By Cahner Olson

On my mom’s side of the family, I am the fourth descendant of Norwegian immigrants. Eli Olson, who would be my great-great-grandfather, arrived in Iowa in 1876 when he was just 2. We don’t know the reason for his immigration, but we do know he came at a time when almost one-ninth of Norway’s population was immigrating.

The surge started in the 1820s during times of religious tensions in the country. Eli and his parents followed the same trail as many other Norwegians, arriving in New York before moving west and settling on a farm in Iowa.

Fast forward almost 150 years. My mom, who works as a Realtor in Iowa and Nebraska, saw a listing in Shelby, Iowa, for a farmhouse that she recognized as the one my great-great-grandfather’s parents bought when they arrived from Norway. After Eli’s parents died and he was of age, he inherited the farm. I was 10 when I joined my mom and my mom’s cousin, Ron, to visit the farm before it was sold.

The house looked virtually the same as when my mom was a girl and spent her summers there. Ron remembered who used to sleep in each of the bedrooms when all the cousins, aunts and uncles piled into the house for family gatherings.

There was a barn behind the house that seemed almost in ruins during our visit. My mom remembered the barn well; the children used to play in it during the summer. But now it looked abandoned and in disarray. As we walked around inside, my mom found an old Hamm’s beer can, the same brand favored by Eli’s son, Earl, who would be my great-grandfather.  

Our visit to the old farmhouse was in 2008, 40 years after Earl’s death. The Hamm’s beer can could have very well come from somebody else, but my mom kept the can as a memento to our visit and to the summers she spent there as a child. Ron also took a stool from that barn that he believes the cousins sat on while milking the cows.

A few years after our visit, the farmhouse and barn caught fire. Whatever structure was left was torn down and sold as farmland, causing a huge piece of my family’s history to disappear.

My cousin’s and I are the first generation of Olsons who have never played on the farm during the summer, but the family stories are still living on through an old milking stool and a Hamm’s beer can.