By Stian Skjaevesland
Stian Skjaevesland Larsen at the Norwegian Christian Home and Health Center in Brooklyn.
This letter was written by Stian Skjaevesland ( later Larsen) in September 1930. It was sent to the editor of the local IOGT newsletter “Varvon” in Norway. It has been translated into English by Larsen’s daughter
Til Varvon, America Letter
I’ve long thought to write to the Lodge, but it’s a funny thing, we all have so much to do here in the USA. But now I start so I cannot stop now. Think! Soon it’s one year since I left and took my suitcase and walked the road to Lahella (bridge). I wasn’t too proud at that time. A box of a truck was waiting for me. Think! To America! Who thought of that 7 years ago? America was like a ”pest” to me at that time. ( I never dreamed I’d go there). My thought was only farming and the pig house at Briseid. Now I sit and dream of my trip to America. The way to Farsund was always so long for me, but at that time it was very short. I didn’t know it before I stood at Farsund’s pier and watched for SS Bjorgvin. I was waiting for it to come any minute. My thoughts spun in my head. Think! To say good-bye to all my friends and loved ones. Then I saw something far away. That was the ship I was going on. I heard a noise and the boat lay by the pier. I took my suitcase and walked onboard. I waved to all my friends and sisters and brothers and wished them good luck. But a funny feeling was inside of me. I wondered if I would see these people again in this place. Then the boat backed out from the pier and I saw the last look of Farsund disappear from my eye.
Now I walked down to the cabin and I thought, “I wonder when I’ll come back here?”. The boat was soon in Oslo. We had nice weather the whole way, and a nice trip to Oslo. (But I felt something else when I got out onto the Atlantic Ocean). The time went very fast in Oslo and I didn’t know it before I stood on Bergenfjord's deck. I was surprised when I saw that big ship.( But it was kind of small when it got out on the high seas). Soon we were backing out of the Oslo pier and the music played Ja Vi Elsker Dette Landet. Never had the words and tune of that song drilled so deep in my heart, as that time. The boat swung out and swung in again on the way to Stavanger. It was very nice weather and I had a good appetite until the Norwegian mountains disappeared after we passed Bergen. But then we got a feel of what the ocean really is. It was difficult from Fidjebekken (local brook) and Legevollspytten (swimming hole). The boat actually stood up and down in the sea. I was glad when I walked like a drunk to my bed, and there I laid-like a dead calf. I had a good appetite before, but I lost all my appetite. I did not eat any food for five days. After that my beard had grown so long no one knew who the funny guy was on the boat.
And soon we came to Brooklyn. My trip was over and we came to America! I was happy to get off the ship and put my foot on solid ground. The first man I saw on the pier was Tobias (brother) who was waiting for me on the pier. And that was a nice sight to see him. I was thinking it would not be a fine thing to come to America with no one to meet you. On the pier I saw the first Negro I had ever seen in my life, but it would not be the last one. I figured here they would be walking around by the thousands. Yes, on one job, I had one of the black people as a partner. They are very nice to work with, talking all the time, and when they laugh, the white teeth shine.
Then we walked up through the big city they called Brooklyn. What a new life I got to see in Brooklyn. Streetcars, horses, and everything you could think of-by the thousands. Over the heads went trains with screeching sounds, and under the stree went subways on their tracks. Never had I thought of America that way. And everything so dirty you were afraid to take a step. Since then, though, I have been very content, worked every day and visited friends at night. That’s the way we have it here. Something that surprised me was that so many people drink here. There is prohibition here, as you know, and everyone thinks no one drinks here, but you can get drinks anyway. But it is too bad because there’s too much of it anyhow.You could say on every other corner ther’s a speakeasy. It’s unusual to see them throw a drunk out of one of those places. But the worst part is that most of them are Norwegians. There sits still some wild (Viking) man’s blood in their veins. If they get drunk they will quarrel and talk Norwegian. And I have more than once , been upset at hearing my own language coming out from their mouths.
In this country money rules. If these speakeasies have money, they pay $100 bribes to the politicians and can stay open as long as they want. There’s one special place that Norwegians go to at night (59th St Church). And if you stop on the street to talk to all the immigrants, then the police will come and chase you. If you don’t move, they will hit you with their wooden stick-1/2 meter long. One time this summer, we stood in a crowd, and talked , and Herman Gjervellstad ( a neighbor from home)was there. Then came the police wagon and picked up 7 or 8 fellas and took them to the police station. But Herman ran away. He ran like the devil was behind him. The police couldn’t catch him- so he threw his club after himand didn’t get him. Since that time you always see Herman walk full speed and he says , “ For God’s sake don’t stop! The police are on the other side of the street1”. Later, on the same night , there was one Norwegian who ran away from the police, but he was shot and killed. That’s the way it is here. You never know what you will come upon. So in that way it is much more peaceful at home.
Yes, all your lodge brothers and sisters (who immigrated) have it good here, except Michael (Gjerstal). Maybe you know he is in the hospital on Staten Island. He has been there for a long time. Hope he will soon be back to good health. Sister Ragne (Vigmostad) I see most every time I’m out. She is very happy and is thinking of soon taking a trip to Norway. Tobiasis the same as before, he always talks about writin g home to your paper, but never does. I am sure he will do it later. Sister Olava, I see and talk to often-one day I got a big red apple that she threw up to me in my window. She is still as rosy-cheeked and pretty as a flower, as she ever was before. Tonight I am going to see Sonja Hennie. She will be the Guest of Honor at a big sports event tonight. The 22nd of February, she will skate here in New York for the World’s Championship. Then you can believe the Norwegian’s will be there. It’s funny over here, if a Norwegian is an outstanding athlete, the Norwegian’s are very happy about it. The 6th of January-Otto Porat (Norwegian boxer) was here (at Madison Square Garden) boxing for the World’s Championship, but lost the bout. That evening almost everybody from Herod was there to see him. I was not there, but Tobias was. He came back in the middle of the night and complained about it (the match). So he did not sleep the whole night. But Porat will come back sometime and take the World Championship. It’s strange how you have such a longing for your homeland when you’re so far away, in a foreign country.
Now I have to stop writing for this time. Will try to write some other time. I hope Herod Lodge thrives and grows big and strong so all the young people in Norway can be with us and say “ A happy Norway is our goal”
Many greetings from