Sunday, July 23, 2017

Coming to America

No, not the Eddie Murphy movie, but another excerpt from the autobiography of my father, Otto, after whom this blog is named.

The war was over and in 1946 Otto's younger brother, Audun, had gotten a scholarship to attend Case School of Applied Science (later Case Western Reserve University) and had to leave that same day for the U.S.A.

Otto spent that summer of 1946 in Iceland with his Uncle Balduin and Aunt Gunnhildur and cousins. This is where we pick up the story. The rest is directly from his autobiography.

"I did a lot of sightseeing and joined the local band in Akureyri and the folk dancers. Spent a few days in Stefän Jönsson's home in Saudarkrökur and a couple of weeks in Reykjavik. I was thinking of staying but wanted to get back to Norway to start preparations for my study in the USA. I caught a small cargo ship going to Sweden where Herulf met me in Gothenborg. From there, the train to Oslo and then to Bergen.

Getting ready for America

Back in Bergen I started working at Fleischer's again In the Fall we moved back to Laksevaag (note: Laksevaag is part of the Bergen "metro area". In 1944 their home had been destroyed during the allied bombing and they each had to find other places to live). My Father and a Mr. Johannesen had started and electrical contracting and appliance business there. On New Year's Eve he and Margith (Larsen) got married. Next spring I went to the hospital to have an operation for varicocele which had bothered me especially participating in sports. Spent a week in the hospital around Easter 1947.

To get my visa (student), I needed a lot of papers, not too difficult to get. It was a lot harder three years later when applying for immigration visa.

Money was another problem. My Father helped a lot. God bless him.

Going to America

Left Bergen on the night train for Oslo. My friend Ole Hilstad at the railroad office had gotten me a room at a small hotel. I stayed there a few days and then my cousin Margith asked me to stay with them until I left. Had gotten passage on a troop transport the "Marine Jumper", Moore and McCormack Line. Left Oslo early September. First stop was Havre, then Southampton and then to New York where we arrived 13 days after leaving Oslo. Got off the ship early Monday morning. I had met Olav Torgersen on the ship. He was also a student at N.C. State and had been home for the summer. We took a taxi to Penn Station, where we checked most of the luggage for Raliegh. Olav flew down and I was on my own. Got on the right train, changed trains in Washington D.C. where I met a guy who was also going to State, and I travelled with him to Raliegh. We got there early th next morning. Rode the bus to school.

North Carolina State University

Got myself a room, and after trials and tribulations got situated. Lived in Gold Dormitory. My roommate was Chuck (Charles) Swerdlove from the Bronx, New York. He was, and still is, a great guy and good friend.

I started as a special student, taking courses that would be good for me when later I returned to Norway. Most of the courses were in the School of Textiles. The head of the Textile and Dyeing Department was Henry (Hank) A Rutherford. He had just come to N.C. State. The Dean was Malcolm E. Campbell. They both became very good friends of mine.

I did well in school getting mostly A' and B's. After a while I thought perhaps I would like to stay in the U.S.. I did part time work in school. So during the next summer, 1948, with the help of Hank and Dean Campbell, and some others I was accepted in the Graduate School and got my M.S. degree the next June, 1949. I was accepted on trial and had to get at least B in the courses I took."

College Life

When starting college, we were seven Norwegians at N.C. State, all enrolled in the School of Textiles. We had a number of other "foreigners", Chinese, South Americans, Middle and Far Easterners, and a few Europeans.

I struggled through the first few month, especially because of the language problem. That Southern drawl was not the King's English that we had learned in school. Few social activities the first year. At night before going to bed, Chuck and I would go to Grimes cafe, just off campus, and have a bottle of Seven Up, 5 cents in those days.

Olaf Torgersen whom I had met on the ship coming over lived a few blocks from the campus in the home of Dr. Nels Anderson who was a dean at the college. Olaf was a good friend and we had many meals down there in the cellar where he had a room. I was also invited to have Thanksgiving Dinner with them at their home in 1947. Their maid Ruby was a skinny black girl. During my first summer 1948 I lived in the Anderson house, since my dorm was closed and being painted, etc.

I made friends with several American students, visiting with Dick Davis at his home in Lexington. We rode the bus in those days.

On the 17th of May (our Norwegian Constitution Day) we would have a party. 1048 was nice and quiet, 1949 somewhat more tumultuous. That's when we had to carry Steve Yang, our Chinese friend, out. He was a character living across the hall from me. As of this writing, I just had a letter from Hank where he says, "He is still the same old Steve".

To be continued...  


  1. and then what happened...don't leave us hanging!

  2. Fascinating. How I wish that my parents/their parents had left records like this.

  3. You are so lucky to have your father's writings. SO lucky. He lived an interesting life, and because of his choices -- here you are. Looking forward to more.

  4. What a cool story! I loved learning about his college years especially. You know, I can't understand deep southern drawl either, and I'm a native. So I can only imagine deciphering that when English is your second language.

  5. So Steve Yang got drunk in 1949, the year of the Communist takeover in China. Did he apply for asylum or was he already a US citizen?

  6. In 1947, my father rode a motorcycle south through Europe with no language skills, beyond the sentence "ein warmes Mahlzeit mit Fleich und Kartoffelen" (a warm meal with meat and potatoes) which he was taught to scream in cafés. Still did not always get it, as there was not always any to be had. Hard times. Different times. Must be remembered. Must be avoided. Isolation and nationalistic politics does not work. Then or now.

  7. Great to have the memories of your father and his arrival in USA. I'm an immigrant too, so perhaps I should write my life story for my grandchildren. But I don't think it would be as interesting as the story written by your dad.

  8. Simpler times -- when an evening's entertainment was spending 5 cents on a bottle of 7-Up!

  9. The little I know about my Norwegian family's move to the U.S. was discovered online by my daughter, who did some genealogical research. I barely knew my Norwegian grandmother.


  10. anne marie, You only have to hang for a week. The saga will continue.

    Elephant's Child, I am very fortunate and grateful that my father did this for my brother and I.

    jenny_o, I asked him about some of those choices a few times and have learned some of the reasons. His and my lives could have been very different.

    ABFTS, The college life will be continuing next weekend. Almost makes me want to be a student again y'all.

    Gorilla B, That is a good question. Steve stayed in this country. I remember him from when I was a small boy and always being a happy and fun visits. I think that is who my father learned Mandarin from.

    Onevikinggirl, Otto spoke several languages so that made things a bit easier. It took me a long time to realize how devastated so much of Europe was by the end of the war and how long it took to rebuild. Hopefully, your father got enough to eat. As a species we seem to have short memories about the things that destroy us.

    Shammickite, What may seem ordinary to you would likely be fascinating to your descendants. To me the most interesting years are childhood and young adulthood, but you can give them all a wonderful gift. There world will be so much different than yours was.

    Debra, By the time I could buy my own soda pop it was a dime and candy bars were a nickel. Inflation was much slower back then.

    Janie, Maybe your daughter will fill you in about the life of your Bestemor. So much has been lost and the stories may never be told.

  11. How nice that you have these records; I have next to nothing from either side of my family. Have you heard of Slow TV on Netflix? They are all from Norway, and I have recently watched some of the train trip from Bergen to Oslo. It sure is a sparsely populated area.

  12. I wonder what lurks between the lines in his narrative - the move must have been a tremendous adventure/upheaval. I wonder if he was excited, scared, homesick...?

  13. knittergran, Yes, I have seen Slow TV and taken that train trip several times. It often tempts me to stay.

    Diane, I have no doubt that he felt all those things, but as a typically stoic Scandinavian he wouldn't be likely to express those things very often. As a chip off the old blockhead I know how that is.

  14. What a great read! Your father lead an interesting life!

  15. Jono: no, probably not enough to eat, but there would be something, and for shorter periods af times, that will be enough. Knowledge of languages, even the smallest amounts, does open doors and opportunities - not to mention conversation. Now I want to know more about Steve!

  16. LL Cool Joe, I think we all do, but when drawn out over a long time it may not seem so.

    Onevikinggirl, I haven't been able to find much on Steve, but I remember him vaguely from childhood. Always smiling and laughing and fun even for a little kid to be around. Wish I could find his descendants and tell them.

  17. What an absolute treasure this written account is! I still have memories of some of the things my grandparents told me about life in Scotland and their adventures coming to this country, but they've been dead for almost sixty years now, and my memories are fading. It would be amazing to have their stories... and the stories of other now-gone relatives... in writing. Thanks for sharing your father's story with us.

    Have a super weekend.

  18. How great to have that written account of your father's life!

    My "coming to America" was a heck of a lot less complicated (and therefore a lot less interesting): get on a plane in Frankfurt, arrive in Charleston in the afternoon. The end. LOL.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  19. Susan Flett Swiderski, I am really happy Otto undertook this project. He picked away at for ten or twenty years until a few years before his death. I wish I would have recorded so many of the tales he told me as a young boy and later. At least I have this written account.

    magiceye, Thanks!

    Pixel Peeper, I am sure that if you wrote down your first impressions and memories that it would be a delightful tale. There are millions of immigrant tales in this country. I would bet they are all fascinating in different ways.