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Bob Lind, Published January 27 2013

Lind: Swedish immigrant came to ND alone as a teen

Astrid Viman was 16 years old when her parents put her on a ship in Sweden to start a new life in the United States.

Her father was a bodyguard of Sweden’s king. But he and his wife had a hard time financially raising their family of eight children. So it may have been a money pinch that forced them to choose Astrid, the oldest child, to go to the U.S.

So says Curt Johnson, Lakeville, Minn. He is a nephew of Astrid.

“If you have children,” Curt writes Neighbors, “can you imagine putting them on a ship and sending them thousands of miles away, maybe never to see them again?”

But that was the case for this family when, in 1926, Astrid sailed from Laxa, Sweden, accompanied only by an aunt who volunteered to take the boat trip with her.

First-grader

Curt says information is sketchy about Astrid’s early life, but here’s what is known.

After arriving in New York, Astrid’s aunt went to Chicago. “But for reasons unknown,” Curt says, “Astrid, alone in a strange country, boarded a train that took her to Lisbon, N.D.”

In North Dakota, she changed her last name to Wyman, lived with a family in Ransom County and attended school in Lisbon. At age 16, she was placed in first grade to enhance what little English she’d learned in Sweden.

Eventually she met and married Leo Johnson. They had two children, Lloyd and Juline.

Astrid and Leo had a good marriage despite a major obstacle: She was a Swede and he was a Norwegian.

A ‘token Swede’

Well, actually, this mixed background made no difference, although it was a set-up for some family jokes.

Curt’s father Joe Johnson, Leo’s brother, termed Astrid the family’s “token Swede.”

To which Astrid had a comeback. She called Joe the family’s token “wooden nickel,” referring to the old saying, “Never take a wooden nickel.”

Curt says his aunt always had a strong Swedish accent. When he was a kid, he’d mimic her. Everyone in the family would laugh except Astrid, because she thought he sounded just fine.

But Curt and other kids in the family couldn’t pronounce Astrid’s name, and one of them converted her name to “Oscar.” So, to Curt and others in the family, she was always known as “Aunt Oscar.”

Curt says his aunt had loving, caring ways. Besides that, “She was the best pastry cook in the world,” he says. “When she baked sweets and you tasted them, you no longer had any aches, pains, worries or troubles.”

Going home

After more than 40 years in the U.S., Astrid’s son and his family took her and Leo back to Sweden for a family reunion.

It was a time of both tears and laughter. In four decades, some family members had died, while others had grown and had their own families for her to meet for the first time.

Astrid visited the stave church she’d attended as a child. She saw her home town and its mix of new buildings and those she remembered. “It wasn’t home for her any more, but then again, it was,” Curt says.

Astrid died in 1995. Yet even today, Curt says, “She is missed by all who knew her; especially her family from Lisbon, N.D., and Laxa, Sweden.”

Curt doesn’t have a picture of “Aunt Oscar.” But he says you should just “picture a small, slightly round Swedish lady who always smiled and asked if you would like a cup of coffee and a roll when you visited her home.”


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com