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Memories from Little Iowa Parsonage {1}
By Caroline Mathilde Koren Naeseth
Translated by Henriette C. K. Naeseth  (Volume XIII: Page 66)

That was what the parsonage at Washington Prairie was called at the beginning: a small log house with three rooms and an attic, built in 1854, which little by little was changed and enlarged until it burned in November, 1872. There we children grew up in a happy home. Spoiled we were not; everything was simple and unpretentious. The food was plain. Bread and milk for the children for breakfast, and porridge and milk for the evening meal for all was the rule, during the first years at any rate. At that time one had to be self-dependent in many ways. I remember, for instance, with what interest we children watched the maid work at candlemaking. The wicks were fastened on sticks and dipped in hot tallow, and then hung between the ropes of one of the old beds with rope bottoms. Stick after stick as long as there was room, to be dipped again when they had stiffened, and that was repeated until the lights were thick enough. Afterwards we got candle molds, which made the task less burdensome. Our first kerosene lamp was a gift, a little glass lamp accompanied by a bottle of kerosene. Some time later we got a hanging lamp in the parlor; then the room was light and festive.

To my first memories belongs our custom of gathering in the parlor for morning devotions. My father sang well; for a while we had maids with good singing voices, and we children enjoyed the singing. We had bound pamphlets of prayers and hymns for morning and evening, which were called "The Mercy Seat." Our copies burned, I believe, and I have never seen any since, and wonder if any exist. Later our morning devotions were held at the breakfast table; in the evening before the children's bedtime there were devotions in the parlor. In the first years there were three or four Sundays between each church service, and on Sunday Mother read to us from a book of Luther's sermons. When we were old enough we memorized the gospel texts for each Sunday, later also the Epistles.

Christmas Eve was the great festival, and the Christmas tree was an important part of it. It was difficult to get Christmas fir the first years. Mother has told us about the first Christmas tree she decorated; she had a little oak bush brought in from the woods, and she took white paper and painted that green. She was fond of painting, and had brought water colors from Norway. Then she cut the paper in strips and wound it around the branches. The first Christmas tree that I remember was something we called the "pyramid." This Mother had obtained through German friends. A round rod in the middle passed through several shelves which grew smaller toward the top, and the whole was bound together by four corner rods so it formed a kind of pyramid. On the top shelf stood a doll, dressed like an angel. The pyramid was decorated with lights and other things, and when the lights burned the center rod revolved, and the angel with it. We thought the pyramid was beautiful, and it could be used year after year. But it was not like the real Christmas trees we had later. While Mother took charge of the decorating, we usually waited in the bedroom, and there we passed the time reciting our Christmas hymns to be sure we knew them--each of us memorized a hymn for Christmas. Great was the joy when Mother came in and put on her white apron, and we knew the time of waiting was over. And then the tree had to be taken out, for there was not enough room to leave it standing in the little parlor.

The evening of Twelfth Night we also had a celebration. One of the most important parts of candlemaking was the three-branched light which was to be burned that evening. We ate nuts and small cakes, played "Gnav," {2} and enjoyed ourselves. And then Christmas was ended.

Our instruction we received from Mother; for many years she taught us every morning from 9 to 12, much of the time with the youngest child on her arm. Of course there had to be interruptions and she had to have help with the housekeeping; but I am constantly amazed that she had strength and endurance to do it. She instructed us in the ordinary school subjects, in religion, and in Norwegian, English, and German. We read aloud, translated, wrote from dictation, and memorized hymns and poems in the various languages. And much of what I learned in this way I still keep in my memory, and read in my thoughts. The treasure of hymns I then began to gather has of course been augmented since, and I know I would not give it up for any price.

Besides Mother's school we once had a governess in the house for some months; she was to help give us a good foundation in English. She was Synneve Lomen, a sister of K. Throndsen, who edited the reader, Throndsen's læsebog.

In the afternoon my sister and I had a sewing hour and practiced different kinds of hand sewing. We did not have a sewing machine until the close of the sixties, when it was useful in making ready our wardrobes for a trip to Norway. We also learned to knit. At that time all stockings were knitted at home, and though Mother was helped by a young girl who was staying with us, she has told me she had to exert herself to keep us all supplied. We usually spent the rest of the day outside, playing, gardening, and the like.

The house was situated on a beautiful slope, open, but with woods near by. There were large, beautiful oak trees scattered through the south side of the grounds, where Mother had her garden. Nearest the house, but beyond the oaks, was the flower garden, seven or eight large oval flower beds, with many kinds of flowers--mignonette, stock, and numerous other varieties. There were also roses and many kinds of flowering shrubs. Below the flower garden was the vegetable garden, with practically all kinds of vegetables. Mother was used to gardening from her childhood and youth, and enjoyed it, and we learned from her. Each of us had a little garden plot, with radishes, cress, and the like. Mother had many of the best wild plum trees brought in from the woods, and we had long hedges of wild gooseberries, black currants, and raspberries, all from the woods. There was an apple orchard, too, with wild crab apples from the woods and trees my father had bought, so we did not lack fruit.

On the north side of the house there were also a few large oak trees. One of them had a thick branch quite low down, which jutted straight out, as if made to sit on, and we spent many happy hours there. Under these oaks was a small summer kitchen. Somewhat farther to the north was a little wood with numerous hazel bushes, where we went nutting in the fall. Refreshed by a couple of large watermelons, we would pick many sacks full of hazelnuts for the winter evenings. In that wood was an old oak, called the "Great Oak," which consisted, I believe, of seven large trunks and a crown. It stood on a green slope, and with its branches wide-spreading and bending low, the tree was like the loveliest summer house. It was a real sorrow when the tree was too old and had to be felled. In the winter we amused ourselves out in the snow. In those days there always seemed to be large snowdrifts. We coasted, threw snowballs, built fortresses, and excavated entire rooms in the drifts.

It was a great joy for us when our parents could find time to tell us about their childhood. Mother had much to tell us about her childhood home in the "Manor House" at Larvik, {3} about their playing on the large hill behind the house called the "Manor House Mountain "; and their visits to their Scottish friends at their home, "Tolderodden." Father told us of his childhood in Bergen and at Sellø, and of his school days. {4} His first school was the Lancaster School, where instruction was according to English pattern. Next was the Latin School, with Lyder Sagen {5} and other able and original teachers. I remember Lyder Sagen's illustration of how they should not express themselves. "I see the footprints of the Almighty's hand on the gray-haired old man's bald pate." One story Father told about Sagen amused us greatly. Sagen's wife had sailed across the fjord, and when a violent storm came up and she did not return, he became anxious and went out to look for the boat. He lost his footing on the slippery hill and fell down. His very cross-eyed daughter saw his mishap and began to laugh. But then Sagen became angry. "Your mother lies at the bottom of the sea, your father has broken both arms and legs, and there you stand, you miserable ninny, with one eye to the west and one to the east, and laugh at the whole thing."

Father was, of course, much occupied and frequently absent from home, but when he had any leisure he sometimes would entertain us by reading aloud to us or singing. Often it was from Runeberg's Fenrik Stls Sgnar, about Sven Dufva, Sandels, and many of the other heroic figures Runeberg describes. Many passages from Frithiofs saga, too, he sang or recited. This reminds me of a verse I have been told he used to sing for me when I was quite small.

Child born in the grove of laurel,
Surrounded by apples of gold,
With victory's smile on your mouth,
Here you found your hero's death.
Was it not sung at the cradle
Still it is sung at the grave:
More joyously has no one wielded
The sword under Danebrog.

The poem, of which this is the first verse, was about Ernesto Dalgas, a young Italian who came to Denmark to help in the fight for freedom, and there fell in battle. I read it later in a little collection of Danish poems and melodies, which I have often wished I still owned. That, and a collection of folk melodies from all countries, music and texts, we lost in the fire, also a volume of songs and other music which Father had copied while he was a member of the Behrensk Quartet in Christiania. {6} When, toward the end of the sixties, we secured an old melodeon, I found much happiness in trying to play these melodies. {7} We did not own a piano until late in the seventies.

I remember the old living room, low-ceilinged and not large. There was a window toward the south and one toward the north. On each side of the south window hung three wooden shelves, joined with cords; they held the "Skjønliteratur" {8} that had been brought from Norway, and some that was added here. I remember there was a beautiful edition of Oehlenschlæger's works, as well as some Wergeland and Welhaven, besides books by Asbjørnson and Jørgen Moe, at that time the most modern Norwegian writers. There were Mathias Claudius, some English poets, some Dickens and Thackeray, Prescott's Conquest of Mexico--I cannot name them all. These were all destroyed in the fire. In the northwest corner of the room stood a corner sofa upholstered in black oilcloth. When the Synod had its meeting there in 1857, it was found, to the amusement of all, that all its ministers could be seated on this sofa. In front of it stood a large round table. My parents had had it made, and it still stands in the present parsonage. {9} On a shelf in another corner stood an old silver loving cup, which represented Anna Colbjørnsdatter. {10} We children had a great admiration for it.

A great pleasure for us were the long summer visits from the families of the ministers of Spring Prairie, Koshkonong, and Painted Creek. {11} During these visits there were often many in the house, and it was lively both inside and out. We had a long table in the garden, around which we children stood and ate our evening meal, and drank cambric tea from small brown varnished tin cups. I suppose good milk might have been scant for so many. When Luther College was moved to Decorah we were frequently with the faculty families there. While the college was being built we occasionally drove up to see how far they had progressed. The bricks were manufactured right in front of the building, and for many years that slope went by the name of "Brickyarden," and was used as a playground. The first Seventeenth of May festival I remember we celebrated with the college faculty families and students. We met at Peder Haugen's home, some miles south of Decorah; the students walked out there. Professor L. Siewers gave the chief address; what songs and music there were I do not remember; on the other hand, I remember that the chief dish at the dinner was boiled ham and scrambled eggs with chives. That is how things were in those days. Of course, most of the time we spent quietly at home; but now and then we were allowed to go to Decorah with our parents or to accompany Mother on visits to the neighbors. I remember a Sunday afternoon we were to walk to the home of Mrs. Anton Hegg, who lived some three miles away. We had not gone far before we met Mrs. Hegg and her two little girls, about our age, who were coming to visit us. I thought the children looked so pretty, in little red jackets trimmed with black braid. The elder of them later became Mrs. A. K. Sagen.

From the Civil War time, when I was about six years old, I do not have many memories, although I remember that older men, who were afraid of being drafted, came to seek counsel and comfort from my father; of course many of the younger men were in the army. I have a clear recollection of the Sunday Father came home from a service in one of his churches and brought the news of Lincoln's death. His serious face made a deep impression on me. I remember also rumors of Indian disturbances at that time. Once Father was to hold services in Little Turkey, and met the entire congregation fleeing to Calmar. But there was never actual danger from Indians in our neighborhood.

My father's younger brother made us a short visit; that I do not remember. On the other hand, I remember what a great event it was when his older brother visited us for a few days. Then Mother fulfilled an old promise, and treated him with roast turkey. Otherwise none of our immediate family visited us. But in 1870 my parents, with their seven children, {12} traveled to Norway to see their old parents once more. It was their only visit there. Memories from the trip do not belong here, and something more than a year later the old parsonage burned, and much became new and different.

The things I have written here are simple and unimportant, and probably may have little interest for others; but it has been a pleasure for me to recall and gather them in my memory.


<1> This reminiscent sketch was written at the request of the Reverend D. C. Jordahl, for publication in the Folke kalender for 1933. Caroline Mathilde Koren Naeseth, Mrs. C. A. Naeseth, is a daughter of Dr. Ulrik Vilhelm Koren, who came to America as a pioneer minister in 1853 to serve a large district in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. The house she describes was built at Washington Prairie, Iowa, some seven miles south of Decorah, after her parents had lived for a year with families in the Little Iowa congregation, later called the Washington Prairie congregation. The experiences of this first year are related in Mrs. U. V. Koren's Pioneertiden. A new house was built on the same site two years after the one here described burned in 1872, and the family home remained at Washington Prairie through the years when Dr. Koren served as president of the Norwegian Synod and until 1941, when his son, the Reverend Paul Koren, who had assisted and succeeded his father, retired.

<2> "Gnav" was a game played with small decorated wooden disks. The set long used at Washington Prairie was the gift of Mrs. H. A. Preus, who herself painted the disks with appropriate pictures.

<3> Mrs. Koren's father, Ahlert Hysing, was rector of the Latin School at Larvik.

<4> The family home was at Bergen, but they also spent much time at Sellø, at the home of Dr. Koren's paternal uncle, Provst Laurentius Koren, especially after the death of the father, Paul S. S. Koren- a sea captain- in an earthquake at Haiti in 1842.

<5> Lyder Sagen, 1777-1850, was a famous and influential teacher of Bergen, and was also known as a translator and writer of verse.

<6> This was during his university years in Christiania, 1845-52. The Behrensk Quartet, founded in 1842-43 by Johan Didrik Behrens, gave the first impetus to quartet singing in Christiania, and was the forerunner of the Studentens Sang Forening, founded in 1849.

<7> The melodeon was purchased from Dr. Laur. Larsen, president of Luther College.

<8> Polite literature; belles lettres.

<9> The table and one side of the sofa are now in use in the home of the Reverend Paul Koren at Decorah, Iowa.

<10> Anna Colbjørnsdatter was a Norwegian peasant heroine who supposedly played a part in the death of Charles XII of Sweden.

<11> Reverend H. A. Preus and Reverend J. A. Ottesen of Spring Prairie and Koshkonong, Wisconsin, and Reverend O. J. Hjort of Painted Creek, Iowa.

<12> Henriette Koren, 1854-1939; Caroline Mathilde Koren Naeseth, 1857-----; Ahlert Hysing Koren, 1859-1901; John (Johan Bøycke Rulffs) Koren, 1861-1923; Paul Koren, 1863----; William Koren, 1864-1937; Elisabeth Koren Torrison, 1867-1914. Another daughter, Marie (Laura Marie Christiane Sophie) was born later.

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