“The house had a thatched roof which blew off occasionally”: memories of a 19th-century Swedish girlhood
See here for the background to Augusta’s story, as well as links to all related posts.
Sturup, the hamlet of about fifteen houses where Augusta grew up, no longer exists as such*; it was within the footprint of what is now Malmö Airport. I can find nothing online about its history, which seems to make her memoir of her time as a little farm girl there all the more valuable and worth preserving.
*[Edit: true, but Augusta's homestead is apparently still extant! See comment from Susan Hylander Duncan at the foot of this post]
The Story of My Life in Sweden and the U.S.
Augusta Parsons Hylander (Mrs. John C.), mother of the Hylander clan
Starting today: July 29, 1958 in Brooksville, Maine (at age 85)
The first I remember of my life was when I was seven years old. I started school then in my little native village of Sturup in southern Sweden, a small hamlet of about fifteen houses. That is where I was born, the youngest of six children. My mother and father (as I heard them say) came to Sturup from a place called Blenturp, some miles away further north. They bought a little farmhouse in Sturup, which became our home. It had three acres of land and two small ponds on it which were valuable to own. The house stood on a little knoll. My parents built on a new house of red brick for a living house, with a fine thatched roof, and used the old house for a barn. In the country it was the custom to join the living house to the barn because of the severe winters. The living house had a large room that was used for many purposes, a kitchen, and one room we called “the best room”. Then there was one small room in which my grandmother on my father’s side lived. She died before I was born.
We had a cow and lots of chickens, also usually two pigs. We could not afford a horse. The cow’s name was Stjärna (Star) because she had a large white star on her forehead. She was reddish brown in color. Of the chickens I was given a mother hen and her little chicks, usually 12 or 14. They belonged just to me. I took care of them and the money from selling their eggs was my “allowance”. I would walk several miles to Svedala, a village with an outdoor market, with my eggs tied up in a large kerchief, and stay until I had sold them all. I also often walked to Svedala to sell eggs from our other hens as well as butter and cheese. When I got home my mother always treated me to coffee and coffee-bread. It should be remembered that a Swedish mile is the longest in the world, equal to 6 or 7 miles. Perhaps this difference has been changed in modern times.
The two pigs my father bought early each spring, and we raised them during the summer up to two weeks before Christmas when each year we sold one for 100 crowns (kronor), paying off debts on the house. The other pig we killed and used for food for the family.
On the land were two good wells, and around the house was a lovely garden with all kinds of flowers and red and black currant bushes as well as fruit trees – pear, apple, and plum. Paths were neatly arranged so that we could walk around this garden, and at the sides by the walls were syringa, lavender, and ambrut plants, making the whole garden fragrant. At the end of one walk was a round summer-house with a table and benches. We used to have after-dinner coffee and coffee-bread in this place when we had time. I remember we children sometimes played in there. We never had toys from stores, but used to find pretty pieces of broken china for “playing house”.
The vegetable garden was away from the house down by one of the ponds so it could be easily watered. We raised everything we needed – enough potatoes for the year, carrots, beets, spinach, cabbage, onions, parsley, and other produce. In the “best room” was a trap door in the floor which had steps down to a dirt-floored area where we kept vegetables for the year. They lasted very well. We did not have a real cellar under the house. No one did. We had plenty of eggs from the hens, and sometimes ate one of the chickens, though usually we felt we had to sell them. Milk and butter and cheese we had from our cow Stjärna. We regarded her as a pet.
On our three acres we raised rye, oats, and flax for our linen. We had nothing made of cotton. Everything was linen – sheets, pillowcases, and towels. We prepared all the cloth ourselves, carding, spinning, and weaving for our household needs – table-cloths, bed-spreads, and such items. What we could not make ourselves we went without. Sometimes it seemed as though we worked all the time, but some of it was fun. I loved to weave from the time I was so small that I could hardly send the shuttle back and forth. I didn’t like to spin, and my mother did that. She was so skillful that she could spin a thread as fine as silk, whether it was linen or wool.
There was a tailor in the neighborhood, and when it came time to have clothes made for my father and brothers he moved into the house with a couple of helpers and a very queer old machine, and all stayed for a couple of weeks (going to their homes overnight), made the clothes, and left again. My mother’s and my clothes were made in the same way if they were heavy and made of wool. I had a cousin named Bengta Borg who lived next door, and she usually made our dresses. I didn’t always like the ones she made for me, and from the time I could sew I started changing over the ones she made. I loved to sew and had my own ideas about how I wanted my clothes to look.
Both my parents were wonderful people, hard-working and honest, loyal and fair in everything they did. My father was rugged and worked strenuously outdoors much of the time. It was expected that children should work just as hard as their parents did. My mother was exceedingly pretty, and kind to everybody. She was so generous that my father said she would give away the clothes she had on if someone needed them. She treated the whole village to coffee and coffee-bread whenever she had a chance. She was a very good cook and made the best coffee-bread in Sturup. She was a lovely person, and since I was the youngest of the family and the only one at home when I was small, we were together a great deal.
I want to talk a little more about the interior of our house, the living quarters. The living room was used the most. It was large, and at the front end of the room towards the road was a long table built in along the wall, with a bench that reached from one side of the room to the other. The table had a long drawer that reached almost the full length. In it was always kept the tableware. Then on the opposite side of the room toward the kitchen was a big stove that kept us warm. Fuel was put in it from the kitchen. At another side of the room was a wide sofa, very comfortable, and on the fourth side was a bed. It was so made that it could be opened up at night and closed together during the day. Since we used feather puffs it was very high when made up, and had a colorful bed cover woven by us in an intricate pattern.
The kitchen had a large open fireplace with two places for cooking and brackets for holding pots and pans over the fire. Here all cooking was done the year around. We baked all our bread in an oven set deep in over the fireplace, heated with wood. It was so big that it held about 30 loaves of bread. There was a long-handled wooden shovel that reached all the way into the oven where loaf after loaf was carefully put to be baked. When all the loaves were in place a cover was quickly put in front of the oven and it was sealed up with some sort of clay until they were baked. Before it was used for baking the oven was swept out nice and clean, then heated before the bread was placed inside. We baked rye bread mostly since wheat did not grow on our land. After a few days most of the newly baked bread became dry and hard, and would last for months. When dried each loaf looked like a huge cracker. This kind of bread was called knäckabröd.
There was another object of interest in the kitchen. It was an enormous iron kettle that was used to heat water for our laundry, baths, and other occasions when a lot of hot water was needed. It had a fireplace underneath where a fire was lit, with the water coming to a boiling point very quickly. It was built with clay all around it. The water of course was carried in from our outside wells.
I have spoken about how we made long-lasting bread. We very seldom had fresh meat, such as beef or lamb, in fact almost never. Practically all the meat we had for the year was from the pig we raised and slaughtered later. It was killed right at home in the kitchen. There was a slaughter-man, as we called him, who came around and did that job. I always hated this event and ran out of the house far away until it was over. But later I liked eating the ham and bacon. The slaughter-man’s profession was going around the neighborhood and slaughtering the animals raised by the villagers for food. We children were quite afraid of him and the sharp knives he carried with him. Every part of our pig was used, not only for food, but for other purposes as well. I think we used one part of him for making soap. The shoulders were smoked right away in the chimney of the fireplace with a certain kind of wood used with its leaves on to give it an especially good flavor.
A man came around once a year in the fall with fish to sell. He only had herring, which we fried when fresh, then salted the rest to use during the winter.
Whenever we needed sugar, which came in the shape of a large cone, so hard that pieces had to be chipped off for use, or for coffee, we took eggs to the store and exchanged them for what we needed. Going to the little village store was always a great occasion. Sometimes we would have a piece of rock candy given to us for a special treat. Otherwise candy was unknown to us.
We lived on plain food, but we had all we needed for a healthy life, and never knew hunger. We had rye bread the year around except for Christmas when we bought a little white flour and made white bread, a special delicacy.
I remember one more thing about our house. It had two doors on the front side, that is, the side used for the front. The house was built at right angles to the road. One door opened on to a small hall which led into the living room. In the hall was a large closet which held all our clothes. The other door led into the kitchen. Both doors were in two sections, Dutch style, cut in half so that the bottom half closed first, then the top one. I remember yet how I used to swing in and out on the lower half. My father warned me that I might break it some day. But fortunately that did not happen.
The house was red brick with white trim, and had a thatched roof which blew off occasionally. We had two windows in the living room and two in the “best room”. White curtains were gathered at the top, and reached down half the length of the windows so that the lower half was clear glass. In the winter we had double windows. Before they were put on, the windows had to be washed until they were clean and shiny. Then between the inner and outer window a decoration was placed at the bottom, made of puffed cotton two inches high. An intricate pattern made with red wool thread was laid on top of the cotton which had been somewhat flattened down. It looked very pretty. Then the outer windows were nailed shut for the winter, and the double windows kept our house snug.
Winter and heavy snow started in the late fall and lasted till late spring. It was terribly cold, but we were used to it and didn’t mind, but grew healthy and rugged. In winter the village children would gather at our two little ponds and skate. We had homemade skates and wooden shoes. I can still remember the fun we had. We also had homemade sleds to use on nearby hills. The weather was so cold that the ice on the ponds always lasted all winter. And sometimes the snow was so high and frozen so hard that we could walk on top of it, high in the air, from one farmhouse to another. One winter I remember that we dug a tunnel through the snow from our door to the next house.
This is where Augusta stopped writing for a month or so; I will take it as a natural break, and continue the story in another post.