My Swedish Aunt Astrid

I’m sure we all have a favorite relative that left an indelible mark on our lives.  I too have a special person…an Aunt.  No, whe wasn’t a movie star or other such celebrity.  In fact in a family of solid Norwegians, she was the only Swede…something she suffered constant ribbing about.

But she was also an amazing history lesson.  Let me tell you the story as related to me by my family.

I list Astrid, Johnson as a native of Lisbon, North Dakota, because in all my years I only knew her as “Aunt Oscar.  Yes, Oscar is a strange name for an Aunt, but my Mother told me that we kids, nieces and nephews, had trouble pronouncing her name and somehow one of us converted Astrid to Oscar and it stuck.  As I was told, in my “just learning how to talk age” I made a naughty word out of saying Astrid.  Not on purpose mind you…it just came out of my toe-headed mouth in a certain way that my Mother really didn’t want to hear.

Astrid’s story is an interesting look into how much of America took on the flavors and cultures of distant lands.

Like many, Astrid  immigrated to America in the early 1900’s from Laxa, Sweden.  She came to this country accompanied by an Aunt…whose name is not mentioned anywhere in our family history.  When I was a young boy I was told she came here by herself.  What my parents meant by that was, she came here without any of her sisters or brothers.  She had four boys and three girl siblings.  Astrid’s Aunt volunteered to make the long boat trip with her.  What is remarkable is that Astrid was just 16 years old when she embarked from the shores of Sweden to start a new and unknown life in America.  The year was 1926.

If you have children, can you imagine putting them on a sailing ship, today let alone in the early 1900’s, and sending them thousands of miles away from home…maybe to never see them again?

As the story goes, Astrid was the oldest daughter in the familoy and the one selected to leave her family in Laxa, Sweden and go to America.  Another interesting sidebar is that even though Astrid’s family was not financially well off, her father was a bodyguard to the King of Sweden and he died from a heart attack when he was 49 years of age.

After a mandatory quarantine on Ellis Island in New York harbor Astrid and her Aunt stepped on to American soil for the first time. New York had to look overwhelming to a 16 year old Swedish girl who grew up in the countryside of a small countryfar away.

Astrid’s Aunt went on to Chicago from New York.  For reasons unknown, Astrid boarded a train, alone in a strange country,  that eventually took her to Lisbon, North Dakota.  Remember, Astrid didn’t speak or understand a word of English.

Astrid’s full name was  Astrid Linnea Amelia Viman.  She changed her last name to Wyman when she got to Lisbon.  Another sketchy part of her history is “Who” she lived with in Lisbon.  My family tree only indicates she lived with a family in Ransom County.  Astrid also attended First Grade in Lisbon.  Yes, she had gone to school in Sweden but she was put in the first grade in Lisbon to learn English.

Astrid eventually married my Uncle Leo Johnson.  They had  a son and a daughter, Lloyd and Juline.  Forty two years passed before Lloyd and his wife Evelyn and daughter Glenda packed up Astrid and Leo and flew East to reunite Astrid with her remaining family in Sweden.  Astrid told of tears and laughter at the reunion.

Imagine not seeing your family for four decades.  Some had passed on.  Others had families of their own for you to meet for the first time.  Astrid, with her American family, visited a Stave style church where she had gone as a child.  They looked at the changes in her original hometown and saw once familiar streets and neighborhoods where she had walked.  It wasn’t home any more, but then, it was.

Astrid’s son took mountains of photos which Astrid could detail when asked who or what was pictured.  Her face always lit up when she remembered alound.

Astrid died in 1995.



Astrid “always” had a strong Swedish accent.  When I was a teen boy I would mimick her speech at family gatherings.  Everyone would laugh except Astrid.  She thought I sounded just fine.

My Dad Joe Johnson used to tell Astrid she was the family token Swede…as the entire rest of my family were Norwegians.  In return, Astrid referred to my Dad as the family’s token “wooden nickel”.  There was saying in the day…”don’t take any wooden nickels”.

Astrid was the best pastry cook in the “entire” world.  When she baked sweets and you tasted them, you no longer had any aches, pains, worries or troubles.

Astrid is missed by all who knew her…especially her familes from Lisbon, North Dakota to Laxa, Sweden.

About little joe

Born on the Midwest Plains...and live the same way. Enjoyed a small town upbringing and a big city career. Value small town ethics and the big city opportunity. Write from the heart while wearing a smile. and enjoy all that's around me
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