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THE LETTER


The Letter

 

          Two days after John Norton’s father’s death, he received a call from the law firm of Benson, Langley, and Kessler.  The secretary advised him that Mr. Benson was the executor of his father’s will and asked if he would care to make an appointment.  John agreed to a meeting at 2:30 the following afternoon, which was a Friday. He would close his business early, to make the appointment.

          John had never met Mr. Benson, but he appeared to be pleasant, kind of distinguished looking old gentleman, dressed in a conservative, pin-striped suit with an impeccably matched tie.  After some small talk and condolences on the loss of his father, Benson asked for some proper identification, stating this was necessary, given the fact that he didn’t know him.  John produced a couple of pieces of identification, which satisfied Benson and the procedure of reading the will commenced.

          The will was dated 5 years earlier and in simple terms declared John, his only son and child, to be the sole heir to his father’s entire estate, with exception of a sum of ten thousand dollars, bequeathed to his housekeeper of 15 years and eight thousand dollars to the groundskeeper in gratitude for their dependable and diligent service.  There was also written recommendations for both of them.

          “Your father entrusted a special envelope into my care,” said Mr. Benson.  “It is addressed to you and sealed with wax seals and ribbons.  Please inspect them to ensure * they are unbroken.”

          He did and found the seals intact. They discussed the legal aspects of having his father’s money, and property deeds transferred to him and agreed to meet the following week again. Clutching the envelope and bidding farewell, he left the office and drove home.

          Pouring himself a stiff scotch, he sat down in an armchair and, with considerable trepidation, cut the seals and opened the envelope.  Inside he found what appeared to be a report, in a red cover with his name on the front and a letter addressed to him. He opened the letter and began reading:

Dear Son,

          When you are reading this letter, it means I’ve passed on to another dimension. I have always been proud of you, and it is with great pleasure that I leave you everything I own.  There are some aspects of my life. I have never told you about.  In reality, they amount to is a strange story, filled with both mystery and adventure, so much so that some years ago I decided to put it in writing.  By the time you have read it, you will know how I could have made a fortune.

          With all my love

          Your father

           John opened the folder and began reading the neatly typewritten account of those mysterious events in his father’s life he hadn’t told him about.

June 1991

          The events that changed my life forever began in 1986, the year after your mother passed away.  I had poured my heart and soul into the bookstore, attempting to bury my sorrow over the loss of Vera.  It is hard to lose one’s soul mate after so many years of marriage, but life must go on, and I tried to continue living as I had done before.

          As you know, I have always collected antique books and rare first editions, many of which you will find in my library. It’s a very valuable collection, and I discovered and bought quite a number of them at public estate auctions.  Few people bother bidding on what in most instances is ordinary books, but I often did, provided I could spot some interesting and promising titles.  The auctioneers in charge of estate sales habitually put books in boxes of various sizes, sometimes with other things included, and you would have to bid on the whole content of the box. I put many of the boxes in the basement, intending to scrutinize their contents further after I had removed the books that I was interested in.

          One Saturday during the summer of 86, I went to an estate auction over in Campbellsville; you know the town well enough, having been there sometimes. There wasn’t much that interested me, except for a box containing a few books and cheap knick-knacks. One of the books was about Spanish renaissance art, and it looked quite old.  When the box came up for bidding, some lady bid five dollars.  Rather than upping the bid by one dollar, I decided to offer ten, to cut her off.  The auctioneer’s hammer decided in my favor.  I paid the ten dollars, took the box, put it in the trunk of the car and went home.

          I quickly went through the box and discovered some inexpensive porcelain bird figurines, probably what the old lady had wanted plus some old magazines, pamphlets, and various booklets. There were five more books in addition to the book on Spanish Renaissance art.  None of them were of any interest, but the art book was a limited edition from 1953.  I began looking through the numerous pages of black and white illustrations of Spanish paintings and art from the15th and 16th centuries.  The book was in excellent condition and worth about two hundred dollars, I figured.  Not a bad profit for a short trip to an auction.

          I quickly flipped through the last pages, but suddenly near the end, I found an envelope.  Thinking it was probably someone who had used it for a bookmark; I put it on the table.

          The next day, while having my morning caffeine fix, I picked up the letter.  It was addressed to Mr. George Silliman, 47 Bartley Dr., Cornville, Ontario.  I didn’t know the person, but Cornville is only about 50 km away.  The return address was someone named Frank Burley, 12 Sudden Lane, Barker Town, Ontario which I was slightly familiar with.  It was quite a bit larger than Cornville and only about 20 km from there. I took the letter out, and read it:

 Dear George,                                                                                  September 11, 1982

            I know you must wonder why I’m writing to you, rather than just dropping in for a visit, but I have some things to tell you that that is best done in writing. 

             We have been friends a whole lifetime, ever since we were schoolboys and it’s been a friendship like no other I have ever had with anyone else.  We have shared much, but it is coming to an end soon.  My doctor sent me to a colon cancer specialist a couple of weeks ago, and last week, he gave me the sad news that I had only a few months left to live.  It was quite a shock for me at first, but heck George, you and I have had beautiful, happy lives and we both know that the time to depart will come eventually for both of us. I hope we will be seeing each other a few times before I go.

             What I want to tell you about is rather a bit of a mystery, so let me get on with it.

             In 1929, an Italian family settled here in Barker Town.  They were political refugees from Mussolini’s dictatorship, but apparently wealthy, for they bought a costly house in town. At that time, there were three generations of the family living in the house.  As you know, my wife’s mother was Italian, and she grew up with a lot of Italians coming and going through her childhood home, so it wasn’t long before she became acquainted with this newly arrived family, whose last name was Moretti. Both the grandparents died before the end of the Second World War.  Their son, Enrico Moretti and his wife Contessa became quite good friends of ours, and we frequently had dinner together.  They had a son, Leopoldo, who was born in Italy before they came to this country.

             Enrico and his wife were both killed in a tragic car accident in 1958.  Leopoldo, their son, was 39 years old by then and not married. I suspected he was homosexual, but we continued to be friends with him.  In 1968, he had full-blown aids and passed away within a year, but before that, he told me an unusual story about a valuable thing he had inherited from his father, who had said it had been in the family for many generations.

             He told me that since he had no heirs, and he had promised never to let the item (he didn’t say what it was) pass out of the family, he was left with no other alternative than to take it with him to his grave. His casket, he said, was specially constructed and the item would be inserted in a hollowed-out area of the plank in the lid so that even in his afterlife, he could keep an eye on it.  I thought it was a bit creepy, but reckoned everybody has some weirdness or quirks in their lives. 

             When he died, Mary and I went to his funeral, and including us, there were only a handful of his friends that attended. His coffin was placed in the family mausoleum, and it was kind of sad to think that with Leopoldo gone, the family had died out completely. At least you and I both have grandchildren and thus some continuity beyond our graves. His house, by the way, was willed to the Catholic Church here and they have made a retirement home for people who can`t look after themselves in it.

             Well, George, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think about what Leopoldo had told me until after I received the news about my impending doom.  It gnawed at me, and I thought perhaps I should pass the story on to someone, and since you are my best friend, I chose to tell it to you. I was never brave enough to go and find out just what it was that Leopold took with him in his grave, but it struck me that he perhaps told me what he intended to do, so that I, as his close friend, could go and recover whatever it is. He may have tried to tell me it was a gift from him to me, but I can`t be sure.

 9            At any rate, George, I will never find out, but perhaps you may be interested in pursuing this.  I`m quite sure Leopold never told anyone else but me about it, but now you also know, and I think it perhaps best that no-one else finds out.  If you don`t want to investigate this, maybe you should destroy this letter and leave the mystery a secret for posterity    Well, I guess that`s all for now.  I hope to see you a few times again before I die.

Best regards from your old friend

Frank 

           It was an exciting mystery the letter revealed, and while I wasn`t about to just run over and open Leonardo`s casket, I kept thinking about digging a bit deeper into the story, and I began by searching for the two families, Silliman and Burley.

          Since I figured George Silliman might still be alive, I drove to Cornville first, and after some searching, I found the address and I parked the car.     Some kids were playing on the front lawn, but soon as I approached the fenced-in front yard, a woman came out the front door and asked if she could help me. I asked if the Silliman family lived there.  She shook her head and said that Mrs. Silliman died some years ago and her husband, George, passed away six weeks ago.  I asked if she was related to the Silliman family, to which she replied no, but they have a son, who lives out west somewhere.

          I didn’t want to seem too inquisitive, so I ended the conversation by asking where they were buried. She told me, and I thanked her, saying that I used to know George a long time ago and would like to put some flowers on his grave.

          At the United Church cemetery, it didn’t take me long to find the grave site where both George and his wife were interred. I noted the date on George’s headstone.  He had died on May third, this year. I put the flowers I had bought at a local flower shop on their grave and left for home.

          Having concluded the Silliman connection to the letter, it was time to go to go to Barker Town and see if I could find Frank Burley and  I drove there the following Sunday.  The town has a population of over 130,000, so I bought a city map to find my way around. Sudden Lane was a quiet side street, lined with mature trees, shading well-manicured lawns in front of classy homes, suggesting this was one of the better neighborhoods in town.  Number 12, Franks Burley’s house, was a large, Victorian style, two-story home, kept in immaculate shape, suggesting he was well off.

          I walked up to the door and rang the bell.  Inside the house, I could hear the sound of a resonant gong and shortly a middle-aged man opened the door. I introduced myself with a fictitious name and said I was an old friend of Frank Burley and this was the address I had for him. He then told me Dr. Burley’s wife was dead and he was in a care home with advanced Alzheimer, and then saying that his name was Charles Lane and he had bought the house a little over a year ago.”  I apologized for disturbing him, thanked him for the information and left.

          So, Frank Burley was a doctor.  That explained the large, posh house he had owned. With his wife dead and him having advanced Alzheimer decease, I needn’t worry about anyone knowing about the letter, unless Frank had told someone about it.  It also explained how the book with the letter ended up on an auction.  It had apparently been a part of his estate and no doubt, there may have been many other things at the auction that had belonged to him, but I would never know.

          I decided to do some background checking on the old Doctor later on, but before I went home again; I went to two cemeteries, trying to locate the mausoleum of the Moretti family.  I found it in a Catholic cemetery, on the outskirts of town and it was quite large and ornate.  Some people walked about in the graveyard, so I just casually walked past the mausoleum, noting it had a large brass padlock on the door.  There was a small graveled area in front of it; quite weedy, suggesting that no-one was caring for the site. I made up my mind to come back some weekday night and scrutinize the cemetery closely, to make sure I wouldn’t run into something unexpected.

          For a week or so, I thought about the whole, crazy idea of breaking into a mausoleum and stealing that something, whatever it was, from a coffin.  It just simply went against my better judgment, and for a while, I honestly thought I would just forget about it, but curiosity is an intense sensation, and eventually, it got the better of me.  One night, I drove over to the cemetery, parking my car in an inconspicuous place away from it.  I walked around the spooky place for about an hour, but no-one showed up. Then I went over to the Moretti mausoleum and checked the padlock, noting the make and size. It had to be cut with a bolt cutter and, when the deed was done, replaced it with one that looked the same, although, I didn`t think anyone would notice since the Moretti`s didn`t have any living relatives.

          The following week, on a Thursday night, I decided to carry out this ‘grave-robbing’ adventure.  I had purchased a padlock that looked more or less like the one on the door of the mausoleum and gathered some tools I figured I might need, but no more than I could carry concealed under my coat.  If I run into anyone on the cemetery, it would be a bit hard to explain what I was doing there, carrying a toolbox in my hands. I arrived in town just after eleven at night, this time parking my car in a different place.

9          There wasn’t a soul around, and I proceeded directly to the cemetery where I began by walking around the area, to make sure no-one was there.  I don’t mind telling you I was nervous and jumpy like all hell and by the time I reached the mausoleum, I was about ready to take off and go home again.  I mustered up enough courage and got the bolt cutter under my belt, where I had hung it.  The weight of it was dragging my pants down.  Once again, I surveyed the area, to make sure I was alone and then carefully and as quiet as possible, I cut the shank on the padlock. It was harder than I thought it would be and made more noise than I had figured.  God almighty, I was jumpy and scared out of my mind.

          Opening the door made even more noise.  The hinges were rusty and squeaked, so I proceeded slowly, opening the door just enough to get inside and then pulled it to again.  With shaking hands, I turned my flashlight on and looked around.  There were two caskets positioned along each of the two side walls and one at the end wall.  I had no idea which coffin contained the remains of Leonardo but went to the one at the end wall, figuring that this most logically must be his.  I needn’t have worried, for there was a metal plaque on the casket with Leonardo’s name, date, and place of birth and his death date.  I wrote it on my hand, not having a notebook with me.

          The casket was made of oak and looked almost new.  I tried to lift the lid, but it was fastened with nails or screws or something.   I bent down and looked under the lid and saw it was secured with screws through a molding along the top of the casket, into the bottom of the cover.  There were two screws, which I removed. Wearing gloves made it difficult, but eventually, I got them out and put them in my pocket, thinking there would be no need to screw them back in again. Leonardo wouldn’t mind.

          Now came the moment I feared the most. I slowly swung the lid open and pointed my flashlight into to the casket. The image of Leonardo was horrid. A surge of Adrenalin went through my veins sending my heart racing. Leonardo’s face looked straight at me, with empty, hollow eye sockets, his skull partly covered with moldy patches of skin, the jaw bone barred and his bony, skinless hands crossed on his chest. His funeral clothes were partially decomposed, and the sight of him horrified me.

          There was a plank screwed onto the inside of the lid.  On it, there was a brass plaque with the name “Leonardo Moretti” engraved on it and his date and place of birth.  I unscrewed the plank, and behind it, within a hollowed out space, there was a thin book or something like it, wrapped in several layers of plastic.  I removed it, screwed the plank back into the lid again, closed it and hurriedly went outside, where I closed the door and put on the padlock I had bought. I looked around to make sure I had not left any evidence of my breaking into the mausoleum, and then returned to my car with the package.  I was shaking like a leaf and just couldn’t get out of town fast enough.   I drove without exceeding the speed limit, fearing the police might stop me.

          The first thing I did when I got home was downing a stiff scotch to calm my jittery nerves.  I was still shaking when I began opening the package. It was wrapped in three layers of plastic which protected a thin volume of something, with a cover of stained leather. Very gingerly, I opened it, and on the first page, I saw some sketches of human anatomy, the same on the second and third, with handwritten notes in different positions on the pages.  I thought it was Italian, but couldn’t be sure at first. Slowly I checked other pages and came across drawings of structural parts of buildings, then some more human anatomy drawings.  Then it struck me.  My God, this was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks. If it’s genuine, it’s worth millions of dollars.  Now I began to understand why Frank had told George about Leonardo possibly intending to leave it to him as a gift. I had to wonder if Leonardo was named after the famous 13th-century artist, because of his family’s ownership of the da Vinci sketchbook and while thinking about that, I remembered the note I had made on my hand; the birthplace of Leonardo Moretti, and wrote it down in my address book.

          Too excited to sleep that night, I began speculating just what on earth I was going to do with this unexpected acquisition.  My first thought was safekeeping it somewhere, and a large bank safe deposit box seemed the ideal solution.  It was just too valuable to keep in the house and how was I going to explain how I came to be the owner of this treasure if I wanted to sell it?  How could I get its authenticity verified, without raising questions?

          The next day, I set about to photograph all the pages of the sketchbook and have large prints made of them.

A week passed by during which I rented a safe deposit box in my bank and tried to find out as much as I could about Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks.  I had read a bit about them and seen pictures of some of his sketches, but had no in-depth knowledge. The local library didn’t provide much information, other than da Vinci frequently wrote in mirror style, which explained why I couldn’t read the writing on the sketches.

          It became apparent that I needed information not available in this country. Italy was indubitably the place to go, and I needed to find out how to approach the search.

           The plaque on Leonardo’s casket indicated he was born in Fiumicino, a town just west of Rome, nestled on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It seemed highly desirable to go and snoop around there and perhaps discover something about the Moretti family’s history in Italy. I called my travel agent and booked a trip to Rome, departing in 4 days.  The bookstore was not a problem; my able assistant of 11 years could easily handle it alone. What he didn’t know about selling books wasn’t worth knowing.

          The trip to Rome was uneventful. The agent had booked me in Hotel Bettoja Atlántico, which proved to be a beautiful old pearl; lovely rooms and great food. I had brought the photos of the sketchbook pages along with the idea of trying to find out if it was authentic but had no idea of just how to do that, without raising suspicion.

          The national central library in Rome was my first stop.  Quite a few books were dealing with Leonardo da Vinci’s art, but I checked mainly those dealing with his sketchbooks. I compared the photographic illustrations of sketchbook pages in the library books against the photos I had taken of those that I “acquired” under circumstances that still didn’t sit right with me.  None matched them. Thus I began to suspect it was either an unknown sketchbook, retained in a private collection away from public scrutiny or a forgery.  There was nothing more I could do in Rome. I headed for Fiumicino, to see what, if anything, if I could find out about the Moretti family.

After I had checked into my hotel and enjoyed a lovely supper, I went to the lobby and asked for a local telephone book.  I sat down in one of the comfortable lobby chairs and began perusing the telephone book and quickly found the name “Moretti.” There were 11 entries in all, which suggested that Leopoldo and his parents/grandparents must have had several relatives in Fiumicino. Then it struck me that it would be unwise to contact any one of them, for how would I explain that I knew the Moretti’s in Barkertown. I suddenly realized that my impulse to come to this town was a mistake. I had wasted my time, all but for finding out that members of the Moretti family were living there.

The next day, I took an early flight to Rome and booked a room in the Hotel Bettoja Atlántico, the one I stayed in when I first arrived in Rome. I decided my trip was not going to be completely wasted, so I stayed in Rome for three days.  On the last day, I visited some antique book stores to see I I could find something of interest to sell in my book store at home. One or two caught my attention, both of them dealing with Roman antiquities.  I bought one, published in 1900 at a reasonable price.

On the flight home to Canada, I pondered on what to do with the Da Vinci sketchbook, and then it struck me.  Why not just say that my father had bought a box full of books at an auction in Barker Town, and after removing the book he was interested in, had put it in the basement, where it joined several others. He had not recognized the Da Vincy sketchbook as something of value and left it in the box. I had decided to go through all the boxes to see if there was anything worth keeping before I discarded them, and that’s when I found the sketchbook.

The more I thought about this, the more liked the idea.

It was great to be home and get the feel of the bookstore again.  I kept thinking about how to reveal the fact that I had this sketchbook that “might be” a Da Vincy.  I decided to send some of the photocopied pages I had made to a reputable expert in Da Vincy’s artworks and found one in New York City.  I mailed the photocopies to him, without explaining how I got them.

Ten days later, I received a phone call, asking if I was John Norton and the person who had sent the photocopies, to which I replied in the affirmative. He inquired if he could examine the original and I arranged to meet him in New York City in three days. His name is George Lucas, and he gave me his address in Manhattan.

The meeting with George in his plush Manhattan office went well.  He asked me how I had acquired the sketchbook, but like I said to him, I need to have it authenticated before I can reveal how I got.

He asked if I could leave it with him for a couple of days, as he needed to do some tests on it.  I agreed to this, provided he would give me a receipt, signed in the presence of a lawyer. After this was done, I returned to Ontario.

Two days later, early in the morning, I received a phone call from George in Manhattan.  His voice sounded excited, and he said he had excellent news for me.  The sketchbook was by Da Vincy and very valuable.  He offered me two million dollars for it, which just about floored me. I hesitated for a while, then politely declined.  I figured it may be worth more than that and I told him I would pick it up tomorrow.

I arrived in New York in the early afternoon, and after paying George his fee for the authentication documents of the sketchbook, I signed a receipt for it, thanked him for his efforts and returned home to Ontario. Before I left, he told me that there was no record of the sketchbook having been owned by someone or stolen, so it must have come from an estate or owner(s) who have held it for many generations and kept knowledge of its existence private. The same happens to valuable paintings and other artworks that have vanished for a couple of hundred years or more, and then suddenly shows up. I didn’t comment on that.

I had to figure out how to sell the sketchbook, without anyone knowing who I was, for I still had an uneasy feeling about the 11 Moretti entries I had seen in the phone book in Fiumicino.  I know that Sotheby Auctioneers will keep both seller and buyer names confidential, so maybe that’s the way to go.

I put the sketchbook back in the safety deposit box in the bank and then settled down for a few days to compose my thoughts and calm my anxiety.

Six days later, I placed a phone call to Sotheby in New York and asked to speak to someone in the antique arts department. A man, introducing himself as Frederick Barnes asked if he could help me.  I quickly explained that I had a Da Vincy sketchbook, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by George Lucas of Manhattan, who I was sure he was familiar with.  He concurred but said he would have to examine the sketchbook before he agreed to put it on auction for me. I informed him that anonymity was of paramount importance to me, but he would be free to check anything he wanted respecting the authenticity of the sketchbook and anything else he deemed necessary.

We agreed to meet in New York City in four days.

Once again, my anxiety increased and I had trouble sleeping. I just wanted to get this whole affair over with. I had not even anticipated the possible windfall I would get from auctioning the sketchbook.  What on Gods earth would I do with a few million dollars which it appears I would get.

The meeting with Frederick Barnes at Sotheby’s in New York City went without any problems.  He took delivery of the sketchbook and examined it briefly, appearing quite impressed by what he saw. I gave him a copy of the certificate of authenticity from George Lucas, and he gave me a receipt for both. He indicated that the Sotheby’s auctioneer fee was ten percent, which I agreed to. In writing.  After some discussions as to how the auction would proceed if he accepted the item, we bid a cordial farewell, and I headed back to Ontario again.  He said he would call me as soon as he had a decision.

It was ten days before Frederick Barnes called me; the longest ten days in my life. Most nights I had lain awake pondering on a possible new future and where to go if I left my hometown. Frederick said that they had accepted the item for auction and one would take place in New York in two weeks.  I asked him what he estimated the sketchbook would sell for and I was utterly floored when he said not less than ten million dollars.

To remain as anonymous as possible, I wanted to bank the money outside Canada. I began looking around, and the Cayman Islands seemed a logical choice, but it had too many requirements for documents and personal Id’s.  A Swiss bank account would be easier to open, and I chose that.  There was lots of help on the internet as to how to do it. I made a reservation to Geneva two days ahead, to give me time to get funding from my own bank to open the account with.

I asked for a certified bank draft from my bank for $30,000.00, which took the balance on my account down a few notches, but considering what I potentially had coming, it was a mere bagatelle.

The trip to Geneva was smooth and opening an account went equally well.  My passport served as documentation for my identity, and I received the details of my account, and it’s balance after I deposited the $30,000.00. I left for home the next day and settled down to wait for the auction in New York.

Nine days later, Fredrick Barnes called me from New York,  The sketchbook had been sold to an anonymous buyer for 16 million dollars.  He asked if I wanted to come to New York to settle the account, but I declined, asking him instead to deposit the net amount to my new Swiss bank account.

I was astounded, to say the least, and I seriously had to plan my future, adjusted to my new wealth.

My first action was to transfer 150,000,00 dollars to my bank account here from my Swiss account and then to buy a large motor-home. I arranged to have my assistant live rent free in my house and to run the business, taking fifty percent of the profits for his efforts and crediting the rest to my local bank account. I loaded the motor-home with the most precious belongings I had in the house and then informed my assistant that I would be leaving on an extended journey to places as of yet unknown to me.  He did not understand why I wanted to leave, but I said that I wanted a new life in my senior years.  I think he understood.

Two days later, I bid farewell to my assistant and left the town that I had lived in all my life. I felt excited and invigorated by the prospects of being able to go wherever I wanted.

I passed through Barker Town on my way and stopped for a cup of coffee. I picked up yesterdays newspaper (Barker Town Daily News), and on page three, I found an article that stunned me.  The paper reported that a catacomb on the Catholic cemetery had been broken into and the five caskets inside it had been opened as if someone was looking for something that may have been put into one or several of them. It was not possible to determine if anything had been stolen since there were no records of anything being present in any of the caskets.  The catacomb belonged to the Moretti family, all of whom were dead, and no-one had been designated to care for the upkeep of it. No suspects had been apprehended, and the whole case is just a mystery.

I was completely non-plussed by the article and could only think that the Moretti’s in Italy had found out about the Da Vincy sketchbook auction, but that would be pure speculation, and at any rate, there was no way they could figure I was involved.  I was safe to drive into the sunset of my life.

 

 

Comments are welcome

This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

 

 

  

 

 


My father was born May 13, 1907, in Hornegyden, which is a part of the village of Horne; a small rural community located a few kilometers from the town of Faaborg, on the Island of Fyn, in Denmark.  He was the first born and only child of Søren Peter Larsen and his wife, Jensine Petrine Larsen and Christened Knud Christian Larsen.  His first name came from his paternal grandfather and the second from his maternal grandfather.  His father worked as a wagon driver at Horne West Mill at the time of his birth, so he started life under humble circumstances. Most people were relatively poor, so he wasn’t any worse off than his fellow human beings in the rural community that was to be his home for a few years.  The photo below shows the house where he was born.  It was close to the waters of Faaborg Fjord and it is pure luck that a photo of the place still exists since the house was torn down just after the Second World War, at which time it was much more than one hundred years old. Note the dirt road and the cobblestone pavement in front of this triplex building.

  1. dk-024

 

The two children standing by the house are me (aged 5) and my sister Mona, aged  8.

Dad spent the first two or three years in Horne and then moved to Faaborg with his parents.  I don’t know the exact year, but I do know that his father began working for a brewery called “Sydfynsk Bryggeri”, (meaning South Fyn Brewery) around 1910 or possibly as late as 1912.  At first, they lived on the outskirts of town somewhere on Assens Rd., but in 1920 or 21, they rented the third-floor apartment of a new building in town, on the corner of Grønnegade (Green St.) and Østergade (East St.)  This became his home, perhaps the only one he ever remembered.

Faaborg was not a big city then and still isn’t today.  The population has remained around 6000 inhabitants for most of the last century, but it is a very old town, receiving its designation as an incorporated town in the 11th century.  He grew up amongst many old straw-thatched houses and cobblestone pavement, wherever there was any pavement.  The economy was predominantly agricultural and fishing, with an export of many farming products to other European countries. A couple of large merchant firms dominated the economy insofar that they had the biggest stores and were the biggest buyers of raw products. For some years, his father was employed” at South Fyn Brewery, as a wagon driver, delivering beer to farms, stores and manor houses in the upland.  Later, he became a malt maker, a position he retained for the remainder of the 40 years he was employed by the brewery. In this working-class environment, my father spent his childhood and formative years.  I know little about his childhood, for I never inquired much about this phase of his life.  He told me he had a little dog he had named “Dukken”, meaning “Doll.”  The dog was lame in one leg that accidentally had been squeezed in a door. A couple of photos of him and his dog have survived

The photo of him, together with his cousin Ellen Nielsen is assumed to be from the town of Odense since she was born there.  The street is paved with square granite cobblestones.  Note the wagon loaded with sacks of grain.

I remember my father telling me that he never went to school in Horne, so he completed his grade school in Faaborg.  At the age of 14, after completing grade 8, he was taken out of school and apprenticed to a cabinet maker in town.  This would have been in 1921.

His father, my grandfather Peter Larsen once told me that the cabinet maker also was in the business of making caskets and that the first two years, my father did nothing else but making these.  Grandfather finally got mad, went up to see the owner of the cabinet shop and flat out told him that if his son had to make another casket for the rest of his apprenticeship, he would be taken to another shop to complete his training.  This must have made some impact, for he completed his apprenticeship in 1926 and received his journeyman certificate on May 1, 1926.  A copy of the original can be seen on the last page.

My father had a talent for music and began taking violin lessons sometime around the age of 16.  From 1926, following completion of his apprenticeship, to around February 1928, he studied music in Copenhagen and learned to play the trumpet in addition to continuing his violin studies. I don’t know whom he studied under, or which music school he attended, but it resulted in him choosing a career in music.  When the music business was bad, he reverted to his secondary profession as a cabinet maker.

It should read: age 18 and 1925

 

On May 10, 1928, he was conscripted into the Danish army and served as a musician until January 5, 1929.  It appears that eight-month was the required service time back in those days.

 

He served in the second company, 16th battalion where for two months he received his basic training and where he also served as a company bugler for the fourth company.  He was then assigned to the 6th Regiments headquarters company as a regimental musician (see photo above)  This was a cushy job, for all he did was to play at official functions for the officers together with other musicians.  There he completed his service and his army discharge certificate states that he had served with distinction.  Both his discharge certificate and his record of service book (a little book with a red cover) have survived.


Now comes a period of years in which he dedicated his life to music.  He played in a number of different orchestras.  Numerous photos of him together with the band members of these orchestras exist.  The first and earliest is from 1929, the same year he was discharged from the army.

The first (above) is a dance band.  Dad is holding his violin and his trumpet is standing on the floor.  Of the many photos of bands he played in, one stands out a bit more than the others in importance. Sometime during the winter of 1933-34, he played in a dance restaurant called “Knudsborg” in my birth town, Fredericia, in Jutland, Denmark.

One night, while he was playing, he saw a pretty girl amongst the patrons and sent a note down to her, asking her to wait for him when the dancing was over.  The girl was my mother, Elinor Vera Bøgebjerg Møller, and she did wait for him.  He began courting her and obviously successfully  so

since otherwise  I would not be sitting here writing about it.

I think the two photos above best shows what my parents looked like at the time.  Both are taken in springtime, 1934.  My father is shown standing in the garden of his future in-laws and my mother close to one of the ponds in front of the old city fortress ramparts.  It is quite certain that they became engaged that spring.

During the summer of 1934, dad played in a resort hotel on the island of Bornholm in Denmark. The hotel was called “Sandvig Badehotel”.  Sandvig is the name of a town and badehotel literally translated means:”Bath Hotel,”, which we here in North America, of course, refer to as a “beach resort hotel.”  Mother received permission to visit her fiancé while he played in the orchestra in Sandvig, and, according to my father, appropriately escorted by one of her girlfriends, (Kirsten).  She spent a couple of weeks there and many photos from that time have survived.

Beach resort hotels could be found at all the most popular beaches in Denmark at that time.  They were popular vacation destinations and dance music by such orchestras as my father played in were part of the scene in those days.  During dinner, they would play typical dinner music, mostly semi-classical or quiet popular tunes, followed by dance music after dinner.  I think, of all the photos I have of my parents, the three above shows them at one of the happiest times of their lives.  Both my parents were quite photogenic, but especially dad. The two of them, photographed together that summer, so wonderfully shows two people in love.

 On November 10, 1934, dad left bachelorhood for good and married his sweetheart, my mother Elinor Vera Bøgebjerg Møller.

 

In the spring of 1935, my sister Mona Bøgebjerg Larsen saw the light of day for the first time.  This event was greeted with great enthusiasm for with her arrival, both my mother’s and my father’s parents became grandparents.

Grandfather Peter Larsen was sixty years old and Grandfather Sigfred Møller was 48 and as such quite young yet.  My parents were both living in the town of Faaborg, and this was to continue for a few more years, but sometimes in 1937, they moved to Fredericia, the home of my mother’s parents. I once asked my father why, they moved, for I knew he loved the area where he was born.  He replied that it was a matter of economy.  Fredericia was a bigger city and close to many other large cities.  It was a matter of getting more work as a musician and most restaurants that employed orchestras were located in cities.

From innumerable photos of orchestras he had played in, it is evident that he traveled around the country quite a lot, but he usually managed to come home late each night by taking the train from the city he played in.

Their first home in Fredericia was on Egumsvej 8.  It was a relatively small place. Located just outside the ramparts of the old fortress and here I was born on February 15, 1938.

According to my mother, dad was hysterically happy for now he had a son. I have no recollection of living in this place since in late 1939, my parents moved downtown, to a very fashionable apartment in Danmarksgade 10, on the third (top) floor and this would remain my parent’s home for 40 years and the place where both my sister and I grew up.

There was a large department store on the ground floor, selling women’s fashions, bedding, and carpets amongst other. Mr. Christian Nielsen and his wife Dora owned the department store and the whole building.  They became close friends of my parents for many, many years.

My Father frequently played in dance bands in local dinner-dance restaurants, which meant that he would be home every night after the restaurants closed.  Back in those days, a good restaurant would have a band playing background music during dinner and dance music afterward.  The Second World War between 1940 and 1945 did not interrupt Dad’s work as a musician, quite to the contrary.  Shortly after the German army invaded Denmark, everything became rationed and it wasn’t long before you couldn’t buy anything worth having.  Since people still worked and had some kind of income, they spend a lot of it on restaurants and entertainment.  Dancing was popular, so dad was busy playing music all during the war years.  There were times when it was difficult for him to come home at night, due to curfews imposed by the Germans.  This was especially true when he played somewhere outside the city limits, and he later told me that he had been chased by soldiers many times when he tried to sneak back into town again during the late night.

Some hard times came just after the war was over and dad had, from time to time, to return to his old trade as a cabinetmaker, although he still kept playing dance music on weekends in various restaurants.  It was a time of rebuilding the land and lives that had been shattered by the war.  It was time to return to the old way of life, but it really never came back.  The war had changed people and there was a desire to forge ahead and build a new order, a new way of living that would put the past behind and built something better.  It took many years, but slowly, things improved and Denmark emerged as a nation that gradually became modernized, reducing the centuries’ old agricultural based economy to a position of lesser importance and manufacturing taking a leading role in the country’s economic system.

My father passed away peacefully in 1995, at the age of 88.  He would have been 89 years old 23 days later, had he lived.  I saw him last time during Christmas and New Years 1990 when my wife Vanessa and I stopped by in Denmark on the way back from Indonesia. His wife, my mother Elinor Larsen passed away on July 20, 1988, thus he outlived her by 7 years.

I have many, many good memories of my father from the time I was a child and young man. They will live in my soul until the day I join the rest of my family, all of whom are now dead.

 

 


 

Vittepigen” means Vitte Girl and that was my nickname for many years, although only my mother and father used it. I was born on January 8, 1921, in Fredericia, Denmark and christened in Trinitatis Church with the name Vita Irene Bøgebjerg Møller.

If one was born inside the ramparts of the fortress in Fredericia, one had the right to be called a “Rampart child,” either “ Rampart girl” or “Rampart boy” and since I was born in Bjergegade 68, which lies inside the ramparts, I was a “Rampart girl.”

My father, Niels Sigfred Carl Eigler Bøgebjerg Møller was born in Fredericia November 13, 1886, and christened in Trinitatis Church December 26, 1886. He was the son of Jens Møller and his wife, Karen Nielsen, who lived in Sjælland Street at the time of his birth. My mother, Marie Christine Møller, born Petersen, March 18, 1889, in Fredericia and christened in Trinitatis Church June 16, 1889, was the daughter of Thomas Petersen and his wife, Mette Kirstine Madsen Bæk, neither of them were born in Fredericia. I had a sister, Elinor Vera Bøgebjerg Møller, who was born 9 years before me on January 6, 1912, in Fredericia. She married Knud Christian Larsen from the town of Faaborg on the island of Fyn on November 10, 1934.

A brother by the name of Carly was born between Elinor and me, but he died as an infant of Thrush, a fungal disease, which shows up as small, whitish spots on the linings in the mouth, throat and on the tongue.

We lived in a two-room apartment, consisting of a large combination dining and living room and a reasonable large bedroom, where mom, dad, and sister Elinor slept. We had a reasonably good kitchen, but no bath. Elinor and I would fill a large tub with warm water in the kitchen every Saturday and we would get thoroughly washed and then get our underwear changed.

We didn’t have a flush toilet in the apartment, only an outhouse in the backyard. I was not allowed out there after dark because of the rats and mice that scurried around there after dark, so I had to use and enamel bucket with a lid on it in which there was a hole, and my mother emptied this every morning in the backyard.

On the main floor lived the Jørgensen family. They had four or five children. I don’t remember the precise number. They were often spanked on their bare bottoms if they did not behave and this happened so often that they would pee in their pants out of fear. I was completely horrified of this, for I had never received corporal punishment, neither from my father nor my mother and it’s quite certain that I misbehaved every now and then.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the floor above us, (the top floor), lived an elderly man with his grown-up daughter, who had a little son by the name of Helge. I often played together with him, while his mother was at work at the Bloch & Andresen factory. Little by little, he became like a little-adapted brother to me, for mother also cared for him quite a bit, something his mother greatly appreciated.

When I was a little girl, my clothes consisted of an undershirt, a kind of girder with elastic band on it that buttoned on to my stockings to hold them up. My mother knit the stockings, which were quite thick so they would make my legs look a bit fuller. I was very thin when I was a girl, a condition I later grew out of. On top of this, I wore something called an “Uldklokke” a kind of sweater, home knit from 100 per cent pure wool, with hooked fringes, made from the same kind of wool, but died pink. My pants were made from a light brown material called “Macco”, with a fleecy inside and elastic in the pants legs.

I hated my dress so much that some nights I would dream that I was walking down the street wearing this outfit, which was so short that if I pulled it down in the front, it would slide up in the back or vice versa, a most unfortunate situation since my bum was bare. This wasn’t a dream; it was a nightmare. When I started school, I was surely the last one in my class to be permitted to change from long stockings to short, white ankle socks when summer arrived. Otherwise, I was rather spoiled and always smartly dressed. My sister Elinor was nine years older than I and when she was old enough, she became an apprentice seamstress and after completing her apprenticeship she began her own business sewing clothes, which resulted in me always being rather smartly dressed.

As mentioned, the sanitary conditions in my birth home were not too good, but a fine solution for this existed. In the railroad shunting yards on Holsten Street, there was a little red brick house, where some rooms had been equipped with bathtubs. I don’t remember what it cost to have a bath there, but it was reserved for employees of The Danish State Railways. My father was head porter at the Fredericia rail station and later became superintendent of the shunting yard, so I was permitted to go and take a bath there.

I began school at the age of seven, while we still lived downtown in Bjerge street, but shortly thereafter, we moved to number 4 Egeskov Road, now renamed “July 6th road.” The schools were referred to as “The Parish schools” and we began in the Slesvig Street School, attending this for two years, followed by two years in the technical school in Fyn Street and finally three years in the Dale Street School for girls.

In the school, we were seated by the number and we would receive a booklet showing our grades. The classes were grouped alphabetically “A, B, C and D.” The “A” class had the best and most capable students, the other classes with the progressively less able students. I was assigned to the “A” class and stayed there until the seventh grade when I was 14 years old and became confirmed.

During the years I went to school, there were two swimming clubs up at East Beach, one for women and one for men. While at the Dale Street School, we used the women beach club facilities during the summer. We were marched there in columns from the school and learned both swimming and diving, including diving from the springboard. This activity replaced gymnastics, which was mainly a winter sports activity in the school. The club consisted of a wooden building with a number of small change rooms, a small, stretch of sandy beach for sun tanning and a long wooden wharf extending a good ways into the water, at the end of which there was a diving board. We thought it was wonderful to be there and often used the facility after school hours.

There was a small store close to the school owned by a Mr. Lind. Besides being able to buy pens, paper, and pencils, we could also buy candy. There was a particular kind called “Salmiakpastiller, (a salty licorice) which we thought tasted great and had a lot of fun with. They were very thin, small and diamond-shaped. By licking them on one side and sticking them on the back of the hand or wrist, we could make a pattern in the form of a star or whatever else we could think of. We would then sit and lick them with our tongues. They tasted very nice and would last a long time. Apricot bread was another form of candy we could buy in the store. It was made from apricot pulp, rolled into large, almost paper thin sheets and it could be bought in various sizes, depending on how much money one was willing to spend. This was also a delicacy.

All the schools’ records are stored in the local historical archives. Amongst them is the one from my class and here are written all the grades from year to year. I was never number one in my class, but several times I came in as number two. There were approximately 40 students in my class.

While attending school, I often wondered why my name was Vita, so I asked my mother about the origin of my name. I didn’t know anyone else named Vita, neither inside nor outside the school. She told me that while she was pregnant with me, she had read in the local newspaper (Fredericia Daily News) about a little girl by the name of Vita, who had gone down to the paper’s editor with a butterfly, which she had found in the dairy’s yard. It was a messenger of spring, even though it was in January.

In the local historical archives, one can also find newspapers dating all the way back to 1849. In Fredericia Daily News from 1921, I found on page three, column two, the story about the butterfly that the little girl “Vita” had brought in on January 12. It was thus quite true what my mother had told me.

My father was president of the railroad abstinence club, a non-drinkers association. When a lottery took place in the association’s clubhouse, I was put up on a table and asked to draw the lots. Incidentally, I also learned to dance in a hotel called “Afholdshottellet” in Fyn Street. Many well-attended dances and card games were held in this hotel. Prizes awarded to winners in a card game often consisted of ducks.

The association also had a Christmas savings club, were members throughout the year could buy savings stamps, which they glued into their Christmas savings books. Shortly before Christmas, the books were collected from the members and my father plus three or four of the members began counting the stamps. This took place during several evenings in our home, while I lived at Egeskov Road No. 4. The members who did the counting constituted the collective Board of Directors, and I was very eager to get commissioned to count, or rather re-count the stamps in the books. These were always joyful evenings.

I also became a member of the “Abstinence Club,” when I was a half-grown girl and remember the times when we had meetings at Afholdshottellet, in Fyn Street. There was a large cabinet on the first floor of the hotel, filled with club regalia in various sizes. Those for the children were all white and designed to be pulled down over the head and hang across the chest. The name of the host was Mr. Junge, who was very popular amongst the adults as well as the children. While living in Bjerge Street, we played in the street and in the yard behind the house. There were some games and playing hide-and-seek. From time to time a hobo would come up the street. We called him “Sanfus” and when he came staggering up the street, I had strict instructions to come home immediately. This was because mom and dad were non-drinkers. They had been so from the day were engaged and remained so until they died. This had to be respected.

For me, these were pretty good times and I was well looked after. In our Bjerge Street apartment, we had a two-way street mirror and often times I would have a cozy moment with my mother, sitting on her lap and looking into the street mirror, especially around the time when my father was expected home from work. Since he worked on various shifts, it was often late before he arrived home. This could happen on Christmas Eve also, which was not funny at all. The time spent waiting for him could be insufferable long, but Christmas was never celebrated before his arrival home.

While we lived in Bjerge Street, our shopping was done in various places. The Baker lived on the corner of Bjerge and Sjællands streets. His name was Baker Skov. In his shop, I often bought a quarter’s worth of day-old Danish pastry, together with some other goodies, which all in all came to quite a bag full. From time to time I would go down to the railroad cooperative store, which at the time was located in Jyllands Street No. 22. On the way there, I would pass by Printer Ottesen’s book printing and bookbinding store, located at Axeltorv, the main town square. I could stand on a small, elevated platform, just outside the window and see the machines working. That was quite exciting.

My father’s tobacco, I would go and fetch at Cigar Dealer Jeppe Jensen, at his store in Jyllands Street and he was very kind, always giving me a little candy. At Svendehjemmet in Konge Street 48 (meaning King Street), I picked up the kindling for our heating stove. Fish was bought at the fishmonger, who came up the street, pulling a small cart filled with fish and always shouting something about his wares, such as: “Herring is good!”

There were two drawers in father’s tobacco table. One was used for pipe tobacco (he smoked something called “Mélange Nicot”) for his long pipes; the other drawer was used for pipe ashes. When the latter was full, it was poured into a bag and I would go up to Mr. Mogensen, who lived in Købmager Street 47 (meaning Merchant Street) and give it to him. He would use this to make snuff with. In return, he would give me some eggs to bring home. The Mogensen’s had a wonderful garden at the rear of the house, where they kept a bunch of chickens. Incidentally, my father’s tobacco table was one of my favorite indoor location to play at. There was a small shelf a little below the drawers, which I used for many things. I was seven years old at the time and my legs could just fit underneath the table.

As a child, I was very fuzzy about what I ate. If we were having something for dinner I didn’t like, I was given permission to go down to the butcher, who lived a bit further down the road and buy ten cents worth of liver pate’, which came to quite a nice slice. I would eat this together with potatoes and some gravy.

Christmas in our home was celebrated in the traditional manner, with roast pork or duck, served with red cabbage and candied potatoes. One thing, however, was different from many other homes. We also had creamed kale with cooked, cold pork (fresh, uncured bacon) and smoked, cured boneless pork rib roast (called Hamburgerryg in Danish), served with mustard and pickled red beets. We could eat whatever we wanted to and I preferred the creamed kale. Naturally, we drank ‘Nisseøl’ and for dessert, we had Rice a la’Mande.

After dinner, we would go in and dance around the Christmas tree. This was followed by distribution of Christmas presents. It was always I, the youngest, who had charge of this responsibility. It brings me to think about an event, which happened shortly before one Christmas. I was out shopping with mother and on the way downtown, I asked her what they were giving me for Christmas. Naturally, mother wouldn’t tell me, but I kept insisting and finally, she said: You are getting a gold arm bracelet.” They were very fashionable in those days. Mother insisted that come Christmas, I was not to let on I knew what I was getting. Thus, on Christmas Eve, when I began handing out the Christmas presents, I naturally looked for a small square package, which perhaps might contain an arm bracelet, but I couldn’t find any.

Puzzled, I looked at my mother and she said: ”Try looking under the couch!” I proceeded to do this and hauled out a very large package. It contained a large, beautiful doll, with real hair and brown eyes, which could open and close and it was nicely dressed. There was only one thing wrong. I never cared much for playing with dolls. One day, when dad coma back from work, I had hidden under mom and dad’s double bed, something I did quite often. Naturally, dad had long ago discovered this, but he had brought home a small wind-up type toy train, and run it in under the bed to me. This made me extremely happy. I think I should have been a boy, as far as toys were concerned.

When I was a bit older, I had learned how to draw in school and played with paper dolls. Us girls designed all the clothes for the dolls on paper which were kept in exercise books. This was quite a game and we felt as if we were fashion designers. Often, we sat up on the old fortress ramparts and played with them. We also played song games, such as: ”Take this ring and let it wander from one to the other.”

My mother’s family I knew little of. I had only seen mother’s father one time when I was very little and lived in Bjerge Street 68, so this must have been before I was seven years old. Contrarily, I knew my father’s family very well and we often socialized with them. My father’s brother’s name was August and he was married to Aunt Laura. They had five children, two boys, and three girls. The boys were named James Carl and Egon and the girls Marie, Sigrid, and Sonja. We visited them often and I played together with Egon and Sonja, who were the same age as me. ”Uncle August”, as we called him was a ”Big loaf of bread” , strong as a bear, but a convivial character, who was fond of children. He would pull five cent coins out of the noses of children (well, at least he pretended to) and they were considerable impressed by this.

My father’s sister, Aunt Inger, was a spinster and remained unmarried until her death. She lived near the Church in Egeskov (meaning ”Oak Forrest”), close to Fredericia and was employed as a housekeeper for a widowed gentleman, who had a little son. From time to time, I would go and visit

 her and we traveled to her place in a horse gig. It was Uncle August who arranged the trips and he was also the driver. My cousins, Egon and Sonja, often came along and it was fun to ride in the gig. I remember during one of those trips that Uncle August suddenly stopped. There was a package laying on the road in front of us. Uncle jumped off the gig and proceeded to go and pick it up, but as soon as he reached for it, it disappeared into the ditch. Two boys, hidden there, had tied a string to the parcel so they could pull it. We laughed a lot about this and so did the two boys.

In the newspaper: ”Fredericia Daily News” of August 25, 1931, I read about a funny experience that uncle August had. The article stated:

Yesterday, two warehouse workers made a bet that one of them, August Møller, could drive a colleague to the town of Snohøj and back again in a wheelbarrow within a time span of two hours. The trip began at 2:15 in the afternoon and during the following two hours; quite a few people had assembled along Strand Road, to witness the race. When Møller arrived back, the trip had taken half an hour longer than needed, to win the bet, which was only a small amount. Ha had an accident along the way in that he stepped on a nail, which hurt his foot. Many people followed the two men on the last stretch of the road to the finish line. Even though he did not win the bet, it was never the less an impressive accomplishment and this morning his friends gave Møller 10 Kr. (Kroner) and a silver spoon as a reward for his performance.”

On the 28th of August, 1931, Fredericia Daily News writes that Uncle August will make another attempt to drive his colleague “Ernst” in a wheelbarrow from Fredericia to Snohøj and back. The article stated:

This time, Møller actually succeeded, in that he made the round trip in two hours and five minutes. The fact that he was able to reduce his time by 25 minutes was in part due to Møller’s better condition and also because this time he had positioned his passenger in a more practical way so that the weight was not as great as last time. When the two wheelbarrow men arrived at the finish line by the railroad crossing on Strand Road, a very large group of people had gathered, amongst them many of his colleagues, who had shown an interest in this undertaking and hailed this little expedition.

 

Amongst mom and dad’s friends from the abstinence club were Andreas Pedersen and his wife Johanne, whom I was quite fond of. While I was a little girl, I could not pronounce their correctly and thus called them: “Gres and Per.” Gres worked at Fredericia Coal Gas generating station, which wasn’t very far from our home in Bjerge Street 68. From time to time, it happened that Gres had forgotten his lunch bucket and since he and Per lived close by our place, they would send for me, so that I could bring him his lunch down at the gas works, something I didn’t mind doing. It was something of a big experience for me each time. I would get Gres to open one of the great gates to the coal roasting ovens and God, how the flames flared up inside them. I both thrilled and shivered at the spectacle.

While we lived at Egeskov Road No. 4 and I was attending school in Dale Street, I could either walk or bike to school. When I walked, I always went through The Prince’s Gate. On the city side of the gate were situated two small fences made of iron pipe, on each side of the gate. On these, I would always do a series of somersaults, before I went home. I thought this was a lot of fun and, by the way, they still exist at the very moment I’m writing, September 1994

During my childhood and youth, we were quite involved in the annual festivity called: “The Sixth of July Day.” This day commemorates the battle at Fredericia on July 6, 1849. On the part of the ramparts called “Prince George’s Bastion”, some of the old cannons were still mounted there and soldiers, wearing uniforms of the 1849 period, were firing the canons, which were pointed toward Venders Street. They gave some terrific “Bangs,” which rather scared me a bit, but I wanted to go up and see it. So mother had to wake me early in the morning, around 6 in the morning, I believe it was when the shooting started. So it was, that I stood out there on the ramparts, holding my hands against my ears, scared and thrilled all at the same time. Later there would be a procession through the streets and speeches were given at various commemorative monuments.

The celebration actually already began on July 5th, in the evening. People would show up with flower bouquets, which were laid on the grass around the statue of “Landsoldaten.”

There were many different types of flower bouquets, ranging from very expensive, store-bought flowers to those coming from gardens and also bouquets of wild flowers. Each year, when I was a little girl, I would get a new white dress on this occasion. This type of dress was very popular and much used in then.

Back in those days, there would be carriages in the procession, filled with veterans from the 1849 war, but of course, they are all dead now. Nevertheless, there was great jubilation amongst people, when their horse-drawn carriages passed by them.

While living at Egeskov Road 4, something both unpleasant and exciting happened, and that was a fire. The event was described in the newspaper: “The Social Democrat” on November 16, 1931. I was ten years old then and playing hide and seek with another girl on the day of the fire. We had gone through the gate to the yard of a farm, located close to where we lived and we saw that the barn was on fire. I rushed into the cow stable, where some girls were milking the cows and shouted; “Fire, fire!”

At about seven PM, the fire department was called and they arrived quickly with a lot of equipment. Four hoses were laid out and connected to pumps set up at the fire hydrant outside a place called “Rosenlund.” Some of the fire crew began fighting the fire, while others helped the owners and their workers rescue the animals from the stables, which was difficult since the fire had started so suddenly. There were 23 heads of cattle in the barn and although they managed to get them all out, three of them had suffered so severely from smoke inhalation that they were put down as soon as came out.

It was especially hard to get the pigs out since they didn’t want to leave the barn. Many of them had to be carried out, which took quite some time and it wasn’t possible to get them all out. The flames had spread and it had become too dangerous to rescue them all. Several piglets, four brood sows, and a boar fell victim to the flames. The hen house, which was attached to the barn, also burned and a lot of chickens succumbed in the smoke and flames.

Within an hour’s time or so, the firemen had gained control of the fire and at nine PM, the firefighters could return to the station. I fire guard remained behind, to keep an eye on the smoldering embers. It was stated in the newspaper that the cause of the fire could not be attributed to any electrical malfunctions since there were no wires where the fire had started. It was also determined that none of the people who lived there could have started the fire since all of them were working someplace else at the time the fire started. It is possible, however, that the fire may have started as a result of children playing with matches since the two girls who discovered the fire had seen two boys throwing lighted matches in the alley behind the farm. The barn wall facing the alley was in a state of disrepair, resulting in some straw protruding from it. Thus it is entirely possible that the two boys caused the fire.

 

The following afternoon, an inquest was held and the two boys were questioned. One of the two girls was also questioned, and that was I, something I still remember very clearly.

I was not some scared little wimp when I was 13 years old. My sister, Elinor, was more scared than I, even though she was nine years older. I remember one night when my parents had a card game at our place on Egeskov Rd. At the time, my father was having a house constructed on Spurvevej 5 (meaning Sparrow Rd) and he discovered he had forgotten his wallet out at the construction site. Since the house was not yet completed, there was no electricity in it and when dad asked my sister Elinor to go and fetch his wallet so that he could pay what he had lost in the card game, she said no. She didn’t dare to go out there in the dark. “Never mind”, I said, “Lend me your bike and I’ll go and get it.” The bike had a light on it and I went and got dad’s wallet.

Seaman, Chief Mate C.H. Hansen, and his wife owned the place we lived in on Egeskov Road and they tended to spoil me a lot. I learned to embroider at their married daughter’s place.
Her married name was Ellen Kragekjær and I embroidered everything that needed embroidering on my sister Elinor’s bridal outfit.

Much as I was spoiled, I was not permitted to decide everything for myself, especially if it involved something dangerous for me. After I had attended school for some years, I began to assert myself and found some interesting things to do in my spare time. I was quite good at gymnastics at school so I took out a membership in K.I.F. (Kvindelig Idræts Forening) where I took swimming lessons during the summer and gymnastics in wintertime. Later I also began “Step” and “Plastik.”

At the age of 13, in 1934, we moved to the new house on Spurvevej 5, which now had been completed. The house had a large room in the basement, which was used as a guest room and other things. I used this for training in gymnastics. By and By, I became a member of the elite team. Once, we were scheduled to put on an exhibition in the town of Odense on Fyn Island. We had to practice a particular gymnastics program, accompanied to music and in this respect; I was lucky, for I had a portable record player down in the basement room and a collection of records. Amongst them, I found a recording of “Stars and Stripes”, which suited precisely both the rhythm and the length of this gymnastics program. I remembered all the exercises, so I trained like mad at home in the basement. At our next official training meet, which took place at nighttime, I could remember all the exercises without making any errors. Because of this, I was put in front of the team, with the rest of the team following, and this made me quite proud. Our team became a success in Odense, and the whole affair was filmed.

During the summer, I benefited greatly from membership in the KIF in that I was taught both swimming and diving at the ladies swimming club on the east beach. We also had swimming competitions in on of the large harbor basins. The water was very deep there, which scared me somewhat.

My father’s position at the railroad entitled him to certain privileges, including “permission”, meaning he could get extra days off. He was also entitled to free travel anywhere the trains went and my parents would often take the train to either Filskov or Thorsø and our summer vacations were generally spent in either place. In Filskov, we vacationed on a nice farm named “Filskovsminde” owned by my aunt and uncle. It consisted of three buildings and a large storage shed for peat bricks, used for fuel during the winter. Although modernized somewhat, the farm still exists today.

An example of an arrival at the farm on a winter day would be something like the following. We would arrive by train at the railroad station in Filskov and outside, uncle Søren Christian would be waiting for us with his horse and carriage. We would then be driven to the farm and immediately be bidden into the large, cozy warm kitchen, where Aunt Edeline would be busy preparing some food. On some winter days, it could happen that I got cold hands, but aunt Edeline had a good remedy for that. On the back of the kitchen stove, there was a hot water container called a “Gris” (meaning “a pig”) and it was always filled with hot water. Edeline would put an egg in it and when good and hot, she would put it into my hands and they would quickly warm up again.

 

I helped to bring peat fuel bricks back from the bog and another wonderful event was the harvest. It was simply just great to go and visit there any time of the year.

They grew a lot of potatoes in some of the fields, and the surplus was sold. In this, my father was involved. Some of my dad’s colleagues from the railroad and friends from the abstinence club would order as many barrels of potatoes as they needed through my father. The potatoes were of very fine quality and inexpensive. When the truck carrying the potatoes arrived at our place from Filskov, dad would go with it around to the various persons who had ordered potatoes, to make sure everyone got what they had ordered. I also came along several times, and that was quite enjoyable. After aunt and uncle died, my cousin Anna and her husband Markus Nielsen took over the farm, but our visits there did not diminish because of that.

Anna’s sister, Marie, lived in Thorsø and was married to Jørgen Jørgensen. They owned a cement casting plant, where they fabricated cement bricks, culverts, well liners and various other things for use in construction. It was both interesting and a lot of fun to spend my vacations there. Their private residence was called “Thorshøj” (meaning Thor’s hill) and across from this lay the factory and the warehouses. From the warehouse, a set of rails had been laid, leading up to a gravel pit from where they got the sand and gravel used in manufacturing the products. A small train hauling dump cars would be running back and forth from the gravel pit and it was fun for us children to ride on it, which we could as often as we wanted.

Their house was quite large, so there was lots of room for the whole family plus vacationing guests. The family consisted of Jørgen and Marie and my cousins Frank, Richard, Betty, Inger, and Grethe. Betty and I were the same age and always together, whether just to have fun or working in the house. When we were teenagers, we would often

Go to a dance in one of the town hall in the neighboring towns. At times, we wouldn’t get home before five o’clock in the morning. Before we went to bed, we would sit down at the kitchen table and eat rhubarb jelly and salami sandwiches, which we would get from the root cellar underneath the kitchen. Then straight to bed to get a bit of sleep, before Betty had to get up and help around the house, something I also participated in.

I was very fond of going to school and wanted to attend “Latinskolen”, to become a high school graduate. My school gave me a letter to bring home to my parents, in which it was recommended that I be enrolled in that school. My parents, however, felt that I was too frail. I was prone to faint, often in such a way that I, for example, would all of a sudden fall off the bench at my school bench. This condition followed me for some years but has long ago vanished.

It was a disappointment for me that I was not allowed to attend the Latin school. Instead, I enrolled in “Handelskolen” (school of commerce) and at the same time, through an add in the local paper, I got a part-time job at Mr. Swane, who was a customs control officer and lived on Thors Rd 17. My working hours were from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM. This way, I could study in the afternoon and attend the school of commerce in the evening.

I wanted to work in an office and succeeded in getting a position with Johannes Hansen at Teknisk Material Handel, located at the northeast corner of Gother’s and Jylland streets. This business sold minor groceries, various health care supplies, and materials. There was a nice cozy office in the back of the store, where two desks were positioned against each other, and here Mr. Hansen and I sat across from each other. I had to keep the cashbooks and manage the accounts payable book every month. I gained quite an insight into who paid their bills and who didn’t. This was really quite a nice place to work and I maintained very good relationships with both the sales clerk apprentice and the delivery boy. We often sat together and enjoyed ourselves, while Mr. Hansen was home for lunch.

One day, something rather extraordinary happened. We were standing behind the counter talking about this and that’s when all of a sudden we heard a loud bang. It was a can of pears that had exploded and there simply wasn’t a place in the store where you couldn’t find bits and pieces of pears and juice. It took some time to get everything back in order before Mr. Hansen, who was home for lunch, returned again.

Mr. Hansen was foreman for the harbor committee in 1939 and the new west harbor was to be officially opened on July sixth that year. For the occasion, Mr. Hansen asked me if I had five girlfriends who, besides myself, would like to as hostesses, offering various types of tobacco from large mahogany boxes to the prominent guests during the inauguration.

King Christian the Tenth and Queen Alexandrine arrived in Fredericia aboard the royal yacht “Dannebrog” through the new entry to the harbor basin, over which was suspended a red banner, which the ship was supposed to cut when it entered. A lot of people stood on the wharf and hailed the royal couple. A grandstand had been erected, from where the King gave a speech, following which they signed their names in the guest book. After this was done, I had to go around to all the other official guests and have them sign the book also.

My girlfriend Ketty and I were supposed to go aboard a ferry in the afternoon, which was to take some of the guests for a tour of “Lille Bælt” down to and around the little island of Fænø. When we came on board, we were told we could go anywhere on the ferry we wanted, both on and below the deck. At some point during the tour, I was on my way up to the bridge, when I felt a tug in my skirt, I turned around to see whom it could be. It was a gentleman and he said to me: “Tell me little Miss, has anyone ever told you that you are walking very nicely on your legs? And who was this gentleman? It was the Prime Minister of Denmark, Thorvald Stauning. I think I blushed. In the evening, all of us six girls went to the Theater restaurant, where the 159 guests were dining. We were dressed in white, pleated skirts, white blouses with navy seaman’s collars and something akin to Navy officer caps.

The inauguration of the harbor and the celebration that followed are detailed in the newspaper “Fredericia Daily News”, July 6, 1939.

After dinner in the Theater Restaurant, us six girls headed for Hotel Landsoldaten, only to find that it was impossible to get a table in the restaurant. I happened to spot Johannes Hansen, my boss, sitting in the banquet room and since I had a bundle of keys, belonging to him, I went in and gave them to him. He asked me if we had managed to get a table, to which I sadly replied that we hadn’t. He called a waiter and asked him to procure a table for us six girls and for the rest of the evening, anything we ordered was free. What a party that was. I didn’t get into the office until noon the next day.

While I still worked for Mr. Hansen, I came to know Allan Christensen, who was a nephew to Pastor Erik Christensen of St. Michaelis Church. Allan worked at Mr. Clock’s bookstore in Gother’s street, and since Hansen and Clock shared the same backyard, where we parked our bicycles, I came to know him. There were five or six of us and we would often meet in the evening after work and supper. We would go for long walks out on Strand Rd or across the white bridge, but no matter where we went, we always ended up at the pastor’s residence for evening tea with Erik Christensen.

During my last school year, a new girl came to our class. Her name was Karen Kålberg and she was from the town of Viborg. We both became confirmed at the same time in Trinitatis Church and at this point in time, we had ‘discovered’ boys. We spent many hours together with two boys, Hans and Alex. They were friends that suited us fine. Hans became my boyfriend and innocent kisses were exchanged on one of the benches on the ramparts. We maintained our friendship for many years, even after we had found our respective husbands.

The Rhodora


Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)

Photographed in Cole Harbour Heritage Park, Nova Scotia

 

 

 

                                             Rhodora

by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1934

On being asked when is the flower In May,

when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

The Rhodora is a very common flower in the park during May and early June

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite authors from the 19th century.  He was a pantheist, whose essays often dealt with the relationship between God and nature.  He was a contemporary with Henry David Thoreau, whom he knew well and had frequent conversations with.

The Daisy


To the Daisy

By William Wordsworth

Verse one

In youth from rock to rock I went,
From hill to hill in discontent
Of pleasure high and turbulent,
Most pleased when most uneasy;
But now my own delights I make, –
My thirst at every rill can slake,
And gladly Nature’s love partake
Of Thee, sweet Daisy!

 

The photograph is from a collection of wildflower photos taken in The Cole Harbour Heritage Park, Nova Scotia.

William Wordsworth has for many years been a favorite of mine among the 19th century romantic poets.  I’m trying to find poems that treat specific flowers that I find in the park.  This is the first of many

Philosophic thougthts


Death is but a moment defined by the last breath that a being takes. It is the end of physical life as we know it.  What lies beyond it is definable only by the spiritual belief of the living.

It is said that the fountain of truth is in God.  What shall one call this being, if indeed he, she or it is definable as a being?

The Christian doctrine speaks of God in Heaven, the Garden of Eden and the son of God, the great savior, who once walked on the land, where three religions were created.

The Jewish belief speaks of Jehovah, the Hebrew name for God; of Abraham, born the city of Ur, in Babylonia; of his son Isaac and his son Jacob, who was named Israel and his 12 sons who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. They relate the covenant with God, the exodus from slavery in Egypt, lead by Moses, of God revealing himself at Mount Sinai; of the Torah, and of the Jewish people becoming a favoured people and nation if they would follow the covenant.

The Buddhist asserts Nirvana as the definitive aspiration, but Nirvana can be defined not only as paradise or heaven, but also as an illusion or fantasy.  Perhaps the last two definitions cover the philosophic thoughts of the first two.

Calmer Waves


I wrote this poem in 1987, which by now seems to be eons ago, but that being a fact, perhaps there is more truth  annd relevance to the words today, November 17, 2016

              Calmer Waves            mug shots of kenny 001 small

                              For I have yet to feel in these

Years of vague contentment,

The tingling joy of love and thrill

That youth so richly did bestow.

The roar and might of stormy seas

That ruled the ocean for so long

Are now but calmer waves in waters

Wrought by winds of lesser strength

And fullness of the surging tides,

But that which was will ever be

The blissful pleasures of my dreams,

The winds that brought the ships to port

And those that wrecked the tallest mast;

And yet beyond the calmness of the bay,

The shelter from the stormy sea,

There lingers yet another shore

Untouched by eyes that hunger still.

Kenny B. Larsen

Assens, Denmark

Feb. 19, 1987

I wrote a post script to the poem in 2003.   Here it is:

1987, that was 17 years ago and already then I had begun perceiving intimations of what was to lie ahead.  I’m happy to say that those “Hungry eyes” did get to see a hell of a lot more. Oh God! Did they ever.  It’s been one hell of a good life.

In Other Realms.


This is in memory of my father, Knud Christian Flyborg Larsen, May 13, 1907-April 20, 1995

I composed it a little over a year after he passed away.  I thought I had published it, but I’m unable to locate it, so here it is again.

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IN OTHER REALMS

 

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Where is now your laughter, the smiling eyes that greeted me
When I perchance came by to say hello and talk of olden days?
You chose to leave and go by trails as yet unknown to me,
Before I came to bid you happy journey.

No stone nor simple cross exists to mark or to inform
That once you looked upon this land and loved it’s
Graceful splendor much as I, and all of those who
Feasted here, before I came to see this realm.

I think not of you as gone beyond a further meet
The sun will rise to hail the new and old again, again.
That brilliant, radiant glory, companion to the soul
And mother to the needs of all that is or soon will be.

Do you hear the screeching gulls there by the bay?
Where countless waves have found their end.
The surging sands and weeds, the flotsam of the sea
That stranded there a moment while on a longer journey.

I look upon a single star and sense an empty strangeness!
Is this a berth where other ships belong?
Or destined port of call for each who ploughed the
Seas of life toward an unknown destiny?

Do you see the daffodils that greet the budding sky of spring?
Or do you walk among the throng of white and pink
Below the beech that yet for years will bear your name
The one you carved in a youthful, prankish jest?

stout is now its trunk, yet youthful tender boughs abound
And newness all around. When I look upon this aging tree
I sense a closeness to another time, when dreams of triumph
And lofty deeds came lightly as clouds upon a summer sky.

If present realm is not tomorrow’s house of glory,
Where then plays the child that lived the dream?
In the jeweled darkness the rivers find the abyss of death,
Predestined cradle of their own primordial birth.

I, who yet must play in pastures of this moment
And search for answers in the hollow echoes of my calls,
Behold within my soul a vision of the seeds
That fruited fields in countless other realms.

In memory of my Father
Knud Christian Larsen, whom I loved very dearly

May 13,1907, April 20, 1995

 

 


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My Grandfather

Søren Peter Larsen June 29, 1875 – December 31, 1968

My Grandmother

Jensine Petrine Larsen July 10, 1879 – August 10, 1954

  

  Foreword

 

I don’t suppose I’m any different than millions of other people when I say that I have a special place in my heart where the memories of my grandparents live.  It is a sad misfortune for a child not to have known his or her grandparents, for more often than not; they have a deep fountain of love, from which they shower their grandchildren in unending measures.  It is a special kind of undemanding, unselfish love that creates precious memories and a happy childhood.

Few people have ever had a greater influence on my life than my paternal and maternal grandparents.  They installed in me a sense of what was needed to survive in life and become a respected member of the society I was to spend my life in.  Good manners and morals were part of everyday life for them and they made sure I understood the value of these qualities.  I can’t say that I succeeded in upholding all the virtues they taught me, but certainly enough to maintain the respect of the majority of people I came in contact with during my life.

The picture of my paternal grandparents I’m about to paint, is meant to show two people who came from humble origins, but who fought and struggled to rid themselves of the yoke of serfdom their ancestors had lived through. With hard work and diligence and in spite of two world wars and the great depression they succeeded in lifting themselves above poverty.

It is with great pleasure and a deep sense of gratitude that I dedicate these pages to them, but it is also with a sense of obligation, that I write these pages, for I’m the last person still alive who can give an account of a part of their lives.

Kenny B. Larsen, January 2004

genealogy-chart

horne-village

Both my paternal grandparents were born in the little village of Horne, shown in the photo above, located on the Island of Fyn, Denmark.  Grandfather was the fourth and youngest child of Knud Larsen and his wife Maren Jensen Fløjborg.  Knud was born in Bjerne, near Horne on June 15, 1845.  Peter had a brother and two sisters plus a half bother and half-sister, born by Maren Jensen Fløjborg, before she married Knud.

                              Peter Larsen’s brothers and sisters

                                          Jens Peder Knudsen, born 1856

                                         Anne Jensen Fløjborg, born 1859  (1)

                                         Marie Kirstine Larsen, born 1867

                                         Niels Carl Larsen, born 1869

                                         Hanne Henrietta Larsen, born 1873

Jens immigrated to America within a year or two of Peter’s birth in 1875. He died in Texas, childless.  Anne Jensen began working on Hvedholm Manor in 1874, married Lars Christian Nielsen in 1879 and immigrated to USA in 1880.  Marie Kirstine Larsen followed in her half brother and sister’s footsteps and left for America sometime before 1890, so Peter only got to know his brother Niels and sister Hanne real well for they stayed in Denmark all their lives.

The earliest years of his life are hidden in the mist of time, but a couple of photos of the house he was born in have survived and it is typical of the type of timber frame cottages that existed in the area in the 1800s.  His father was a farm labourer and worked all his life (both him and his wife) on Steensgaarden, one of the several large, main farms that belonged to Hvedholm Manorial. The best photo of Peter Larsen’s birthplace can be seen in the next photo that shows his parents outside the house.    It was taken sometime between 1895 and 1900 in the late fall.

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Peter Larsen’s birthplace.  The house was located in Horne Lillemark, a short distance outside the village of Horne. Standing outside are his parents, Knud and Maren Larsen.  Photo from about 1900

granfather-birthplace-late-photoAbove is a later picture of the house

In those days, it was normal for all children living in the rural areas to begin working at the age of fourteen.  Just where he worked is unknown, up until he was a young man. In 1898, he was drafted into the Danish army and because of his height and powerful built; he was chosen to serve in The Royal Danish Guards.  He was immensely proud of this and remained a member and flag bearer of the Association of old Royal Guards for the rest of his life.  In Copenhagen he became exposed to a very different way of life, much more sophisticated than what he was accustomed to.  It was no doubt this experience that encouraged him to break with the past and leave the rural, poorly paid hard work and misery he was born into.

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wedding-photo-grandparents

I remember grandfather telling me that he for a number of years had worked as a wagon driver for a gristmill called Horne West Mill.  This was most likely after he returned from his military service in 1898.  In 1903, a photo of the mill was taken and it can readily be assumed it was while working for this mill that he met my grandmother, who was caring for the miller’s children.  Peter and his beloved Sine (nickname for Jensine) were married July 9, 1904 in Horne Church.  They were both as poor as poor can be, but that was not untypical of that generation.  People got by with little and lived happy lives despite what to us today must seem to be grinding poverty.  My father told me quite a bit about life back in those days and said he had a very happy childhood, but money was scarce and people were poorly paid for their labour.

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It’s quite certain that Peter continued working at the mill for some years after he married, up until 1909, when he became a delivery driver for Sydfyns Brewery.  Their only son, my father Knud Christian Larsen, was born in 1907 and he never went to school in Horne, but rather in the town of Fåborg, where they moved to before he reached school age.  After my grandparents were married, they rented a place in a triplex timber frame house in a place called Horne Lillegyden, a couple of kilometres from Horne village.  Here they lived till about 1912, at which time they moved to the town of Fåborg

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My grandmother was also born in Horne, July 10, 1979. She was one of six children born to Christen Larsen (born 1837-Horne) and Karen Madsen (born 1837 in Gummerup Christen was a butcher, but the family was very poor.  A single photo of them has survived. The photo was taken in 1906, in Horne, when they both were 69 years old.  The last name of both my paternal and maternal grandparents were thus ”Larsen”

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Children of Christen and Karen

                              Lauritz Andreas Larsen, born 1866,( immigrated to Australia

  Maren Caroline Larsen, born 1868

 Martine Larsen, born 1874

Mads Marius Larsen, born 1877

Jensine (Sine) Petrine Larsen, born 1879 (my grandmother)

Christine Larsen, born 1882

Of her 2 brothers and three sisters, only Lauritz Andreas Larsen immigrated.  He went to Australia in 1890, married an English girl, but died childless in 1949 in Cooksville, NSW.  Maren Caroline married and settled in Copenhagen; Martine married a man (Nielsen) from Jutland and went to live in Odense, north of Fåborg.  She had 13 children, of which 10 survived.   Mads Marius Larsen and Christine Larsen both married and stayed in Horne all their lives. Mads became a butcher, following in his father’s footsteps and became a well know and respected resident in the area.  Christine married Jacob Andreas Madsen, a fisherman and had two daughters. They are, of course, all dead now, but I was fortunate to get to know most of these, my great aunts and uncles. I may write what I know about them later.

Grandmother Sine was a pretty girl in her youth and quite popular amongst the bachelors, according to grandfather.  I know for a fact that he was quite the”ladies man”, and knew a nice filly when he saw one

Other than the fact that Sine worked for the miller on Horne West Mill in 1903, I know nothing of her   childhood years.  A few photos of her from her young years have survived, one from 1897, when she was 18 years old and one from 1901.  Both were taken in a photo studio in Fåborg.

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The earliest time I remember my grandparents begins around 1943, when I was five years old and continues right through my childhood years and part of my youth.  What happened in their lives during the years before that is what I can remember them telling me and certainly also what my father told me about his childhood home in Fåborg.

It may be worthwhile to illustrate what the town looked like around the turn of the 19th century, just before they moved from Horne to Fåborg.  I found several photos (old postcards) posted on an Internet site, which shows a glimpse of this long bygone era.  In 1916, a three-story building was constructed at East Street 43, replacing a very old and quite beautiful timber frame building (photo below)

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Other views of Faaborg from that time are worth including here, since many of the old buildings still existed when I was a boy and spending my summer holidays there.

The following two are taken from the belfry, the old bell tower dating back to the 14th century, and gives a good view over the city, as it looked around 1900.

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The photo above shows a joyful grandmother holding me, her one-year old grandson in her arms . Sadly, the railroad was sold and eliminated later in my life, but the station house is still there, serving as a bus station for the regional buses, which took over from the railroad.

Other views of Faaborg from that time are worth including here, since many of the old buildings still existed when I was a boy and spent my summer holidays there.

Changes took place over the years in the city and some of them were done in a way so as to preserve some of the atmosphere of the old city.  The two photos on the following page illustrate this quite well.

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  • In the black and white photo is a view of the ancient city gate area as it looked when my grandparents were young and the colour photo shows the same view a hundred years later.  The buildings have been renovated, so as to be useful in modern times, yet they have preserved much of the style and looks of a century earlier.  On the left side, a paint and wallpaper business have located and on the right, a baker.

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In the photo DK-PP-6 the city gate is shown from outside the city, the way it appeared when I was a boy.  The renovations seen in photo DK-PP-7, inside the gate, to the right, had not yet been carried out.  The` arrow points to the building before it was renovated and made into a paint store.  But now that the little photographic tour of the old Fåborg is over, it’s time to get on with the real story.

The first years in Fåborg

I never knew just when my grandparents moved to Fåborg and where they lived until they had moved to East Street 43, which today is called Green Street 74.  In February of 2004, I contacted Fåborg city archives via email and asked if they could help me with some photos and possibly trace the whereabouts of grandfather in his early days in Fåborg, that is, before 1916.  A couple of days later, I received a nice reply from them with several old photos, some of which can be seen above and an account of where my grandparents had lived.  In the electoral registration rolls, he appears for the first time in 1909-1910, added to the list with a pencil and indicating he was a beer delivery person, but no address was given.  In 1910-1911, his address is given as Klostergade (Cloister Street).  From 1912 to 1915, he is not in the electoral registration rolls for Fåborg.  This may be the time that coincides with what my father, Knud Larsen told me about his childhood. Before he began school, he said that they had lived well out on Assens Road, outside the city.

In 1915, he again appears in the electoral list in Fåborg, but no address is given.  From 1915 to 1920, they lived in Sandegyde (a street in Fåborg) and he is listed as a brewery worker.  In other words, it was sometime in 1915 that he ceased being a delivery driver for the brewery and became a malt maker, a position he held until 1945.

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From 1921 on forward, he is listed as living in East Street 43, which, because the entry to the building actually is in Green Street, has been renamed Green Street 74.  Incidentally, this street was first mentioned in the year 1470 in the city’s history.  I have a couple of photos of the building they moved into.  The first one was sent to me by Fåborg city archives and perhaps best illustrate exactly what the building looked like when I was a child in Denmark.  The entry to the apartment building is the door seen in Green Street, above which was the number 43.  Inside the door were a small entry area and three flights of stairs lead up to the third floor, where my grandparents lived.  It would be hard to recount the number of times I have climbed those stairs and strangely enough, during moments of quiet contemplation, I can still hear the “thump-thump” of the weave that two sisters, who lived on the first floor, were working.  The apartment Peter and Sine lived in wasn’t big and cozy, but large enough for three people.  There were two bedrooms, a large and a small, the latter being my father’s room when he was a child.  A combination living and dining room, an entry, a kitchen and a two-piece bathroom composed the rest of the apartment. On the wall in the entry hung a mirror with a gilded frame, which today (Feb. 2004) is hanging in one of our bedrooms in our house here in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  It is over 100 years old now.

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The two photos show the building and the third-floor apartment.  I took the second photo in 1969, after grandfather had passed away (December 31, 1968).  My father is standing in front of the building together with my first wife, Dorothy.  We had made a delayed second honeymoon trip to Denmark and Norway that year.

There can be no doubt as to grandfather having been a delivery driver for Sydfyns Brewery, for a wonderful photo of him in that capacity has survived.  The photo dates from somewhere between 1910 and 1915, because by 1920 he had became a malt maker in the brewery. The move from Horne to Fåborg was no doubt his way of escaping rural poverty and his experience as a wagon driver for Horne West Mill made it possible for him to get the job as beer delivery driver with the brewery.  Grandfather belonged to the generation of rural people that saw the light and escaped the poverty, grueling hard, poorly paid work and miserable living conditions that life offered on the farms.   It is doubtful that the Horne Mill worked all year round, so his job there may have been seasonal.  Having a child (my father) meant an additional mouth to feed and seeking better paid and steadier employment in the city would be a natural move for him.

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The photo tells a story from a long bygone era but grandfather told me quite a bit about those years as a driver, delivering beer for Sydfyns Brewery.

Each case of bottled beer held 50 bottles and was very heavy, but he would always carry two at a time.  He would deliver to country stores and Inns, the latter receiving mostly beer in barrels and also to the many manor house in the district around Faaborg.  He often related stories about the Barons and Counts he came to know on his delivery trips.  When I was a boy, on summer holidays at my grandparents, grandfather would take me on tours out in the country and we visited many of the manor houses, where visitors were welcome, and some, where grandfather was welcome, because he knew the owners.

He told me that sometimes he had to break in a new draft horse and would always put this horse in the middle, between the other two experienced horses that were hitched the beer wagon.  By the time he came back to the brewery, after a 12-hour trip delivering beer, the new horse would be so tired it would lean against one of the older horses.  It wouldn’t take more than a few trips and the new horse would pull its share of the load.

He would get up at daylight, load the wagon and on some days, when he had long tours, he wouldn’t return until it was dark.  He used a coiled whip on the horses and was quite the expert at handling this formidable looking piece of horse obedience equipment.  He kept his whip long after he retired from the brewery, and one day he took me down in the yard behind the apartment building and showed me what he could do with it.  I would set up some small sticks in the ground within range of the length of the whip and he would expertly hit each piece with the tip of the whip and flick it into the air.  Years afterwards, I often wondered weather his demonstration of horsewhip skills perhaps also carried a message to the effect that I had best be a good boy, or he might use it on me.

Well, seriously, my dear grandfather would never have done that.  He had firm ideas as to what constituted good behavior, and even if I transgressed onto forbidden turf, he would never punish me with anything more than a stern, verbal reminder that good manners and obedience to your elders was an essential part of being a well-behaved boy.

A few other photos from his time as a driver for the brewery survived through all these years and also a nice photo of the brewery, although this I must credit to Fåborg City Archives, since they were kind enough to give me an electronic copy of the only one they have.

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Fåborg city gate (see photo DK-pp-6)  is just around the corner from the tree in the background, past the chimney.  The cobblestone pavement as seen in the photo above was typical everywhere in the city.  There were no asphalt-paved streets until after I became a teenager in 1951 and then they paved the street directly on top of the cobblestone surface.  I remember the farmers coming to town with their horse-drawn wagons to deliver farm products to both small stores and large merchants.  The steel-rimmed wheels would make quite a lot of noise passing over the cobble stones and  one could from time to time see a spark fly from the horse’s shoes, when they hit one of the granite stones a certain way.

I have no real recollection of Fåborg and my grandparents until 1943 on forward.  This was during the Second World War, when the Germans occupied the country, each morning they would raise the hated Swastika flag on a building that could be seen from their apartment and how well I recall grandfather cursing that flag.  He hated the Germans with unbridled passions and never hesitated expressing his feelings to friends and family.  His years working on the brewery I know little about, other than what I have been told, but a few more photos from that time may perhaps be worth including here.

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In photo DK-146, Peter is holding a bottle of liquor in his right hand and this may indeed have been a birthday present from the Manager, thus the photo was taken on the occasion of his 53rd birthday.

In 1945, by the end of the war, Peter had reached his 70th birthday and that was standard retirement age in those days.  He would receive his old age pension and given all normal circumstances, he would have settled into the more sedate life of a pensioner, but no, not grandfather.  That same year, he took a job as a helper with John Immerkjær, who owned a Tuborg beer wholesale depot and it must have been a case of life turning nearly 180 degrees on him, for once again he was back in the business of delivering beer, albeit this time, progress made it via a truck, rather than a horse drawn wagon.  I have many recollections of the years he worked with John, for I was often with them, when they toured around in the upland, delivering beer and soft drinks, pretty much to the same places he did between 1909 and 1920.  A case of beer still held 50 bottles, and grandfather still carried two at a time, when he brought them in to the country store or Inn.  He was strong as an ox, even at the age of seventy.  Only one photo has survived from those days, but it pretty much tells the story.  Peter has a beer in his hand, but given the fact that he had worked on a brewery for 36 years or so, it’s hardly a surprise.  Summers could be hot in Denmark and delivering beer was hard, thirsty work.

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I was a twelve-year-old boy when that photo was taken and life was full of exiting things to do, not the least of which was going on trips with Grandfather and John Immerkjær during my summer holidays in Fåborg.  I got to know just about every country store, Inn and manor house within a 20 km radius and to boot, all the soda pop I could drink for free.

My grandmother passed away in 1955, just after their golden wedding anniversary. I saw my dear grandfather for the last time during Christmas in 1967.  He passed peacefully away on December 31, 1968, but the love my grandparents bestowed on me and the memories they gave me lives on forever in my heart.

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Another Time


My childhood is now but a distant dream and the places where I lived the dream belong to history. From time to time, when the hour is late and darkness has thrown a blanket over the hustle and bustle of the city, I let my spirit drift back to those times. I see the meadows, fields and forests, I see all those places where once I roamed and played. There are times though, when I wonder if I really see those places with the same feelings as I did when first my eyes touched their shapes and colors and printed an image of them in my memory. Have these regenerative images of places, things and events from my youth become painted with brighter and more lucid colors as the years went by?

I still remember events or something that took place a very long time ago and I do so with an intensity I find quite remarkable, especially considering that some of them did not seem to be of any relevance or significance. Why is it then that some events that were important in my youth and of which I should have very clear recollections now at best are faded, out of focus pictures? My confirmation in the Lutheran faith at the age of 14 is a good example. It was a very significant event in a boys or girls life in Denmark, since it was the stepping-stone into adulthood. A big party was given for the celebrant after the church service. No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember more than a few small details from it. I remember getting a wristwatch from my parents, and of special noteworthiness, a fishing rod equipped with a light casting real, which were just then coming on the market. I went fishing on the Sunday morning, a week after my confirmation, when I was supposed to go to alter in the church in the early afternoon. Circumstances would have it that I came home a bit late, and boy, was my father mad. He confiscated my beautiful fishing rod for a month, even though we made it to church just in time. That, by the way, was the last time I ever went to altar in a Lutheran Church in Denmark or anywhere else, for that matter.

At times, something triggers my memory banks into releasing recollections of an event or place or perhaps a person, I hadn’t thought about for a long time, maybe even since the event occurred. It can be a sound, a smell or seeing something, that triggers it and like an image projected on a screen; there it is, laid out in front of me as clear as the day it happened. A hologram of the past, projecting both happy and unhappy events. I had experienced many bad things during the Second World War in my early childhood and sometimes repressed images of them resurfaced.

I guess I’m guilty of using the same old phrase as thousands of generations have. “The good old days” they said, “That’s when life was worth living.” But is this really quite true? I often heard my grandparents talk about it or refer to those times. When I asked them for a realistic assessment, they admitted that life today, in some ways, were better than it had been when they were young. Both my two sets of grandparents said that there weren’t as many poor people today, as then and life was not quite as hard as it had been in their youth. Technology had removed much of the dreary, backbreaking labor they had experienced during a good part of their lives. The quality of life, however, was a different story. The way people lived and interacted with each other were incomparably better when they were young. There was more respect, more politeness and less crime and violence. People depended more upon each other and this dependence lead to a closer-knit society.

Do I agree with all that? Well, yes and no. Looking at life, I find that we are still eating the forbidden fruit. The creative genius of the arts and sciences constantly reach higher into the tree, searching for new fruits with which to tempt the masses. They turn yesterday’s forbidden fruit into today’s daily bread that everyone consumes with a convincing certainty that no harm will come of it. Nothing in life is stagnant. Change is the norm, but change is creation and destruction wrought in the same forge. Evolution in social behavior has made yesteryears acceptable standards or yesterdays forbidden fruits, into old-fashioned concepts, no longer worthy of consideration. To corrupt the basic standards of good behavior and acceptable social ethics with new ideas, new frontiers, and expansionist views on moral limits can only result in severe debasing of human dignity. In this aspect, I agree with my grandparents and I have adhered to those concepts of behavior that they, as well as my parents, taught me. The violence, the sexual immorality, the demand for instant gratification and the complete lack of respect found so prevalent amongst teenagers today, begs an explanation. It’s tempting to begin a discourse on the reasons why, but I won’t. It would take a few hundred pages and I neither have the time, nor feel kindly disposed to the problem. When children start shooting each other or their teachers in the school or kill for the sake of some misconstrued perception that it’s OK to do so, then I get angry at the society that created an environment where such events have become all but trivial.

I lay no claim to the moral high ground. We all have some crosses to bear and I certainly have mine. I will emphatically state though, that the kind of rage and unruly behavior so prevalent amongst today’s youth was unknown when I was a teenager. That’s not to say that I and my contemporaries were considered angels by society when we were young and full of piss and vinegar, and that’s the whole crux of the matter, you see. Good or bad behavior is relative to what is socially acceptable at a particular time and what we did was often considered unacceptable. Compared to what kids do today however, rest quite assured, we were the purists of angels. Will today’s youth be able to say the same when they reach my age? I hope not. Such a society would be utter chaos and calamity.

 

 

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