By Lucille Armstrong Anton
My grandma and grandpa, Mary and N.C. Nelson, retired from farming in the vicinity north of St. Croix Falls in Polk County and moved into a cute little white house in the crossroad settlement of Eureka Center on Highway 87. That house was their fourth home in that area. They had a garden in the backyard.
When we stopped to visit them in the 1940s, Grandpa asked, “Do you want some sparrow grass?” We didn’t know what he meant. He said, “Come on, I’ll show you.” So we went to the garden and he pointed to the asparagus. He said, “This, do you want some sparrow grass?” It had been there when they bought that property; they weren’t interested in cooking it, but we loved it.
They raised 11 children. Grandpa (known as N.C.) had a general store at Eureka Center at the time my mother and dad got married. The wedding ceremony took place in the living quarters behind the store.
Then my grandparents moved to a farm a couple of miles away. I can remember that place, especially the brick house and an apple orchard. Sometimes they’d bring apples to my parents (we lived five miles away). Grandpa had a threshing machine in those days and threshed oats, wheat and barley for neighboring farmers.
For some reason they moved to a different farm about a mile away, along Highway 87. I was in my teens then. We’d all congregate at their house on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. By then, most of their 11 children were married and had children of their own. So I have many cousins. I still wonder how Grandma managed the dinners for such a crowd. Everyone brought food, but the house was wall-to-wall people. They had a “pump” organ; while one of my aunts played, we all gathered around and sang hymns. That left wonderful memories of a “singing family.”
Grandma and Grandpa attended the Eureka Baptist Church all of their years, and they instilled a firm belief in Jesus in the whole family. I am thankful for having such grandparents as N.C. and Mary Nelson. He died in 1960; she had died in 1949, after almost 52 years together. They spoke English and Dane; Grandma’s parents could not speak English. As the children (my mom, uncles and aunts) came along they went to school and learned English; eventually Mom forgot most of the Danish words.
Grandpa’s parents were in Denmark. He had come to the United States when he was 16, in 1890. He went back for a visit about 1912 (fortunately not on the Titanic, which went down in 1912 after hitting an iceberg). At that time nine of the 11 children had been born. The older ones helped Grandma with the youngest ones while she had to do the housework plus tend to the chores. The oldest boy was 14 and could take care of the cows and horses; they traveled by horse and carriage then. My mother was 12 and helped milk cows and did many household tasks; she also helped care for the younger kids. She told me, “We knew Dad was on his way home from Denmark, but we didn’t know the name of the ship, so when we heard that the Titanic had gone down, we worried about him. News was not instantaneous in those days like today.”
That trip was the only one he was able to take back to Denmark to see his relatives.