By Birgit Wendelken
My parents, Magda and Anders Salvesen, were born on a small island called Vestre Sandoya off the coast of Tvedestrand in southern Norway.
Dad went to sea at age 14, eventually went to navigational school and worked his way up to first mate. When he came to New York, he jumped ship and went to work as a tugboat Captain, and got the nickname of “Tug Boat Andy“. He worked on the tug for 14 years and then, like so many of the Sandoy men, became a dock builder.
Mom came over through Ellis Island where my grandfather, Nils Auselius Nielsen, was waiting for her. Bestafar had come over to Hoboken, New Jersey, to work as a carpenter to feed his wife and seven children on Sandoya. When I was 3 years old, he returned to Norway. Before getting married, Mom worked as a laundress for some renowned families such as Ogden Reid of the Herald Tribune an Ambrose Clark of Old Westbury.
The depression was in full swing – the Market Crash happened the year after I was born. Money and jobs were scarce. Many a night we had only “ris grit” and saft & van” for dinner.
I had seven uncles, and all except one were seamen- five became captains. I used to love to sit quietly and listen to Dad and an uncle or other Sandoy seamen, tell stories about where they had been- all over the world.
When the war broke out in 1939, and Norway was occupied by the Germans, all of the Sandoy immigrants in Bay Ridge and surrounding areas, got together and formed the Sandoy Social and Welfare Club. One of the by-laws was that you either had to either come from Sandoya or be a direct descendent of someone who did. My husband and I were members. Besides raising money with dues, we held all kinds of dances: Barn Dances, 17th of May, etc., with raffles and so forth. At the end of World War II, the club sent a food package containing flour, rice, sugar, coffee, tea, canned goods to every single family on Sandoya.
During the war, because of the German occupation of Norway, my uncle Trygve would write letters to his wife, address the envelope to Mom in Brooklyn ( his sister) and she would switch envelopes and address them to my aunt in Norway. He was a radioman on a Corvette going between Canada and England and sat listening for German U-boats. This went on for 3-4 years.
Dad had a very deep bass voice and sang in choirs throughout Brooklyn, one being the Norwegian Seamen’s Church on First Place under conductor Engesvik. He also sang with choirs at Trinity Lutheran Church on 46th street and 4th Ave and the IOGT Lodge on 66th street and Leif Erikson Square.
The IOGT had Sunbeam Lodge for children of members and we were practicing for a Pagent. Dad was was so proud that I was following in his footsteps and singing. However I was so petrified that I hid in the bathroom and refused to come out. So much for my singing career!
Every meeting of the Sandoy Club, Dad was asked to sing. One of my favorites was “Norge Mitt Norge”. Walking down 8th Ave, at the time better known as Lapskaus Boulevard or Kjottkake Ave, we saw many blonde heads and heard Norwegian spoken. At home my brother and I spoke only Norwegian until we went out to play with other children. Then Mom and Dad would speak to us in Norwegian and we answered in English.