Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Family Memoirs: Preserving Herstory

The gathering and sharing of the rag-rug remnants of our family’s lives gives a gift to the next generation. - Linda Lawrence Hunt
Bold Spirit, Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, by local author Linda Lawrence Hunt, is the tale of Helga Estby, a Norwegian immigrant and mother of eight living children, who walked 3500 miles across the U.S. in 1896 in an attempt to win a $10,000 bet. She and her eldest daughter, Clara, set out upon the journey in order to pay the back taxes and mortgage threatening the family’s Mica Creek farm and home.
Family stories are silenced when strong pressures converge to deny a real experience. – Linda Lawrence Hunt
The journey of thirteen months did not have a happy ending. Despite successfully meeting every requirement of the wager, the unknown promoter reneged on paying the $10,000; and Helga and Clara spent months earning the train fare home.

More disappointment and heartache lay in store for Helga upon her return. During her long absence two of her children had died and the deprivation suffered by the others turned them against their mother forever. Her husband and children never forgave her for what they felt was her abandonment.

Helga had planned on giving speeches and writing a book after her journey, however those plans changed when she returned home to such disapproval. Depressed and heartsick, Helga never wrote her book, never gave talks about her adventures, and never spoke of her journey again; honoring the silence imposed by her family.
Throughout history, silencing has been the fate of most women. - Sue Armitage, Washington State University
Although she never spoke of the journey, years later she secretly chronicled her journey, writing hundreds of pages she kept hidden in her bedroom. She told her granddaughter Thelma, to “take care of this story,” but never shared what the story was about.

Upon discovering her manuscript after her death, two of Helga's daughters burned it...destroying her words in retribution for the losses the family had suffered.
…the loss of her story, destroyed forever with the flick of a match, is a great misfortune, not only for her family but for all persons interested in understanding more of American life during a significant transitional time in history. – Linda Lawrence Hunt
Silenced by her family, her story would have been lost forever except for one daughter-in-law who recognized the immensity of Helga’s daring unescorted walk across America, and secreted away two Minnesota news clippings chronicling the journey. She kept them hidden from her husband, another of Helga’s sons who never forgave her, then handed them to Thelma 26 years later.

Astounded to learn the grandmother she loved had never shared her story, Thelma resolved to honor her grandmother’s request to her decades earlier, “to tell the story,” and began sharing the legacy of Helga's courageous journey with her family.
Her (Helga’s) erasure should prompt us all to think about how little of the past we really know and encourage us to think about how to preserve more of our present-day lives and concerns (tomorrow’s historical record.) – Sue Armitage, Washington State University
In 1984 a young farm boy, Doug Bahr, wrote an essay for the Washington State History Day Contest, “Grandma Walks from Coast to Coast.” Linda Lawrence Hunt read that essay and began research on her book.

Learn more about Helga's journey at Bold Spirit Across America.

The publication of Bold Spirit inspired award-winning author, Jane Kirkpatrick's latest novel, The Daughter's Walk, based on Clara's point of view. Read more about Kirkpatrick's inspiration for the novel at JK Books.

A second novel, The Year We Were Famous, written by an Estby descendant, Carole Estby Dagg, won the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Sue Alexander Award for most promising new manuscript. Read more about Carole's dedication to share history with the next generation at Carole Estby Dagg.

All three books can be purchase online at Amazon and at bookstores in the area.


Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Family history always provides a fascinating story, and glimpse into the past. Thanks,Mary Jane for highlighting this fact with sharing Helga's story.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Love this! People often estimate the historical importance, not to mention the emotional whallop, of family history.