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Thursday, February 5, 2009

In My Grandfather's House-Part 1

I was never very interested in family reunions. They were an obligation and uncomfortable for my introverted self. I am sad now at what time has taken from me, I will never be able to get that back, my grandparents have passed away in my teens and twenties before I really appreciated them. The following was written by my father's mother. Grandpa Andy was my Great-grandfather and this is part of my heritage:

In My Grandfather’s House
By Amie Johnson 1976

During these days of America’s Bicentennial, my thoughts have gone back to my own ancestors of Northern Europe. They had not yet begun to immigrate to America; but were living in the valleys surrounded by glaciered mountains of Norway.
At the time that George Washington was building Mt Vernon, how were they living? What kind of homes did they have?
Grandpa Andy (his real name was Andreas Fluge Johnson) lived with us for many years and delighted our children with stories of his adventures as a youth in Norway. How fortunate that I recorded these events and descriptions at the time, for Grandpa Andy died ten years ago, at the age of eighty-nine.
It was a lazy summer afternoon, I remember, and we sat in the shade of the big elm. Grandpa was resting after hilling the potatoes. I moved my lawn chair closer to his and, with paper and pencil in hand, began questioning him about the oldest dwelling on the Fluge farm in Norway. This was his grandfather’s house. Being the youngest of five boys, Grandpa Andy said he spent more of his growing-up years in his grandfather’s house than he did in their newer log dwelling built some distance away on the farm. I wanted to know about the older house.
Tucking a pinch of Copenhagen snuff behind his lower lip, Grandpa settled back and began remembering. I have written his account pretty much the way he told it that day.
‘My grandfather’s house was one hundred years old when I was born. The date, 1774, was carved deeply into the wood above the entrance. I used to feel proud to think of all the generations of my people who were born and grew up on the Fluge farm—not only in this house, but in earlier, humble homes. Catholic priests used to keep records of birth and death on rolled-up sheepskin parchment; but these were destroyed when the church burned about fifty years ago. So there’s no telling how long our family settled on the Fluge farm. I remember Grandmother Engel telling about the Black Death—the plague of the 1300’s—as it was told by word-of-mouth through the generations. I heard, too, of a Nels Fluge who, around the year 1600, made a name for himself with his feats of strength.
Only the oldest son, by birthright, could remain and raise his family on the farms in Norway. So I was lucky. Grandfather Daniel was a first-born son, and so was my father. I wasn’t, so at age eighteen I had to leave. I decided to join two of my brothers here in Wisconsin. I say I was lucky because my happiest memories are hose of growing up surrounded by mountains and lakes, and the friendliness of Grandfather’s house.
Not many people living today remember the great log homes. They were built and furnished entirely by hand form products of the forest. Instead of nail, they used pegs carved from wood. Those were the days when the ax was the mightiest of all tools. With a sharp ax a man could cut down the trees, notch the logs so the corners of the house world fit together, hew timbers, and even make a table, benches and beds.
The logs which formed the four walls of this building were at least two and a half feet thick. They lay securely one upon the other, sink-notched at each end. The dwelling was three logs high and boasted only five windows.
Two of these windows were located close together at one end and gave light to those eating or working at the long table or weaving at the loom. Two others, also together were located above the carpenter and shoe-making tables on the long back wall. The fifth window was at the other end, above the storage loft. Sorn Fluge (Grandfather Daniels grandfather) who built this house must have been proud to put in panes of glass. Stretched skin was common before this time.
The roof, insulated with snow during the winter, was a lively green in the summer. Grass and even flowers grew on it. Sorn made the roof by laying birch bark over the rafters and then covering the bark strips with squares of sod. It was tent shaped like our roofs; but there was no chimney. Either chimneys weren’t known then, or they wasted too much heat—I don’t know.
Instead of a chimney, there was a little roof door that could be raised from inside the house by pushing an attached pole. Usually this roof door was raised in the morning when the fire was built in the fireplace. It was closed for the rest of the day for the coals glowed hot and smokeless. Every housewife knew the secret of firing only in the morning and cooking over the glowing coals, thus keeping her iron kettles free from soot.
Under a third of the house there was a root cellar which stored the winter’s supply of potatoes, cabbage, turnips, carrots, onions and sometimes apples. We boys made daily raids on the turnips, entering the cold, dark cellar through an outside door at one end of the building.
To the right of the only entrance there was a stack of wood ready for the fireplace. Well I remember that woodpile! Before I could reach for my skis after school, Grandfather would sat, “How about the wood?”—and out I would go to chop some more.
The woodpile was handy also to the firehouse built a few yards to the right of the main building. This was where fish and meat were smoked and dried as they hung above the central fire pit.
This was also the place for bread-baking. Twice a year the women-folk baked the flat bread on huge cast iron plates over the fire. Grandmother Engel, sitting on a low stool, turned one huge pancake at a time with a flat wooden stick until it was crispy-dry and flecked a golden brown. Then she put it aside to cool as Mother came from the house with another thin round of dough draped over a stick. I marveled at her skill as she flipped the rolled-out dough which was two feet in diameter onto the hot iron—without tearing it.
My finger are tingling so I will stop here for now. It is a beautiful sunny day and I can feel my motivation returning! Kris


ChristyACB said...

That is absolutely amazing!

I hope you're going to finish that story....

fullfreezer said...

What a treat! Thanks for sharing. That was an awesome find in that closet!