Grandpa Applied For the Homestead Claim More Poet Than Farmer
When grandpa applied for the homestead claim, he chose a beautiful view over land that could be farmed; his brothers never forgave him.
I loved the fact that Grandpa saw beauty first and farming second
In the summer of 1905, eight men and women left their farm near Umea, Sweden to start a new life in America. Mom’s dad (my grandpa) his five brothers, and four sisters booked third class fare on a mediocre ship and immigrated to the United States.
Passports were issued two years in advance of the departure, and in that time my grandpa disposed of his property in Sweden, and made the financial arrangement for the voyage. The women spent their waiting time sewing and knitting clothes to wear in the new land.
Grandpa saved enough money to buy livestock and seed for their first crops, and apply for his homestead claim. He never tired of telling the dramatic story about one of the children in their party (his cousin) who’d contracted diphtheria. She died and had to be buried at sea.
The family was quarantined and when the ship landed at Quebec, Canadian health authorities said that the family must return to the Sweden. The women pleaded frantically not to be sent back, (they had given up everything to come here!) and after an hour of hand- wringing and begging, the official relented, and they were allowed to continue on to America.
During the upset with the custom authorities, it was discovered that two suitcases of “dress up” clothes for the older girls and the mother had gone missing. They couldn’t be found and were presumed stolen. When they left Sweden they had only a wooden chest painted a Swedish flag blue, and a few odd-shaped bundles was all they had with them to start their new life.
When the Johnson Family arrived in Eastern Washington, Grandpa found a small farm house overlooking the Columbia River. He found a job working in a sawmill, and the rest of the family stayed with relatives until they could get a place of their own.
One of grandpa’s brothers applied for the homestead claim, and when he was asked what kind of land he wanted, he said “I want a beautiful view that overlooks the Columbia River.” He passed up the prairie country with fertile soil, when he chose the rolling hillsides that were much harder to clear of trees. He later used some of his land for the family cemetery and it was on this land that his brothers build a Swedish church.
Church built and land acquired, Magnus was now ready to send for his girlfriend Amanda, (my grandmother) to join him America and holy matrimony in the church that was built by her brother-in-laws.
But even as the wedding party toasted the bride and groom among the lilac and rose bushes, there was some grumbling about grandpa’s brother’s “poor” choice of land.
He had his pick of land, they declared, why didn’t he choose the prairie country which was more suitable to farming? But no, Otto wanted the ‘beautiful view’’ on rolling hills with a view of the river. Jeg forstar ikke (I don’t understand) they’d say, you cannot run a combine on rolling hills.
When grandpa told me the story he’d laugh about it, but I could tell he felt that he’d let his family down. I told him that I understood how someone could choose the sublime over the practical.
Looking back on it, It wouldn’t be too big of a jump to rationalize that my choice of following my own heart and becoming a writer might be buried deep in the genetic code of my Swedish ancestor.