Wednesday, November 24, 2010

100th COG Edition - There's One In Every Family: The Upbuilding of a School District

On the northern coast of the Land of the Midnight Sun, in the village of Kjøllefjord, a school system was built up from nothing to a thriving environment for learning, by a woman I’m proud to call my grandmother.
KjollefjordAerial   Kjøllefjord, Finnmark
The year was 1925, and 23 year old Lise Klungseth had just graduated from teacher’s college in Oslo, and like every other graduate, was looking for a job.  The market was flooded, and teaching positions were generally hard to come by.  However, Lise had read about Finnmark, and the work of Pastor Otterbeck, who was trying to bring Christianity to the laplanders and Finlanders in the area, many of whom did not speak Norwegian.   There weren’t many teachers willing to go there because, as Lise put it, there were times “when the sun does not shine for two months,” and the area was nowhere near as cultured as southern Norway.  She described Kjøllefjord as “about as far away from home as you can get.”
mapmap courtesy of Google Maps.  The pin marks the location of Kjøllefjord
Lise soon found herself employed in one of the poorest districts in Finnmark.  Her teaching position was split between three different schools, one month at each place, traveling between them by boat.  Her schoolhouses consisted of single rooms in private houses, with no books, pencils or papers.  Lise provide what they needed out of her own pocket.  Eventually, she was “promoted” to only having two schools.
When World War II broke out, the people of Kjøllefjord had to run for their lives.  Lise went back home to her parents’ home, and the following spring, to her sister’s home in Trondheim, where she was offered a very good teaching job.  While there, she received a telegram from the director of schools in Finnmark, asking her to return to Kjøllefjord. Recalling what little she had to work with there, she asked: Do you have a schoolhouse?  No.  Do you have desks for the children to sit on?  No.  Do you have books?  No.  What do you have?  Children.
Something inexplicable led her to say yes, quit her job in Trondheim, and head north.  She said, “I was the happiest person in the world, just like everybody else who was coming back because the Germans were gone, the country was ours and we were able to build it up again.” 
Once there, they were able to arrange for a log cabin, which had served as a hospital during the war, to use as their schoolhouse.  The mayor of the village asked Lise what she needed – she asked for carpenters, and was given them.  She worked alongside them, finishing the rooms and commencing her classes.  She taught from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.  She was able to get three students from Oslo to come and help with the teaching duties.  They made do with whatever supplies they could find, until one day a mysterious box, sent from Canada, arrived at the school, filled with paper and pencils.  More boxes followed – with books!  They never did find out who sent those badly needed supplies, but they were grateful beyond words.
LisaSchool5The new school building in Kjøllefjord 
Lise continued to build up the school, and was eventually promoted to Principal, with six teachers employed, a new and modern schoolhouse, complete with an intercom system, among other "luxuries.”
Her life was diverted from the children of Kjøllefjord in 1952, when she received a letter from my widowed grandfather, who was a lifelong friend, asking her to come to the United States.  She did, and the rest is history.  But I’m certain that leaving Kjøllefjord, where she had invested so much of herself, was probably one of the hardest things she had ever done.  She left behind her permanent gift to that village – an educational system to be proud of.
Lise, on a visit back to her old school in Kjøllefjord, in the 1980s.  Notice her picture on the wall, at left, a copy of which is below.

The Pink Bowl

The pink Stetson Melmac bowl has been a part of our Thanksgiving tradition as far back as I can remember.  It belonged to my maternal grandmother, and only on special occasions did she take it from its designated spot in the buffet.  We would sit around the large oak pedestal table, all the leaves having been added to accommodate the four generations.  Grandpa was seated at the head of the table, and the three kids would fight over the two chairs on either side of him.  I vividly remember staring at the bowl from my place at the table, being too short to see inside, and wondering what deliciously wonderful surprise Grandma had put in it, as it was passed from person to person.  Sometimes it was mashed potatoes, sometimes a vegetable dish, sometimes it was fruit salad.  Didn’t matter.  Anything she cooked was especially tasty, but there was something about that pink bowl... the sight of it still makes my mouth water in anticipation.
After Grandma passed away in 1991, my sister and I were sharing our precious memories of dinner around her holiday tables, when Grandpa surprised us by telling us to take the bowl home.  I like to think I would have insisted my sister take it, but thankfully, it was not an issue.  We were delighted to discover there were actually *two* pink bowls, as pictured in the photo above, side by side.  Now, at each “pink bowl occasion”, we compare notes about what will be served in them, hundreds of miles apart.
It’s hard to imagine a Thanksgiving without the pink bowl, and the precious and comforting memories of times past.