Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Agnes Lavin Lundgren

Birthday Girl

My grandma often told me about a day when she was just six years old. Her brother, who was eight, was babysitting her, and she fell and cut her head open. Terrified by all the blood, she begged him to go get the church ward teachers to give her a blessing.

Without a phone, and afraid to leave her, Great-uncle George decided he'd have to manage on his own. He got out the sewing machine oil, and consecrated it the way he'd seen Priesthood holders do.

He said a prayer, and explained to the Lord that although he was only a little boy, he had the faith of a grown man, and hoped his prayer would be accepted. He then laid his hands on Grama's head using the oil, and blessed her. The bleeding stopped.

That kind of faith was a tradition in my family. I was taught that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers, even those of little children.

Agnes Matilda Lavin was born 119 years ago, December 1, 1890, in Salt Lake City. Her mother Tilda and her father Anders Peter Lavin had immigrated from Sweden just before Agnes was born. They lived on Regent Street, in an apartment above a tailor shop.

When she was six weeks old, they moved to Quince Street, and later to Grape Street, a neighborhood of hills called the Marmalade District. One day Tilda was strolling Agnes in the baby carriage. She stopped at the top of the street to visit with a friend, and the buggy started rolling. It careened down the hill, gaining speed with both Tilda and the baby screaming for each other. As Grama told it, "A China-man, in white pajamas with a long black pig-tail, ran down the street after me and caught hold of the carriage just before I went off the curb. He likely saved my life!"

Agnes had two little brothers who died, so the family consisted of George and Agnes and their parents. They moved to Social Hall Avenue, right downtown, where Tilda organized a boarding house for Swedish people. Anders Peter was a carpenter, furniture maker, and violin craftsman. When the church called for skilled tradesmen for work on the Salt Lake Temple, Anders responded and helped do finish carpentry in the temple. He worked on the beautiful curved staircases, and did intricate carving on the elegant doors.

Anders divorced Tilda and left his family when Agnes was eight years of age. Though the parents couldn't seem to live together as husband and wife, they remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Two teenage brothers from Sweden, Gus and Axel Lundgren, moved into the boarding house when Agnes was just thirteen. Axel was smitten. Agnes had grand plans to go to college and become a nurse, and was not interested in romance, although she was willing to become Axel's tutor. Axel learned English, and all about the Latter-day Saints. He realized he'd need to become a Mormon for Agnes to see him as a serious candidate for husband. As they became more familiar with the teachings and lifestyle, both he and his older brother joined the Church.

Grandma and Grandpa as newlyweds

It seems there were two romances blossoming: Agnes and Axel, and Tilda and Gus (who was 20 years younger than his sweetheart!) Both couples got married within a few weeks of each other. So Gus was Axel's brother and his father-in-law, and Agnes married her brother-in-law and step-uncle. (The confusion is part of the charm.)

When Agnes and her brother George were grown with their own families, it was routine for Grandma Tilda to attend family parties with her new husband Gus, and her old husband Anders. They often arrived together as a three-some! When Tilda lay dying at a party on Christmas Eve, Uncle Gus played host, while Grampa Anders tended to Tilda's needs and sat by her side, holding her hand. The children saw it all as normal.

When we walked through her apple orchard holding hands, she linked me to the past and pushed me toward the future. I was happy to follow her in both directions.

Happy Birthday, Grama! You were my first history lesson, and I loved it.

Grama and Grampa Old
(probably about our ages


gab said...

You make family history so much fun! I will share with my kids tonight. Thanks...

The Grandmother Here said...

Wonderful stories and wonderful pictures. I especially like the sewing machine oil story.

Ever hear the song called "I'm my own grandpa!"? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYlJH81dSiw

polly said...

i love being reminded of our grandparents. grama was a lovely lady. thanks for a walk down memory lane.

the hogan's said...

i have never heard that before, crazy! we need to have a day of family history lessons from you!

Diane said...

I love hearing your family history. The older I get the more I love my family history.

My great grandparents came over from Sweden also.

~j. said...

What precious tales! That blessing story? Ah! Got me right here.

Kay Dennison said...

Interesting story!!!!

Mrs. Organic said...

What a powerful story. I really need to write up some of our ancestor's stories - they're more interesting than a daytime soap.

Linsey said...

My Dad has so many stories like these, I don't know if I'll be able to remember them all myself. You have given me the idea to write them down and keep them safe. What a lovely tribute to a great woman.

Kristie Lynne said...

Awesome! My great grandfather (Axel) and great grandmother (Christine) were from Sweden too. Christine was a stow away on a boat to Boston when she was 18. I love hearing that story, just like I loved hearing yours.

Kristie Lynne said...

Oh, and P.S. that story about the blessing is so wonderful. Such faith!

diane said...

Tilda was a sassy girl. I love these stories because the truth is better than a soap opera sometimes.

mama jo said...

loved those stories...keep writing them!