“I am now 91 years of age. I have lived for almost a century.”
In this, the final section of her memoir, Augusta recalls the new career she took up in her sixties (further evidence, if any were needed, of her fabulousness) and the events of her later life.
It’s a beautiful and moving conclusion to what has been a fascinating life story, at once ordinary and remarkable. I’m tremendously thankful that she felt moved to put pen to paper, and that Gay rescued the manuscript from the back of a cupboard, and that my grandmother held onto our copy.
I’ll do a follow-up post after the holidays with a bit of supplementary information, but for now, read and enjoy.
I stayed a few months alternately with my son and daughter, who now both lived in Hamilton, but I wanted to do something more with my life. I was healthy, active and vigorous. I had no money since John’s insurance was used for his funeral and burial, and we had owned only a very small part of our house in Springfield.
After much thought I decided to apply for a position as resident chaperone in a college. I wrote to the dean of women at Cornell University and received a letter asking for an interview. All went well, and I became a resident chaperone in a girls’ dormitory there. When I reached the retirement age at Cornell I moved to the same position at Ithaca College where the retirement age was 10 years older.
These years were very enjoyable. I have always loved young people, and get along well with them. Sometimes I feel as though I am the same age as they are! At least I have always loved them and tried to understand them. Both colleges are in the same city, Ithaca, N.Y., an 80-mile drive from Hamilton, and I saw my families frequently, and always at Christmas and for the summers. It was a good life, but eventually I reached retirement age at Ithaca in 1959. Since then I have lived with my son or daughter alternately. They both have summer homes in Maine, and my summers are spent there with them. I love Maine, and think it very like Sweden, with the sea and many lakes, the hills and small farms, the spruces and white birches.
We had a great sorrow in 1964 [Ed: Augusta wrote this section in 1964, so the events she describes here are recent at the time of writing] when my son and his wife were in Claremont, California, where he had been invited to be a guest professor in botany for the year at Pomona College. They drove from Maine to California. All went well, and they settled down in a nice apartment which had been found for them. He had been teaching two weeks when on October 8th he and his wife went to bed at night. He chatted easily for a few moments, then fell back on his pillow dead. He had had a severe heart attack. A healthy and active man, he had seldom been ill, and the shock to everyone was great. Like my husband’s similar sudden death, we had to content ourselves with being thankful that he did not suffer. He was cremated and brought home by his wife and son, who had immediately flown out to his mother from Maine and taken charge of everything, then laid to rest in the little cemetery with its white picket fence by our lake in Brooksville, Maine, the summer home of our families. Our son loved this area so much that when he reached his retirement he built a new house in Bar Harbor and this became his permanent home.
Now he has gone, and my husband John has gone, and I am living out the rest of my life at my daughter’s home in Hamilton.
A few years earlier I had one of the greatest moments of my life when in 1962 my daughter Gay and her husband Ray visited Sweden for a month in the summer. They travelled thousands of miles from coast to coast and north to south, and saw much of Sweden. In the south they explored the area in Sturup where John and I were born and lived until we emigrated to America in our teens. They were able to enter the church where we were confirmed and saw the graves in the surrounding churchyard of my parents and John’s. They saw our schoolhouse and walked on the roads we had walked on. They found the village of Svedala where I had walked to sell eggs and butter. They saw our homes, and were able to explore the inside of my home, now the summer place of a teacher from Malmö.
They took pictures of everything – our homes, the church and cemetery, the schoolhouse, the roads, the countryside. They have a picture of themselves at our door, the Dutch door on which I loved to swing back and forth as a little girl. In the picture with my daughter and her husband are two of my relatives still living in Sturup, my nephew Arvid Johanson and his wife Hilda, who treated Gay and Ray to a lovely coffee party. Standing in the door with my daughter is the woman who now owns the house. Arvid and Hilda are fine people with whom I have corresponded all my life.
Hearing first-hand about Sturup as it is today and seeing all these pictures of my home and village was a thrilling experience. Gay and Ray gave me a set of all the pictures they had taken in Sturup, and I often look at them.
John and I never returned to Sweden, not even for a visit, though we often spoke of doing so. At first we did not have enough money to think of it. Then as time went on, our ties with Sweden grew less strong. By that time our parents were all dead, and many of our brothers and sisters had emigrated to America.
But our Swedish upbringing and heritage remained strong within us, and our daughter’s visits to our homeland and her growing love for it are a source of great joy to me. I am sorry that John was never to know of her pilgrimages to Sweden and the loving acquaintance she made of our early lives in our native village of Sturup.
October 21, 1964, in Hamilton
I am now 91 years of age. I have lived for almost a century.
I know my life must be coming to an end. Gay and her husband are very good to me. I have an elegant room and a bath of my own, with a beautiful view of valleys and hills from my windows. From being a very active person formerly, I am now content to do very little. My eyes are failing, and I find myself dozing often. I have had many experiences in my life, and enjoy remembering them as I sit in my lovely room looking at the beautiful view before me, listening to my daughter play piano. Sometimes I feel I am back in Sweden, weaving with my pretty mother, or walking to Svedala with eggs to sell in the market there, or dancing around the maypole on Midsummer’s night. I think of my dear John and my son and the excitement when my daughter was born, making our family complete.
I am thankful for the wonderful life I have had, and I am ready to go when I am called. All is well, and I am a happy and grateful wife and mother.
Adjo! When the time comes, I shall leave you with all my love.
Augusta died on 22 December 1965.
Photo (taken in Skåne, 2010) © Rutger Blom, via Flickr.