

And my -- I guess my grandfather was very upset when they had to say goodbye, because her whole family was down there on the dock to say goodbye, and he said it was like seeing his daughter to the grave 'cause he never saw her again.

Yeah, yeah. Were the rest of the relatives that were -- when you left, were they pretty excited for -- I mean, I'm sure there were mixed feelings, but --

Well, no, it was very sad.

Was it?


This was a real decision on your mom's part?

Well, I guess my dad and my mom, yeah.

Mom and dad, yeah.

'Cause we were the only ones that ever left Norway of our family. Nobody else ever left.

And they just figured they'd make do with how things were, and they wanted to stay in their homeland.

Yes, they did. No, we were the only ones that ever left. So that's why we're sort of alone as far as family. We have no relatives here. But my mother was very happy in this country. She liked it. She was very contented here. But my dad was the homesick one.

Interesting, interesting. Well, before we move into national arrival, is there anything more that you wanted to share about the journey over?

Well, the uncle that had to carry me down the gangplank, I was very fortunate, I was able to take a trip to Norway, and I visited with him. And he told me about that.

So you really got to hear about it firsthand?

Yes, he was a very, very nice man. My uncle, Severin is his name. That was my mother's brother. And yeah, he remembered that real well.

Okay. Now, you said that your port of entry -- well, this -- it says here in the United States, but if you want to reiterate here about, you actually arrived at Vancouver, B.C., after having gone from Quebec across the country, Canada --

Uh-huh, on the train.

(Continuing) -- on the train. And then you took the train down to?


Seattle? Okay.

Where our Tacoma relatives met us, and then we drove to Tacoma.

Okay. What were your first impressions?

Well, we were quite impressed with this beautiful home that my dad's aunt had in Tacoma, a very nice home. And of course -- and my sister, she was kind of a little rascal. She was told not to turn on the gas -- you know, they had a gas stove in the kitchen. And she was told not to -- we were both told, "Don't touch those gas turn-ons." Well, as soon as my dad's aunt left the room, my sister proceeded to turn them all on.

Oh, no.

But we didn't stay there very long because they found an apartment for us to stay in. But we didn't stay in Tacoma more than two years, and then we came to Ballard.

Okay. Do you remember anything in particular about Tacoma back in those -- this would have been what year now, about?

Probably '26. 1926. Well, I remember my dad had an uncle that -- I get emotional when I talk about my family -- and my dad had an uncle that lived in Tacoma, and we used to go out, and they had kind of a big -- lots of property and a beautiful big home. And we used to go out there; it was called Lemon's Beach. And we went out there a lot and stayed, and we enjoyed ourselves out there. And they had a big -- one of those swings, you know, that four people can sit in. I remember we sat in that a lot with -- and just had a lot of fun. But it was very, very nice out there in Lemon's Beach, and we enjoyed that.

Now, that would -- where would that be today?

Well, I don't know, it's not too far out of Tacoma. I don't know if they still call it Lemon's Beach, or what, but I know we used to go out there a lot. And my dad's aunt there, his aunt by marriage, was a wonderful cook. And we had wonderful meals out there when we stayed. We used to stay overnight out there.

So, how were you feeling, then, as you spent that two years in Tacoma? Do you remember at all, were you

Well, I remember there was a big, big fire while we were there. A big match factory burned. And it was -- but we -- and I met a -- and right next door to us was a friend -- a girl named Grace Hendrickson, and she and I became best of friends. And we used to sit with our -- we all had -- we both had kitties, and we'd sit in -- on the porch, and then --we just had a good time together. And I just wonder what ever happened to her. But I think her mother was either Norwegian or Swedish, but we became good friends.

So, do you think that at all eased your transition into being more comfortable here?

Well, I've always been comfortable here. I've never had any feeling of not being. I've always liked it here.

Okay, it was just that initial getting on the boat?

Yeah, that was the bad part.

Okay, that was the bad part.

Leaving our home, you know, in Norway.

Right. Could you describe -- I know you were very young, but -- and this may be difficult. I know you've described kind of the particulars on the community you lived in, but is there -- could you give any kind of description or understanding of what America was about or what was going on at that time when you first were here?

Well, I don't really -- I don't know, just life went on. I never had any -- I guess, because my mother was so contented here, we never, you know, had any bad feelings at all. We were very happy here.


I think being with my mother and father, you know, all the time. And they were very down to earth, nice people and, you know, we just had a good family life.

So you were -- am I getting the sense here that your focus was pretty much within your family, your immediate kind of surroundings, and that all felt pretty good to you?

Uh-huh. I remember in Tacoma, they used to have a junk man that came around and picked up junk. We called him the junk man. He was Italian. And we were very afraid of him. I don't know why, but we were just -- when the junk man came around, he had a horse and wagon. And then we would run into the house, because -- he must have been Italian, but I'm not positive of that. But we were afraid of the junk man.

But when I played with the children out in the street, or out in the yards or whatever, I used to come in and tell my mother, "I don't know what's the matter with those children; they don't understand me," because, you know, I just talked Norwegian to them. But it didn't take long before we learned the language.

And when my -- and my sister started school in Tacoma, and the teacher told her that -- told my mother, "Do not speak English to the children -- to your children. You don't want them to pick up your accent." And so we learned English from the kids in the -- you know, that we played with. And then they learned English from us. So we never did have an accent. But we never forgot the Norwegian language, none of us, my brother, my sister, my --

So, was there actually any instruction in class at all about English? Were you pulled aside as -- were there others in your classrooms that were also Norwegian or spoke another language?

Well, not -- no, not in Tacoma, no. But my sister was the only one that -- well, my brother started school there, too. But the teacher told my mother that, you know, that "you don't want your children to pick up your accent." And I thought that was a very good --

That's an interesting perspective, yeah.

Yes, uh-huh. So she just talked Norwegian to us, which I -- and I'm very happy about that because I never have forgotten the language in all these years, and my sister or brother, either so. . .

So you pretty much learned English through your classmates.


It wasn't a structured, in class, spend 30 minutes a day, or whatever, until you learned English?

No, no, no, we just learned it from the children in the street. Our playmates, I should say.

Yeah, that's interesting. So you basically came here with no English skills, is that correct?


Okay. And the rest of your family the same?



My mother did take English in school. She got a scholarship to go on to higher school. And so, she did know -- but she learned the British -- you know, the Oxford English. And to this -- till her dying day, she used -- she spoke that way because that's how she learned English.

And the rest of your siblings basically learned English the same way that you did?

Yeah, from our playmates. That's right.

Who met you when you first arrived in the -- well, you've already explained it.

Yeah, it was my father's family.

And you were pretty much, though, on your own as far as from getting to Quebec to Vancouver. That was just you, the family, from Vancouver, B.C., to Seattle?

Seattle, yeah, we took the train. It was just the three of us.

Yeah, there was no one up there that met you or anything?

No. There was a young man that befriended my mother on the train. And I think he helped her, you know, get -- find the train in Vancouver, you know, to get us down to Seattle.

Okay, this was just someone that she -- just some kind of an acquaintance?

Yeah, he just took her -- my mother under his wing, and he was -- you know, he could speak English and he was very good to her that way.

Do you know if he was Canadian or --

Yeah, he was Canadian.

Okay. Interesting. How do you feel that you were treated as an immigrant when you first arrived? Maybe even the first year or two, as much -- I know that's hard to remember.

Well, there were so many immigrants. So many people came during that time that I didn't -- of course, I wasn't aware of any -- you know, any -- we were just accepted.


Especially going into a family circle, you know, all the -- there were lots and lots of relatives on my father's side in Tacoma.

Did they pretty much live in the same area?


Okay. And was this designated a Norwegian area at all, do you remember?

No. No. Huh-uh.

It just happened to be that the family members just kind of clustered together?

Well, yeah, they had lots of children, all three -- well, two of the -- three of the aunts -- two of the aunts had a lot of children, and so we were just taken in. My one aunt, Hannah, her husband was a businessman in Tacoma. He had a jewelry shop in Tacoma, and Paulsen was his name. So -- and they were very active in the Pentecostal Church, and so we would -- we'd go there with them. So we were always around a lot of people in there, and we were well taken care of. They were very nice to us. Very good people they were.

How do you -- how did your views of the United States change over the years, or did they?

No. I've always loved it here. I've -- but, of course, my roots are Norwegian. You know, I've always liked it here. I've been very happy here. In fact, I've had a very happy life.

Great. What big plans did you or your family have at first?

Well, to find a home, you know, somewhere to live here. And when they left Tacoma and come here, they had to find a home. And, of course, it turned out to be Ballard. I don't think we had any -- well, my father, of course, wanted to find work, which he did. And he built a lot of these homes around here in Ballard. I mean, he worked as the brick mason. And he did a lot of these nice homes here on Sunset Hill, and all around in the Ballard area. But I don't think we had any definite plans any more than anyone else, you know, just to live, make a living and enjoy life.

Was it -- did he find it more difficult in one area than the other, Tacoma versus the Seattle area to --

Well, it was better in Seattle for him because it was more work.

Tacoma was -- I'm not quite sure of the history of that community. Was that a less populated area at that time?

Yeah, it was smaller, smaller.


But it's a nice town. Very nice, but, when I think -- I don't know if you want to hear this, but I think the main reason that my father wanted to leave Tacoma was too many relatives.

Now, that's interesting.

Well, and they were Pentecostal, and so we ended up going to church Saturdays and Sundays. And I think my dad just got a little -- it got a little too much for him, so he --

What was the -- what is the religious background, primarily, of people in Norway at that time?


Lutheran at that time, and still probably is true, right?

Yeah. It's the state church.

So that probably -- was there a conflict there of the Lutheran versus the Pentecostal?

Not a conflict, but a different way of worshipping.


They were a little more verbal.

Do you get a sense your family was comfortable or not with that?

Well, no, they were not. My dad was not comfortable with it, no. It was too much. I don't know, too much church. Oh, dear.

To wrap up this section about arrival, could you tell me a little bit more about kind of the journey from Tacoma up to Ballard, how did you get here, where you settled and why you settled in a particular part of Ballard that you settled in?

Well, my dad finally bought -- was able to buy a car. And so we drove and had our things shipped. Well, he must have come here and looked for a house, and we got a house on 23rd and just above 70th Northwest. And it was a nice house. We enjoyed ourselves there. And there were lots of Scandinavians that lived in the area. In fact, the Heggem family lived right across the street, and we got to be good friends with them. And well, life went on. I can remember we -- my mother decorating for Christmas in that house, you know.

That was your first Christmas?

Yeah, she had her -- and we went to see Santa Claus, and he promised us all these things. And of course we didn't get them, so we decided that Santa Claus was off our list. We didn't get all the things we asked for because, you know, we were not that -- we were rather poor at the time, you know, struggling to get -- to get going. And my mother -- and then, as we got older, we went to Webster School, which is now the museum. And my mother got involved in PTA and the Mother's Chorus there. They had something they don't have now, and she enjoyed it very much. And then she got acquainted with Mrs. Frodesen, who's quite well known in Ballard. And Mrs. Frodesen got her involved in all kinds of things. So she was very happy.

And you were now how old when you actually came to Ballard?

Let's see, about -- I was five.

Okay, so you weren't quite ready for school yet.

No. But then, when I did start school, I went to Webster, and there was lots of immigrants that went to school there. And I remember I had to interpret for one girl that came from Norway, May Gorud, and she didn't speak English, so I had to help her, you know, interpret. And as time went on, she skipped ahead of me. She was a very -- she was very smart, and she ended up skipping a grade, which I thought was really something since she just started as a newcomer.

And how about your siblings, what was it like, as you recall, for them?

Well, it was hard for my brother because he was being, you know, nine years old almost ten, he had to go back in the first grade. And that was in Tacoma. And that was hard for him because he was, you know, a bigger boy than the little first graders. But it didn't take him long to catch up and, you know, get into --

And was that kind of the procedures in the school system here?

Yes, they put him in the first grade.

And so for anyone who had not had any American education then? Interesting.

Yes. But it didn't take long. You know, children pick up so fast. But he didn't particularly like that.

Well, I wouldn't, either. Okay. Is there anything else that you'd like to share on the arrival here to the United States, either your initial experiences in Tacoma or in Ballard? Or if there's any other documents there you wanted to share that relate to that arrival time?

Well, no, I don't see anything.

The first year or two?


I've got a lot of stuff here.

I see that. That's great.

I don't know what all -- I haven't looked at all this for a long time, but it's getting old. Well, it's quite old.


There's our vaccination when we were on the boat. No, this was my dad. He was on the Athenia. I guess we left from Glasgow. Well, he did. That's when he left on the boat. But --

Oh. So, then, you as a family -- I'm not clear here, maybe I didn't hear this part. You as a family went to England first?


And then he went on another boat?

No, he left a year before we did.

Oh, okay.

Yeah, he left a year before we did.

I guess I missed that part.

Yeah, uh-huh.

So he was already in Tacoma?

In Tacoma to meet us, yes.


And he had to get himself settled to see what it was all about.

Yeah. Did he write much back and forth? I assume letter writing was it in those days.

Well, yes, he did.

And what kinds of things were you hearing about the United States and his experiences here?

Well, he was enjoying being here. He seemed to. Of course, he was lonesome for his family, uh-huh, but -- so my mother had to come all by herself with the three children, and it wasn't easy.

And she was about how old?

She was 30. And my dad was 33. So they were pretty well established in their lifestyle, you know, as parents.

Okay. Well, I think what I'll do, so I don't break up the consistency of this taping process, since we're ready to start into the next section. I think what I'll do is I'll turn the tape off and we'll start on the next side.


(End of Side A)

I'm talking with Sissel Peterson, and she just brought up the topic about the need for permission to leave her country of Norway in those days. So, Sissel, you want to explain a little bit more about that?

Well, I guess it's what they call flytnings test. And they had to register with the commune, you know, that they were leaving. And I guess that's just -- that was a procedure at that time.

Now, "commune", explain what that means.

Commune is a community.

Oh, okay. Was that the word that was used in those times, is a commune?

Uh-huh, commune, yeah.

Instead of saying community, we would say today.

They say commune, yeah.

So now, what was the process again? You had to?

Well, they had to register that they were leaving.

With some particular official person?

Yeah, the community.

Okay. And then that person decided whether you could or couldn't?

Well, I don't think that -- well, I'm sure that anybody can leave, but they just had to register and -- let's see, where is that thing. You know, that they were going to leave so that there would be a record.

Oh, okay.

Of course, they kept very good records in Norway. And, you know, you can write to the church and get all kinds of information.

Oh my, really?

Yeah, it's a very good -- they just kept very good records. When you left and --

Again, this is within the particular community that you're in; it's not the actual major government?


But it's the local --

Yeah, community.


Which was Haugesund. This is such old Norwegian, it's hard to read it. So anyway, yeah, because I know when my husband's father came from Sweden, he had -- they had the same thing there.

Do they?

Uh-huh. You know, from the community.

Yeah. Okay. Well, we'll do a transition here into kind of some general questions about daily life in Ballard. How did you end up in Ballard? What was it that your father was?

A brick mason.

Yeah, but why was the draw to Ballard in particular?

Well, he must have -- he had a friend here.

Oh, okay.

Yeah, Pete Nesheim that was -- and Sig Olsen. And they were -- well, Pete Nesheim, they knew from Norway, they knew from Haugesund because that's where he was from, so I suppose that would be the drawing card, is that --

Sure, if you knew someone here, and they were -- maybe the friend explained that there's plenty of work here or he knows someone who knows someone.

Uh-huh, because they were all -- they were in the brick business, too.

Okay, Oh.

And I remember when we lived in Tacoma that we used to drive to Seattle. And my mom and dad would take us to -- oh, that park, Volunteer Park. My parents were great people to go to parks and the beach, go on picnics. And my dad was always dressed up in a suit and a tie. Well, they all were. All the --

Well, that's something -- I know I'm looking through some historical books on Ballard, but I think you could look it at any time and I noticed that in a lot of pictures. That's how people were in those times. It's interesting.

Yes. And the ladies, too, they were all dressed up with a hat.

Uh-huh. It was a real outing.

Uh-huh. But Volunteer Park was quite an attraction. And Woodland Park, too. Years ago, we always went to Woodland Park. And the Locks, of course. And they're still attractions, I still -- we still go there.

Could you tell me a little bit about the actual immediate neighborhood, the particular area? I know you mentioned earlier the streets, kind of that area. What you remember about it when you first came here?

Well, we lived on -- we lived in two different houses, but the first one was up above 70th. And we were right across, practically across the street from the old Calvary Lutheran Church. And -- but we went to Sunday school at Ballard First Lutheran. And then that was all remodeled just about during that time. So then we went to the church in the old Calvary Lutheran Church, which has now been torn down and the new one has been built. But that was on 23rd and about 70th.

And my very dear friend, Lillian Highfield -- or she was Lillian Heggem, then, lived across the street. And her father had, I think, a ship building business. And we had a wonderful time with them. There was a big family of them. And they lived right across the street.

And then, when my parents had guests over, you know, they'd play cards in the after -- on Sunday afternoon, and they'd give us a dime, and then we would walk down to Ballard to the Bay Theater and the Roxy and go to the movies. And we walked home in the dark, and we were never -- there was nothing to be afraid of in those days. We were just little kids, and we'd walk down to Ballard, which wasn't very far.

What was the kind of geography between where you lived and walking down to those?

Well, it was just all, you know, streets. We were on 70th and Market is what, 65 -- or 55th. It wasn't a very long walk. But we enjoyed going to the movies. And it only cost ten cents.

Oh, my!

But I'm sure a lot of people would remember the Bagdad and the Roxy theaters. We had two of them.

And were there mostly homes or businesses or --

All homes. Lots of empty lots. And it was a great place to play were the empty lots, which are now filled with homes, of course. But we had -- I remember when we lived down on -- we moved about a block south to a little better house. And there was an empty lot next door, and there was ferns. Lots of ferns grew up in there and we played, had tunnels through those ferns.

So you kind of created your own playground?

Yeah. Oh, yeah, we did, uh-huh. Well, yeah, that's what we did, uh-huh. And then we went to Salmon Bay Park. We played there a lot, which was right over -- the next street over from 23rd. And it's a very nice park. And we played there. And they had swings. But that was an attraction for us.

And how about grocery stores, was that --

Well, we went to Eberley Grocery Store, which was on 24th. And that's where we did most of our marketing. I don't think -- I think that's all gone now. Of course, that was many years ago.

And for you, what kind of stood out the most that you enjoyed the most in your particular community?

Well, most houses had little chicken houses in the back. And of course, there were no more chickens and they cleaned them up. And so those were playhouses. And so we had a playhouse right in our back yard. And we'd play with our dolls and pretend we were chickens sometimes.

What was the -- having the chicken cages, what was that leftovers from?

Well, in the old days people had chickens, you know, to supplement their income and because these were old houses we lived in. But there were lots and lots of little -- just small little chicken houses, not big ones.

So it was a source of income then?

Yes, or just to use for themselves. But of course, they were no longer in use . I suppose they got tired of the crows -- I mean, the chickens crowing. But, you know, we had a lot of fun in those chicken houses as a playhouse. And I was a great one to play with dolls. And my sister didn't like -- she wasn't a doll person. She liked to read, so we haunted the Ballard Library, the old Ballard Library, which is now -- what is it ? An antique shop. But we went to the library a lot, you know, down on Market Street. We were all great readers.

And this was all pretty much walking distance?

All walking distance. Uh-huh. We never got driven anywhere. And then we -- another thing my sister and I use to do and -- was walk across the Locks and walk up to Fort Lawton, which is now a park up there. But anyway, we called it Fort Lawton. And there was a calvary (sic) up there, and they had mules. And we liked to go up there and look at the mules. I mean, we were just little tots walked way up there. We did that quite a lot. We did a lot of walking. Then we walked back home across the Locks. And my mother never worried about us.

Wish you could say that today, right?

And that was a long walk up the hill, too.

Yeah, sure sounds that way. What do you remember most about your house -- the first house you lived in?

Well, it was an older house. And I just really can't remember much about it. It must have been okay because it had, you know, bedrooms for all of us, although my sister and I always had to share a bedroom, and my brother was lucky, he got his own bedroom. But I remember one time when the chandelier fell down. The whole -- you know, the plaster, you know, the houses were plastered. And I remember -- I don't know if it was an earthquake or what, but the chandelier came down and all the plaster on the ceiling. So then the landlord had to have it all repaired because we rented from the people next door. Berkoles next door owned that.

Was this something that happened during the day or in the evening?

I can't remember, but I know it made a big crash and it --

It scared you?

Yes, it did.

To say the least, right? Is there any particular part of the house that you liked that was your favorite? Was there an attic or anything like that?

A what?

An attic or anything? Sometimes kids like to go into attics?

No, I don't think there was. I think it was all on one floor, as I recall. But I know we had some wonderful Christmases there in that house. My mother always decorated and did -- you know, it was very typically Norwegian. We had lutefisk and just everything Norwegian because that's all she knew. She, you know, by the time she was 30 years old, she was pretty well established. And that's how it was practically all through our life in her home. It was all Norwegian.

So you felt very much -- it wasn't -- your culture was not left behind, so to speak?

Oh, no, never.

That's great.

No, no, I had really wonderful parents.

Sounds that way. And Norwegian was primarily spoken in your home?

Yes. We answered in English, but my mom and dad spoke Norwegian all the time.

You say you answered in English to them?


Okay. So to kind of follow that kind of early understanding from the teacher that was --

Well, it's --

Was that the teacher -- was the teacher in Tacoma that--

Yes, it was my sister.

Oh, your sister, I'm sorry.

It was my sister was the one that started school in Tacoma, and the teacher told -- her teacher told my mother.

And you pretty much stayed with that?

Well, I think it was their native language, and by the time you're 30, you know, you just -- they just kept on talking, except when our friends were there. When our friends were there, then they spoke English because they didn't want --

And your mom started to learn English through taking some classes and going on to --

No, she didn't take class, no.

Oh, she just kind of picked it up?

Yeah, she was very smart.

Okay. And your dad, did he?

Oh, he always had quite an accent. And he was a real jolly person. And he always entertained all the kids by being -- he was so funny in his -- he was -- he was kind of a clown.

Okay. And now, how did he acquire the English?

From us.


And from his people he worked with and that sort of thing. But he never really lost his accent. He had quite an accent, where my mother didn't have as much because she had learned English in Norway in school.

Okay. Now, did your mom ever work?



She did a lot of volunteer work.

Okay. Well, that counts.

But, she didn't ever work.

Okay. And we already talked about how your dad found work up here, so. Could you describe a typical day for your mother as you remember it?

Well, when she first -- when she first came to Ballard, well, she didn't, you know, have a washing machine. I suppose she had to wash by, you know, a scrub board. And the stove was, you know, not electric, it was a wood and coal stove, so she had to cook. But she cooked all the meals and kept house. And then -- but gradually, she got involved in all kinds of activities with her -- this friend, Mrs. Frodesen.

So this was probably when you were about how old that she started getting --

Well, when were in early -- in the grade school at Webster, which is now the museum. And she got involved in PTA. So she was a very busy mother. And she sewed all of our clothes, so that kept her busy. She was a seamstress. She did work. She was a seamstress by trade, and so she -- but she didn't do that here in this country, except our clothes. But in Norway she did work. Before she got married she worked as a seamstress, and she went around different houses with her little portable sewing machine.

I've heard about that. I know my grandmother had told me some stories -- not about in Norway, but here in the United States that's how clothes were oftentimes sewn when people wanted them. Well, before they were mass-produced.

Well, she'd stay in their home until she had all the -- and she had to make their -- her own patterns because they didn't have patterns.

And how did she learn that, I wonder?

I don't know. She's just -- well, she probably learned it in school. You know, they have they call house -- husmor school, you know, where they learn all kinds of activities, you know, for the home.

Related to the home? Oh, really? Do you know if there's still the case that you can learn these things?

Well, I think -- I'm sure they can. But she was a wonderful seamstress. She sewed all our clothes. And of course, we just yearned for something store bought.

Oh, isn't that interesting.

Yes. Typical.

Yeah. And how about your dad, kind of what was his typical day?

Well, he went to work every day. And then he and my mother joined a Norwegian mixed chorus. And so, in the evening, you know, they'd go practice once a week. And then they joined the Sons of Norway -- well, my mother joined the Daughters of Norway, and he joined the Sons of Norway, so he was -- they were active in that. They met the same night. But during -- but on the weekends, we always went on picnics. And we'd go down to Golden Gardens and -- or Ballard Beach. And we were -- they were great ones to take us on picnics or to the park or somewhere. So we learned to swim at a very young age at Juanita Beach. And they went swimming, too.

Did your mother make all the bathing suits?

No, I don't know where we got the bathing suits. I think we had to buy those. No, they were great ones for picnics. And then we'd bring our lunch, you know, bring food.

Did you do a lot of that when you were in Norway, do you remember?

Yes, they had a little place out in the country in Norway.

Now, the town that you're from, where in Norway, north, south, east, west?

Well, it's on the west coast and it's between Stavanger and Bergen. It's right on the North Sea. But they had a little place out in the country. Well, everybody in Norway has a little, what they call a hytte that they go to. But then my mother -- they had so much company, and my poor mother was doing all the cooking. You know, there at that time, I guess, people don't bring food like they do here. So she got kind of tired of it, so they gave it up.

So did she make her big feast here, too, when you had company over?

Oh yes. Yes. There was always something good to eat.

It sounds like she was a good cook.

She was a good cook. Yeah, she was.

Again, with you being in Ballard having kind of freshly moved here, how did your family life differ from the way it had been in Norway, if you can remember?

Well, my mother had -- was very happy because she had a house all to herself. In Norway we lived on the third floor of a house.

Oh, really? So who else was living in the other floors?

Well, the people that owned it, and then other people -- I think there were three stories, and so, you know, she had to share this house, and there was no yard particularly.

Now when you say "share", meaning?

Well, there were other people that lived in the house, you know, down --

Did you share cooking, that sort of thing?

No, they each had their own floor, and then there was a store down below. And so, when she -- she was just so happy to have a house all to herself, you know, as compared to in Norway and with a yard. She was very contented here.

Were there any other ways that life was different here compared to the home country?

Well, my mother said in Norway there was a kind -- they were sort of class-conscious, and when you went into a store, the more important people were waited on first. And she did not like that, you know, because we were not first class, I guess. So here, you know, here in Ballard, you know, first come, first serve. Well, she liked everything about it here. It was just different. And people were more down to earth and more friendly.

Than Norway?

Uh-huh, yeah, except relatives. In Norway the relatives were very friendly and everything, but other people, well, it was just a different feeling. Yeah, she was very happy here.

And sounds --, well, the question here is about, how did you get around the Ballard community?

Well, we had a car. But most of -- but we children, we walked. We walked to school.

And how about Mom and Dad, did they do a lot of walking, too, or?

No, they pretty much were -- well, my dad was tired when he got home, so he -- well, my mother used to walk to Ballard and shop. She walked to Ballard, yeah. And we rode the streetcar a lot. We used to go out to West Seattle. I don't know, there was something, a picnic or something, and we'd take that trestle. There was a streetcar on a trestle that went way out to West Seattle. And we thought that was quite exciting because, you know, it was sort of scary being on that trestle. But we'd go out to that big park in West Seattle.

Well, there's Alki?


Is that the --


The Alki?

No, there's a big park out there. I can't think of the name of it.

I'm not real well acquainted with West Seattle.

But anyway, we did that once in a while. But mostly my mother would walk to Ballard or take the streetcar.

Okay. Did Dad take the car to work? Was that kind of --

Yes. He had to take --

He had the car?

Yeah, because he had to bring his tools.

Okay. Yeah. Okay. So -- and other people in the community were pretty much doing the same thing?

Uh-huh. Most people were starting to get cars then. They weren't very fancy cars, but they were cars.

No. It's amazing within this lifetime that we -- I was thinking today that there was a point in history where there weren't cars, or not very many. It's kind of hard to imagine.


As far as what you and your family did for pleasure, I know you mentioned about the picnics and the parks and that kind of thing. Anything else that you did?

Well, my parents were very active in Sons of Norway and the Daughters of Norway. And we went to all of their activities.

Okay, they were quite busy. They had lots --

Yeah, uh-huh. They -- there was a lot going on and we -- they had --

Now, did that include you kids as well?

Well, if there was something special, we went.


We went -- it was mostly way down at old Norway Hall, which is up on Boren. And when people got married or had anniversaries or that sort of thing, it was in that hall. My mother and dad had their silver anniversary in that hall.

Boren and about what cross street would that be?

I don't know. It's still there.

Is it?

Norway Hall is still there, uh-huh. But it -- they had to -- they sold it when they built the one, you know, down there on 15th, way down -- what it is called now? Norway Center they called it. And that was --

Oh, okay.

And then that was sold to the Mountaineers, and then they built this new one here in Ballard. But we always went to Norway -- old Norway Hall, we called it.

Now that would involve driving, right?

Yes, you had to drive down. But that was -- we had many, many fun times in that hall. Enjoyed it. It was Christmas, you know, Christmas programs and 17th of May programs All that sort of thing.

And local businesses, do you remember what local businesses that you frequented?

Well, of course, we went to Penney's in Ballard. Is that what you mean?

Yeah, sure, anything.

Oh yeah, Penney's. And that was -- and then -- well, my mother used to go downtown to McDougal's. That was her favorite store. But here in Ballard, it was Penney's and whatever store was --

Now, when you say "downtown", you meant downtown Seattle?


Okay. Then that would be downtown Seattle at that time period, is that the same downtown boundary-wise as it is today?

Pretty much.


But the stores are gone.

Yeah, McDougal's would be a department store, or --

Yeah, that was my mother's favorite store.

But within the Ballard community, kind of what were some of the --

It was Penney's.


Penney's and the drugstores down there. And Manning's had a very nice -- they made bakery things, and that was a very popular place. They had wonderful bakery things. And of course, we went to the library on Market Street. Well, that was the only place that we really did a lot of shopping at that time. You know, in the early days, was in Ballard.

And you mentioned a grocery store. Was it within a few blocks of your house?

Yes, that was Eberley's over on 24th.


Audio cassette intereview, May 24, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.

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