Thursday, March 4, 2010

What's Your Heritage?

I thought about my heritage a few weeks ago when I wrote a short story for a contest sponsored by the Jackpine Writers group in Park Rapids, in northern Minnesota. The story needed to have a Minnesota connection, and since my hometown of Wadena is in that area I started to brainstorm, trying to think of something to write about.

Late one night when it was well below zero and a full moon lit up our snow covered back yard, I thought about the pioneers and the difficulties they must have experienced, coming to make a home in this “new land.” My great-grandparents, Charls and Carolina Veden, on my Dad’s side, emigrated from Sweden in 1858 and bought land in Chisago County near Lindstrom, where many Swedish immigrants settled.

Notes from our family history tell us that around 1870 Charls and Carolina bought 80 acres by Horse Head Lake in Ottertail County. Carolina was a midwife so many people turned to her for help. One winter night a family who had a house across the lake lost their home to a fire. They walked across the frozen lake in their bare feet and some of them were burned so badly they left a trail of flesh across the lake. Most of the family died from gangrene…except the youngest child who’d been carried. My great-grandfather built their coffins.

Around 1877 Charls and Carolina relocated again, this time near Wadena, in Compton Township of Ottertail County. Their son, Herbert, took over the family farm from them, followed by Herbert’s son, Percy, who was my dad. The Veden family farm is now operated by my nephew, the fifth generation of Vedens.

My short story, Prairie Promises, is a fictionalized version of that horrific event on Horse Head Lake back in 1870. Writing about that time period made me curious as to why people were compelled to leave their homeland. On my last trip to the library I picked up The Emigrant series by Vilhelm Moberg, a four-book account of the Swedish emigration to Minnesota, based on the fictional Karl Oskar Nilsson and his family. It’s a real-life look at a remarkable period in history, written with stunning detail and great humor.

So far I’m on Book #2 – Unto a Good Land and enjoying every page!

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