Homesteaders

Train

I’m just one generation removed from hardy immigrant stock.

My pioneering forebears docked on the East Coast late in the nineteenth century. My father, Hans Pederson, belonged to a Danish family that worked the land on a Stenstrup manor. He joined the vast Scandinavian migration that  moved west from Minnesota to Seattle. Pederson worked his way West on the transcontinental railroads, survived the Alaska Klondike gold rush, and then rose to become possibly Seattle’s foremost contractor. He died when I was one month old.

Stefan Tokaruk, my mother’s grandfather,a Ukrainian serf, brought his family to Canada in 1898 after his lord offered him funds to ease the journey. As the train sped west through northern forests, the family dreamed of the wealth that would come to them in this land of trees.

My forebears were homesteaders. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments offered these pioneers 160 acres of wilderness land to settle and make their own. The reality was that the Tokaruks spent their first winter huddled in a sod hut on the plains while howling winds banked snowdrifts throughout the -40 winter. The spring thaw reduced their hut to a soggy mess.

Fragments of their DNA have seeped through to me. I’m more comfortable in northern lands. I wilt in heat—feel headachy and snappy.

Had my forbears crossed the desert from Southern climes, to seek a new life, I’d probably be more comfortable basking on a sunny beach.

 

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