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The Little Red Jacket


Fri, Dec 13th, 2002
Posted in Norwegian Ancestry

Left to right: Stig Lorentzen, Charlotte (Knudson) Nelson, Esther Knudson, and Petra Størseth in Stadsbygd near Trondheim, Norway in 1977. The visit occurred 31 years after Charlotte had included her name in the pocket of a little red jacket that was part of a post-war clothing donation to Norway. The Norwegian newspaper headline reads: “Remarkable coincidence leads to an American visit in Stadsbygd.”

"At one time it was so bad that I thought the young would have to go naked. We had of course ration cards, but that was no help so long as there wasn't so much as a yard of material to find! So then came a call from the Creamery Station that new 'American packages' had arrived in. I was so happy the tears rolled. When the package was opened, it contained clothes that fit all of the children and then I really cried. Still today 31 years later I don't think I can give thanks enough for this package." Quotation from 73-year-old Petra Størseth from Stadsbygd near Trondheim, Norway (translated from an article in a Norwegian newspaper 1977).

Petra recalled October 27, 1948, the very day she received her "heartily welcomed package from America." Amongst the clothing was a little red jacket with a piece of paper in the pocket containing the words "Charlotte Knudson, Canton, Minnesota." My mother, at age 14, had included her name and address in the pocket of her jacket destined for Norway.A clothing drive had taken place two years earlier, in 1946, at the Henrytown Lutheran Church. At the time, radio and newspapers kept everyone informed of the war and conditions in Norway. Charlotte's mother, Esther Knudson, hearing about the church event, collected good used clothing for her grandfather's homeland. Amongst the clothing donated by the Knudson family was Charlotte's jacket.The very same day Petra received the "American package" she wrote a thank you letter to my mother, Charlotte, containing in part (translation by Harley Refsal, Decorah, IA December 2002):

October 27, 1948Dear friend,Actually, the package arrived two years ago. Some of the gifts were distributed at that time, others were put away until now, when I received a red jacket, which just fits my six-year-old daughter. She was so happy, so I wanted to write and thank you at once."It was wonderful to receive the clothes, since times have been very difficult here - we have survived on almost nothing. But one has to be thankful that we now have peace, and we're finally able to get food again. During the war we couldn't get coffee or sugar, and ate a lot of dark, coarse bread. But - we survived that too.It's a bit unusual to be writing to someone I don't know, but I want to express my deepest thanks for the little red jacket . . . It's wonderful to have a contact in America.Mrs. Petra L. Størseth

My mother was so excited when she received the envelope from Norway addressed to "Charlotte Knudson, Canton, Minnesota." She then knew that her little red jacket had made the journey, but she was also anxious to hear what her letter said. However, Charlotte's family was unable to translate the Norwegian letter, as it was written in an informal older rural dialect from the Trondheim area of Norway, which they were unfamiliar with.Although disappointed the letter could not be translated, my mother still treasured the Norwegian response and tucked it away. There the envelope containing the letter remained for the next 28 years in her wooden box of special childhood keepsake items. The 10x12 inch wooden tea box which was given to Charlotte by her father, Henry Knudson, was covered in yellow paper with green decorative trim.This is where I come into the story. In the fall of 1976, I had been hitchhiking near the North Cape in the extreme north of Norway and stayed a couple of extra adventurous weeks in the Laplander village of Kautokeino. Since I had fallen behind in my travel schedule, I caught the train near the Arctic Circle to speed my journey towards Oslo, hundreds of miles to the south.Having taken the night train from Trondheim, I arrived about 5:00 a.m. in the town of Hamar, a couple hours north of Oslo, and waited for my bus ride out. Also waiting at the train station at this early hour was a teenage boy named Stig Lorentzen, from Trondheim, Norway. Since Stig and I were the only pre-dawn travelers, we visited in a blending of Norwegian/English and I learned how he dreamed of traveling to America. Stig had hoped to travel around the world, and when he discovered I was from a farm and had four younger brothers his age, he wanted to visit my family in Minnesota.Within hours I telephoned my parents, waking them up during the night to ask if Stig could stay with them. My parents were thrilled at the thought of having a Norwegian visitor. Stig arrived at my parent's farm in Fillmore County in November 1976, as he stated "to work as a cowboy." Shortly after Stig's arrival in Amherst, mom was preparing for Christmas and happened upon her wooden tea box that contained her special keepsakes, including Petra's letter. Stig, being from Trondheim, recognized Petra's town name of Stadsbygd, as it was only a short distance across the fjord from where he lived. He verbally translated the Norwegian written in an old rural dialect from his area. Mom was thrilled, for after 28 years, she finally learned the contents of the post-war letter.Charlotte immediately wanted to try and contact Petra. As she dictated, Stig wrote a response in Norwegian to answer Petra's thank you. "I didn't know if I should believe my own eyes," said the 73 year-old Petra when she received the response that Christmas. She quickly replied and letters were sent back and forth regularly for the next few months. Charlotte, Esther, and Stig graciously accepted an invitation to Petra's home.Stig returned to Norway in 1977 and kindly made all the arrangements for the American visitors that fall. Petra was so ecstatic about their arrival that she redid the whole house including painting, curtains, rugs, and tablecloths. She even considered removing a wall to make the rooms larger.The American visitors met Stig in Trondheim, crossed the fjord on the car ferry, and proceeded to Petra's farm. There they met Petra, her husband, and two daughters, one of whom had received the little red jacket.Norwegian newspaper reporters were on hand in 1977 to publish the touching story of the visitors: "Today, 31 years after the first contact was made, Petra Størseth got to meet the two, Esther Knudson and her daughter, Charlotte (Knudson) Nelson, who in the hard post-war time sent a warm sunbeam in the form of much needed clothing to the family with so many children in the small Trøndelag town. All this, thanks to an accidental meeting between two young people at a train station far away from both Stadsbygd and Minnesota."As our family prepares for the joyous Christmas holiday, we think about Petra and the unwavering gratitude she showed for the simple, little, red jacket. Who would have thought that such a small act of kindness would result in an enduring friendship and a trip to Norway.Deb Nelson Gourley is a layout editor at the Journal and is writing a book about her Norwegian heritage. You can visit the author's Norwegian Ancestry Series at www.fillmorecounty-journal.com for all of her stories. Deb can be reached at Gourleydeb@aol.com

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