Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Going Home


Sugar plantation
 at Aiea, Oahu, shows Pearl Harbor in the distance.
Elsa Christopherson (formerly Skar) is buried about 11 miles away on another slope of the harbor.


"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."
                                                                                                                                          Maya Angelou


I had mixed feelings when I got the call that the house we're renting here in New Hampshire was sold and we have to be out by December 1st. We've been here for one year, and have made great friends. I've uncovered a lot of my husband's family history in the town we live in. It's bitter sweet saying goodbye. We thought we might just stay here forever.

And then I remembered Elsa Skar.

If Elsa hadn't left Norway with her brother Hans Peder she would never have met Christian Christopherson, a man also from Norway and seven years her junior. He left Norway a year after her in 1881. They married that same year and ended up having five children.

They both came to Maui because there was a need for workers in the sugar plantations. So they both decided to get on a ship, leave friends and family and start a new life.

What an adventure she had! I have no idea if she worked in the sugar plantation fields or stayed home to raise her family. Her first child was born almost 10 months to the day of her marriage to Christian. So, I hope she didn't. But Christian was a sugar cane farmer in 1910, so I know he had to have started somewhere! 

I found it hilarious when I realized how many plantation workers came from other countries. It must have seemed like a modern day Tower of Babel. Men, women, and children from the Philippines, Korea, Japan, China, Spain, Puerto Rico, Germany, and yes, Norway working side by side in the fields. It was either very quiet or very noisy because no one could understand each other! I guess the plantation owners didn't find it very amusing and developed a new language, Hawaiian Pidgin, to deal with the communication problem. 

I laugh picturing Elsa saying to Christian, "Would you please speak Norwegian! I can't understand a word you're saying!" 

At one point around 1890 the family which consisted of Elsa, Christian, and three children, Christopher, Rangvold, and Mary, left Maui and stayed in Olalla, Washington where her brother Peder and more family had settled. Two more children, Tillie and Edith , were born there.

This is the part of the story where my heart and hers starts to intertwine. 

For some reason Elsa, Christian and their five children moved back either to Maui or on to Oahu. What was it that called them home? 

Here's where I get to imagine because I wouldn't know unless I talked to them myself. But if I was Elsa, and 47 years old with five children and I knew that there was a tropical island with my name on it...

I'd be going home, too!

Elsa's story is much richer than I painted it. How could it not be, growing up in Norway, sailing to Maui and then to Washington State and then back to Paradise to finish out her days? 

I love that she's buried in a cemetery overlooking Pearl Harbor. It seems significant that WWII started in the harbor below her cemetery. Knowing the history of the people who came from all over the world, following the impression to take another step in their journey, humbled me. So many thousands of people being led and guided to a place of sure chaos, out of which they ultimately created a new language that would be impossible to decode by the Nazis during the war.

Every decision that might have seemed confusing or vague at the time ended up being stepping stones and building blocks of  history as we now know it. Each person and family group was a part of it. And whether I step back and see the whole picture or zoom in to study the lives of the individuals of my family history, the outcome is the same.

We are all part of something bigger than ourselves and have to trust that the small decisions made in faith will play a part in the grand scheme of things. Just for today, we can focus on the stepping stones right in front of us even if we don't know where they lead.

I, for one, am up for the adventure.



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