Updated: Apr 21, 2021
My maternal grandmother’s name was Swanhild Anderson. She was half-English and half-Norwegian. When her parents decided to immigrate to America, they planned to take the trip on the Titanic, but for some reason they missed it. I am certainly glad they did!
Upon their arrival in the U.S., my great-grandparents settled in Minnesota, which was a popular destination for immigrants from the Nordic countries. My great-grandfather worked for a railroad company and eventually the family moved to rural North Dakota, to a town called Devil’s Lake. There my grandmother, who was already in her 20s, took a teaching job in a local, one-room country school. During one of the barn dances, she met my future grandfather. He came from a family of fifteen children and lived on a farm. When she married him and they started a life together, this change must have been a great adjustment for her.
My grandparents moved back and forth between Minnesota and North Dakota. In the 1930s they struggled financially, but my grandmother had great adaptability skills and was a thrifty woman, who, above all, knew all the possible tricks of how to stretch a dime. She could create something out of nothing. She was a very accomplished seamstress and even won a prize for her work at the State Fair.
Despite difficult living conditions Grandma Swanhild always took great care of herself, both in regard to her appearance and intellectual development. She was very well-read and never stopped learning. There were always books in her house. She was particular interested in literature, history, and languages. I think I took my love of learning after her, especially when it comes to foreign languages. When she was in her 60s, Grandma Swanhild enrolled in courses at the University of Minnesota, specifically to learn Norwegian, a language that she understood to a limited degree but couldn’t speak.
In addition to her love of learning, Grandma adored music. She played piano and we often played duets together. She was especially fond of opera. Her devotion to Verdi’s works expressed itself in the form of my mother’s first name, which is Aida. My mom found it frustrating to have to explain her name all the time, and ironically, my grandma faced the same challenge with her own name. She particularly did not like the nickname “Swanny,” though that changed in her later years. I think that I owe my simple name, Anne, to all this family name drama.
During her lifetime, my grandma traveled a lot. She visited Norway but also went to see new places. She appreciated natural beauty and loved learning about the history of other countries. Staying active, healthy, and stimulated was important for her. She made over a dozen scrapbooks where she saved news clippings about current events and articles about a wide variety of topics that interested her. Until she was 99 years old she lived independently. After that she started to lose her memory but remained in good physical health. In 2018 she turned 106. The world has changed incredibly during the course of her lifetime, and she has done her best to learn as much about it as possible.