I’m Not One of the Giants

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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Every time I see my proudly Norwegian cousin Marty Gruseth Erickson, she asks if I’ve read “Giants in the Earth” yet and gets a little frustrated every time I have to tell her “No I haven’t.”
It’s the famous novel written in the late 20’s by Ole Rolvaag about Norwegians coming to America and enduring all kinds of unimaginable hardships trying to carve out an existence on the bare prairies of Southeastern Dakota Territory in the 1870’s..the same area we live in now.
Rolvaag wrote much of his book in S.D. The house where he stayed is at Augustana College.I’ve always found history fascinating, especially history about my Nordic ancestors from the Vikings to the homesteaders. It’s just that I’ll usually rent a movie about it rather than read the book.
But when my brother from New Jersey brought “Giants in the Earth” along with him during a visit last month and left it here insisting I read it..well, I relented.
I was finished in two days and still can’t get it out of my mind.
What stays with me is not so much the struggles of the main characters, Per Hansa, his wife Beret and their children..but the fact that the book proves that I was ADOPTED!
Yup, I believe that instead of being full-blown Norwegian like I’ve been led to believe all my life, there’s not a drop of Scandinavian blood in me. Can’t be.
How do I know?
Well, other than liking lefse, I possess absolutely none of the noble characteristics that are so typical with those of true Norse ancestry like Per Hansa or even the Vikings.
For example, in order to be a Viking, men had to have a beard.
That was their ticket to adventure aboard the long boats on missions of discovery, plundering and pillaging.
I’ve never been able to grow facial hair which would have meant, I suppose, a life back in camp decorating mud huts or designing the horned helmets “real” Viking men wore.
Unlike typical Norwegians, I have always looked for ways to avoid manual labor.
The book tells of how Per Hansa would arise before dawn, hook up the oxen and have twenty acres plowed before breakfast..then finally call it a day when it was too dark to go on.
When he finally sat down to eat supper it was usually the same porridge they had three times a day. But he never complained.
Sometimes, along with their porridge, on special occasions like Christmas, they’d have boiled dried fish that he’d caught in Split Rock Creek. It was a wonderful treat for them.
I hate most kinds of fish..whether it’s fresh, dried or soaked in lye.
If I spend 45 minutes mowing the yard, I figure there should be a three course roast beef dinner waiting when I’m done.
Prairie "soddy." The inside dirt walls were sometimes whitewashed to brighten things up a bit.Like most of the Norwegian homesteaders, Per Hansa had to build his house out of prairie sod because there was no lumber.
He decided to save on heating costs by making his soddy big enough to serve as a barn…using only a bed sheet for a wall separating the family from the animals.
Can you imagine what having three cows and a horse living in the next room would smell like?
I gross-out when Linda cooks tuna and noodles or makes egg salad.
I go into panic mode if the air conditioner breaks down in July.
I freak at the thought of bugs in the house or dirt on the floor much less a floor out of dirt.
I won’t give away exactly how the book ends, but Per Hansa was willing to pay the ultimate price to get away from his crazy wife’s nagging even though he knew she was wrong.
No, I don’t have the right stuff to have come from stubborn Norwegian stock like that.
I wonder if that’s what cousin Marty was trying to tell me all along.

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