Rhubarb, Anyone?

My wife makes a killer rhubarb dessert, so this afternoon while enjoying a scoop of it warm from the oven, with vanilla ice cream, I decided I had to reminisce a bit.

Mary's rhubarb dessert - sampled!

Mary’s rhubarb dessert – sampled!

Rhubarb was part of our family’s diet from the time I was a kid. My father Garven especially loved the fresh rhubarb sauce Mom would make at first opportunity in the spring. I myself thought the sauce a bit thin, not substantial enough, and I was never thrilled by it. But not Dad – he was first in line after he would break off those early pink-and-green stalks and come to Mom placing his rhubarb sauce order.

Our mother Cora would dutifully make variations with rhubarb, but whatever she prepared, her consistent verdict over her final product was that it “needs more sugar.” I liked enough tartness to make my tongue curl, but Mom? It always “needs more sugar.” So, when she served rhubarb pie or strawberry-rhubarb pie for the family enjoy, she would quietly but inevitably go to the cupboard for the sugar bowl and generously sprinkle her slice of pie. “Needs more sugar.” I miss being able to tease her about that.

I can imagine both my parents had their fill of rhubarb to eat when they were growing up. The plant was plentiful and free for the taking. In fact, when money was tight, rhubarb must have been just the thing for the table. My father-in-law (who grew up in western Minnesota) had far, far too much rhubarb as a youngster: he detested it so badly you couldn’t have paid him to eat it — not even with extra sugar!

By the way, that great rhubarb Mary used for the dessert this afternoon came from my brother Phil and Yvonne who gathered those juicy stalks from the same patch Dad had planted when we were kids back in North Beaver Creek. That’s a few years ago! And the stalks can still be as thick as child’s wrist! Here’s the secret. The rhubarb patch location was perfect: right below the cow yard where the soil benefited from all those natural nutrients that would run off in a rain storm. Amazing that it’s continued to produce for all these decades.

How about it, cousins: do you have any rhubarb stories to share? I expect you too must have had experience with this unique garden produce which may generate either love or hate (like that other food called lutefisk). I’d love to hear from you.

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Bernt Borresen in La Crosse

One of the family mysteries has been Bernt Borresen, our grandfather Emil’s uncle and his godfather in 1872. Although I have learned much about him, including his marriage and family, his death before 1905 remains an unknown. He and his family did live in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for some years (late 1880s to about 1900), and I recently found a couple relevant photos.

North La Crosse 1887This old photo of North La Crosse, once identified as a La Crosse “suburb,” is from an 1887 book, La Crosse Illustrated. North La Crosse began as lumber town but while Bernt and his family resided there, he worked for the CB&Q Railroad (the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, a predecessor to the Chicago, Burlington and Northern).

Trinity No LaXThis building in a traditional style of the times is the Norwegian Lutheran Church of North La Crosse. Today, in a newer building, the congregation is known as Trinity Lutheran Church. This is the church where Bernt’s children were baptized and confirmed while the family lived in North La Crosse. (Search his name on this blog for more about him.)

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Borreson Cousins 1942

Just recently cousin Albert mailed me a copy of a find he had made: an old photo of the Borreson cousins when there were but eight of them. He told me Erlin was the youngest – the baby – in this photo, but he left me to figure out each of the others. I think I have done it, but check this out.

Borreson cousins 1942 summerGina and Emil Borreson with their grandchildren. Left to right: David, Erlin (being held), Albert, Marcia, Gertrude (Ann), Naomi, Conrad, and Richard (seated in front). Please correct me if I’m wrong. I thought Spot seemed like a good name for the dog until Conrad let me know this was his dog named Tiny.

Assuming Erlin’s the baby held by his grandmother, my guess is this was taken the summer of 1942, when Erlin was about six months old (he was born December 1941). Conrad, the oldest cousin, would have been 14 later in the year. Emil and Gina would have done well to have all eight grandchildren together at one time, with Gilbert’s family in Curtiss, Wisconsin, and Clara and Mabel’s families in the Chicago area.

Where was the photo taken? That was Albert’s challenge to me. A reasonable guess is the family farm in Fitch Coulee, but I don’t see any identifying landmarks or buildings to help me out. The gate was probably a yard entrance, but may have been long gone before some of us cousins might have seen it. And, are those flowers or a planted shrub on the left edge of the photo? Perhaps one of Odell’s children can figure out the photo location by the lay of the land in the background. Have fun thinking about this!

Thanks, Albert, for sharing the photo.

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New Year, New Discoveries

Documentation for the death of Bernt Borresen, our grandfather Emil’s uncle and godfather, continues to elude me, but a recent return to Ancestry.com led me to a host of discoveries about his children.

For some time I’ve know that Bernt and his wife Clara lived in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the fading years of the 19th century, but only days ago did I learn that they also had a son as well as four daughters. Bernhard Hjalmar, born in 1885, was the first of their five offspring, a fact I might have discovered if I’d dug deeper into the old records of Trinity Lutheran Church in North La Crosse. (These five would be second cousins to Emil and Gina’s children.)

All seven members of this family had left La Crosse by 1900, a move that I found when I located them in census records for nearby Monroe County. They were farming, renting actually, near Leon, in the area where Bernt’s Clara grew up. Perhaps they were even back on her home farm, but that would only be a guess. By 1905 Clara is a widow and remarries. What happened with Bernt, when or where, I am still trying to learn.

I have discovered, however, information about all five of his children. Four of them ended up in North Dakota and a fifth one in Canada.

Josefine, second in the family order, married Hjalmar Olson while she was still in La Crosse, but some time in the next decade, this family traveled, via Minnesota, to New Rockford, North Dakota (where they were residing at the time of the 1920 and 1930 censuses). New Rockford’s a small place maybe 60 miles north of Jamestown.

An old photo of Kenmare

An old photo of Kenmare

Bernice, two years Josefine’s junior, married Cleve G. Beehm between 1910 and 1915, and they were off to Kenmare, North Dakota, perhaps 30 miles south the Canadian border and NW of Minot. Cleve was a hotel cook in little Kenmare in 1920, but ten years later, he was at a restaurant in Minneapolis (living on well-known Hennepin Avenue).

Florence, born in 1892, must have found her way to North Dakota, too, (perhaps with a sister’s family) because in 1920, she married John Albert Landis in Minot. They appeared to have lived many years in Kenmare, the same town where Bernice and her husband started out.

Cora, the youngest born in 1895, is more of a puzzle. By 1915, she was in North Dakota, too, living with sister Bernice and husband Clete in Kenmare. But where after that, I’m not sure. Perhaps she’s the Cora Borreson who shows up in a public records index in Williston after 1950, but I’ve yet to determine that.

That leaves just one, the son Bernhard, the most surprising discovery.

A recent Ponteix area photo

A recent Ponteix area photo

My Ancestry.com search yielded a U.S. Border Crossings from Canada for the summer of 1937. There was Bernhard Hjalmar Borresen (born 10 Jan 1885 in La Crosse) entering the U.S. at Turner, Montana, by auto, with his wife Edna for a ten-day visit. He was identified as a farmer from Ponteix, Saskatchewan, who had been in Canada since 1909, and was now a citizen there. (Elsewhere I learned that he had lived at Swift Current, too, for a time.) I found that his wife’s maiden name was Stevenson and she had been born in Ontario. Both Bernhard and Edna died at advanced ages in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1974 and 1977, respectively.

About the families/descendants of these five siblings, I know little. Josefine and Hjalmar Olson had a son and a daughter, and Florence and John Landis had a daughter. If there are other children, I am not aware of any at this time.


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A Christmas Tradition Question

I subscribe to the blog of Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps who wrote of his family’s Christmas Eve tradition of oyster soup or stew, of doing it again this year and hoping it would continue to the next generation. He mentioned that he knew this stew was a tradition for others as well.

That got me remembering. When I was elementary school age in the fifties, Mom would prepare an oyster stew for Christmas (but no other time). I recall enjoying the crackers, but maybe not so much the stew. But perhaps this tradition was abandoned even before my younger siblings could enjoy it, I’m not sure. I suspect the tradition may have come with those Norwegians with a closer proximity to the sea – Mom’s family was from Hardanger fjord – so perhaps not with our mostly inland-Norway Borreson or Estensen families. My wife Mary, for example, had the same tradition in her home, and she thinks it probably came through her mother’s ancestors from Sogn.

So, my question: Do you remember the Christmas oyster stew as part of your family’s tradition? Or do you remember any other Christmas tradition in your own family which may have had its roots in our ancestors from Norway?

P.S. My brother Paul wonders if anyone has a good oyster stew recipe. Let me know and I’ll pass it along to him.

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Gale College Again

Because of the Borreson family’s strong ties to Gale College, I’m posting a couple more items, courtesy of a Christophersen descendant, Carson Taylor, who has been gracious enough to share these with me.

Gale 1906 high school diplomaThis 1906 diploma dates about 20 years before the first of the Borreson siblings attended Gale College. Does any Borreson cousin have a diploma for their parent? I wonder if the diplomas from the 20s and 30s looked the same.

Gale C 1912 BB team ValborgHere is a girls basketball team photo from Gale in 1912, again before any Borresons were in attendance. When I graduated from Blair High School in 1962, there was not yet such an opportunity for girls, but here was Gale, a Lutheran high school, fifty years earlier, with a girls team. Pretty impressive! With Carson I find myself wondering how it was that this school seemed to be so ahead of the times.

And since this is the Christmas season, this post closes with part of an article from the La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press, Thursday, December 17, 1931, p. 9, when three Borresons – Ednar, Edgar, and Garven – would have been students at Gale.


Elaborate plans are being made for the annual Christmas program at Gale College with which that school will close the old year on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17. The program, which is to be in the nature of a public number, will be given in the college chapel, and included among the numbers will be an address by the Rev. O. G. Birkeland, Whitehall pastor, a play by students, and music by various organizations of the school…[omission of several paragraphs and names].

The college choir will sing “Holy Night” and “The Cherubim Song,” and the talk by Rev. Birkeland will follow. Concluding numbers will be two songs, “Christmas Lullaby,” arranged by Malmin, and “Beautiful Savior,” by Wick, sung by a double trio of girls. These are Helen Enghagen, Margaret Underheim, Alice Bakke, Kerstan Amundson, Oline Dale and Amy Yahr.

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Grandfather Emil’s Sister Emma

One of the sad notes among the stories Aunt Clara Cook tells in her family history, Homestead, is the fate of our grandfather Emil’s sister Emma. (In a recent post, I had included a photo of her.)

Emma was born in 1879, about seven years younger than Emil and the fifth of six children born to Elias and Kari Borresen. We have known little about her except that she married Carl Olson in 1907, and the couple moved to the Dakotas. Two years later, Emil has the sad duty, Clara tells us, of going to “the Dakotas” to assist Carl in bringing back the body of his young wife for burial in Pigeon Falls, Wisconsin. The Whitehall paper reports that both Emil and brother Charlie both made this trip. On March 9, 1909, she had fallen into on open well or cistern (from which she was pulling water) and drowned. That’s about all we have known.

I’d done some searching on Ancestry.com but without success. Then recently I returned to my search in this source and, surprise, it had automatically connected me with a page from the South Dakota Death Index, 1905-1955. There was Emma Olson’s death recorded – AND the county where it had occurred: Kingsbury. So we add one more fact to her story: she and Carl must have settled in this county and there she died.

Kingsbury County is in the center of eastern South Dakota, a lightly populated county even today – just over 5,000 residents. The county seat is De Smet, of some note because it was the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Whitehall Times & Blair Banner, I found later, reported March 18, 1909 that Carl and Emma’s home was actually in De Smet.

Of the sisters who were able, two of them – Selma and Emma – married and left Wisconsin for points west: Oregon and South Dakota. (Syverine, of course, had special handicaps.) Of the sons who grew to adulthood, both – Emil and Charlie – remained in Trempealeau County. (Bernt died as a ten-year-old.)

An interesting sidelight to this story is that ten days after Pastor Christophersen conducted the funeral for Emma, he himself suffered a “paralytic stroke” and died shortly thereafter at the age of 53 years. Perhaps Emma’s was the last funeral over which he presided, certainly one of the last.


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