From Brooklyn to Norseville

By Esther Olsen

Memories of our family life in Brooklyn have always been very special to me and I look back with deep gratitude to my parents for all they did for us as children.

My dad, Peder Pedersen, was the youngest of 14 children born in Stjernøy, a little island off the coast of Mandal in Norway. As it was necessary for children to make their own way in life at an early age, the older brothers were the first to leave for America, — Tidemann, Kristian and Oluf—in the early 1900”s. My father, at the age of 16, joined his brothers in the “Land of Dreams” arriving on the Hellige Olaf in 1909. He often told of his time aboard, being corralled as animals in stalls and being processed and examined by doctors.

In 1913, my mom, Pauline Ostensen, was processed through Ellis Island. Pop didn’t meet her until 1915. Dating was a real experience in those days as he had to travel practically the whole day by rain and trolley in order to get to Southampton where she worked as a cook, for just an hour or two on Thursdays—the cook’s day off. They married in 1917 and settled in Brooklyn. Mom made her own dress, cooked and served dinner for 30-40 people in their little cold water flat. Three daughters were born to this union—Thelma, Esther and Doris. We all married second generation Norwegian men who were involved in all the Norwegian holiday festivities and who enjoyed Norwegian foods—but never lutefisk and kumpa!

Carpentry was Pop’s love and he soon joined the Carpenter’s Union.. He worked on many projects in China Town. He had jobs on many buildings in New York, on the George Washington Bridge, and even laid the boardwalk on Coney Island. Later he started his own building business with his brother, Oluf, but during the Depression times were tough and they lost the 7 houses they had built in Flatbush.

Therefore in 1932, it was thought best to send Mom and us three girls to Norway to live on my grandparent’s farm in Lista. Our Aunt Edith paid the fare. In order to survive, three other families moved in with my father in his house on 55th Street. Work was scarce. Men waited on long lines throughout the night to get even one day’s work for whatever pay.

For us, Norway was our home for 1 1/2 years. Thelma and I went to school (Doris was too little). I was in the third grade at Ore Skole, right on my grandparent’s property. I just had to jump over the stonewall to get there. Guess I had learned a lot as when I returned to the States in 1933, I couldn’t speak a word of English and couldn’t do Math the American style. I am glad I still have the Norwegian stuff still in me, can speak and write (sort of). I have had 5 trips to Norway so far. Norway is beautiful and I often said to Mom and Pop, ”Why did you ever leave Norway?” Of course, the answer was always that they had to. When the Depression was over, Pop finally got a job with the WPA and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

We were brought up in a wonderful Christian home which was our mainstay. Our church was the 59th Street Church (the Lutheran Evangelical Free Church). Where we went every Sunday for Sunday School, church in the morning, afternoon and evening, can hardly remember missing a Sunday. And since Pop always had to be “on time” we were always too early! Kathryn Samuelsen, who lived across the street from us on 55th Street said she had many a laugh watching us running our legs off trying to keep up with his long strides. Pop, being a Sunday School teacher, had to be in his class on time. How it happened I don’t know, but I sure had to know my lesson every week. Pop was a Deacon and Mom was a Deaconess, both very busy with all the activities. The choir and Junior League were a big part of my life until I married George (Mac) Olsen and moved to Norseville, where both of us joined the Bunker Hill Lutheran Church, involved in choir and church activities. Norseville, near Princeton, New Jersey, was founded in 1925 by pioneers from the Seamen’s Church at 1st Place in Brooklyn.   My husband’s father, Pareli Olsen, who was an assistant to the pastor and choir director at the church, was a founder along with Adolf Johansen and Thomas Arnesen. This beautiful “Garden of Eden”, as Pop called it, started out as a summer colony, but after World War II, returning soldiers wanted to make Norseville their home, so they began making the bungalows year round homes.

At present we are 4 generations of families here—daughters, sisters, cousins, etc, some of us all living on the same street. Hjordis Mortensen, who wrote a column for the Nordisk Tidende for many years, is one of them.

My immigrant parents have gone Home to their reward now, but loving memories linger on of their time on this earth.