North Dakota

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Secret in the Church Tower #3

Johanne

Johanne sat in Bakken Kirke that hot July morning.  She did not remember it ever being so hot in Norway as it was here in America. All the windows were open but there was no breeze drifting over the Dakota prairie. She looked out the window next to the rough oak bench on which she sat. It had been so dry that summer the grass was hardly green but more a light brown color. They needed to keep praying for rain.  God had been so faithful to bring them safely to this new land and they had to believe the journey and all the tormenting goodbyes they said to their family and friends would be worthwhile.  The crops would grow.  Their life there would be good.  It just had mostly been very, very hard so far.

At least her family had all made it there alive.  Some other families had suffered great losses on the journey.  The Jenson’s youngest daughter had come down with a terrible fever as they traveled by wagon through Illinois.  Her name was Inge and she had only been three years old with white blonde hair.  She had been a joy to everyone in their village of Heskestad. Johanne remembered Inge’s baptism day at their little church back in Norway.  On the day they buried her in a field in Illinois, Johanne had wept to think of how happy Inge’s baptism day had been and now they had wrapped that dear little girl in her mother’s shawl and they were burying her lifeless body.

Other families had lost elderly members who were weakened from the hardships of travel and illness, and a few other young women had died in childbirth like the pastor’s wife.  Although their church in the Dakota territory was only a few years old, there were already quite a few graves in the small cemetery.  In fact, the cemetery was established before they even started building the church.  Mr. Haugen’s wife died just the first week they arrived in Dakota and he buried her on the beautiful hill on the land they homesteaded. He then met with the other men in the community and offered to give the entire hill so that a church could be built there.  And Bakken Kirke was established.

Bakken Kirke was a simple building, although they did build it with a strong frame and a tall steeple. Johanne loved how the placement of the church on the hill made it stand out over the entire countryside and when the bell tolled it could be heard for miles. The bell was tolled on Sunday mornings as the pastor walked from the small parsonage over to the church and beckoned all within its’ hearing to come to worship.  The bell was also rung as they departed the church after worship.  On New Year’s Eve they gathered there and rang the bell at midnight just as they had done in the old country and as the church was one of the only community gathering places in the area, the bell was rung if there needed to be a meeting of the men in the area to make decisions or share information.

Johanne and her family went to church every Sunday morning but as she glanced at her father and the sweat running down the side of his face as he listened to the preacher, she guessed that he, too, longed for the service to be over today so they could get out of that hot church building.  She noticed his hair was much more gray now than it had been just a few years ago.  He was starting to look a lot like her grandfather, who was still back in Norway.  She would likely never see either of them again during her time on earth.

The pastor’s sermon ended and the congregation sang, “O, Bli Hos Meg.  It was a quiet, somber hymn, but this Sunday held a bit of sadness as today was Pastor Knudsvig’s last Sunday with them.  His wife had died earlier that spring and he had decided rather than trying to raise their six children alone or find a new wife in America, he would return to Norway where his sisters could help him and he would help with the family farm, which was necessary as his older brother who had been overseeing the farm since their father’s death, had just had an accident leaving him unable to discharge his daily duties on the farm.  Pastor Knudsvig had been a faithful, gentle pastor and Johanne was not sure he was suited to the life of a farmer and to work in the fields but she did know by now that one had to do what was necessary.  She looked at his children, all sitting in the front row.  The eldest was merely eight years old.  The youngest was the baby, sleeping now in the eight year-old’s arms.  Their mother had died giving birth to the baby.  Deaths during childbirth happened frequently, so frequently that there was an entire section of the small cemetery where babies were buried.  When the mother died in childbirth, usually the baby didn’t survive either, but Pastor Knudsvig’s infant was hearty and strong. He had been given the name Jens, everyone assumed in loving tribute to his mother, whose name had been Jenny.

Jenny was soft-spoken with an easy, sparkling laugh, and although it was unspoken, Johanne felt that what people liked best about Pastor Knudsvig was that he was married to Jenny. She had a way of putting everyone at ease and her lightness of spirit cheered anyone who was around her. Johanne thought about how awful it must be for her children to be without her. Johanne glanced over at her own mother sitting a few seats away.  She could not imagine being without her mother.  Although she and her mother were very different, her mother’s loving presence and steadfast strength in their family was what had made these last years of leaving Norway and beginning a new life in the Dakota territory tolerable. Her heart ached for the pastor and his children to have to make the journey back to Norway when the children had all been born here and this was the only home they had ever known. And for Pastor Knudsvig to give up his calling to ministry for his family, well, that was surely the greatest sacrifice of all.

North Dakota

by Lyle Lovett

The boys from North Dakota
They drink whiskey for their fun
And the cowboys down in Texas
They polish up their guns
And they look across the border
To learn the ways of love

If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, say I do
If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, say I do
And you can say I love you
And you can say I do

So I drank myself some whisky
And I dreamed I was a cowboy
And I rode across the border

If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, take my hand
If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, take my hand
And you can say I love you
And you can have my hand

I remember in the mornings
Waking up
With your arms around my head
You told me you can sleep forever
And I’ll still hold you then

Now the weather’s getting colder
It’s even cold down here
And the words that you have told me
Hang frozen in the air
And sometimes I look right through them
As if they were not there

And the boys from North Dakota
They drink whisky for their fun
And the cowboys down in Texas
They polish up their guns
And they look across the border
To learn the ways of love

Here Comes the Rain Again

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

(Secret in the Church Tower #2)

Outside it was still raining and there was a clap of thunder intermittently.  She wondered what to do.  She had no attachment to this church at all.  She would be gone by now if it weren’t for this rainstorm and a sudden decision to explore the belfry.  Part of her felt as though the letter belonged in the box where it had rested, in the quiet place it had been hidden all these years.  She could just put it back and leave.

But first she wanted to try to figure out some of what it said.  She had studied Norwegian just a little bit.  Perhaps if she got into some better light and out of the grimy belfry, she would have a chance of deciphering what the letter was about.

She stood and lifted the trap door, carefully stepping onto the tiny, wooden stairs and went back down the steps with the letter and box tucked in the crook of her arm. She felt like a thief, or at least as though she were disturbing the peace, the long-held secrets of that church.

She sat down on a pew near one of the large stained glass windows in the balcony and opened the letter again.  It began, “Kjaere Johanne.” She assumed this must mean “dear Johanne”.  As she looked at the words on the page, she realized that between the tiny, faded letters, and the language she just barely understood, she was not going to get anywhere with understanding the content.  There was only a stray word here and there she understood. However, toward the very end of the letter, she caught sight of a phrase she did know, “Jeg elsker deg.” Jeg elsker deg means, “I love you” – this was a love letter!

She laughed out loud with glee.  She had just found a very old love letter!  Tucked away in a church belfry!

She knew right then she would take it with her.  She felt it had somehow been meant for her to find this letter and she needed to know the message intended for dear Johanne. Maybe once she knew what the letter said she could even find family members of this Johanne and give the letter to them! What a great surprise this would be for the family and even for the church community here!  In the meantime, she would be the caretaker of this precious piece of history.

She tucked the letter back into its’ envelope and placed it in the box.  She stood, grabbed her camera and her cell phone (which remarkably appeared to be unharmed) and headed to the staircase leading down from the balcony to the main level.  At the main door she paused to look at the front of the church one more time.  Johanne’s church.

On the way back home, she couldn’t stop thinking about the letter in the box on the seat next to her.  All she needed was a little time and her Google translate program on her computer and she would know the secrets the letter held.

She had expected the rain to subside by now.  It seemed that usually the rainstorms didn’t last for terribly long but this one was continuing and even intensifying.

In addition, it appeared that she was a little lost.  Her phone may have been damaged in its’ fall down the stairs after all because its’ GPS was no longer working.  She had started driving east and hoping that she was going in sort of the right direction or spot something familiar but right now she was a little worried.  Nothing looked familiar, or maybe everything looked familiar.  It was just the same view out her windows of more rain, more corn fields, more endless North Dakota sky with clouds that were now black as mud.

She grabbed the Marlboro Lights out of her glove box along with the lighter.  Stormy weather was yet another perfect time to smoke.

As she inhaled deeply she thought how she had always hated severe storms. When she was a child, she would lie awake for hours at night and pray for the thunder and lightning to stop, pray that she wouldn’t hear the rumble of a tornado coming at them through the darkness.  The wind began to shove violently at her car. She felt a catch of fear in her chest.  She realized just how vulnerable she was.  She was not exactly sure where she was, she was in her tiny car in a remote area. She hadn’t told a soul where she was going. If something happened to her, how long would it be before anyone found her?

Here Comes the Rain Again

by the Eurythmics

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do
Walk with me
Like lovers do
Talk to me
Like lovers do

Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
Oooooh
I want to breathe in the open wind
I want to kiss like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
(Here it comes again, here it comes again)
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you