nils-magnus’ udde

This is Nils-Magnus’ udde, or Nils-Magnus’s headland, outside Oskarshamn  on the south east coast of Sweden. It’s named for Nils-Magnus Carlsson, who was a pilot and the father of my great grandmother Maria Charlotta, born in 1857. I believe Nils-Magnus and his family lived in the house straight ahead.

Maria Charlotta married Carl Victor Nilsson, a sea captain. He has a ground named for him nearby.

sally wainwright

One of my friends here in California is an immigrant from Taiwan. She had her parents stay with her for a couple of months, and invited some people over for a party so that everyone could meet. The next day her parents had told her they had felt like they were in a movie. Surrounded by all white friendly Americans a movie was their point of reference.

Even though I’ve lived in California for more than 20 years I feel the same way half the time. Yesterday I was walking on the trail close to my house. It’s a beautiful loop on the side of a mountain with a creek and some classic California yellow hills. I go on this trail and I am surrounded by perfection. Perfectly toned bodies, perfect brand name exercise outfits, perfect bikes, perfect dogs. Perfect take-out coffee cups. Perfect sunglasses, perfect hair.

There is a strive for perfection in American culture that gets to you after a while. It makes your eyes gloss over, and it makes your brain gloss over. It’s impersonal, and boring. The perfection of film and TV has carried over into real life, and with image driven social media there is no end in sight. There isn’t a crack in anything.

I balance the mind-numbing perfection by watching none-American TV. I grew up with British TV in Sweden, and the cultures and cultural values are similar. Recently I’ve discovered Sally Wainwright, a British writer for television. She’s created Scott & Bailey (a Manchester version of Cagney and Lacey), Happy Valley, and Last Tango in Halifax among others. She’s also been a writer for a truckload of other shows. A lot of the actors recur, and Nicola Walker is one of them. She’s not perfect, but she’s a star. And she looks like someone you work with.

Sally Wainwright creates female characters who are complex, interesting, and believable. They drink too much and throw up. They have sex with the wrong person. They worry about their kids. They act with natural authority at work. And they have wrinkles, and sometimes they wear clothes that don’t fit right.

Watch a few episodes of the police drama Scott & Bailey, and all of a sudden you’ll realize that there isn’t a single male chief, sergeant, or medical examiner anywhere. It’s not announced upfront, and it will only dawn on you after a while. But every single scene consists of women, named characters, who talk about something else than men and drive the plot forward.

In Happy Valley Sarah Lancashire, as sergeant Catherine Cawood, obviously kicks ass. But she also literally kicks the shit out of someone when she’s left alone with the man who raped her daughter. She’s no Wonder Woman, but she’s strong, lovable, scary, and vulnerable, all at once.

Sally Wainwright also lets women be funny. In one scene sergeant Cawood leaves the home of an elderly immigrant who has agreed to give shelter to a young woman who has blown the whistle on a human trafficking ring. As she leaves, Cawood reminds the old woman to “lock this door”. “Oh, I was thinking to leave it open”, the old woman says. “And maybe put sign, you know, ‘human traffickers come here’.”

She reminds me of the Japanese woman who sold me make-up in Japantown in San Jose when I first moved to the US. To help me pick a shade, she said, in equally broken English, “Your age, ENHANCE. My age, COVER UP.” She quickly circled her face with her hand, and then she turned around and gestured towards the balding spot on the back of her head. “Cover up, cover up.”

As I write this I realize what I miss in American film and TV. I miss the warts-and-all attitude of the culture that raised me, but I also miss a presence of female humor, and female language, independent of men and male taste. TV series written by women, for women, but still considered part of the mainstream. A wider mainstream, if you will.

sandra olivia grof became miss zanna olive groves

Sandra Olivia was born on November 4th, 1868, in Marka, Skaraborg, Sweden. She was the first daughter, and fourth child, of Anders and Maja Grof. When she was about a year and a half, in the summer of 1870, her family emigrated to Jefferson County, Iowa.

The family became farmers outside Fairfield, Iowa, and they did well. By 1883 there were elven siblings, four girls and seven boys.

Between 1892 and 1898 Zanna Olive Groves worked at the Willow Creek Boarding School west of Browning, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northern Montana. There she met John Edward “Dutch Ed” Trommer, a German immigrant who had come west working on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Olive and Ed married on August 29, 1898. A newspaper st0ry about the wedding says that Miss Groves had been a teacher for six years, but the records from the school show that she had been a laundress, and later an assistant matron.

Olive and Dutch Ed filed claims for land close to Chester, Montana. They became sheep ranchers and quite successful.

In the fall of 1905 Olive was visting in Fairfield, giving birth to her fifth child. From the Fort Benton River Press, Nov. 29, 1905:

Fairfield Daily Journal, Nov. 25, 1905:
“…. This community was shocked Monday evening to hear that Mrs. Ollie Trammer was dead. She had come from her home in Montana with her husband and children two months ago to visit her parents, Mr. and Mrs. A.G. GROVE. The husband had gone back and Mrs. TRAMMER and children remained. A little babe was born three weeks ago and the mother was apparently on the road to recovery. Monday she was bright and hopeful all day, planning when she would be able to return to her Montana home, but about six o’clock she was stricken with heart failure and in half an hour she had gone to her Heavenly home. Messages were sent to the husband and to a brother and sister in Colorado. The deepest sympathy of the entire community goes out to the bereaved husband and parents and to those who cared for her so faithfully and to the five little ones who so much need a mother’s care.”

Dutch Ed seems not to have recovered from Olive’s death. The five children were raised by Olive’s parents and siblings. Ed took to gambling and drinking. There are claims that the house he built for Olive became haunted. Footsteps were heard from upstairs, doors blew open, and sheepherders were said the have disappeared.

Dutch Ed’s second wife left him. He died in 1945.

Olive and Ed’s second daughter, Helen, lived until 1999. She died in Santa Ana, Calif. and was buried alongside her younger brother Jack who died in 1995.

elna georgina became mrs. elma larson

New York State Census, 1905.

For a long time I’ve been looking for Elna Georgina Nilsson Kratz, my grandfather’s younger sister. Elna emigrated from Sweden to the United States, by herself, in the summer of 1896.

It turned out that Elna married Hugo Larsson from Hammarby, Sweden, in 1898. They had three boys: Hugo in 1899, Eric in 1902, and Henry in 1904. Elna’s husband passed away sometime before 1916. I haven’t been able to determine how, or when, but in the 1916 New York City phonebook Elna is listed as Elma, widow of Hugo.

In 1900, after they were married, Elna and her husband Hugo lived on 135th street in the Bronx among immigrants from Sweden, Ireland, Italy, and Germany. In 1905 they lived on 246, East 125th street in Harlem on a block with immigrants from northern and eastern Europe; Finland, Norway, Russia, Germany. Hugo is listed as a carpenter, and their neighbors are housewives, laborers, dock builders, seamen, and book keepers. One woman is listed as having a profession, a dressmaker. Later the Larsons moved to #305 on the same street.

Elna’s oldest son Hugo stayed with her until his early 30s, when he married Anna Curtis. Anna and Hugo never had children of their own, but they took in their niece Frances when Henry’s wife, also named Frances, died in the late 1930s.

Eric married Alice Youngson, and had two children, George and Alice, born in 1927 and 1929.

In 1940 Elna lived by herself on 182, East 122nd street. Everyone on her block was white. Many were born in the United States, but there were also many European immigrants. Among her closest neighbors were people from Germany, Finland, and Canada.

In 1940 Elna was 65 years old, and listed as a laundress. It seems she started working, at least officially, when her oldest son Hugo got married in 1933.

Elna lived her whole life, as a wife, widow, and mother, on East 122nd and 125th streets in East Harlem. 125th street is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The buildings where Elna lived are not there anymore.

who’s the snowflake?

I was visiting in Sweden a couple of summers ago, and had to get up early for an appointment. On my way back I passed through a park. It was still early, probably before nine, and the air was cool the way it is in the summer when you know the day is going to be hot.

There were a couple of blonde girls raking leaves in the park. They looked like volleyball players, tall, and strong. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing, until I remembered that Swedish high school and college students often have summer jobs filling in during the regular staff’s summer vacation. (Swedish employees have 6 or 7 weeks of paid vacation time, and usually take 4 of those weeks back to back during the summer.) Outdoor summer jobs are the best, because, well, you get to spend all summer outdoors. When I was growing up you’d only get the outdoor jobs through connections.

Right now I’m also remembering an affluent young woman, one of my students in Silicon Valley. She had grown up on a ranch in Morgan Hill, in the south end of the San Francisco Bay Area. As an undergraduate she spent a semester studying abroad in London.

When she came back to school in California I asked her about her time in London. It was obvious there was something she didn’t want to say. It took some prodding, but finally she told the class that in London had been the first time she’d seen white people do manual labor. White people, looking just like herself, had cleaned, sold tickets to the Underground, worked in the supermarkets, and swept the streets. She’d never before experienced anything like it.

This Los Angeles Times story talks about how the California wine industry has such a hard time finding workers after president Trump’s proposed crackdown on undocumented immigrants that they are forced to pay way more than the minimum wage. From the story:

Some farmers are even giving laborers benefits normally reserved for white-collar professionals, like 401(k) plans, health insurance, subsidized housing and profit-sharing bonuses. Full-timers at Silverado Farming, for example, get most of those sweeteners, plus 10 paid vacation days, eight paid holidays, and can earn their hourly rate to take English classes.

The story’s headline? “Wages rise on California farms. Americans still don’t want the job.”