On February 14, 1894, you wrote a letter to your uncle Andrew in Minnesota requesting a boat ticket to the New World. You were only seventeen years old at the time, and desperately poor–an orphan since childhood. You embarked upon the greatest journey of your life all alone, and when you finally arrived in Minneapolis after months of travel, there was no one at the station to meet you. But you were a strong and resilient young woman (you were, after all, a Norwegian!), and though you knew not a word of English, you rose above the obstacles and went on to lead a good life.
Perhaps, as you stood alone at the train station, it is possible you could have conceived that you would eventually Americanize your name to “Bessie,” marry a mail carrier named Edwin, and bear and raise ten children. What you probably did not anticipate was that someday you would go completely blind (but still be able to knit without ever dropping a stitch,) or that one day they would name a little street in Edina after you, the elderly widow who lived at the end of the road. But never, ever in your wildest dreams could you have imagined that 118 years later, your letter would find its way into the hands of your 21-year-old great-granddaughter, or that I would travel to the little town of Selbu and cry in wonderment as I stood upon the farmland where you spent your childhood.
I am by no means the first of your descendants to return to Norway. I think we come here searching for some piece of ourselves, some aspect of our DNA that has been obscured within the melting pot of American culture. I don’t know yet if I’ve found any missing pieces to the puzzle of my life, but being here feels right.
You and I never met–you died many years before I was born. But as I sit at my desk and attempt to read your letter in my broken Norwegian, I feel as if a window has opened up to me into your life. I think you were a very courageous woman, and if you could somehow have a window into the future and see my life, I hope you would be proud of me, too.
Your youngest daughter’s second son’s oldest daughter