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In the year 1812 on October 6 in Mollarre, Norway, Andreas Andersen Holbeck was born. When he grew up to manhood he married Berthe Johnsdatter. They lived together and worked until his death on September 29, 1882 at the age of 70 years. Mrs. died January 28, 1885 at the age of 68 years. Andreas taught school in the State School of Norway; he also acted as an agent in selling Bibles and Christian literature. As a token for long and faithful service as a colporteur, he was presented with a large Bible by the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Bible was published in Kjobenhavn, Denmark, in 1877, and it was signed by the British Society in handwriting. This Bible is now in the possession of his granddaughter, Mrs. Alfred Stadem.
Andreas's son, Anders Holbeck was born March 30, 1848 and baptised April 9, 1848. At Veetnes, Norway, he married Peterine Andrea Thomasdatter, who was born August 9, 1850. Anders resumed the work of his father as teacher and agent; he was an agriculturalist also. He did some writing on the topic "Christian Education." His main interest was to bring up their seven children in Christian nurture. Only three of their children grew into man and womanhood. On September 8, 1890, at 42 years of age he died, and his wife died nine years later at the age of 49 years. [At this period life for many in Norway was one of cruel hardship, which is reflected in the low life expectancies. These were hard-working people accustomed to few amenities, yet they could not survive for long the sub-arctic cold, lack of adequate nutrition, and poverty. These harsh conditions forced many to flee Norway as emigrants to countries with more resources than Norway could offer its citizens. Culture was high and flourishing, but the economy was extremely limited and could not support the population. Most emigrants went to America, sometimes by way of Canada's St. Lawrence River; others sailed directly to New York City and then took trains to America's heartlands where a new life and opportunity beckoned. As was the case with the Holbecks, the three surviving children of Anders and Peterine started their new life with memories of great personal loss in the loss of their young parents and other brothers and sisters--Editors].
(MAMA), Bergit Wilhelmine Holbeck, their youngest daughter, was born May 22, 1885, in Vatnedal Holmesogn, Mandal, Norway, located at the very southern tip of Norway. When only three days old she was baptised and at fifteen confirmed in Holmesogns Church by Rev. Bang. In her 18th year she migrated to America accompanied by her sister Kathrine, who is now Mrs. Lundring, Canton, S.D. The two sisters first came to Bryant, South Dakota, and did house work. They found it a little difficult, because they could not speak English. It did not take them very long before they were able to speak the language. Two years later she went to Canton, South Dakota, to live. [From this point Bergit Holbeck Stadem will tell her own story--Editors]
I was five years old when Papa died. It seems to me that I have a faint remembrance of him. When he had evening devotions, he would ask us children about God's Word. Once my older sister whispered the correct answer to me, and as I gave the answer Papa, who was overwhelmed at my wisdom, gave vent to surprise. I felt so proud--but I think he found out the facts later.
I was told that at the time Papa was sick there was so much work outdoors to be done. All went out to work except this five year old Bergit who was to be sick Papa's nurse. He said he could get along just fine when he had me a few hours at a time.
It is often recalled how after Papa's death that Mama would take us three little children with her to Christian Fellowship Prayer meetings in the different places of the community. We also had these meetings in our home when the roads were passible so that people could get there. Sacred to my memory is when I was about 7 or 8 years old that we were returning home from such a meeting. Mama sat down on a rock by the wayside and wept so bitterly. As I placed my arm around her neck and asked her why she was crying, she replied, "I am such a big sinner." I was prompted to answer, "But you know Jesus, God's Son whose blood cleanses from all sins." And she wiped away the tears and we journeyed happily home again. We would not feature our Mama crying over her sins--a better Christian there never was. She was always content and happy in the Lord.
I cannot recall that I ever disobeyed her willfully. The work was so easy in her presence. What a joy it was to carry the hay and wood on our sacks and pull the loads on the wheel-cart where it could be used-one to hold the shafts in front and two in the rear to push. And what speed we would get going down hills at times. It was a joy when Mama was along. I many times wished I could be like her.
I can never forget one evening of a beautiful summer day when we were sitting up on the mountain knoll with our feet resting down the slope. We had been picking whortleberries that day. We sat there admiring the beautiful scenery to the south down over the
valley with our home sweet home in the distance. Then Mama with the three little children as the audience spoke these words: "Let us pray together--(I being the youngest needed her to form the words)--Dear God, help me that I may never fall out of my baptismal covenant. Amen."
Our brother Andrew was only two years old when I was born and consequently had to occupy the cradle as yet. To my annoyance later I used to hear our friends talk (and smile) about that I had had to lie as a baby in the sifting trough used for cleaning grain.
The calamity in the little girl's life, as it seemed, was one day when the rest were out of doors getting hay into the barn. I was supposed to wash up the dishes and while wiping a special cup (called "Uncle August's cup"), bang, it went on the floor and broke. Now good advice was at a price, and serious thoughts flashed over the mind, as to what to do. Having decided, I ran out to confess to Mama, but seeing her so happy at work, I hesitated to spoil her joy with my hard-luck story. Again considering the misery I was in, I did decide to tell it and have it over with-yet nothing serious happened.
Before Mama took sick, we had much joy in going with her to visit the Christian friends in the neighborhood. On Sundays we went to Holme Church some five English miles away, crossing the river by boat and walking the rest of the way. Often did I hear this remark about myself, "Oh! how she resembles her Grandpa!" It rang pleasing in my ears, as I knew he was a man highly honored by his countrymen for his noble Christian character. And later would hear this pleasing remark,"She was always so good when she was small." Yes, all was joy yet when we still had our dear mother. Keenly do I remember the awe and respect we as children had upon entering God's holy temple, the church. We would walk in on our tip-toes down the long aisles, then sit in silence and attention during the service. On the Sundays when no formal service was available [weather intervened to make church-going impossible at times, or no pastor was able to make the trip to the church from his place of residence, often miles distant over land and sometimes water--Editors] it was an established custom that we three children took turns reading the scripture text for the day, and a message from the different devotional books at hand. I recall it as an honor and a privilege to be the reader. Possible it was exalting too that the rest would sit so nice and listen to me.
Mama was ordinarily the one to conduct morning and evening devotions, and after she died we children always took turns at home. I shall never forget my school teacher, Theodor Tobiason. He was in truth a Christian man, and was a power for good among the young. And how I did love him and did like to obey his teaching. But once when he had us write an essay (mine was on "Vatnedal" our home district) he thought mine was extraordinarily good and asked me if I had written it all myself. I said yes, when the fact of it was my sister had helped me. This I had to suffer for a long, long time, and wondered and worried about how I should ever get to confess this untruthfulness to him. God gave me opportunity, but Mama was dead too now. It was after a meeting at our place and the reply to my confession was these words from his lips, "It is forgiven and completely all right between you and me, just so it is all right between you and your God." Well, my dear Heavenly Father again gave me peace in my soul.
In the year of our Lord, 1898, just before Christmas, our dear Mother never arose from her bed anymore. It cut me to the core of my young heart to see dear Mama lying there getting weaker and paler day after day and spitting blood. I realized it came from the lungs and that it was fatal unto death. And to think Mama had been patiently carrying this knowingly for a long time, but considering the poverty and struggle for existence had not thought it possible, yes entirely prohibitive to seek doctors' help and hospital care. Her own loving sister, our Aunt Saverine, came to help care for her, but in spite of love and tender care, she got paler and fainter day by day. One day when nature smiled in beauty in the month of June, the silent messenger came to her and whispered this, "Come over here."
I was scheduled to meet for confirmation instruction that day, and as usual I went in to her, pressed her hand in farewell, and gave her a parting kiss. Having so far to go and my class meeting from 10 to 3 and 4 o'clock, it required almost the whole day. Besides, being in the company of a friend, Christene, she suggested that we pick some blueberries on the way home, which made it a little later than usual that day. On entering the house and upon inquiry how Mama was, Auntie's reply was, "Do not cry, dear child, your Mama is home with God." Those words cannot be described as they came to me.
Yet this was not totally unexpected news, as one day the previous week, the parting hour had seemed close at hand, and at my aunt's request, on the edge of the bed I read many comforting Bible verses for the dying. I cannot comprehend now how I then controlled myself to do that at that time. Now with my Mama actually gone from us, my sister told me that the last audible words heard over Mama's lips were when she asked about me. Oh, a mother's love!! How it manifests itself even in the dying one's last moments.
When the funeral was over, the return to the motherless and fatherless home to resume life's problems was anything but inviting, and not to mention, the poverty. Some near and dear ones accompanied us home and there conducted a very comforting meeting. After which some of those who were concerned about our future held a secret conference, and to my horror and consternation I got to hear that Marie, an aunt by marriage, planned to get me into her control. Now she was very rich, screamingly covetous and stingy, and had closed her heart to all in need. It would have been unbearable for me to live with her.
My sister Katrine went to Mandal to work, Andrew and I remained on the farm the rest of this summer and the following winter. But, oh, it was a problem to secure the bare necessities of life, and next to impossible. One day two friends came to visit, and all the food in the house was two pounds of rice, but, oh, I was so happy I could cook rice pudding to serve.
During this time Rev. Haaland came back from America to visit relatives. He came to meetings in our vicinity, and he got acquainted with us and our circumstances. Arrangements were made that our brother was going back with him to America in the spring. The cows were sold and few other things to secure the price of the ticket, etc. One spring day in 1900, Brother Andrew bade me goodbye and left for the other world, as it seemed. The farm was rented to a neighbor and one morning I got up early, took the cat, the only living thing left on the place, put it in a basket, closed the door of my childhood home on the few belongings therein, and started for "Suvatne"--a place two Norse miles or about 28 English miles away--where it was previously arranged that I should work. It was a Christian family and they were kind to me.
Later, I had to go to town to work, and for two years had varied experiences. To my sorrow I found that those people were very Godless and had no use for His Word or His Church, and little love for fellowmen.
One time I was working for a druggist who lived on the outskirts of town and had to bring him the supper-lunch at night. It was very dark, and on one place where the opposite side of the road was masoned up with rocks and had no railing for protection, I stepped outside and fell down 7 or 8 feet. I got scratched up some in the face by the branches of an apple tree down in the ditch, and was bruised, but found that I could stand on my feet. The first thing of concern was the lunch -basket and its contents. Everything was all right, except the handle was broken on my employer's mug, and sure enough I got to hear from him about it! Later, when they entertained company, they amused themselves at my expense as they told how I had tumbled down off that treacherous place. Oh! for bliss in the childhood years, to be home with a mother and father and be enveloped in love, as compared to having to get out and live among the so-called higher-ups controlled by selfishness.
In the spring of 1903, my sister Katrine and I boarded a small steam-ship "Ryvingen" at Mandal en route to Kristiansand [Oslo the capital and port], and at that place got on board "Helig Olaf" for America. With instructions from Brother Andrew, we had the remnants at the dear old home place sold by auction and with that money secured the tickets for voyage and railroad-fare to Bryant, South Dakota, where he was. Before entering upon this journey to the New World, so far away and with no hopes to ever return and see the Motherland again, we took a few days off to visit the near and dear ones once more. Upon visiting the Aunt Marie formerly mentioned, she offered us sugar in the coffee, "because" as she said, we were going to America.
The experience of feeding fish, also became our experience while crossing the North Sea, but the Atlantic Ocean voyage was marvelous. [The two orphaned sisters arrived at New York and were processed through Ellis Island's famous Customs facilities, the point of entry for untold millions of immigrants to America. Nothing much is said about it, even so. No one wished to remain in the custody of the all-powerful Customs officials a moment more than necessary, and then it was a scurry with dozens and hundreds of others to the boats and ferries that would take the immigrants to either lodgings in New York City or direct to train depots for all points, but usually westward. The sisters' chief concern was to pass the health exam, since those who looked ill and were ill were detained at Ellis and sometimes even sent back to their native countries; fortunately for them and us their descendants, they passed with flying colors--Eds]
Shortly after arriving at Bryant, with the rest we went to the City Hall to attend a Temperance Lecture, but I did not understand a single word, although the single word, "business," stuck in my memory and later it found out its meaning. I worked for the Rev. Haaland family one week to learn American ways of doing things in baking bread, cake, pie, etc. Then I got a place of work with the Mike Cavenys, a Catholic family. They were nice to me and to my surprise they were satisfied with my work. Mrs. Caveny said, "Bessie sure makes good bread (the Haalands advised the change of my name from Bergit to Bessie.)." Of course, it made me happy, and here I also learned some English.
Twice, however, I sure was puzzled as to what Mrs. Caveny meant. Two weeks after I started working there, we were to wall paper the bedroom. She told me to go into the kitchen and get a roll of wall paper --and finally I guessed it. Another time she told me to pour the boiling potato-water on some flour to use in yeast for bread-making (called sponge). I just could not understand it, so she took me over to a Norwegian neighborlady and had her translate it. As she saw me get the translation, her face brightened up like the sun and began to smile, and we both went back to the house laughing.
Never will I forget what Mrs. Haaland meant to me and Katrine. She was just like a mother to me, and such a wonderful Christian woman. I also made the acquaintance of the Peter Stadem family, for their step-daughter Marie chummed with my siser Katrine, or Tina. Those people moved to Canton, South Dakota, and some time afterwards Tina went down there. I was working for the George Cole banking family, a nice place, and they did not want me to leave--but go I did.
I arrived in Canton in the summer of 1905 and went to work in various homes. Rev. P. H. Tetlie was the pastor there, and we liked him immensely as a spiritual father. We attended the prayer meetings held in the different homes, but we were the only young people to attend, it seemed. I recall how I often wished I had a Christian boyfriend, but did not in my ignorance know how to pray for such things.
I worked for a Methodist family, the Edgar Deans, the last two years of my unmarried life. In the fall of 1907, one evening my girlfriend Marie (who formerly chummed with Tina until she got married) said to me, "I'm going down to Ma and Pa's tonight. Alfred is coming home." I went along too. Alfred Stadem had been farming and batching up in Clark County two years. I had seen him a few times before. He was eating supper when we arrived at the Stadems.
It had become our privilege and habit to go down to Ma and Pa (as we girls called Mr. and Mrs. Peter Stadem) on Sunday afternoons, visit, play, and sing. We were always welcome. We would have supper and then would go together to Luther League. This Alfred of theirs and I soon became real good friends, yes to the extent that he wanted me for his wife and I wanted him for my husband. We both to this day think it was God's will and now after about thirty years are as happy as we were that memorable day, August 19th, 1908, was our wedding day, and thank God for His mercy and grace and the blessing to our union of nine well-born children to gladden our home. But most of all, we are thankful that they love their Savior and are trying to live their lives for God.
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