Immigrants’ Song: Oscar Paulson

Caroline Paulson’s grandmother, Emma Ekerd Paulson, her aunt Junice, and her father Carl stand before the house her grandfather Oscar Paulson built with bricks he was given in lieu of cash in Galesville, Wisconsin.

As told to Jeremiah Horrigan by Caroline Paulson

Oscar Paulson was my grandfather. He came to the USA through Ellis Island. He was 19.

He was an orphan who slept in barns and did chores for farmers in Hammar, Norway to earn the right to be fed. He learned what he could pick up from life, since he never went to school.

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As a teen, he heard that they wanted strong young men to help pave the streets of Christiania, now Oslo, with cobblestones, so he moved there and slept in barracks.  He heard about America from the other men there and decided to save his money and emigrate.

These guys suggested Galesville, Wisconsin as a good place for him to settle, and he took their advice.  He worked as a mason, heaving bricks, stones and spreading cement throughout his days. He married Emma Ekerd, a very Norwegian woman who had been born in the USA. At that time, Galesville was a thoroughly Norwegian community, with English as the secondary language.

They raised a boy, Carl, who was my dad, and a girl named Junice.

It was easy to become a citizen then. Oscar just had to prove that he had remained in the USA many years, had a family here, and had no wish to return to Norway.

Oscar learned to read better than my grandmother, I think she could barely read at all. I would see her sitting for hours with the same page of a Reader’s Digest. I would ask my mother if I should help her, and mom would say, “Only if she asks you for help.”

I have one memory of him. When I was three he died, and I traveled there with my parents from our home in Pearl River. He lay in a pine box in the living room, and I thought it was a big cradle. I tried to rock it to help him have a nice rest.

I still use some of his tools. They are marked O.P. They remind me of the grandfather I wish I knew when he was alive.

Caroline Paulson lives in New Paltz.

Check out more stories from this series.