To Talk American: On-Line Fiction Story
Leaving Logging Camp
After he left the logging camp, Jon Iverson headed for town to put his pay in the bank. He wanted to put part of it in an account for his living expenses. He saw too many fellow loggers fail to put money aside and spend or gamble their pay away, without having anything for emergencies, or even just living. He left Sweden because the people were poor and little opportunity existed to improve. As such, he sent some of his money to the family in the Old Country.
“Are you coming back next season, Jon?” asked a fellow lumberjack. “I’m not sure, maybe I can find some farm work during the summer.” He also wanted to search other opportunities.
“Anyhow,” Jon said, “it has been a long, hard cold winter and I want to get a bath, shave and some new clothes.” He left his friend for the time being and walked down the boardwalk to the bank. As he passed a store window he noticed a poster for a community dance. When he stopped to read the poster an attractive young woman with blond hair and blue eyes wearing a light blue dress also stopped. “Are you going to the dance?” she asked.
Jon was slightly embarrassed as he often was in trying to talk to women. “I’ll surely go if you’re there,” he stammered in Swedish.
“I’ll be there,” she answered in English and started to walk away.
“Wait,” he said in English. “I should have spoken in English since we are in America. But you remind me so much of the girls back home in Sweden, I forgot where I was. My English isn’t so good. I think you must be Swedish, too. Am I right?””
She laughed in a gentle sort of way. “Yes, I am from Sweden. My name is Vilma.”
Jon felt both relieved and more embarrassed. “I should have introduced myself,” he said. Remembering his manners, he took off his cap. “My name is Jon Iverson. I get sort of tongue tied when I talk to a pretty girl, like yourself.”
Vilma blushed. “I am pleased by your compliment. I think we are both getting used to talking in a new language. I think the more we use English, though, the better we will be at it.’
“Yes. Yes, I think so,” Jon replied. “May I escort you to the dance?”
“It’s sort of sudden to go to a dance as a couple when we've only just met,” she said
Jon looked disappointed, but said, “I understand. Maybe I will see…”
“But you are such a charming, handsome boy; I think I will accept your invitation. I am staying at the Main Street Boarding House. Can you pick me up there?’
“I sure will, Vilma,” he said
Jon continued on his errands. After going to the bank he went on to a store selling men’s clothes. They had a limited assortment of suits. Jon told the salesman he wanted to look good for the upcoming dance but didn’t want anything too expensive.
“Are you bringing a girl?’
Jon told the young salesman about Vilma.
“Vilma is a very nice young woman” the salesman said. “In fact, she is my cousin. She came here from the old country because my family had come here a few years ago. She stayed with us a short time but moved to the boarding house because our house was too crowded. Treat her well because we are all concerned about her.”
“Jon, “Vilma said. “I like your suit. It is very handsome.”
“I bought it from your cousin at the clothing store.”
Vilma giggled. “What’s the matter,” Jon asked.
“Was his name Al?”
“I’m sorry, Jon. Al is my cousin very far removed. He has tried to court me for years, but I won’t go out with him. That is the reason I moved out of their house.”
“I’m afraid I embarrassed myself again...”
It’s alright. You look good in the suit.I suspect Al might have recommended a suit he thought I wouldn’t like. He might be jealous.”
“I see I got more to learn than just the language.”
“You’re doing fine, Jon. Let’s talk while we dance. “
“I think we both learned Swedish from our pastors in Sweden. And they taught it from the Bible. So we both know the same two languages and the Bible. That’s something in common.”
“You are right,” Jon said. “But you have that in common with Al too, I bet.”
“I bet you understand it better.”
Jon Iverson was, in fact, very literate in the Swedish language as his pastor in Sweden insisted he be. The Bible was the reading text so he came to know scripture as understood by the Swedish Lutheran Church. He was learning English fairly fast but was somewhat troubled by the nuances of the English language in addition to the slang used by the lumberjacks he worked with. They were from several countries, all of which had words of their own.
There were many people like Jon and Vilma in the 1860’s who left their homelands hoping for a better life in America. Although he had no relatives in the new world he had a lot in common with others. The lumber camps were filled with men from many countries beside Sweden such as Ireland or Scotland..
They stopped dancing when an Irish jig started playing. Jon was surprised to see one of the lumberjacks that he had worked with dancing. Two others joined in, but weren’t as agile as the first who was Irish. They applauded for all of them, however.
New Mexico Lumber Company
“How did you come to be a Lumberjack, Jon?”
“I got to this country and looked for work. Winter was coming on and there wouldn’t be much farming until spring. I heard there was some logging in Wisconsin and signed on for the winter. After that I sort of followed the logging. It’s really not such bad work, but it doesn’t pay a lot. Also, I found I had to eat, sleep and work at the camp all winter.”
“You seem to have made friends”
."We sleep in a bunk house with about a dozen men. It is close living and we have to get along... Sometimes we told jokes and stories. Some sang songs or danced. We mended clothes. Some wrote letters when they had time. Mostly Sunday was recreation time. I get along all right, but I want to speak better English so I can talk to anybody, not just Swedes.
“I know,” she said. “If we want to be American’s we should be able to talk American. We need to understand the things that make the country what it is. Maybe after we learn enough, we can teach others.”
“Still,” he said. “You seem to know more about the country than I do.”
“I think we might just know different parts of it. I came here from Sweden too. Like you, I learned to read and write from the bible with my minister’s guidance...”
“Yes, yes,” Jon said. “We Swedes have the advantage to be literate in our own language. We can speak to each other in our native tongue, but we need to know more of Americans.”
They decided if they worked together, they would learn faster. Gradually their friends would gather with them. Like America itself, their group started to consist of differing people from different places. Now they had to talk English because they didn’t know each others languages.
As they became better acquainted, they felt at ease discussing American History and customs. Jon was surprised to learn that the country was really not so very old. In the history of the world, a century was not so very much. “Isn’t it odd,” he said, “that so many came here to follow their own beliefs and way of life and then couldn’t get along with each other.”
“And how did they resolve that, Jon?” Vilma asked.
“I don’t think they really did.” He said. Maybe some things don’t have solutions.”
“Sometimes all we can do is settling for doing what we can do. Call it compromise. It is something the founders realized. ”
History was becoming an obsession for Jon. Not just American History but he found that his curiosity was expanding The country was started by some dedicated people, but they were also ordinary people who were a mixture of good and bad, strength and weakness. “Thomas Jefferson,” he said “ is an example He was brilliant in some instances. Yet, he was poor at handling money. He disliked slavery but was unable to find a way to free his own slaves.
And Benjamin Franklin succeeded at almost anything you can think of, yet he was alienated from his son. You get the idea. Even the greatest of people have flaws.
“I think we can all contribute something to the project,” Vilma said. “Let’s get all the people we know to contribute their ideas.
Starting a magazine
Both Jon and Vilma asked their friends to write, in English things they thought about America. Between them they found they knew quite a few immigrants from various countries
In the lumber camps a lot of workers talk about their countries and demonstrate customs like dances. Maybe they could write about them. I think I might write about some of the countries founders like Benjamin franklin,” Jon said. “Old ben was an inventor and a doer…”
“You’re right Jon. We should write about American history and those who helped make the country. Americans are forgetting about the countries stories.”
“Yes, every in country, people have stories to tell about how their countries started and developed.
They organized the first edition into a small magazine format and asked a local printer to print it for them. It was agreed that the first edition would be inserted in the weekly newspaper. When Jon and Vilma brought in a second edition of the magazine, the publisher told them that he could not print anymore for them..
“What’s the problem?’ Jon asked.
“The man called Al at the general store told me that he would get all the merchants to stop advertising with me if I go on printing the magazine.”
“I told you, Jon, that he was not the friend he appeared to be.. He probably thinks this is a way to control me,” Vilma said.
“Well, he can’t control me,” Jon said. I’ll distribute them myself if I have to.”
There are printers in other towns. We can deliver it ourselves. As a result, Jon and Vilma went to a close by town to find a printer. They found a shop about halfway down Main street. The sign read:
Ole Olson, printer.
“I bet this one won’t be scared away by your cousin Al,” Jon said.
They entered the shop and Mr. Olson was excited about theirt project and couldn’t wait to get started.
© 2014 Don A. Hoglund