FARGO — A few days ago I was having coffee with a friend and the topic of family history came up. We’d both been doing research and we both had the same regret: “Why didn’t we talk to our grandparents when we had the chance?”
I lost three out of my four grandparents when I was just a kid in the early ‘70s, so it was hardly on my radar to quiz them about the good old days, when I was wrapped up in more important matters like “Who’s better — The Osmonds or The Jackson 5?”
I would have had the chance with my last remaining grandparent, Grandma Charlotte, who died when I was 28. But I didn't take it. Charlotte, better known by us as "Mommygan," was an old Southern lady, a mad good knitter who also liked to drink bourbon while watching “Jeopardy.”
She was kind of a character.
Once when I was a kid snacking on sunflower seeds and drinking a Mountain Dew, Mommygan said, in her luxurious Southern drawl, “Why, back in Nashville, Mountain Dew was moonshine and we only gave sunflower seeds to the birds.” The woman had flair and I’m sure stories to spare.
I just didn’t really get to hear them.
Fortunately, the same can’t be said for Alice Bjorklund Gunness’ grandchildren.
Alice, at the age of 88, has just released her second book of stories and memories, “Nurtured by Nature — Book II.” And it's simply delightful.
I first met Alice in 2018 when she achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a published author with her first “Nurtured by Nature” book she wrote at the age of 85. But apparently the writing itch had not been sufficiently scratched, and the pandemic allowed Alice even more time to write her stories.
Photographer Dave Samson and I caught up with Alice a couple of weeks ago as she was hosting a book signing for her fans at Riverview Place in Fargo where she lives. Dressed in beautiful florals, she softly read some of the passages from her book. Most of the chapters are about her ancestors and the hardships they endured as they settled in Otter Tail County, Minn.
“My dad came over from Sweden and got married in 1917. Prices for land were high at the time, so my dad had to chop down so many trees to make enough money to buy the land. Then the stock market crashed and the Depression hit. It was tough,” she says.
But Alice says her ancestors overcame the hardships, and that’s what she wants her five children, eight grandchildren and three (soon to be six) great-grandchildren to remember.
“I think it's so important that they know the struggles their ancestors went through and while times might be difficult for them now, they can get through it.”
Alice starts to tear up when she talks about how her stories might help her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who live far away, to navigate their own lives.
“They’re going to have hard times too and they better be prepared. We all have struggles and life isn’t always easy. I want them to know that times might be different, but some things don’t change,” she says.
“They’re going to have hard times too and they better be prepared. We all have struggles and life isn’t always easy. I want them to know that times might be different, but some things don’t change.”
- Alice Bjorklund Gunness, on what she wants her descedents to take away from her latest book.
Alice says she’s so happy to hear that her homespun tales have proven comforting to people she’s not even related to. She says one woman told her she reads her stories every night before bed.
Alice and her family are quick to point out the many people who helped her publish the book, including Karla Smart-Morstad, David Morstad, Terry Sinner and more.
Her daughter, Sarah Ostrem, is grateful to all of the people who’ve made her mom’s dreams come true.
“It’s God’s miracle that she was given so many wonderful helpers,” Ostrem says.
Her son, Arthur Gunness, once said of his mother’s writings, “Well, Mom, I think you found your passion.”
Alice just smiles at that.
But the best part of finding that passion is that Alice’s descendants won't have to search for their family stories the way so many of us have had to.
Way to go, Alice! Thanks for the memories!
I’ll leave you with this plea: Grandmothers and grandfathers, follow Alice’s lead. While you don’t necessarily need to write your stories down in a book, make sure to share them with loved ones. And grandchildren, listen and soak it all in. I promise you won’t regret it.
For more information about Alice and her books, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Readers can reach Forum reporter and "Back Then with Tracy Briggs" columnist Tracy Briggs at email@example.com.