Rainbow People

Vicki, one of my rainbow people.

My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky–

…William Wordsworth

Driving down the freeway a few days ago, we saw something we’d never noticed before. We’d been caught in a downpour so heavy we couldn’t see the pavement for the water washing across it. Spray from their their wheels made it difficult to see the vehicles around us. Hank slowed, clutched the steering wheel and hung on for dear life.

As suddenly as the cloudburst began, it stopped. The sun broke through behind us. Each vehicle still churned up a traveling cloud of water droplets from the water on the roadway. And then–we could hardly believe what we saw– a rainbow caught in the spray followed each vehicle. Some rainbows arched properly. Some were little spots of color. Others spread out in pools of moving green, yellow, red. The drivers stared straight ahead, intent on getting where they were going. They didn’t realize they carried rainbows in their wakes.

We all know people like that. They are too busy going about the business of daily living, laughing, loving, encouraging, and helping others, to ever see the rainbows in their trail. Like the drivers on the freeway, they can’t see their rainbows from where they sit. But they brighten our lives.

Like Wordsworth, I love to see a rainbow in the sky. But it’s even more beautiful to see the aura of life-giving hope that surrounds persons who are living life the way God wants them to live it.

A Promise for Oxendal

Kathi in her Scandanavian rainboots at the front of the beautiful church in Oksendal. The altar, carvings and other decorations were used in the previous church which dated back to the 1700s.

Back view of the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Øksendal

The boathouse once used by Jon Husby. When the tide
came in, it was easy to get boats down the ramp.

While searching for her Norwegian roots in the village of Øksendal, Norway, stepdaughter Kathi discovered the farm where her great grandfather, Jon Andersson (Sjølseth) Husby, had lived and worked. Although the house was not the original, several original structures, including the boat house at the edge of the fjord, remained on the property. She felt overwhelmed to stand where her ancestors once lived and commented, “I still don’t quite know what to do with my feelings of being connected to something much larger than myself.”

As she inquired after local Husbys in a little store, one customer introduced himself. He was Børd Bøye, pastor or preste of the local Evangelical Lutheran state church. She attended church the following day, thinking that she would have a better chance of meeting family there.

The present church building had been constructed in 1890, so the family members that Great-grandfather Jon left behind when he went to America would have worshipped in that location. The altar and decorative pieces inside were from the original church built in the 1700s and would have been familiar to him.

Only a few adults attended the service, apparently for their children’s benefit since it was a special Thanksgiving service. Kathi had discovered that most adults in Øksendal seem to believe that religion is a root cause of the world’s problems, (a common theme, in Kathi’s opinion, when people become prosperous and self-reliant.) Although the entire service was in Norwegian, she tried to follow along with the singing. Afterwards, everyone had hot dogs at the back of the church to celebrate Thanksgiving and then left.

Pastor Bøye offered to show Kathi the bell tower. They climbed up a dark, steep stairway that gave way to a ladder, then scaffolding, then foot-and-hand holds. He opened a panel in the wall so she could see out and take photographs. All of the old furniture was stored in the attic. She felt awed to see the very seats her ancestors had used when they worshipped.

After they climbed down from the bell tower, Kathi sat with Pastor Bøye on the steps of the church and talked. His story broke her heart. He had been at the church for eleven years and had made no discernible difference to the adults at all. He shared his dream that the people of Øksendal would become a blessing to others and themselves and that they might grow in their relationship to God and to each other. He longs to see every home a praying home.

As I heard this, I remembered Kathi’s great-grandfather, who brought his vital faith with him to America, and all the other Norwegian pioneers whose faith gave them the strength and courage to build new lives in a new land.

Kathi prayed with Pastor Bøye before she left. She promised to share his dream with us in America and to ask us and our churches to pray for him and this community, which seems to have forgotten God.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the readers of this blog would, through their prayers, help to ignite a spiritual reawakening among the descendants of those the stalwart immigrants left behind in Norway?

A Norwegian in America

The Jon Andersson Husby family, c. 1915
l. to r., Ingebord, Ingwald, Anna, Hendrick Sr. (Hank’s father), Ida, Jon Husby

In the 1880s, many young men left Norway to seek better prospects in America. They brought strong muscles, their skills at logging, fishing, or farming, their faith…and not much else. Jon (John) Andersson Husby was one of them. When he arrived in Michigan in 1882, he was 19 or 20. He went to work on a farm, as he’d done in the old country, but summer’s heat was more than he could stand. Decades later, his eyes twinkled as he told his grandson—my husband Hank—that Michigan was so hot he could hear the corn popping in the fields at night. The farmhands were served salt pork three times a day. It jiggled unappetizingly on the plate.

John soon took passage for the Pacific Northwest via sailing ship around the Horn–the southernmost tip of South America. He loved the Puget Sound, which reminded him of Norway’s fjords. The Northwest’s damp climate reminded him of Norway, too.

He acquired a stump ranch at Parker’s Landing on the Columbia River, halfway between the future towns of Washougal and Camas. He built a rough board shack to live in. There were no bridges across the Columbia, but steamboats stopped at the landing to take on loads of milk and produce bound for Portland on the Oregon side of the river. Rafts of logs floated down the river, as well as barges of grain from eastern Washington. In the summers, John and his friend Ole Reinseth hired out to logging companies to cut virgin timber. Family stories relate how they walked many miles north to the Puget Sound country for lumber camp jobs. When not logging, John worked to dig out the stumps dotting his property (hence the name stump ranch). He cleared enough space to pasture a cow and raise a garden.

In 1890, he sent for Ingeborg Reinseth, the sister of his partner Ole, who had found work as a chambermaid in England. We know nothing about their courtship, but Ingeborg came to America and married John. Their four children were born in the house John had built. By now he worked at logging sites closer to home. He also planted a prune orchard. Dried prunes were in great demand in Germany in the early 1900s. They could be shipped long distances without refrigeration and could be baked into breads and cakes as well as eaten dried or stewed. Washougal and Camas became known for their numerous prune orchards, as well as peach, pear, and apple orchards, although World War II spelled the doom of the German prune market.

In about 1890, Ole Reinseth donated land for a Lutheran Church near the Washougal River, and he and John Husby helped to build it.

The pulp mill at Camas became the largest employer in Clark County, and John’s sons and a son-in-law, as well as his grandsons, made their living at the mill.

Hank loved his Grandpa John Andersson Husby and shares his traits of humor, hard work, and strong faith. The last time Hank saw his grandfather was in 1956, shortly before he died. A visiting pastor came into his nursing home room and asked John about his relationship with Christ. John’s weak voice suddenly steadied. The words rang out as he recited the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…”

A half-century later, tears still run down Hank’s cheeks as he recalls the firm testimony of faith that had guided Jon Andersson Husby to leave his homeland and launch out into an uncertain future.

Norwegian Names

Photo by Kathi Ferguson

This cemetery in Norway dates
back to the 1200s: a geneologist’s paradise.

To make better sense of this blog, please read the preceeding story, Finding Norwegian Roots.

Our globe-trotting daughter Kathi continues to send us updates as she searches for her Norwegian relatives. Her search is complicated by the Norwegian system of naming people. The system has changed throughout history, and there are regional differences as well.

A child was given its “real” name, its first name, at christening. Almost every person took his or her father’s name as well. Kathi’s great-grandfather, Jon, took his father Anders’ name. He became Jon Andersson. His sister, Manghild, would have been Manghild Anderssdatter (the daughter of Anders.) Previous to around 1900, the women used their father’s name all their lives, married or not.

In some places, the father’s name (patronymic) was the only last name used. But in others, one other name was added. Commonly, it was the name of the farm (or address) where the family lived. If Jon Andersson was born or settled on a farm called Sjølseth, he would be called Jon Andersson Sjølseth. If he moved to another farm, then his last name would change to Husby, or whatever the farm was called.

Some families had a hereditary last name, sometimes of foreign origin and often very old. These names were often found in the cities or among high officials.

Complicating all this, in the late 1800’s, new naming patterns emerged. In one of them, a married woman could take her husband’s patronymic.

In another, children took their father’s last name (i.e., Husby) instead of a real patronymic.

The transition period lasted until 1923, so that researchers can find both old and new patterns even within a family. In that year, a new law ordered that each family should have a hereditary last name; only one. So some families took the name of their father, others a farm name, and some kept the hereditary names. The women lost their last names. But today, Norwegian women, as a rule, keep their last names after marriage.

For further information on the Norwegian naming system, go to this link: