This is something new for me, since it is very personal. My Grandmother Dagrud’s birthday was July 30 and I wanted to do something to put in one place some of my memories of her. The best way to do that, I thought, was to publish an autobiography that she wrote at the age of 80 or so years after she had suffered a stroke and was living in a nursing home in Wisconsin near my aunt and uncle. Every time I read it I regret that I didn’t take the time to ask her more about her life. She was very shy, so she would never have volunteered it. She was also one of the sweetest people I have ever met with a smile that I can summon up any time. Since I can’t do footnotes, I am going to interrupt her writing from time to time with an editor’s note. Otherwise, it is all her writing.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF GERTRUDE .DAGRUD
I was born in Galveston, Texas, of Norwegian parents on July 30th, 1889. There were two children of this marriage. When my mother died I was eighteen months old and my brother two years older. [Ed. I found the death certificate foer her mother. She died of exhaustion.]
[Ed. This picture must have been from around the time her mother died. Gertrude is on the left; her brother, Charles, is on the right.]
My father remarried and there were three children of that marriage. I was eight years old and my brother ten when my father was killed in an accident at work. [Ed. His death certificate states that he was crushed by a bale of cotton.] After our father’s death my brother and I went to live with our uncle and aunt who had no children of their own. [Ed. In other words, her stepmother did not want to take care of them.]
A few years later, in 1900, [Ed. September 8, 1900] a hurricane and tidal wave struck the city and the Texas coast. All bridges were washed away and the wind so strong even steamers were driven ashore. We were completely cut off from any help. I don’t remember how many feet the water rose but it was over a man’s head and real rough because of the storm. [Ed. The tidal surge was estimated at 20 feet.] Nobody could survive unless, they were able to hang on to some wreckage floating by. Some did save themselves in that way. The noise of thunder and falling bricks is still in my memory. The water rose so fast people did not have time to save any of their possessions. Thousands of lives were lost. Just to show how fast the water rose, when my uncle left [for] their friend’s home the water was waist high but when they reached their friend home, which was on-higher-ground-and they-didn’t realize how serious the storm had .become. It was not long before they found, out. The water came gushing in so all decided to go to a church nearby and there spend the night. Others were already there. Thousands of live were lost and, there were piles of wreckage, which had to be removed in order that bodies could be found. [Ed. Over 6000 was one contemporaneous estimate.] The weather was so hot in September that bodies had to be disposed of quickly and after other methods failed, they decided to burn them. How terrible it was. The stench was awful.
[Ed. This is a picture from the internet.]
Although members of our family lived in different parts of the city, all were safe. All churches and other large buildings were either so badly damaged or totally destroyed, they had to be rebuilt.
[Another striking image.]
The city was under martial law for some time and nobody was allowed on the streets without a permit. Uncle’s house was completely gone and we lived in a tent furnished by the National Guard. Uncle built a small lean-to on the tent and put a woodstove in so we could have some heat on cold days.
In the Spring we left for Norway on a part passenger and part freight steamer. Passenger ships could not dock because of the storm damage. The Gulf of Mexico was a little rough so I got seasick, but as soon as we got on the Atlantic Ocean it was calm and that was the way it was all the way across. It took us three weeks to get to Germany. We passed through the English Channel and saw the white cliffs of Dover. [What a great memory! She would have been eleven years old, standing on the deck watching this!] When we got off the boat at. Bremen, we took a train to Hamburg where we waited three days for a boat to take us to Christiana and Norway. There I got my first look of Norway and its high mountains covered with trees green with the new spring foliage. [Ed. This is a line I always loved.] The final stop was Kalvesund, the place my father came from. There was no place to dock the freighter we were on so my grandfather rowed out to meet us. There, my brother Charles and I met for the first time an aunt and cousins. An aunt that we were supposed to live with died a year or so before we came.
The following spring my brother was sent to sea. Uncle and Aunt returned to America. I had spent the summer getting acquainted with the girls I would be going to school with. Neither my brother nor I could speak Norwegian, but with my schoolmate’s help it wasn’t too difficult. Charles was confirmed before we came to Norway. I spent the school year with my Grandfather and a relative of the aunt I came to Norway with. After a year or so at sea my brother came back to America. He lived in Brooklyn where we had some relatives. He remained then until he died at 26 years of age.
After two years I received a graduation certificate from Grammar School. My mother had lived on the same island as my father and they had attended the same school and the same church. I was confirmed in the same church. [Ed. I was able to locate a microfilm of this book through the LDS Library.] The next four years I worked at various jobs until I could get back to the U.S.
While in Norway there was a change in government. King Oscar was a kind man and consented to the separation from Sweden so there was no war. A Danish prince and an English princess were chosen to be King and Queen of Norway. The new King was named Haaken and the new Queen was named Maud. They had a son about two years old. He became Crown Prince Olaf. It is not often the people get a chance to see royalty in person, but on their way to Tronhjem to be crowned they stopped at various towns. Arendal was the closest to where my relatives lived. A royal yacht brought them ashore where people were waiting to see them. As we were getting ready to go home, a carriage in which the Royal couple were riding came down the road close to where we were anchored and we got a good look at them. They smiled and waved to us. I also visited my mother’s home and met my maternal Grandfather. Both grandfathers had been captains of sailing ships. Both grandmothers had died years ago.
I was glad that I had the chance to see where my parents came from and to see some of the country;. but was glad when I could get back in America. I came by way of New York, and when told that I was a citizen of this country he said; “We can’t keep you from entering.” [This is another line that has stuck in my mind. I imagine she was a pretty youg woman and the inspector was probably flirting with her.] I had not forgotten the language. After working two years and getting acquainted with relatives who lived in Brooklyn, I wanted to get back to Galveston but my brother decided to stay in Brooklyn.
I wrote to my stepmother, and she said to come. It was good to see the place again and meet old. friends. There I took a course in shorthand and typing and worked at that for a while. Then I met the man who later to become my husband. He had come to visit his aunt and uncle who were good friends of my family. He came from Chicago where his parents and sisters and brother lived.
When I came back a seawall in Galveston was under construction and later finished. But since then other sections have been added. In the late thirties my husband and I visited Galveston and by then so many changes had been made I felt like a stranger. A channel had been dug, all the way to Houston allowing steamers to dock there. Thus little shipping is done at Galveston. It is nothing like the old days. A causeway has also been built connecting the city with the mainland, making it easier to get away in case of storm warnings.
After our marriage we settled in Port Huron, Michigan. It was a pretty on the St. Clair River and I would have liked to settle there. [Ed. Another memorable turn of phrase, at least to me.] Our four children were born there. Just across the river was Sarnia, Canada.
[Ed. I believe this is a picture of my mother and grandmother from those days in Port Huron.] We lived there until work became scarce, then moved to Chicago where my husband’s folks lived.
[Ed. This is my grandmother and grandfather with my brother Bob in 1947 in Chicago. I was a mere hint of a possibility at that point.]
[Ed. This is a picture of my mother, Dorothy (left) and my Aunt Fran (right) when they were young women. It has nothing to do with this post, but I love it.]
My husband died in 1959 and I came to Como to live with my daughter, Mrs. Wallace Christen. I also have a daughter living in Pennsylvania and one son who is now living in La Crosse with his wife and their two children. One of our children died when we were in Michigan. I have five grandchildren, two of whom are married.
by Gertrude Dagrud, 2nd floor West
My grandmother, as well as being sweet, was also very smart and very talented. She crocheted a tablecloth for my mother that was on her dining room table for as long as he had one. By the time my mother died, it was tattered and beyond repair. However, I cut out a piece for my brother and for me. Here is mine. I keep it on a shelf in our bedroom.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother mostly stayed with my Aunt Fran, Uncle Wally and cousin Joan in Wisconsin. But once a year she would stay with us for a few months. While with us, she took the scraps of material that my mother had left over from making her dresses (a post about my mother will have to come at another time) and made it into quilts for me and my brother.
I used that quilt until it was also in tatters, but I did not want to throw it out. Finally, before it fell apart completely, I cut out a piece that was intact and put it in a frame.
At one time, I could visualize everyone of the dresses my mother made by looking at this quilt. I still remember some.
So there it is. My grandmother, whose mother’s name was Christensen, whose father’s name was Larson, and whose married name was Dagrud. She lives on in my memory and, in a way, in our novels, since the name of one of our main characters is Jane Larson.
And now she and her biography have joined the digital universe.