Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A voice from the grave

I was named after my great uncle Tom, who was killed by a falling tree during the time of the Alaskan Gold Rush, and my maternal grandfather, Martin Stenson.

Although there will eventually be a tale about the Irish ancestor who went “north to Alaska”, this one is about an Irish farmer who I had the privilege of knowing for the first 17 years of my life.

I’ll call this one the Martin Stenson story, but rather than tell it in my words, I’ll let him tell you his story himself:


Good evening.

I once had a farm in Africa – but only in my dreams.

Out of Africa

My name is Martin Stenson. I was born in County Sligo, Ireland on the 24th of November, 1882. I was the 2nd youngest of six children born to Edward Stenson and Catherine Gavagan. My parents were married on St. Patrick’s Day in 1868. Sadly, four of my brothers and sisters died from tuberculosis in the 1880’s, and only I and an older sister survived.

When I was a lad, I used to help my dad on his farm, and enjoyed it so much that I vowed to one day have my own farm.

We were poor, and the cursed English kept all of us that way, so I knew that I would have to eventually leave Ireland in order to prosper. Since the winters were almost always cold and damp in Ireland, I yearned to live in a warmer climate, but the siren song of Africa would never materialize because I didn’t know a soul in that foreign land.

America, though, had sent out a clarion call to me, because it was the land of opportunity. My cousin James immigrated to there in the late 1890’s, so I knew that I would have a ready audience if I ever decided to uproot.

At the age of 16, I moved to England to work in the coal mines, and to save money for the trip across the Atlantic.Finally, in 1901, I set sail for Ellis Island, and my new home.

After completing my processing at Ellis, I boarded a train for the state of Minnesota, where my cousin James had settled.

Several years after settling into my new home in Minnesota, I met a gorgeous young woman named Amelia Karnick. Like many women at that time, Amelia’s mother (Anna Hansen) had died in childbirth, so Amelia was the only child of the marriage of Frank Karnick and Anna Hansen.

After a long courtship (an Irish tradition) we married in the fall of 1911, and shortly thereafter bought a small farm just outside the river city of Hastings, Minnesota.

Our first child, Grace Magdalene, was born in 1912.

The winter of 1913 was particularly harsh. On one especially cold January evening, the wind outside the old farmhouse howled furiously, and the windows rattled in their frames. We huddled closely to stay warm, and sometime during the course of the evening, nature took its course, and we conceived another child.

When she was born, on October 23, we named her Anna, in honor of Amelia’s mother. We also liked the name Mae, so that became here middle name. As our little girl grew older, she grew fond of her middle name, and adopted that as her given name.

During World War II, our daughter Mae moved to California to work for Consolidated Industries. When the war ended, she boarded a train, and headed back to the main train station in St.Paul, Minnesota, about 20 miles from Hastings.

On the same day, Larry Brennan, her neighbor and childhood friend, boarded a train in Dover, Delaware, and got off the train in St. Paul at almost exactly the same time that Mae got off HER train.

Again, nature took its course, and they were married on September 2, 1946. Their marriage produced two children: Thomas Martin (who some of you know) and Mary Catherine

I breathed my last breath on earth on July 10, 1964, in my daughter Mae’s house in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shortly after my beloved Amelia and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, I turned control of my farm over to my son Harold, who was running the local feed store in town at the time.

On the day before we made the final transition, I picked up my old shillelagh, and went for a walk through our apple orchid just north of the house. I never made it to Africa, and I never made it back to Ireland, but as I walked through that little apple orchard, I thought to myself:

“Here I am, where I ought to be

1 comment:

  1. What a great story. It's amazing to think about the life of any immigrant, but when it 's your grandfather, it brings it home. How someone so poor could achieve that move and finally own his own farm is pretty wonderful.
    I love the last line. Something for all of us to reflect on every day.