Surviving Childhood

Amazing, I have often thought, that Emil and Gina Borreson had ten children all of whom survived childhood and lived well into their adult years. Edwin was the youngest to die at age 58. There were no family deaths in a 1918 influenza epidemic, nor did a late 1800s diphtheria epidemic claim any immediate family lives (that I am aware of).

In an earlier generation the family was not so fortunate. I found it especially heartrending to read of the plight of Maria Estensen’s parents and siblings in Biri, Norway. Here’s Clara’s Homestead (p. 8) description of Thor Taasensen and his wife Oline’s “family of 13 children, 10 of whom died in infancy or early childhood…. While Oline was dyeing clothes in a large hot vat, one of their little girls Tonetta fell in and died from burns she received. The other children died of various child diseases such as diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, etc. Medical care and proper treatment during epidemics and sickness were not to be had.”

When Maria immigrated to America in 1876, she stayed with her brother Johannes Thorson and his wife Ingebor who’d arrived earlier. In March of 1877, Johannes and Ingebor suffered the deaths of three children – two to diphtheria and one to drowning (Homestead, 9). What an incredibly wrenching month that must have been.

Among Emil and Gina children as they were growing up, I remember reading and hearing only of the serious bronchitis that the twins Ednar and Edgar dealt with early in the year 1914 when they were but two or three months old. Again, Clara’s vivid description: “A neighbor, Carrie Anderson, came over and told Gina she could help the babies. Her son Clifford brought her over every morning for months. She made medicine from Bermuda onion juice by baking the onion with sugar and then giving it to the babies; that was the only medicine they had. She bathed them, made special jackets for them for warmth, and they soon became well. Emil gave her a young pig for payment for her help” (Homestead, 16).

The only other illness I have heard about was more recently from Sid and Irene. After the war, Sid – then in his early twenties – returned from working out west three years to farm with Odell beginning in 1945. In about 1947, give or take a year, Irene writes that “Sid contracted undulant fever caused by drinking milk from diseased cows having a bacterium. This caused Sid to have a very high fever and there was no cure for it. Mother Gina was also living there and she sponged him all night to reduce the fever. Sid then got yellow jaundice, raising the fever to 104.9. The doctor thought this fever killed the first fever. He has never had an attack of this since then” (e-mail April 18, 2011).

Well, those are the stories I know. Maybe you can add to them. As I said, surviving childhood more than a hundred years ago, or even less, was hardly guaranteed. Ten for ten in Emil and Gina’s family was truly a rare and wonderful blessing.

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One Response to Surviving Childhood

  1. Daniel Borreson says:

    I know by father, Ednar, and his twin brother, Edgar, were ill shortly after they started the second grade. They ended up restarting the second grade the following year because they missed so much of the school year. Dan B.

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