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A Moment to Remember Mary

Mary (Marit) Nyre’s story as a 12-year-immigrant girl is that of a novel.

When I sent the first edition of The Lefse & Lutefisk News to 66 recipients three years ago, I had the conviction that there is a strong community of lefse and lutefisk lovers out there eager to hear all the news that’s fit to print about their favorite food and their favorite love/hate food. Well, the community is indeed strong. There has been a ten-fold increase in the audience, mostly word of mouth, and I am rewarded with funny yarns, lovely notes, and heartwarming stories. Everyone, it seems, has a lefse tale — and a lutefisk joke — to tell.

For example, lefse maker Barbara (she didn’t want her last name used) wrote a nice thank you note after receiving my books Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round as well as my novel Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. I wrote back, and the exchange led to this heartbreaking story about her grandmother Marit Nyre, who went by Mary. The story is well known in the family and is as follows:

Mary was from the hills and mountains of Norway, the story begins. Her father left for America, and Mary, her mother, and three siblings remained in Norway. The plan was for the father to cross the ocean, build a home, and send for the family. Weeks became months, and months became years. Then around 1880, the message came. Mary’s mother packed up the family so they all could be together again in America. They severed connections to relatives and friends and to Norway.

They boarded the sailing ship to America. Mary was 12 at the time, the oldest of the children. The ship was over-loaded, and the North Sea rough. Marit’s mother became sick and died. She was buried in Liverpool, England.

It was up to Marit, who could not speak English, to make the crossing with her three siblings. Her only possessions were a few bundles, a trunk, and a ticket to New York City.

Marit and the children made it to New York and indeed were re-united with her father. She went on to live in North Dakota and is buried in Carpio, ND. But this part of the crossing story ends with the following, which was published in Marit’s obituary: “The hardest part of the whole trip was when her father asked where Mary’s mother was when they reached New York!”

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