The much anticipated 1940 Census, released for the first time on April 2, 2012, became more than just information for me. There is far more to the 1940 Census than just mere facts.
For me it became a time of reflection and affirmation. As I scrolled through the pages of enumeration district 31-12, where my grandparents lived, there were so many names that I had heard all my life. The memories of stories and events in those lives came rushing back to me as I’m sure it did for many who love family history.
Both my parents appeared on the 1930 Census, but there was something different about finding them as young adults. By 1940 they had both graduated from high school and life was about to change not only for them but, for the entire country.
When the census was taken I find my Momma working and living at Bethpage Mission in Axtell, Nebraska. A few lines above her name was Sister Julianne Holt who had emigrated from Norway in 1916. She was consecrated on September 27, 1922. Sister Julianne came to Axtell in 1920 to work, but only intended to stay for a short time. Bethpage Mission and nursing the patients, who were always referred to as “guests”, would become her life long work. She remained their until her retirement in 1976. My Momma was extremely fond of Sister Julianne and looked to her as a mentor. Twelve years after the 1940 census she would name her only daughter after her – yep me. Silly little things invade my thoughts, like folding towels. The Sisters had strict rules on how towels were to be folded. It is a 4 way fold and when finished only the folded end is displayed when you open the linen closet. This would become a rule in our house as well and something I continue in my own home to this day. I’m not sure where that memory came from except that I can just picture my Mom folding and unfolding towels so they were perfect for the Sisters who expected nothing less. After all “a job worth doing – is a job worth doing well.”
There’s something special about thinking of your Momma as a young 17 year old teenager filled with a zest for life. Although the 1940 census doesn’t indicate her pay, possibly because she was a new employee, I know from Momma’s stories that she made big money working there – a whopping $17 a month. Out of that $17 she sent $2.00 of it home every week to help pay for my Uncle Ralph to ride the bus to school. Her days were filled with long hours and hard work, but I never once heard her complain or really talk about that part. Her stories were always filled with how special the “guests” were to her and her admiration for the Sisters; or how special the Sisters would make things for the “guests” as well as the workers during the holidays, cooking up all sorts of wonderful meals and deserts.
My Momma learned many things while working at the Mission that she carried throughout her life. In a recent conversation with my Dad I learned something she never shared with me about those times and that was that Momma had thought about becoming a Lutheran Sister and how disappointed they were when she didn’t.
Momma passed away last July so I will miss not being able to share this census with her. However, I’m glad that I know so many of the stories of that time in her life and the people she came to know and love. I’m also glad that on our trips back to Nebraska that I was able to go and meet these woman and “guests” that meant so much to her.
Eighteen miles south and east of Axtell was Hildreth, where both my parents were born and where my Dad was living in 1940 on his parents farm. It would be just a matter of months and Dad’s life would change forever………..
to be continued