The Importance of Grandparents

Einar Einarson Forberg

Ten years after grandpa Andy had immigrated to Canada, he returned to Norway to find a wife. My mom had said they had played together as children. Of course, she was his cousin. In 1909 he returned to Canada with my grandmother, Gunhild Gunnulfson. She had been teaching young women in Oslo to be housekeepers, a similar field of teaching that I had undertaken at university! Life is so strange. Upon returning to Canada the two were married in a New Westminster church before they began a life together in the places where I knew them both well.

In August of 1998, and after three years of family history research, I made my first trip to Norway where I met 18 second cousins and three elderly ladies who were first cousins of my deceased father, Einar Forberg. Hosted by the families of the grandchildren of two of my grandfather’s brothers, I walked the farm Grandpa had chosen to leave and explored the old church and cemetery that held the names and was the seat of the Forberg relatives.

I will never know why he left his birth place. It was likely a desire for a better life because with large families, and the scarcity of what farmland produced, life was not easy. But his determination not to live as a farmer was more likely the reason. Before making a firm decision to emigrate, he had left home to work in a forested area.

I had only recently learned that he was the eldest of four brothers and according to the rules of the country at the time, he would have inherited the large Forberg family farm. This was apparently not a role he wanted, so he left the farmer responsibility to his next eldest brother whose grandson, Einar, now runs the Forberg farm that I had been visiting. At the farmhouse I saw the family heritage displayed: the original home he had left. It included carved boxes made by a younger brother who did not marry, wooden trunks, bowls and implements decorating with rosemaling and the family bible. My grandfather had returned the bible to Norway after he had decided not to move back to his original ‘home.’

In a roundabout way this brings me to an important observation, since it relates to genealogy. I am the eldest child of the eldest Forberg son and my father, Einar Rise, was the eldest son of our Canadian Forberg ancestor Einar, who emigrated in 1896. Dad had no sons, only my younger sister and me. Rules of inheritance have changed since 1896 and in Norway a daughter is now eligible for a primary inheritance. Had my grandfather remained in Norway, as the eldest grandchild, I could now be running that Forberg family farm!

In his Canadian home I recall being absolutely mesmerized by the process he went through each evening, to prepare and smoke his pipe. For special occasions he would use a traditionally carved long Norwegian pipe festooned with red tassels, attached to a cord from which the pipe hung on the living room wall.

I would watch him lift it from the wall hook and pack the bowl with a particularly pungent brand of tobacco that he smoked only rarely. Seeing him hold the bowl almost at arms length, suck into it to get a fire started enough that we could smell smoke, was an even more fascinating procedure for a little girl of six years to observe.

I remember Grandpa Andy as a quiet elderly gentleman; by the time I was six years old he would have been seventy-one, comfortable at home in his rocking chair, and though tired after his work day in the bush, willing to make room for me on his knee with a picture book. Although he appeared to enjoy watching his granddaughters, Grandpa Andy never said much even in adult company. Whenever I hear the lilting accent of a Norwegian-born person I remember those infrequent conversations again. Having mastered speaking the English language, reading it was difficult for him and he made little effort to read much more than newspaper headlines. He did however, spend time reading a Norwegian magazine that arrived regularly in the mail.

Finding Family

Old family photosPeople react to death in many different ways. Sudden deaths are perhaps most difficult, leaving family and friends to suffer the shock as well as the grief. Expected death may trigger feelings from anger, to loss, to relief. What if the death is that of a parent who has lived long and well and whose passing can be considered a blessed release from a debilitated illness or of long suffering.

Such was the end of my mother’s struggle from a stroke that had left her without speech and unable to support her own body for six years. My father had already passed on, leaving me face to face with my own mortality.

As her grandchildren assembled with the rest of the family and her many friends, it occurred to me that my sister and I had suddenly become the “older generation.” I am the eldest daughter. Did my place in the family devolve upon me any responsibility?

For most of my adult life I had been busy getting an education, raising three children, running a small business, and responding to community appeals for volunteer assistance that my flexible schedule allowed. Small changes in work and family commitments had more recently left a few more hours of free time. I began to contemplate my place in the family web and what this all meant.

As for all those who are left when someone dies, decisions about personal effects of the deceased must be made and a lifetime collection of “things” sifted through. This process had already begun when my parent’s home was sold and they had each moved into a long-term care residence. Now there were only several boxes stored in my basement that my sister and I could attend to at our leisure.

Rifling through the boxes I found three main items of interest. Of course, there was a lifetime collection of photograph albums that my sister and I laughed and cried over. My folks had taken pictures at significant events even when they did not have much money. Mom recorded family holidays and visits to special people in their (and our) lives. But she had also been the repository of other albums that had belonged to her mother, my grandmother, my dad’s sister, my aunt, when each had died.

Two photographs from the belongings of my aunt sparked the greatest interest. One was a 4” by 6” photo of a stern woman in white, standing at a table where other white-clad younger women with caps stood. She seemed to be in charge and the back of the picture was dated and stamped by a firm in Norway. Was this my Grandmother Gunhild?