February Furniture: A Blacksmith’s Desk

February first found me still in Minnesota unable to drive home through the ice and snow of Iowa. I was on deadline so I wrote through my Aunt Linda’s superbowl party feeling a bit ungracious and unsocial.

But eureka! There was an old story to unearth at Aunt Linda’s! She too has been the recipient of many family furniture treasures which are waiting to tell their stories. One such piece sits in the corner of Linda’s garage. It’s a stripped antique fold down desk maybe from the late nineteenth century with some Scandinavian carved vines with berries on the folding front.

The story goes–according to Aunt Linda– that the desk was the business desk in my great granddad’s blacksmith shop in Dawson, Minnesota. My Grandpa Bing acquired the desk and stripped it, or tried to strip it, of its blackened blacksmith grit and dust. He also repaired the desk, adding some sections broken with time and use.

My mother remembers the family blacksmith shop, sold before my Aunt Linda’s time. The shop and the outhouse sat away from the house. My mother was not allowed in the shop she supposes because of the fire danger. But maybe also because the liquor was stored there for use during Sunday family picnics. She remembers passing the shop on the way to the outhouse knowing the men where inside drinking.

Aunt Linda, like all of us entrusted with family memories, did not know what to do with the desk. I suggested, only because my friend Cynthia has taught me this, that she wax the desk front and hang it up.

So she did. Now the old desk is better poised to speak of those who came before us embodying a chapter in the constant collection of our family story.

Check out these before and after photos! Aunt Linda thinks the blackness in the crevices are blacksmith remains… which of course seasons the story…

Door Before WaxDoor after wax

Carver County

January News

SEARCHING FOR OLD STORIES: Who goes to Minnesota in the winter? I do because many of my old stories take place in this wonderful and often cold state. My destination was Carver County, home to many a Swedish immigrant from Västergotland. Petter Johanson and Johanna Anderson are my first direct ancestors to find their way to Carver County. Later there are two other direct ancestral families who will begin life in Amerika in Carver County. According to my grandmother, Emma Ohman, this first couple arrived in 1858. Grandpa and Grandma came first to Carver County where even at that early date there was quite a Swedish settlement. My Dad (Swan Johnson)…and his twin brother (Peter)…were born there. They remained there for three years.  Here they are in the 1860 federal census, line 55, living with another family. 1860.Carver My new friend, fellow clanswoman, and possible distant relation, Marilyn, showed me the bogs, woods, hills, and prairies of my emigrant Swedish people. She spent the day finding resources at the Carver County Historical Society, driving around with me hither and yon, and feeding me both information and food. Marilyn obviously LOVES our clan and its history. The day became a homecoming of sorts for me. A homecoming to a land I had never before visited. Is this possible? Since my visit, I am surprised by my recurrent dreams of its hills and woods and smell of snow. And by my fascination with this small part of my family’s story. Small maybe in years. But monumental in more important ways. Perhaps Carver County was a springboard, a good enough parent, and place to begin in a new land. It was a stopping off point, a place to catch one’s breath and plan ahead for a brighter future than the old land offered. Maybe it was also a place to learn the ins and outs of Amerika in the safety of clan before striking out on one’s own like a teenager leaving home. I think the road my old stories travel pass through Carver County for respite, informal education, cash accrual, and more. It’s the more I am intrigued by. But until I have some answers, I will embrace the treasures from my day in Carver County. Painted Wall Design in East Union So Swedish! Decorative wall paint at East Union Lutheran Church built in 1866. I don’t know if Peter and Johanna attended East Union or…West Union.

The sanctuary ceiling was built as the hull of a ship--Swedish style.
The sanctuary ceiling at West Union was built as the hull of a ship–Swedish style.

Gustavas But back to East Union. This building of peeling white paint was East Union’s first church before the congregation moved across the road in 1866. If Petter and Johanna were East Union people, this is the building they worshiped in since they moved to Afton, Minnesota in 1861 or 2. Here’s an interesting fact. The building after being vacated in 1866 became the academic predecessor to Gustavus Adolphus College which is now in St. Peter, Minnesota. Currently it seems the building is used as a storage shed…

Swedish style daybed sitting out in a farm yard on a cold winter's day.
Swedish style daybed sitting out in a farm yard on a cold winter’s day somewhere in Carver County.

OTHER NEWS: I do write about other stuff. So let’s not forget my article “Writing Conferences for Every Season” went live in January on the ezine Books Make a Difference. Check it out at: http://booksmakeadifference.com/turn-the-page/