United States history and geography are all about journeys. From the first Asians across Beringia, the land bridge between Asia and North America, to those pious Pilgrims, to yesterday’s Mexican or El Salvadoran child, we came and are still coming down a long hard road. Every regional history has these tales to tell, but our U.S. immigrant history is so present, so relatively contemporary, making the journeys easier to imagine and to research.
Since my history is Scandinavian I, of course, love those stories of Odin, Thor and Freya; and then the recorded antics, brave and foolhardy and greedy as they may be, of the Vikings.
But I also like the more immediate stories of my dad and his twin Elin and his little sister Gyro of the golden curls and the small boy, Ilif, disembarking onto Ellis Island. Then, while many of the Scandinavian settlement stories are set on the increasingly prosperous farms and towns of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, my family only follows that course on mom’s Floren side; on the Neset side it’s all rough and tough northwoods lumbercamp, liquor store and subsistence farming life.
When I’m up here, where the American Nesets’ journeys begin I feel quite emotionally attached to our story and, for reasons obviously not connected to fame and fortune, quite honored to be part of it. It is almost as though the ordinariness of it confirms our place in the solid center of immigrant stories.
I write about my family all of the time, about our origins in the poverty that often existed among the early emigrants to the lumberjack culture of this harsh north country. That was followed for my parents and generally for my generation, by the typical struggles of working class Americans, how to feed and clothe your family and perhaps someday own some little chunk of land. Now our kids and grandchildren move up a ladder, not necessarily to that mythical American dream, but at least to lives of greater choices in all things economic, cultural and geographic. The choices may not be quite as diverse and grand as the pontifications of our politicians would like us to believe, but they are there to some degree. In grandchildren who own their own businesses and land and horses and degrees from prestigious universities and travel and dream and seek to their hearts’ content.
I’m always sentimental about northern Minnesota. Yeah, you’ve noticed. Easy to forget how anxious I was to leave at age 18—to Florida Philippines North Carolina New Mexico The World. And always so happy to return.
We came home the other day by way of the Red Lake. Here—in honor of those first guys over the bridge…