Swedish Roots in oregon

An Immigration Research Project


Excerpt from
Swedish Roots, Oregon Lives

Oscar Nastrom (1898 – 1987)

I have followed music most of my days. I started playing when I was still quite young. My father was a music teacher, and he had a chorus, but I never sang under him. I was too young. I enjoyed singing, though. I played in the orchestra there and played dances and different instruments, saxophone and clarinet and so on. That’s how I got started with music, from home.

When I left Sweden in 1923, there were about a hundred people at the station to wish me luck. My mother went with me; she wanted to see me off. She was a great mother. As she was about to return back home—it was about a day’s trip—she said: “You come back in five years!” I had promised her I was going to come back in five years. I left her and went to Stockholm and from there to Norway, because at that time you didn’t fly. There were boats in Stavanger fjord, big nice cruisers. I don’t know if one of the boats was American. Then I went to get my ticket. They didn’t have fourth class, so I had to buy third class. When I came to board they had to examine me to see that I didn’t have any fleas. This was because of the third class ticket. I don’t know if they did that to the passengers in second class. They had me stripped down there, a bouquet in one hand, my suitcase in the other, and my pants down. That’s how I left Norway. I have told this story many times. In fact, one guy painted a picture of it.

I had quite a trip to America. You see, there was my fiddle. I played it on the boat from nine to ten thirty, and then we took up a collection. There was also an accordion player from the south of Sweden and they gave us money, so boy, I had money when I got to New York. When I left I had forty-seven cents; when I came to New York I had fifty dollars, think of that! We had a wonderful time. In Sweden we lived on the Gulf of Bothnia coast, and sailors came from all over the world, and we boys mixed with them. They spoke French, Italian, English, German, and we spoke with them somehow, so I didn’t have any trouble with English when I got to New York.

When we got to New York, we had to go through Ellis Island. You had to get stamped and marked, and I got along alright. I was looking around and could see a Swedish flag way in the back somewhere. I went in there and they were talking Swedish so I didn’t have any trouble. I got done and kept going. I had to show my fifty dollars. There were two other fellows there from the same boat and the same place in Sweden, and all three of us used the same fifty dollars going through. It was passed from one to the next, and then I got it back. They were going to Detroit to find some work there. We had grown up together and decided to go at the same time. Yes, that’s how the trip went, and I landed in Omaha, Nebraska.

I came really early in the morning, and there was nobody at the station. My brother was supposed to be there but wasn’t. My sister lived there, too, but she wasn’t at the station either. So I went into the building. A man was sitting there at the telegraph, and I asked him if there was a taxi I could get. He asked me who I was, and it turned out he had been told that I was going to arrive, so he said to just wait and take it easy. So I sat there, and a guy drove up along the depot, and I asked him if he was a taxi. “Yep,” he said, but he wasn’t a taxi but the foreman at the company where my brother-in-law worked. He had been told to pick me up. We didn’t talk too much. He stopped at a place, and I asked if we were at my sister’s. But he just let me out and left. An old fellow came up and said, “Hello, Oscar!”

“Hello…,” I answered. I didn’t know where I was, and asked for Frida. The old man didn’t answer me right away. He was talking about the weather, how hot it was and pointed toward the sky, and I thought that maybe she had gone there. Anyway, then a girl came down a second staircase, and I had seen her in pictures before. I knew who she was and then I knew where I was—at my sister’s husband’s father’s house. The old man was the father of my sister’s husband. So that was OK. He put my suitcase on his back, and we took off. We had to walk six or eight blocks before we came to the right place.

My brother had two young daughters, who said they were so surprised that “I wasn’t talking Swedish, but spoke English all the time.” My brother asked me when I wanted to start working, and I told him I would start right away. My brother had a truck, a nice ice truck, but I didn’t work with him. I started working with an old fellow who used a team of horses to haul ice. We bought ice from some people down there who made ice. Then the old man quit, and the foreman asked me to take the horses and keep up the route, so I did. Just think of that! Those horses knew where to go. They had been at it for ten or fifteen years, so I didn’t have any trouble. They stopped, and people had signs on their doors telling me how much ice they wanted. I worked there for some time, and I enjoyed it very much.