BILL BRYSON, 1927, AND “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”   18 comments

Working on “My Father’s House” has been a life changing eye-opener for me. As his youngest child, I had no real sense of the time when my father arrived in America in 1910 to the quiet little village of Forestville, Connecticut. My big sister and brother experienced much more of the earlier years. And of the amazing changes that occurred during his lifetime.

My sister, for example, remembers people traveling by horse and wagon, and isn’t sure just when trolley’s from Forestville to Bristol were replaced by buses. She also remembers as a little girl shouting to planes overhead, “Hey, Lucky. Give me a ride.”

My brother remembered the days when church services at Bethesda Lutheran Church were conducted in Swedish. In fact, he spoke Swedish with no apparent effort. I, on the other hand, begged my father to teach me Swedish. He didn’t, citing the prejudice he had experienced when he first arrived. I suspect it was really so he and my mother could talk behind my back while I was present.

I have come to realize how painful it must have been for my parents when all three of their offspring married outside the church. Some things make real empathetic sense when one works at getting inside the life of another.

And oh yes, I really miss my brother, partly because I miss him, and partly he isn’t here to answer the questions my sister is too young to answer.

So now to Bill Bryson’s “One Summer: 1927.” I’m not really going to write a review. 2164 people have already done that on amazon.com. I will say it’s a great read and I strongly recommend it. But I want to talk about the reason why I read it – to understand the times my parents lived through. And even some of the times I lived through with them, which has me reading David Halberstam’s “The Fifties” at the same time.

I loved Bryson’s book. His writing style is delightful. What got to me is realizing the amazing changes that took place in America and, indeed, the world, almost without people knowing it. Oh yes, people were excited about specific events. I must say, poor Lindbergh had my sympathetic understanding of the misery his Scandinavian shyness created for him as he became such a lauded hero. Some of the stories of how he – and his mother – handled it are really funny. I don’t think you have to be a Scandinavian to appreciate it.

But the thing that got me is how many of our current problems are rooted in the events of those days. Adding to that Halberstam’s events of the 50s – when I thought I was a grownup – just highlights how much things are changing right now right before our eyes, or maybe secretly behind our backs.

Aside from learning more about my parents’ lives, I find myself hoping to live another 30 years (yeah! Not likely!) to understand what’s going on now.

Now I’ll transport myself back to 1910 to write a few more paragraphs of “My Father’s House.”

18 responses to “BILL BRYSON, 1927, AND “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”

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  1. And I am even removed from a greater distance. While you have been in search of specific details and history of your life and that of your parents, I think this is a fairly good comparison to what I have always felt in my work with older people. I always wanted to know more of what came before for them. A lesson learned from a geriatric physician whom you have met was, “Know everything there is to know about the person and then do that one, small thing that will make a difference.” A different view with specific clinical application – but it helps! And it serves to allow nearly every person you meet to be a lesson in history.

  2. What ever about Bill Brysons book I was enthralled imagining your fathers world and the time he lived in.

  3. Mona, Glad to read more about “My Father’s House” and to learn of your reading of Bryson and Halberstam. Wouldn’t it have been useful to have been capable of learning about ourselves so deeply at a younger age? But learning about our history and DNA late is a wonderful thing.

  4. Comment from my sister: It was ‘”Hey, LINDY, give me a ride a ride!” that we used to yell at
    airplanes.

  5. Mona. Can’t wait to buy that book. In Norway, e have a TV-series “All for Norway” with Norwegian-Americans coming here – 15 persons each year I think, very popular series- they all have their origin here, ancestrally 🙂 and they are being led into Norwegian language and customs and there are assignments and competitions – and the last one gets to meet their relatives. (And they all get lots of information where they live, so they can come back and visit.) LOTS OF TEARS always when they visit their original home – this is so strong in us all, this feeling of belonging to a peace of mother Earth.
    I love you! Take care! prioritize your joy

  6. More,; more of MY FATHER’S HOUSE. I see you are unstuck( is that a word/) Bravo, precious.

  7. I also often wonder what is changing right before my eyes that I am totally missing. Change is so incremental that it is often easy to miss. I think you are right that is may be changing secretly behind our backs.

  8. Dear Mona, I found your website and blog by chance, as I searched “Bethesda Lutheran Church, Forestville, CT.” It seems more and more people are writing memoirs ~ and seeking memoirs to read, and I have been touched by your reflections about your father and your memories about the warmth of Bethesda. My reason for searching for some details about Bethesda and Forestville circa 1950 is that my mother, Ruta (Metra) Neiberg and her parents, Alma and Teodors Metra, were sponsored by Bethesda’s congregation. They were Latvian refugees, who had fled their homeland in 1944, lived in a DP camp in the U.S. zone in Bavaria until 1949, and arrived in Forestville in February 1950, where Pastor Pearson and a few members of the congregation met them at a nearby train station (Berlin?) late at night (after they had earlier disembarked that evening in New York harbor) and drove them to the Carlson’s home ~ the first of their sponsors’ homes, until they found a nice apartment on Pleasant Avenue. I, too, am writing a memoir ~ a coming-of-age memoir about my Mum, which spans roughly 1944, when she had just turned 13 and her family fled the second Soviet invasion, to her years as a teen in the DP camp, years which are full of many rich memories and events, to her transatlantic crossing and her family’s arrival in Forestville in 1950 when she was 18. I am fortunate to have recollections about these years because my family spoke in such great detail “around the kitchen table.” Always many stories. My Mum has fond memories of you and Eunice and other Bethesda girls her age, who welcomed her and made her feel as if she belonged. I see that you are incredibly busy with your practice and with your own writing, so I understand if you do not have any extra time. However, if you do have a moment, and have any recollections about my family when they first arrived ~ perhaps even some of the congregation’s preparations for their arrival ~ I would appreciate very much hearing or reading them. I have my Mum’s perspective, and am hoping to include some thoughts from anyone who remembers my family when they first arrived. In Spring 2015, my Mum, who is now 85, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her short-term memory is iffy, and she has begun to struggle recently with her long-term memory. Again, it is nice to read your own recollections about your years in Forestville ~ a village that my husband and I visited a few years ago. My best wishes to you, as you keep writing and sharing your blog. Yours sincerely, Linda Neiberg

    • Linda, I am so excited to receive this comment from you. Yes, I do remember your mother and the family. I have to leave the computer now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with a longer response. Thanks for finding me.

    • I’m back, Linda, with a somewhat longer response. I need to remind both you and me that memory is not a file folder, but a constantly changing creation. I’m happy to share what I remember and — obviously — what I remember inaccurately.

      But first, are you aware that Bethesda was folded into the new Gloria Dei Church on Camp Street in Forestville. I have communicated (by phone) with the admin there, a very lovely young lady named Stacey, I believe. She has been enthusiastically very helpful finding records I’ve asked for. The phone number there is 860-582-0629. She might be of help to you in your research. Your family’s story is of such tremendous interest; I’m so glad you are writing it.

      When I traveled the Baltics, I didn’t get to Latvia, but I did visit Estonia. What those countries went through, and how beautifully they have recovered. That’s a story that needs telling.

      Now, for what I remember. First, I wish I could picture who the Carlsons were. I certainly do remember Pastor Pearson. And I can still picture the apartment on Pleasant Avenue. Now, for what I misremember. I recall your mother, Ruta, and her parents. But I also remember her aunt whom you don’t mention; therefore I doubt my memory on that score.

      There are two things I think are legitimate memories that tell the tale of cultural emphases. First, I remember that one of the first things your grandmother and her sister (?) wanted to acquire was a fur coat. For women at Bethesda, a fur coat was a mark of wealth and position. For your grandmother and your sister, it was more a necessity. I remember some chatter around that.

      I also remember visiting them with my friend Hallie, six months younger than I, married and pregnant. Your grandmother insisted she should have the most comfortable chair in the room in recognition of her elevated status.

      I also remember your mother moving away and marrying a Psychiatrist. (?) I remember maintaining a Xmas card connection for a while. And here’s where I am clearly wrong, because I thought Ruta died young. Obviously I am happy to know that wasn’t the case.

      Unfortunately there is no opportunity to check either Hallie’s or Eunie’s memories because they have both ended their earthly journeys. Nor is it possible to check in with Pastor Pearson, because he is also long gone.

      There you have my memories and my non-memories. I’d love to hear more of what you are doing, and I’ll definitely share any other memories I may come up with. If you should want to communicate by e-mail, my address is forgiveness options@earthlink.net, a fact which you probably already know from checking my web site.

      • Dear Mona, Thank you so much for your reply. My mother or grandmother did tell me that Bethesda was folded into Gloria Dei in the early 1960s or so. Indeed, I have some photographs of my Mum, who was pregnant with me in 1964, in front of Gloria Dei with Hazel Ebb. And thank you so much for Stacey’s contact information at Gloria Dei. I shall certainly contact her. Ah, yes, the fur coats. I have heard about those, and shall share some of the details in an email to you. I do have a photograph of my Great-aunt Selma in her coat, with Carl “Grandpa” Ebb. Both Selma, who died suddenly of kidney failure in 1953, and her mother and Alma’s mother (Minna ~ or “Minnie” as some local folks fondly called her) are buried in Forestville Cemetery. I have visited their graves. No, my Mum did not die young. It was my Dad who died young. I’ll tell you more about it in an email. And, yes, he was a psychiatrist and neurologist. My parents were married by Pastor Pearson in Bethesda. I am so sorry to hear about Eunie. I heard that you all had quite a bit of fun together. I noticed on your website and blog that you, too, have taught at the college level. I am still teaching, so we might have some interesting pedagogical and memoir-related notes to compare (of course, it seems as if we are both more memoir-focused right now!) I do have your email address and shall correspond very soon. My email is lkneiberg@gmail.com (just in case my email ends up in your “spam” folder). Again, thank you for sharing your recollections. I look forward to reading more about your memories of your father and Forestville. All best wishes, Linda

  9. Thanks, Linda. I look forward to more contact, and wish you good luck with your search. I’m sorry you lost your dad. How old were you?

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