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Olive (Brakken) Anderson

Seven Persons - Once Hundred Sixty Acres and a Dream
As the Story was Told

Olive (Brakken) Anderson 1887-1971

Olive Anderson, my mother, was born in Hammerfest, Norway, a town within the Artic Circle, in the far northern part of that country. Her father was lost at sea while fishing, when she was five years old, so times were hard for her and her four sisters during their childhood. She remembered that the tax collector came and took away her mother's only clock and a small cupboard, in lieu of taxes.

When she was nineteen she came to the United States to make her home near Minot, North Dakota. What courage it must have taken on her part to be leaving her home permanently, knowing that in her kind of economy she, very likely would never return. She came with a Mr. and Mrs. Larson who lent her her fare and paid her to look after their two young children as Mrs. Larson was expecting a third child. The voyage from Norway to New York took over three weeks. It was a rough ocean trip and all the passengers were very seasick. While enroute to the west on the train, Mr. and Mrs. Larson had to disembark at some small town where Mrs. Larson gave birth to her baby. Mother continued along with the two children to Balfour, very concerned of the fact that she did not know anyone or that she knew no English. Fortunately for her, a Norwegian women recognized her distress and assisted her in finding friends of the Larsons.

Mother lived in Minot for five years. She worked as a domestic for about twenty dollars a month and by being frugal, was able to save enough to pay her passage. Later she loaned her sister, Ragna, a hundred dollars, that she might join Mother in this new land.

On June 13th, 1911 the two sisters came to Medicine Hat. Here at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Mother married Edward Anderson. Following the ceremony, they drove out to his homestead. She shyly told us that Dad picked a bouquet of wild roses for her, for she hadn't had any other flowers for her wedding; these grew and bloomed in profusion about the countryside, and these were ever after her favorite flower.

When she told us that her wedding dress was brown satin we chanted,"Married in brown You'll live out of town."

Certainly she lived out of town. There were years when she saw neither Seven Persons nor Medicine Hat.

Dad's little two-roomed house seemed like a fine home to her. It was well built and cosy, by the standards of that time. It contained some furniture, even a few articles of his own construction. She made it more homelike by adding her Norwegian hardanger embroidered linens and handiwork, and her small collection of dishes and pictures.

Dad had been very secretive about his bride's arrival. However there was a media he had overlooked. That was good neighborliness. The afternoon following their wedding they were startled by a gun shot near their house. When they rushed outside to see who was there, they found Harm and Jenny Bruins and their three children, who had come to wish them well.

"Chivaree! Chivaree!" laughed Harm. "We knew you were up to something, Ed, when you borrowed Hoblet's democrat. Your single buggy would have been big enough for you to go to Medicine Hat. To you, Mrs. Anderson, a hearty welcome, and our best wishes for much happiness. We are glad your sister and you are going to join our neighborhood. Miss Brakken, we'll have to find a bachelor for you."

"I thought the Indians were attacking us," said the new bride, recovering from her scare.

"Here is our wedding gift for you," said Jennie. "Here are a hen and ten baby chicks. I hope they will do well for you. A farm has to have chickens."

"We brung you a kitten, too," said Peter.

"Me, too," said Gunster.

How glad my parents were of the gifts and of the knowledge that they would have friends living less than two miles away. Before the day passed, the Hoblets, the Lees and the Edwardsons had come to meet the bride and her sister. Neighbors such as these were loved and respected over a lifetime.

My mother was a pretty, little woman, hardly more than five foot two inches, and with eyes of blue. Her outstanding optimism and cheerfulness carried her, and all of her family, over many crises. To her credit was her ability, without formal training, to learn to speak, read and write English. I never knew her to misspell a word. More often than not the Eaton's catalogue was her dictionary.

The life she was to lead, as an Alberta farmer's wife, was so different from that of a Norwegian fisherman's daughter. She learned to catch, harness and drive a horse or two, to milk cows, raise calves, chickens and pigs, raise a garden, and to can and preserve food. Her home-cured pork and her canned beef were delicious additions to her menus. She could do wonders in making over a used garment into a very presentable dress or coat for a child. She stretched her budget with flour sacks making pillow cases, underwear, towels, table cloths and curtains.

Her sister and she acted as mid-wives for one another and for some of their neighbors when their babies were born. Although there was, until 1914, a doctor in Seven Persons, they were not always able to call him when they required his professional services at the farm homes. Then they did the best they could. This is one story she told me.

"I was particularly concerned about one baby's birth. When it arrived it was so blue and lifeless looking. It was the woman's first baby. I was baffled and frantic for nothing I tried helped to bring it to life. Fortunately, the husband and Dr. Crawford drove in at that time. The doctor saw the need for immediate action. He asked for a bowl of very hot water, (and of course we had boiling water), cooled it slightly, and taking the infant by head and heels, immersed its torso for a short time. Then he manipulated it, head to toe several times before putting it into a bowl of cold water, and then he repeated the process. How relieved I was to hear that child's cry of protest. She would live. The blueness slowly disappeared to a rosy pink. I felt like singing a song of praise as I bathed her and dressed her in new handmade clothes. The difference between life and death had been so close."

Mother continued to live on the original homestead until her eighty-fourth year, ever-loving the home to which she had contributed so much.

Alice, my sister, is but eighteen months younger than I, so throughout our lives we have enjoyed a fine companionship. She has always been a kind, happy and cheerful person, and one who has been diligent and persistent in her attainments. While in grade one she learned a poem of perhaps eighteen lines entitled, "My Grandfather Has To Wear Glasses," and this she was to recite at the Friday Literary Society program. Poor Alice, who was quite an emotional child, could say only a few lines before she broke down in tears. The teacher, Miss McNichol, insisted that she say it every Friday until she could complete it. This took her many months, for while she knew it, she couldn't keep from starting to cry. Alice was the songstress of our family and often sang solos for school concerts.

A story we haven't forgotten, is one of our new spring hats. They came from the catalogue and were so lovely. Mine was white with quite a large, navy blue brim and with ribbons, and Alice's was pink all over, with a smaller brim and flower decorations around the crown. We were about seven and nine years old. We begged to wear them to school to show our friends. When we started to go home we found we faced a strong, west wind so we had to carry our hats. Suddenly a strong gust blew Alice's away from her, and when I tried to help her catch hers I lost mine, and they both rolled across the prairie. We ran as fast as we could, but the hats were hurled along for about a mile. Peter Bruins came along on horseback and he saw, and probably heard our plight, so rode in pursuit, which worried us the more for we were afraid the horse's feet would cause more damage. At last the hats were caught and we labored along against that strong wind, hoping those straw hats were not beyond repair.

Alice became a secretary for the Royal Bank in Brooks, and then was transferred to a Vancouver branch. She married a postal employee and they live in Burnaby, B.C.

Edythe is my other sister. She was always the joy of our family. Although my father had ordered a son, when he saw Ede, he was delighted with her. She was the artist, the one who could construct wonders of what seemed negligible whether of cloth, food, paper or other material, and she was of such a happy disposition. Her home and her beautiful flower garden depicts her love of craftmanship. She is a skilful dressmaker and a fine cook. She and her husband have two sons and live in Vancouver.

Clarence, my older brother, has been my friend, too. He and I helped our father on the farm as we grew up. When Dad retired, Clarence became owner of the farm. There he raised purebred cattle as well as raised grain and corn. He was a member of the Southeastern Alberta Hereford Breeders' Association and was given a life-time membership. While he was on the farm it was converted to irrigation, the telephone was put in, a gas well was drilled, and electricity was installed. These made a difference in home comforts. Clarence retired to Medicine Hat in 1976. His special hobby now is fishing, and nearby lakes afford his pleasure.

Ernest, the youngest of our clan, found life in a near ocean setting more desirable. He lives in New Westminister, B.C. He is married and he has two daughters and a son. He has been an electrician for Vancouver for most of the years he has lived in British Columbia. Ernie is a happy person, one who sees the humorous side of most episodes. Recently he was honored by his employer, the Ellsworthy Electrical Company for twenty-seven years of continuous, satisfactory service by a dinner and a gift of a very fine gold watch.

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Copyright © 2000
Mary Tollestrup