My only memory of my grandfather is kind of humorous now that I think about it but at the time it was horrifying.
My mom and I went to visit him in some old, dark, seemingly empty building that smelled strongly of a combination of illness and disinfectant. To get to his room, we had to take an old-timey elevator with a metal accordion gate that closed manually. This alone was terrifying. When we got there, my grandfather was in bed. At some point during the visit, my grandfather lifted his hospital gown to adjust it. In my mind’s eye, it billows up and floats down slowly. It being a hospital gown, of course, my grandfather didn’t have anything on underneath. I was only six at the time and had never seen a naked man before.
I now know that this was St. Catherine’s Continuing Care Center, run by the Sisters of Mercy on 9th and Forest in Omaha. It started out as maternity hospital in the Herman Kountze Mansion. It continued as a hospital from 1910 until 1964 when Bergan Mercy was opened, at which point St. Catherine’s started caring for patients needing long-term nursing. The mansion was torn down in 1950 when an addition was constructed but parts of the building date back to 1916, 1925 and 1945. No wonder it seemed old, dark and creepy. St. Catherine’s was sold to Grace College of the Bible shortly after my grandfather died there and they continue to occupy it to this day. (See “Patients Move to Mercy Care Center” pages 1 and 6 from the Omaha World Herald, July 8, 1977 for a history of St. Catherine’s.)
I know almost nothing about my grandfather’s life and family in Sweden before he came to the United States in 1914 at the age of 17. Through records, I know that his parents were August Nystrom and Karolina Vedholm. They lived in Botkyrka parish outside Stockholm. He had numerous brothers and sisters, including three who all died just a few days apart in May of 1900: Artur, age 4; Thomas, age 6; and Gustaf, age 8. My grandfather was two years old at the time. For some reason I always imagine it was a skating accident and they fell through the ice and drowned. But because they didn’t all die at the same time, I’m guessing it was some sort of illness.
Two other brothers, Johan August Mauritz and Karl Hjalmar Sigfrid, came to the United States the year my grandfather was born, arriving with Karolina’s parents, Lars and Johanna, and Karolina’s sister, Edla, and Edla’s husband and baby daughter.
When my 17-year-old grandfather arrived in the United States in 1914, his destination was Oakland, Nebraska. I don’t know why he chose Oakland or who he might have known there. Lars, Johanna and Edla initially settled in Edna, Texas and later moved north to Michigan and Chicago. Maybe they settled in Oakland for a while on their way north? Perhaps Swan was attracted to Oakland because his brothers, grandparents, or aunt were there?
By 1918 we know that he is working as a farmhand for C. M. Anderson in Oakland. We learn this from his WWI draft registration card. We also learn that he is short, of medium build, with blue eyes and dark hair. By the time I knew him he had a shock of white hair. I don’t remember his height or build but I seem to remember amazingly blue eyes.
Thanks to the Oakland, Nebraska Public Library, I’m able to search the Oakland Independent and Republican newspaper and piece together parts of my grandfather’s life from 1925 to 1941. By 1925 he was 28 years old and had been married to my grandmother for three years. At this point they had two sons, Gene and Verne. The family did a lot of visiting. Some of the individuals they visited with were Carl Linden, Axel Carlson, Myrtle Saf, Bud Everetts, Henry Jacobson, John Johnson, John Saf and Charlie Samuelson. However, the one person they visited most frequently, by far, was C.M. Anderson, my grandfather’s boss. Is it his former boss by this point, or his he still working for C. M. Anderson?
At some point, to my surprise, my grandparents had a farm. I know this because in January of 1931, my grandfather placed an ad in the Oakland Independent and Republican saying that he had decided to quit farming and was selling everything at public auction.
A month later on page 1 of the newspaper was an amusing article. A Mrs. Gust W. Anderson was tricked into visiting my grandparents’ home in the country where 65 friends surprised her with a birthday party. She was given a gift of money, as was my grandmother who was moving away. “A quantity of food was brought and served and a good time reported.”
In July of 1933 he was paid $15.25 by the County to unload gravel. That’s about $287 in today’s money. Later in July he was approved by the County Board to do federal work. In August the County again paid him a miscellaneous $14.50
Daughter Shirley was born April 14, 1934. Soon after my grandma goes to University hospital in Omaha for mastoids surgery, returning in late May. She was gone a whole month. Who took care of baby Shirley?
The twins, Ronald and Donald, were born prematurely in 1936 and died a month later.
In 1937 my grandfather fell from a tree when a limb broke. His left foot was crushed and three toes were broken. The article didn’t say what he was doing in a tree.
In 1938 the City Council approves Swan’s claim of $7.70 for labor, about the same buying power as $130 in 2017.
By 1939 my grandfather is working in Omaha, coming back on weekends to visit the family.
In September 1940, twins Robert and Roberta are born. Only Robert survives.
In October 1940, my grandmother has ladies over for coffee. Her son Lindy has just died so they were probably there to offer condolences. So here’s my grandma with eight kids, one of whom is a newborn, a child recently killed in a tragic accident, she had little money and is all alone because her husband is away during the week working in Omaha.
Shockingly, in April 1941 Swan is arrested for non-support. I guess by now he has stopped coming home for weekend visits.
In August of 1941 my grandma and three small children visit the Carl Bjornberg home in Lyons.
In December of 1941 the family moves to Omaha and everyone is together again.
In 1942 son Jack is born
C. M. Anderson, the friend and former boss, dies in 1946. Swan and son travel back to Oakland to attend the funeral.
In 1955 grandma and grandpa are back in Oakland again with sons Verne and Rick and Rick’s wife to call on the Vernie Peterson home.
By 1974 we come full circle and my grandfather dies. The Oakland obituary mentions that he had been a carpenter in Oakland years ago. And a little girl’s only memory of her grandfather is a billowing hospital gown.