Friday, December 2, 2005
A Norwegian childhood in Carlisle
Borghild Pedersen Dyson, 87, came home to Carlisle on Old Home Day in June from her home in Rhode Island. She and her family lived at 698 Concord Street (now Heald House, home of the Carlisle Historical Society) from 1924 to 1944, when Carlisle was still a farm community.
I asked Mrs. Dyson if she would like to visit the Heald House. "No," she replied with a twinkle in her eye. "It's the Pedersen House!" She was right, of course, and on the day after Old Home Day, accompanied by her niece, Ann Clark of Bedford Road, we toured the house. There, Mrs. Dyson relived scenes from her childhood and commented on the many changes inside the house and out. In sharing her story with the Carlisle Oral History Project, she illuminates the rich history of Norwegians who came to Carlisle in the 1920s and '30s.
The extended Pedersen family
Borghild Pedersen was born in Moss, Norway, in 1918. "My mother, Kathrine, was previously married [to Anton Brothen] and she had six children, four boys and two girls, from this marriage," she explains. Her mother later married Kristian Pedersen, and they had four daughters: Borghild, Elna, Gerd, and Mildred. "My mother brought all ten kids over here from Norway. We came on a freighter ship and the boys worked their way across," she recalls. "My father met us in New York when the ship came in, and we took a boat to Boston."
Asked if the family left Norway for economic reasons, Mrs. Dyson says, "No, no. Both my parents came from comfortable people, not wealthy but comfortable. My father was a city boy; he had a wanderlust. He was an adventurer, and he talked my mother into coming over. My mother's best friend had come to Concord and my father went to visit her. One thing led to another, and my mother burned all her bridges [in Norway] and we all came over."
On the first floor of her old house, Mrs. Dyson takes me immediately to the front hallway. "Do you know about the secret stairway?" she asks. I don't, and she opens a door that looks like a coat closet. It is a set of steep stairs that, she says, went directly to her parents' bedroom upstairs, "so my father could go downstairs early in the morning and not wake the children." Subsequent owners of the house have closed off access to the stairway upstairs.
"When this house was for sale," she says, "it was dilapidated. There was no heat, electricity or water. My mother left everything in Norway — a nice house heated by electricity, and I was brought up in that house until I was six." Kristian Pedersen was a finish carpenter, among his other skills, and he restored the house. Mrs. Dyson points out the wide-board hardwood floors on the first floor that her father installed, and notes that the two corner cabinets that he built are still there. "It became a beautiful house," she says with pride.
The Pedersen-Brothen family seemed to fit rather comfortably in the old farmhouse. Of the ten children who came to America, seven lived in the house with their parents — six girls and their brother Frank. "My three older brothers didn't live with us; they were in the merchant marine," says Mrs. Dyson. As if nine family members weren't enough, a couple from Ireland, the Murphys, "came with the house" and for a while rented two rooms on the lower floor. "We all shared the outhouse that was in the barn," recalls Mrs. Dyson "Later my father made a bathroom in the house from the butler's pantry. Frank, being the only boy, had a hard time getting into the bathroom with all those girls around!"
Upstairs, Mrs. Dyson heads for one of the four bedrooms. "This is the big bedroom where we had four white iron cots" for the four younger girls. "Frank had a room to himself, and my mother and father had the room with the stairs going down to the front hall." The two oldest girls shared the fourth bedroom.
Mr. Pedersen, the city boy who had never farmed before, learned quickly. According to Mrs. Dyson, the land had been worked by Guy Clark and then Mr. Pedersen took over. He worked as a carpenter and the children worked on the farm. "We had six cows at one time; then my father converted the barn, got rid of the cows, and made it into a chicken farm, so we all had to work taking care of the chickens."
Taking care of the chickens included moving them out to the fields in the spring and selling eggs in front of the house. The Pedersens had a hospital for the chickens — "the minute a chicken got sick or someone picked on it, they were taken out of the chicken house and put in the hospital room," Mrs. Dyson recalls.
The Pedersens owned the land across the road, onto Russell Street and "all the way beyond the ice house" at Evans Pond (now Buttrick's Pond) on Concord Street. "The ice house was right on the road. They used to cut the ice with saws. That was where I went skating and fell through the ice. Some kids took the skates off of me and I ran home. It must have been a quarter mile and when I got home my clothes were frozen on me. But, you know, I never got sick. But the big event in those days was the skating in the wintertime. We had a bonfire there at the pond. My mother had Norwegian chocolate from Norway and she'd have one of those great big canning pans, and we had dairy cows, so she would make hot chocolate for us. That was our social life in the winter."
An introduction to school
"When I was six I went to Carlisle Grammar School [Highland School]. At the Highland School, there were two classes in the room. Mrs. Davis on Stearns Street was my teacher. She didn't have any children of her own; she was tall and thin. I remember my father taking us up to the school, he spoke to her in English and introduced us, then he took our hands and put them in her hands, patted us on the head, and left us. We only spoke Norwegian then, and learned all these new words."
"We took the bus to school, driven by Alden Davis, but in the wintertime when we had a lot of snow, he would come with a horse and open sleigh. They had the milk jugs on it."
Borghild Pedersen and her younger sisters soon became acclimated to American life and growing up in Carlisle was a "a happy time." She had friends in the neighborhood to play with: "Grace Butler [Dutton] lived on Concord Street, then the Munsons lived on South Street, and the Holms lived next door [in "This Old House"]. Grace was a bit older than I was, but we'd play dolls underneath the pines — there was a pine grove between our two houses."
Horses were an important part of her childhood. Her older sister Gudny bought a saddle horse called Beauty, and then their father bought "Nancy, a pretty little pony. We already had Nellie, an old farm horse. And when those horses needed to be shod, we had to take the three horses about once a year. When I was probably 13 or 14, I had to ride each of those horses through the center of Concord to the blacksmith's shop behind the depot. When we took Beauty, he was afraid of trucks and cars and my father had to call the Police Department in Concord to say, 'My daughter's coming down.' And when I got to the Colonial Inn, everybody stopped on the side of the road so I could come through with Beauty. He would prance through the center, snorting, seeing all those cars sitting there!"
"A young kid up from Rhode Island"
After graduation from Concord High School, Borghild Pedersen went to Burdette Business School and Northeastern University and became a cost accountant. She worked for an electrical contractor and built a house on Russell Street on land that belonged to her father. She married Edwin Dyson, "a young kid up from Rhode Island," who went to Northeastern and became an electrical plant engineer at Raytheon in Bedford. The Dysons had two children, Arne and Karen, who went to the Carlisle School. When it was time to retire, they moved to Rhode Island to be near the ocean.
Of the ten Brothen-Pedersen children, only Mrs. Dyson and her sister Mildred are still living. Kathrine Pederson, their mother, died in 1944 and the house was sold. Kristian Pedersen lived with different families until he died in 1957. His carpentry work still lives in the house and barn on Concord Street, and his transformation from a city boy in Norway to a successful farmer in Carlisle is the stuff of immigrant dreams.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito