Johannes’ namesake, his grandfather, would have been 128 years old today, born on the 22nd of July 1888. I never met him. He passed away a couple of years before I met JB, but he did live to be 96. His son Thomas, (my father in law) is getting there. He will turn 95 on the 27th of this month. (No wonder my DH is convinced he will never die..!)
A year after he turned 90, the local newspaper ran a lovely, full page piece about him, accompanied by some amazing black and white photos. When the newspaper was digitalising it’s archives, the photographer gave the original prints to JB, who was at the time working for the newspaper in the marketing department.
I came across them the other day, and they really are a treasure. These hastily taken photos of photos taken with my I-Phone really do not do them justice. Still – I wanted to share them, and a little of his story, gleaned from the newspaper article, that we have since reprinted and framed, and that now hangs in what used to be his home.
When he was only 17 years old, he traveled alone to America, to work as a cowboy on a ranch in North Dakota. Later he worked as a sheep herder. It was a hard life, and he would tell tales of rattlesnakes and snowstorms and long, lonely treks. He had no intention of ever going back to Norway, but at 24 he found himself between jobs, and decided to check how expensive it would be to take a boat back to the motherland. It was less expensive than he thought, so he decided, more or less spontaneously, to visit his parents. First he tried to book a ticket on the Titanic for it’s planned return journey, but it was full – so he was able to obtain passage on another ship, and returned to Europe and Norway. While he was home, his father managed to persuade him to stay, and although I don’t have any details of the timing of their courtship, meeting his future wife Helga might also have helped him make the decision… <3
He settled in a small ‘Husmannsplass’ on the island Bjergøy, and made a living as a blacksmith, butcher, fisherman and sheep farmer simultaneously. Oh, and he dabbled as a dentist and barber as well. I guess dentists were not in abundance on the island back then, and he could use his blacksmith tools to pull teeth… Ouch!
He and Helga had 6 children. 5 daughters, and then finally, a son: Thomas, named after his grandfather. Yes – there are now 5 generations of alternating Thomas’es and Johannes’es. Our Jonah Thomas is named after his grandfather Thomas, who was named after his grandfather. This also explains why Johannes’ grandfather went by the name ‘Thomsen.’ Son of Thomas. (And it was probably less of a mouthful in America than Johannes Bjerga. ;-))
Thomas was the apple of his father’s eye, and they were the best of friends until the day he died. His sisters have often talked about how Thomas was absolutely spoiled by his parents, but Thomas will have none of it… The jury is still out on that one.
I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had he never come back and stayed, or if he had been aboard the Titanic…!
Looking at these pictures, I recognize the view and the hills, the old boat house and even the knitted jacket – kofte- he is wearing. I wonder what he would have thought of our new fangled ways, the indoor plumbing and the flat screen TV now dominating his old living room… Or the fact that we don’t fish. Or have sheep grazing the property. A part of me romanticizes the simple life he lived, but I am quick to remember how grateful I am for my modern comforts.
I am however, even more grateful to the journalist and photographer who captured this slice of Thomsen’s life, and preserved it for us to enjoy 40 years later.
(All photos by Knut S. Vindfallet, Stavanger Aftenblad)