By Cheyenne Rowe
I come from a family of storytellers.
I can say this confidently because I got three different versions of the same story when I asked where I came from.
What follows is by far the most creative compilation of events; the jury is still out on its accuracy.
According to my mother, Paula Baldozier, the beginning of my family in Nebraska is marked with her grandpa, Schandorf Laursen.
Laursen was born on Jan. 24, 1889 to Chris and Kathryn Laursen on a sleepy little farm in Denmark. Without much of a record to his childhood, the story pauses until the early 1900s.
This family legend states that the Dane’s life really started when he immigrated to the United States. Somehow he had talked his way onto a ship headed in the opposite direction of the Danish army he was running from.
“I was always told he went AWOL (absent without official leave) and then moved around a lot,” Baldozier said. This made Laursen a refugee of sorts, seeking asylum and a new home.
From that day forward, Laursen was so terrified of being found and forced to return home that he just kept traveling. He was content with that life, they say, until he found Leonora Staal.
It was time to do some talking again, but this time it was far more frightening than fleeing from war. This time it was a girl.
“The stories say the two met in Grand Island and married pretty quick,” Baldozier said.
Whatever Schandorf said must have worked.
The couple kept traveling and ended up having six children (in various states). Sometime after the birth of Stella and Leo, came Wanda, who would be my maternal grandmother.
Accordingly, Lenora started spinning tales of settling down, probably because lugging around so many children was tiresome. No matter the real reason, life slowed down for the Laursens, who ended up in Omaha, Nebraska, and decided to stay.
Still paranoid about being found by the Danish government, Schandorf agreed to the permanent settlement only if he was allowed to change his name and occupation.
His chose his new name because it was easier to spell, the story goes. Meanwhile I wonder what secrets his old name held.
The Danish runaway, now new American, would henceforth be known as Sam Hardy, head baker at the Benson Bakery. The bakery, which became a Benson staple, would be mere blocks away from where I graduated high school in 2014.
The Hardy family remained in Benson, where the kids grew and the family made friends. Loaded with the best tales about his unique family, the oldest Hardy boy, Leo, quickly reached out to make connections with his neighbors.
This is where my family story veers towards oddly coincidental, but true.
Leo would become a best friend to Melvin Rowe, who would become my paternal grandfather.
As years passed, Leo remained close to Melvin and his family. The pair would be so close that the Rowe children (including my dad) would dub Hardy “Uncle Leo.”
My mother and father often have different versions of the same stories about Leo. For example, both stopped mid-interview for this history and said, “You know Uncle Leo had a pet parakeet that he used to keep in his shirt pocket?”
The difference was that they had never experienced this memory together.
Wanda Hardy, sister to Leo and eventually my maternal grandmother, soon found and fell in love with another neighborhood boy, Ken Nelson, much to the displeasure of the Rowe family. Both the Rowes and the Hardys wanted their daughters married to this boy.
Ken was liken to a Ken Doll, or so I’m told — a soldier with dreamy blue eyes and a great smile.
“He picked my mom,” Baldozier said. “My sisters used to tell me all the stories about him.”
Wanda and Ken were married and the families began what seemed to me to be a Shakespearean feud, which left Leo and Melvin with a star-crossed friendship.
“It was the biggest fight ever, both families were not friends anymore and never spoke again,” Baldozier said.
Another marriage after the untimely death of Ken gave Wanda her final daughter, my mother, who was born on June 8, 1965.
Unfamiliar with the family feud, Paula and Roger Rowe met, fell in love and were married decades after the first Rowe-Hardy relationship truly began.
Much to the pleasure of my overly creative, fabulist family members, storytelling is in my blood. I followed a journalism track through the same high school almost all of my direct relatives had graduated from.
Seven years after my birth, my parents divorced due to differences.
I blame Shakespeare.