I am the great, great granddaughter of Magnus and Sarah Romsdahl, ancestors on my father's side. They were both born in Norway in 1857, and emigrated to the New Land of Opportunity with their parents. Both endured travel in covered wagons. Both enjoyed several brothers and sisters.
Magnus spend his youth working the land somewhere in Northern Iowa, and then attended a teacher's training school in Dexter, Iowa. Sarah also grew up helping her father and brothers plant and harvest the Iowa land. As a young adult, she cooked for the Federal Land Grant College in Ames, Iowa. Today it's known as Iowa State University, the institution where I received my first M.A. It isn't known exactly when or how Magnus and Sarah met, but they married January 4, 1889 in Story City, Iowa.
Lutheranism is the cultural and religious legacy passed down through this family line. Magnus and Sarah believed that the Hand of God guided them through every walk of life. Christmas, Easter, Lent, infant Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion are the important traditions, celebrated within the community of believers, that mark us.
Recipes and food are almost always an important cultural tradition, and mine is no exception. One such traditional food has been Lutafisk, which is uncooked cod soaked in lye, once considered a delicacy, most likely in the coastal regions of Norway. In the rural farm communities, and during almost all family reunions, it is now simply mocked while much more yummy dishes like lefse are enjoyed. In fact, a late blooming tradition started just ten years ago when my mother, her sisters and grandmother get together the first weekend of December to bake lefse.
The women have also shouldered the greatest responsibility in weaving religious teachings into everyday living. Both my grandmothers were faithful and active church members and each played a small role in my own spiritual development. The church was their social community and they looked forward to fellowship with friends and neighbors. And it was also through their community of like-minded believers where they received the most support after their spouses passed away.
Neither grandfather was a faithful church attender. Both wandered in and out of various vocations, including farming. They struggled with alcohol and struggled to support their families in small working class towns in northwest Iowa and southern Minnesota. I have only vague memories of my mother's father, who died of a heart failure when I was 10, and no memory of my father's father, who died of heart failure when I was a year old.
This family history was recorded in a cookbook dedicated to the memory of Sarah and Magnus Romsdahl in March 1986. Although I am grateful to lick the crumbs from the culture and traditions gave birth to me and nurtured me, I still feel a odd sense of emptiness that stories about my great great grandparents were not fed to me orally.