Sunday, July 12, 2009

In Memoriam: Astrid Lydia Stenersen Hall (November 17, 1907-July 11, 2009

Yesterday was quite eventful. I was busy from morning until evening between hiking with a colleague and visiting with a friend who had made a spontaneous trip from out of town. I was so busy that I missed a few phone calls. Having found the time in the evening to check the messages, I discovered the sad and happy news that my Grandmother passed away that afternoon. It is sad that I will not be able to visit with my grandmother more in this life. She was a great woman and I made sure to visit her in Salt Lake City as often as possible (over the past few years I would make a trip each winter and summer--fortunately, this past winter I made the trip and interviewed her both on voice recording and video). It is happy news in that my grandmother had lived a full and happy life--she was one-hundred-and-one-years-old. She had mentioned to me on previous visits that she was happy with her life and that she was ready to go to the next life whenever the Lord wanted to take her. This is quite understandable as all of her family and friends had previously passed away. All she had left was her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is nice having a knowledge of the plan of salvation--understanding that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all will live again, being resurrected, reuniting body and spirit, and that in the realm of spirits my grandmother would be in the presence of old friends and family. Also, that one day I, too, will be reunited with them all.
My grandmother meant a lot to me. Many of my friends falsely assume that I served a mission in Norway due to my interest in the language and the country. This is not the case. My interest in Norway comes from my grandmother. She was born in Kristiania, Norway (present day Oslo) and moved to the United States in her late teens. Hers was a busy and difficult lifestyle in Norway, with all her family working at the match factory and with her delivering newspapers to make a little extra money in order to save up to come to the United States. While she did not get to travel much in Norway (spending most of her time in Kristiania with an occasional trip to Kristiansand to visit relatives), she was able to find enjoyment in life and to make the most of her experiences. She marveled at how much of Norway and Sweden through which I have had opportunity to travel. She would often state that I know more of her homeland than she (which may be true as far as seeing the country, but she actually lived the culture, custom, and lifestyle which is an experience that I shall never have--she is truly Norwegian as I am simply an observer of Norway). As a child I enjoyed viewing all of the knick-knacks that she had around her house from Norway and Sweden (her husband was Swedish), and as I grew older I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity that I had to visit with her one on one and to learn of her life, her family history, and her views on the world. I am going to miss those conversations and will treasure the memories that I have of them.
In memory of my Grandmother I should like to include a few journal entries that I have recorded over the years that capture some of the knowledge, information, and experiences that I have had in connection with visiting her in Salt Lake (I will skip over some parts of journal entries when the information is either too private or does not relate to a connection with my grandmother):

AUGUST 30, 2001
. . . "After hiking the mountain we drove down to Mirror Lake and ate lunch. This is the lake my father would take us boys to go fishing when we were young and up visiting family in Utah. This is the same lake that my great-grandfather Stenersen would take his grandchildren camping (my uncle Einar and my father). Uncle Einar pointed out a lot of the landmarks that he remembers from those days. I even saw a small portion of the old dirt road that they would come in on--it is now covered with overbrush. Einar told me that my great-grandfather used to camp with another Norwegian friend of his his. This friend once pulled Einar aside during one of their camping trips and told him that his grandfather Stenersen is the only human being that he has ever known who he has not heard speak ill of anybody ever. Quite the compliment.
This evening the Hall family got together to have a Dinner. It as good to see everyone. Aunt Judy recently took a trip to Washington and found some Scandinavian shops there. She bought a Norwegian calendar and a cast-iron with which to make Kremkaker. She gave these two items to me.
After the dinner when everyone parted their several ways, I spent a couple of hours talking with my grandmother Hall. She related many events both in Norway and in the United States to me. The following are some of the brief highlights from the conversation:
Great-Grandfather Stenersen--(my grandmother's father)--He supported three families throughout the great depression. He worked on the theater building at the University of Utah (I forgot the name of the building) and constantly kept it in top shape--polishing the brass doors and all. He constatnly stressed the importance of being on time to things and instilled it in his family. He was a heavy smoker and would drink on occasion. He stayed at home while his wife and daughters would attend church in Norway. Eventually he began coming to church, sitting in the back pew. This trend continued in the United States. One evening he came home and told his wife, 'I've done something today that you will be pleased with--I met with the missionaries and got baptized.' Though he was a heavy smoker, he quit cold-turkey and never returned to the habit. His comment on quitting smoking (or anything for that matter): 'You don't wean yourself off of it, you quit. If you make a decision you follow through with it fully committed.' Of course, these aren't his exact words but the general idea. When he died the University of Utah flew its flags half-mast in his honor.
Great-Grandma Stenersen--(my grandmother's mother)--She grew up in Norway and boarded with a family in Oslo (a Lutheran family). She attended church services with the Salvation Army and one day the family that she boarded with said, 'You attend the Salvation Army services. . . you had ought to go to one of the Mormon services and see what they are all about.' She did so and after attending the first meeting she knew that it was the true church of Jesus Christ. She joined the church and immediately began saving money to come to Utah, for she wanted the blessings of the temple in her life. She worked hard and disciplined the children (her husband never raised his voice or uttered a cross word at his daughters--he always turned that over to their mother). When my grandmother married, great-grandma took her aside and explained what was expected of a good housewife and why that was the case. My grandmother treated my grandfather like a king ever since that day. When they were living back in Norway, she was very frugal, yet she made sure that her daughters were the best dressed girls at church.
Judith Stenersen--(my grandmother's sister)--She grew up at home while my grandmother grew up at her grandparents. Their grandparents did not live far away and they all saw each other daily. Judith was out cross-country skiing with a friend once (as they often went skiing) when the two young girls discovered they were lost. Judith's friend said that Judith should pray. She did and a short time later a man appeared and gave them directions as to how to return to their home. After the man had gone they noticed that he had left no tracks in the snow. They arrived home safely.
Returning to my great-grandmother Stenersen--Norway is predominantly Lutheran in their faith. All of my great-grandmother's neighbors were such and they all greatly respected her and her family (especially the religion she was associated with). They used to say, 'The Mormon family can do no wrong.' Once their was a great flu epidemic which passed through the community wherein many people died. The whole community feared contracting the ailment and were fearful of preparing the dead for burial. They asked my great-grandmother to do the job, saying, 'You are a Mormon--you will not get sick.' My great-grandmother washed and prepared the bodies for burial and sure enough, she never contracted the ailment. Such was the respect for the Stenersen family and their religion.
There is so much more to write which I learned from my conversation with my grandmother this evening, but it is late and I am extremely tired. I hope that I will remember the others and find the time to write them down in this journal."

"I attended sacrament meeting with my grandmother and was impressed with the testimonies which were shared. Most of all I appreciated the background noise of children. I observed many children today and was humored by their innocence and joy. The children are so cute and precious, it makes me look forward to having a family of my own. I was also impressed with the elderly individuals in the ward. The service simply had a feeling of being complete. I enjoy the young single adult ward which I attend back home and I truly feel the spirit there, but it does lack that feeling of being complete--of including the whole spectrum of the human experience. It has really made me want to move on with my progression in life and being my own family.
My grandmother cooked a nice Sunday dinner which I really enjoyed. She says it is the first time she has cooked on Sunday since grandpa died. She and Gladys have treated me like a king and have my stay both comfortable and enjoyable. I am indebted to their kindness and love. . ."

APRIL 14, 2002
"I drove from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City yesterday, arriving sometime after nine o'clock in the evening, local time. I was amazingly exhausted, yet made a few phone calls before chatting a bit with my grandmother and aunt Gladys. I then descended to the quaint room in the basement which I love so much--it has a fascinating character all its own which seems to transport me to another time and place. I feel at home with wood paneled walls and the old photographs, ceramic and copper artifacts (many of which are from the old homeland) and the books whose mysterious pages beckon to me. The foreign words I trip my tongue over like a small boy pretending to read and to comprehend. I spent a short time perusing through these articles, reminiscing and longing for that which haunts me with its ever elusive nature. I quickly read my scriptures and offered up a prayer to my Father (who, might I add, has been extremely patient and long-suffering with me) and straightway climbed into that most inviting bed.
I attended church with grandma and Gladys. I laughed inwardly as the words of many speakers from my home stake who have visited the Claremont 3rd ward resounded in my mind: 'It is so quiet here--I love the sound of silence and the reverence associated with it that is found in a young single adult ward such as this.' I laughed inwardly, for I felt exactly the opposite as I sat in the midst of this family ward, with all the sounds of babies crying children talking, parents shushing, and elderly people coughing. yes, it is so noisy here--I love the sound of noise which represents the whole human family, the whole spectrum of mortality, the whole of human experience. It was truly a joy to my ears and to my heart. . .

APRIL 15, 2002
"I arose this morning with the hopes of going for a ride on my mountain bike through the majesty of Utah's nature; however, Utah's nature had something else in mind. Ominous clouds blanketed the sky and rough winds raged through the valley so I opted not to go biking. Instead, I spent the morning conversing with my grandmother. She did most of the talking and I did most of the listening, which is just the way I like it. I already know my thoughts and am far more interested in what other people have to say--especially my grandmother with her ninety-four years of experience. I learn a lot listening to her--not only of family history but concerning life in general.
I went downtown for a couple of hours this afternoon and did some shopping at the mall. I purchased a new cd-tape convertor for the car to play my walkman on, some new shoes for formal occasions and a few reading books for young shcool children in Norwegian titled, 'Lesaboka for Grunnskolen.' One day I will learn Norwegian and what better place to start than with children's literature. I've already skimmed through them and am able to comprehend the gist of a few of the poems and stories, but for the most part my understanding is lacking.
I returned to my grandmother's house and descended into my basement room where I began grading some of my students' papers. After an hour of so doing I became restless with the thought of such a perfectly good storm raging outside while I sat comfortably indoors. I was reminded of this as the wind suddenly blew open one of the windows in my basement room and went howling about the contours of my surroundings. Startled, i arose and closed the window tightly. I then grabbed my jacket, ascended the stairs and took leave of the house so that I might enjoy the mighty winds. I climbed atop the old chicken coupe and faced the wind allowing it to slash all about me. It was wonderful at first, but so much dust had been kicked up by the winds that its sediments lodged within my eyes. I had to turn my back to the wind for this purpose. The sky was black with dust and the mountain peaks which stand so close to my grandmother's house were not at all visible. I could see small speckles of sediment falling like raindrops from the sky, The trees whipped wildly about, thrashing their arms through the air and wires wobbled like angry jump-ropes bent on snapping a child. I could feel parts of the old coupe rumble from under me and many times the gusts knocked me off of balance. there I stood, then sat for some twenty minutes. No rain. It would have been better had there been rain--less dust and dirt to be reckoned with and more of nature. . .
I then went to dinner with grandma, Gladys, Judy, Erin, Danny, and Danny's friend. It was an enjoyable meal at the Olive Garden and an interesting group to interact with and to observe. It began to rain at this point, starting with mud droplets which plastered my coat. Finally, regular rain came down, the winds subsided and the temperature dropped.
I spent the evening watching an old black and white film with grandma and gladys, I was strewn comfortably across the couch, After the film I called Sanna and we arranged to go to dinner tomorrow night at 6 p.m. despite her busy schedule and finals."

AUGUST 23, 2007
". . . Sunday was a day full of visiting and fostering relationships. I spent time visiting with my grandmother and aunt Gladys, Ardis Penrod and his family, the Stirlings, and Valarie and her husband. That evening I went for a walk through various neighborhoods. Upon my return I climbed up on top of the chicken coupe and enjoyed a strong, warm breeze, the view of the stars and clouds, and the sounds of cars, crickets, and the wind. I spent a good half an hour simply discovering shapes in the clouds. Among other things I saw a troll, dragon, dinosaur (which was wearing a party hat and eating stars), and alligator, alien, dog, lizard, skull, man, shark, dolphin, and a sea-horse. I am easily entertained.
I shall like to shift my subject from what I did during my trip to what I had learned. What I had learned falls into two categories: first, what I have learned through discussions and observations, and second, what I have learned through my own thoughts. I shall begin with the most important discussions that I had had--those with my grandmother, Astrid Hall.
My discussion with my grandmother focused primarily upon life in Norway and gradually spilled over into life in America. I learned that my great-grandparents and their peers enjoyed going for walks through the forests and would take buckets and scoops along with them, whereby they would scoop up wild blueberries and bring buckets full home. The kids would then separate the blueberries from the leaves in the buckets and the families would make jam. I also learned that my great-grandfather loved to go for solitary walks in the forest before church. Additionally, it was customary for young adults to go for walks as dates, I found all of this quite fascinating and rather revealing of my own character. I love solitary hikes through nature, long walks through the city, and my favorite thing to do on dates is to walk and talk with my date (whether it is through a park, by shops, or at a museum--it is the walking and talking that fascinates me the most). I suppose it is simply in my genetic make-up to be predisposed to such activities. I also learned about the first time my great-grandmother Stenersen saw a car. Apparently it came speeding around a corner and my great-grandmother was in the middle of the street. Amazed at the sight of such a thing, she did not know what to do. The driver of the car noticing her confusion yelled out, 'Stand still' and simply swerved around her. I also learned of some great advice on healthy living from my great-grandfather Stenersen which I really need to learn to apply. So as to avoid overeating, his motto was 'Stop eating when the food tastes the best.' I had also learned that my grandmother had a strict upbringing and that she and her sister loved it when their mom was away and dad alone was left to watch them. At such times he would lighten up and play with the girls. My grandmother's fondest such memory was of how he would make the girls laugh by impersonating Charlie Chaplin.
Once in the United States my grandmother found work as a maid for one Mrs. Reynolds who my grandmother greatly respects and admires. Mrs. Reynolds was very kind to my grandmother and taught her what true equality means as she stated, 'If you earn your money honestly you are as good a person as anyone else.' As Mrs. Reynolds was wealthy, she thought herself no better than my grandmother who worked hard for an honest living. My grandmother (Norwegian) met my grandfather (Swedish) at a dance that was a part of a Scandinavian conference for the church. They were introduced at the dance by a mutual friend and began their courtship shortly thereafter. They dated one another for about a year, at which time my grandmother grew impatient with his having not proposed marriage, so she tole him, 'Either you marry me or I am going to move to New York with some of my friends' (they were living in Utah at the time). My grandfather thought about it briefly, then retrieving a wad of money he had been saving, handed my grandmother the money and told her to go buy a ring. . . "



Gina said...

Brett, What an amazing rememberance of your sweet grandma. She sounds like an angel. I have pretty vivid memories of you purchasing a vase, in Solvang I think, for her. I remember how tenderly you thought of her. Grandmas are angels for sure.

I'm sorry for your loss, but happy for her reunion.

Take care.

Rachel said...

What a lovely memorial to her. She sounds like an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing her with us.

Jennette said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother! My condolences to you and your family. Thanks for sharing these special memories of her.