Here's an excerpt from BECOMING BESTEMOR.
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PROLOGUE: A BOOK IS BORN
Today I stand under the ancient mulberry trees that shaded the beautiful house my Bestemor and Bestefar built. I am attending a family reunion to celebrate the lives of one man, Jens Christian Jensen, and his two wives, Kirsten and Marie, their 21 children and 78 grandchildren. I am one of the 28 grandchildren still living. Seventeen of us and many great and great great grandchldren gathered today at the church Bestemor and Bestefar helped start north of Cozad, Nebraska.
We worshipped together and then we walked the cemetery where they are buried along with 10 of their 21 children. Some of their grandchildren and Bestemor’s sister rest there with them.
Last we came to their homesite and clambered through the overgrown underbrush until we found the root cellar we all remembered playing on. Just south of it we saw the few remains of the lovely, large house they built: a slab of cement, pieces of the brick foundation and the plumbing where the bathroom stood.
We stand together savoring the rich nectar of the mulberries that still grow there, as we recall the many times we’d eaten them before. We tell stories of this place that had been home to our parents and once again it is alive with our memories. We remember how as grandchildren we came to play together and now stand reminiscing about how it had been when we came to visit. Memories light our eyes as we remember. . .remember. . .
I stand remembering the old lady who met me at the door whenever we came to visit. The first thing Bestemor (that was the only name I ever heard her called) after she hugged me, was to walk over to the shelf in the dining room and take down a pink candy dish. She would hold it out for me to pick out one of the sweet and sour lemon drops. I would make it last until coffee, milk and cookies were on the table and we all sat down together.
Cousins always came when we there—more than I could count. But those my age have always been a special part of my lfie. We stand here together today sharing memories of the family who once lived here.
As I stand here, in my mind’s eye I see a lively young girl who came to Nebraska on a warm September day—dreaming the grand house that was her home for 60 years and the stately row of trees which would line the drive. Dreaming of love—a love to last a lifetime and carry her through many crises. Her laughter rings through the grove where her children run and play.
She grew up, that young girl so filled with life, and became more sober and stern. Still, once when Mom and I spent a week with her, I saw the twinkle in her eyes, the stubbornness and spunk which had carried her through good times and bad and the laughter that came so quickly. I think inside her that young girl always lurked just waiting to come out and play. I can almost taste the lemon drops Bestemor gave me and feel her arms as she took me on her lap.
The grove is alive again today, though most days it is silent. The wonderful big white house is gone. Those who brought it to life now lie in that cemetery I just visited less than a quarter of a mile down the road or in cemeteries scattered all across this lovely country of ours.
But today I see them as they were—the births, the deaths, the courtings and the weddings. I see the baseball games played right here. The little feet running—never walking. I hear the laughter. And I see the work—the unending, back-breaking work. And the 21 children who lived here. The Bestemor and Bestefar who made it home. Today they are all here and alive in my mind. In my heart.
This is their story. It takes Bestemor and Bestefar from youth to the cemetery. You will note that once they are married, they are most often called Mor and Far. And Bestemor and Bestefar once there are many grandchldren. This is what they actually called each other. I NEVER heard them called anything else. So you will follow them throughout their lives as they actually addressed each other.
In writing this story, I used all the facts I had. and I had many. I used the stories told and retold through the years. There are several versions of many of the stories. When these stories are in conflict, I have chosen to use the ones my Mom, Dagmar, told me, for they are part of who I am. Always I have chosen the ones that were most true to the people who have lived in my heart and often taken control of my pen as their story unfolded. For the rest, is it truth or my fantasy? Did Bestemor speak to my heart or did the land itself, the old stone foundation and the trees they planted so lovingly give up their secrets?
You be the judge. Either way, I think you’ll come to love these immigrants—the Bestemor I am named for, the Bestefar we all descended from, Kirsten who first came with him to America, and my Mom and all her brothers and sisters.
So turn the page and relive with me that time so long ago when Marie stepped off the train in Nebraska to help her Jens; the day when she watched as Jens married Kirsten; the day when Marie’s dream. . .Well, you need to read it all for yourself for this is the story of her dream.
FROM DENMARK TO NEBRASKA
IT IS OUR DREAMS
Dreams are made
by the dreamer.
Yet they pull us
inexorably to our destiny
To become ever more
than we dreamed
To live lavishly
It is our dreams
that gift us
It is our dreams
that show us
It is our dreams
that bring the promise of heaven
into our lives.
It is our dreams.
CHAPTER 1: THE MEADOWLARK SINGS
Marie came first to Dawson County, Nebraska on a crisp, clear, September day. The cottonwoods had just been painted with dabs of yellow and the sky was blue velvet and cloudless. And yes, when she looked off into the distance, there was the prairie. It dipped and waved in the wind, making a sea of grass. Involuntarily she heaved a sigh. She had come home.
As Marie descended the train steps, her eyes darted around waiting for her first glimpse of Jens. Her heart raced and suddenly she was frightened. Really frightened. I couldn’t bear
it if I see disappointment in his eyes—if in the first instant he destroys the dream I’ve held for so long that it has become truth for me. Marie smoothed her hair back as she often did when she needed courage, then she straightened and stood as tall as her five foot would allow.
He stood off to the side talking with another man—always Jens had loved to jaw. She would have known him anywhere for she’d carried his face—his shape—in her heart forever. He was older and shorter than she remembered. She hadn’t realized he was so short. On his brown hair he wore a cap like he’d worn in Denmark. His goatee was a little ragged, showing the strain he had been under, but he was her Jens. Her heart beat frantically as she walked toward her destiny wondering just what that might be.
Jens was totally unprepared. He glanced at the train as it pulled in. He’d come so often he didn’t really expect her today. His attention was focused on his conversation with a neighbor about the best strain of corn to plant, the best place to buy sheep and how profitable they could be.
Out of the corner of his eye, JC saw a girl—no bigger than a minute—step off the train. Her brown hair was pulled into a soft bun at the nape of her neck. Her back was straight as a soldier’s. She looked around with eyes the color of the sea they had both left behind—so clear you could see to eternity in them. Since she looked no more than sixteen, he returned his attention to farming.
Her eyes lit up like the Fourth of July and she started toward him. As she walked, she heard birds singing. That song went straight to her heart and she knew she had been right to come.
"I think that may be your girl that just got off the train," his companion pointed.
JC looked up. What he saw was love walking toward him—love pouring from her eyes, from her smile, from her heart. Never had he seen such adoration. His heart lurched. Color rushed to his cheeks. His heart flew away in that instant.
He was not to be the last to fall head over heels in love with those sea green eyes. Marie’s daughters and more than a few of her granddaughters would inherit those eyes. Eyes that told a man he was godlike to them. Through all the generations, these women would possess a grace, a beauty, a charm, a sensuality and something more profound—an inner light that drew their men to the haven of their love. The men who loved and married them would be enthralled until they drew their last breath.
Afraid he’d seen the love in her eyes, Marie became suddenly shy. She feared he’d seen the music singing through her body. No proper girl would let a man see such adoration. What if he doesn’t even like me? She thought. I don’t think I could bear it.
Before he could move a foot she was standing before him—her heart and feet dancing like the prairie grass in a breeze. Slowly, shyly, she raised her eyes and smiled at this man she’d loved for so long.
To the casual observer, Marie was a plain girl with her brown hair pulled back into a simple bun. She was too thin and her hands were red and chapped from work. There was nothing extraordinary about her unless you took the time to truly look at her. Her hair had been brushed ’til it gleamed in the sunlight, which brought out a few copper highlights. Her eyes today were lit with sunlight, lit with joy, lit with love. Marie had a magic—something few women possess. Jens didn’t yet realize that. He didn’t even know that he was captivated by her. Would not have admitted it if he had.
"I’m Marie, Maren’s daughter. Did you get Far’s letter?"
"Marie? Lille En? Is that you?" He called her by his old nickname—Little One—without even realizing it.
"Yes, Jens," she whispered. "It’s Marie. I’ve come."
"Please call me JC. Everyone does." Then, he held out his hand to her, "Welcome to America, Marie. I hope your trip was pleasant." But he asked himself, Whatever were they thinking of, sending me this child?
Marie’s feelings, however, were not those of a child. The sound of his voice awakened every cell in her body. Now there were no thoughts of being sorry she’d come. She was here with her Jens. And she would make sure it worked.
JC continued, almost thinking aloud, "Lille En. . ." He saw her more as the child she’d been than the woman she’d become—saw the six-year-old girl she’d been the last time he’d seen her and his mind went racing back. All the way back to the day he left for America, the day he’d last seen this child.