1990 – Postmaster Bertha

The Gnometown tale of “Postmaster Bertha”

Bertha Swenson

Gnometown life isn’t always perfect, and things don’t always happen the way we want them to happen. But, sometimes, just sometimes, this makes for a hero or heroine.

The dictionary says, “A hero is a figure renowned for exceptional courage and fortitude.” Gnometown has many heroes – the gnomes may be small, but their hearts are big, and loving and full of courage.

The little girl didn’t know she would be a heroine. It was how you loved the journey of life that was important. She knew she would live it the very best way she knew how. Postmaster Bertha was born in Gnometown on a beautiful fall day, September 28th, 1894. Edward and Caroline Hestad, her parents, were very happy to live in Gnometown and proud to be from the Norwegian line of gnomes who made the journey from Stavanger, Norway.

Just when the Hestads thought they couldn’t be any happier –they were – with the birth of their first child. When a sister and four brothers came along, the house on Fifth Street was bursting at the seams. The move to the farm was perfect. The farmhouse had a downstairs AND an upstairs. Bertha thought it was beautiful!

The days were full. When chores were done there was the collie to play with and rides to be taken in the cutter. Papa had taught them how to harness their horse, Blindy. A ride in the bobsled with Papa was a real treat. The sleigh sailed across the white snow. You could feel the crisp air against your cheeks while the rest of you was all bundled up.

Bertha enjoyed school and was a good student. For a while her class had to meet over the blacksmith shop. When she told Papa how afraid she and her classmates were of the rickety steps, Papa asked the school superintendent to examine them. He took one look and soon the class was meeting over the Goldstein building.

Papa and Mama were a happy balance. When Papa said to do something, he expected it to be done. If he scolded, he did it and that was the end of it. Mama was kind and loving, always helping neighbors if someone was sick or hungry.

Bertha was taught patriotism and respect for the flag from Grandma. Grandma had two brothers in the Civil War. One was a messenger, shot and left to die on the battlefield. He was taken prisoner and brought to Island #10, now a Memorial Cemetery and Hospital. Bertha learned the importance of freedom and of the sacrifices that sometimes had to be made.

Holidays are important to gnomes. And Thanksgiving meant going to Grandma’s. Filled with excitement, aunts, uncles and cousins piled into the bobsled. From the roast the roasted chickens to bread and dessert, everything was produced on the farm. As the family sat down, all hands were folded to say the Norwegian table prayer. Bertha never wants to forget her heritage; she still says this prayer when she sits down to eat. I JESU NAVN GAAR VI BORDS: SPISE, OG DRIKKE PAA DITT ORD. DEG GUD TIL AERE OSS TIL GAVN, SAA FAAR VI MAT. I JESU NAVN. It was a wonderful time for everyone in the family giving thanks for another good year.

High school was filled with studies and get togethers with friends. One day her girlfriend, Mildred, said she had invited a boy from Boyd to her birthday party. She asked Bertha to be nice and talk to him. There were quite a few nice boys to talk to, but finally Bertha agreed. This was her introduction to Sam Swenson.

Soon it was graduation, teaching school in Holloway, Minnesota and in North Dakota and working in the mercantile store in Gnometown. Sam went off to France to do his part in WWI. When he returned, there was a beautiful wedding and reception on the little farm outside of Gnometown.

The Swenson’s lived several places, but settle in Gnometown. Three beautiful daughters arrived – Barbara, Virginia, and Effie. When Effie wasn’t even two years old, Sam became ill. It was soon apparent he wouldn’t get better, Sam died in 1936 and the Gonetown Sentinel recalled that Sam never failed to sing the praise of his beloved Gnometown in his travels throughout the state.

This was a sad time for Bertha. The loss of Sam was difficult; it was also the years of the Great Depression across the land, and in Gnometown, too. Even though jobs were scarce, Bertha decided she had better quit crying and do something to keep them going.

When a Post Office job opened up, Bertha took the Civil Service exam and passed with flying colors. She served first as a clerk and later was appointed postmaster. She served in the Post Office twenty-four years.

There was never a lot of money, but there was a lot of love. Each girl had her household chores and the family was together.

Bertha is proud of the girls, of all three of her sons-in-law and the way they raised her grandchildren to be loving and caring.

Bertha can sit back and say, “Mama, Papa, Sam…I did it!” Life wasn’t easy, but it has been good. Though she has great difficulty seeing and hearing now, she feels well, she can still think and walk and she still lives in the charming brown house by the river.

Her commission as Postmaster, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is hing proudly on the wall, along with her certificate as an Associate in Christian Education from the First Presbyterian Church of Dawson. Her mother was a charter member of the American Legion Auxiliary and Bertha served as Auxiliary President, District Chaplain and in many capacities.

So, you can see, the real heroes are the ones that take life as it is and quietly and heroically make the very best of all that happens on the journey. Gnometown is very proud of Postmaster Bertha.

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