Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967): The Old Man’s Needlepoint


Sometimes a story is held back because it seems factually unfinished, say, a resting place is still unknown. Perhaps it seems too lean; the person demised young, had no children and no career. All along, a rich tale was already told, to be absorbed and told anew.

Our dear great-aunt Marie Olsdatter, at two, remained under her mother’s care in Norway, when her father departed the country for America. That was 1882. She saw him next in Wisconsin, as she turned six. That would have been the day she became Marie Hemmingson. The little girl was seven when her mother died and twelve when sent to live in a different county, as companion to an old lady. Marie was adored and missed in her full-sibling group of six. Her big brother, Matt, told this tale of their life:

Taking all this into consideration, I now and then permit myself the luxury of feeling that I perhaps have not done too badly in life.

However, I at this point must digress.  Shortly after my mother’s death, father hired a housekeeper – a widow with a son barely four months old. Note A

At the beginning we were very fond of this woman, Aletta by name, but my sister Etta and I, as time went on, felt some jealousy, for father seemed very fond of her too.  As a result, any difference of opinion between Etta and Alleta was settled, as a rule, in favor of Aletta. This I objected to in my young mind, but could not declare openly against my Dad, for after all – he was my Dad.  But in my mind remains clearly the picture of my father and the housekeeper leaving the house one day to go to town.  It stuck in my mind, for it had not been the usual procedure in the past.  I wondered about it, and the following day, on their return, father introduced us to our new mother. 

After that day there were no arguments to be settled – Aletta was boss.  And as the months went by Etta, Harry and myself felt that we had lost a lot of prestige in having to knuckle down to Aletta’s decision – and invariably our appeal to Higher Court (Judge Father) was refused. 

Like most young people, I suppose, we discussed our problems pro and con and came to the conclusion we had inherited a step-father along with Aletta.  We did, however, decide in favour of the Judge, in a half-hearted sort of way, and having helped clear the land, made ourselves generally useful in doing such chores as getting the cows in, milking them, cleaning the horse stable and the cow barn, churning and separating the milk, we felt rightfully or not, that we had a right to an opinion.

So when it became apparent that an increase in the family was due, it was arranged that Etta should make a trip to Iowa to visit with an uncle for a while, and I decided to go to work on my own.  Etta and I were thus taken care of, and opportunely, Mr. Smith who lived in the southern part of the State, a very nice old man, who visited us occasionally during the course of his timber inspection rounds, when he made his home with us, grew very fond of our sister Marie, and finally won permission to take her home as a companion to his wife for a short time. This short time lasted eight years.  It was also eight years of education which included High School graduation for her.  At graduation Mrs. Smith passed away and Marie came home.   At the age of 19 she passed away after being ill 1 1/2 years with tuberculosis. 

That was the summer I reached 14 years of age, and that was also the summer that Harry and I worked on a river drive and earned $56 each…

The Memoirs of Mathias Hemmingsen – Victoria B.C. ca 1956.1

Marie, we thought to wait for more, for your reach was longer than that tale. You were deep in Matt’s heart; he named a daughter for you. A teenage throw from a wild bronco, of which you would recall, confined him to a wheel chair as he aged, despite an extremely vigorous and productive youth. The contemplative gentle man that he was, then took to doing needlepoint. The plan was for four, or, as many grandgirls there were, but advancing “rheumatism” allowed but two. They were the same young long-ago girl in different pose. He would absently pump his heel to a low hi de hum sigh and melt into his muse of long bygone vibe. He gave us all the more we need, by imagining his inner canvas, as he pulled through each precious thread.

Rest in peace, beloved Marie.

Left: Hemmingsen Logging at Cowichan Lake B.C., ca. 1912. Matt emigrated from Norway in 1887, was logging in the Wisconsin woods at twelve and migrated to Vancouver Island in 1906. Our woods pioneer retired in 1946 after significant innovation. CLICK for our broader genealogy and Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1867-1976).

Notes and Sources

Note A: This text has been revised in three instances: i) the housekeeper’s son was four months old (not four years old), ii) the name of the housekeeper was Aletta (not Edna) and iii) Etta was sent to an uncle in Iowa, (not Nebraska) – these were discussed in the first blog piece of the memoirs at

1 The “Memoirs of Mathias Hemmingsen – Victoria B.C.” is a 25-page volume dictated to his daughter Margaret Henrietta circa 1956. It is unedited and unpublished, and graciously provided by Mathias’ grandson, Matt via the Matt Hemmingsen Family Collection. The work is protected here and published at copyright © 2018-2022. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967): The Old Man’s Needlepoint

  1. Hi.
    Interesting twists and turns Marilee
    in deeds. Indeed fascinating Research Thanks.

    Gaining skillsets at early ages as well. Well as
    Mathias’s River Drive (+ Road Building along the way)
    sounds dangerously exciting at times.
    Glad the pay so compensated.

    Looking forward too. To mores. Moreovers
    Thanks for the post/info.
    Till Next… Shiro 😎


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