Tiny Heart


My great grandma's name was Bertha. She came to America from Sweden when she was 19. She worked for a while and then went back to Sweden to get her little sister and her niece, Ebba. The story of these three women, coming to America has completely captured my imagination. There are terrible trials and hardships...and they were alone. Bertha's little sister died after just two years in America of typhoid fever and Bertha had to write a letter to her mom and dad back in Sweden telling them the crushing news.

I've been reading all about my family's history: from farming in Sweden to homesteading in Southern Minnesota. My Aunt Jan compiled numerous interviews, newspaper articles, and personal narratives into one incredible page-turning book. (Cousins. If you haven't read the Bredberg History book we all got at Grandma's party, get it out. Start at the part that begins with Great Grandma Bertha. You'll be so proud to be her great grandchild!)

Sadly, I'm years late in realizing what a treasure I have had in my possession. Aunt Jan gifted these books to all of us years ago. I never read mine. Now she's gone and I am spellbound by our family story. I wish I could call her and thank her. I wish I could sit down with my grandma and ask more questions.


In an effort to seize the day, I called up Ebba's daughter, Ferne. Ebba was the niece that my great grandma brought back to America with her. Ferne has always been a part of my life, at every Bredberg gathering I can think of. A great storyteller and a great big personality.

I took Elsie on Saturday to visit with Ferne and her daughter Chris in South Minneapolis. And we heard many more stories. I asked more questions. And I have a feeling we just skimmed the surface. I can't wait to go back and hear more.


But maybe my favorite new piece of history that I learned is this: Ferne, holding Elsie above, was best friends with Elsie Cash, my grandma's sister and my baby Elsie's namesake. Elsie was Ferne's maid of honor. Their farms neighbored each other and they had special signals to greet each other by flashing their car lights towards the other farm, or flicking the kitchen lights at the end of the day. Ways of saying "good night" and "hello." When they were young they did a demonstration speech together for 4H on making bread and Ferne said, "we can't remember who said it. I thought she said it, she thought I said it, but one of us said, 'You'll know your dough is ready when you can touch it and it doesn't stick to your hands or your feet.' Oh we laughed about that."

This was a treasure. To get to know a bit more of Elsie Cash and to watch 98-year-old Ferne hold my Elsie.


Ferne is a writer, speaker and poet. My dad sent this poem to me when he heard I was going to visit her. I thought it was the perfect poem to share today, on Valentines Day.

Tiny Heart
by Ferne Nelson, 2002

My tiny heart began with a gentle beat
Close to my Mother's heart

Upon my birth the beatings became stronger
Giving vigor to my infant body

Through childhood, youth years and adult life
There has been a steady beat

Increasing activities made demands
My faithful heart worked well

It has sustained me these many years
and I've had love and joy

Some days the gentle beat will return and take me
close to the heart of my Lord

2 comments:

Erika said...

Thanks for sharing this Becca. I rarely hear stories about my grandma anymore. I'm glad your Elsie is named after her. Hopefully that will bring more stories about her to the surface. Your Elsie is so precious. Hopefully someday soon we will get to meet her.

Becca Groves said...

Erika!
This visit with Ferne was so great, and then to hear stories of her best friend Elsie!!! It was so fun to think of your grandma as a young woman. I'm anxious to get more stories...I'll keep you posted :)

Joyfully,
Becca