“Ellen’s Journey”: An Andover Memory by Her Daughter

Ellen's path took her to perfect home in Andover

By Nancy Hedén Clayman
Ellen Ström Hedén, Nancy Clayman’s mother, ended up in her perfect home in Andover after many stops along the way.

Ellen Ström sits at the family kitchen table, a neatly packed trunk at her feet, reviewing her travel documents for the umpteenth time. She gazes at her passport photo – the American-style shorter hair, suggested by David Hedén (her future husband), looks somehow wavier and darker brown, a new look of herself. Though her eyes glance seemingly downward, and she looks younger than her 25 years, Ellen hopes her subtle smile projects a confidence that seems to be lost to her at this moment.

After two years of planning and yearning, Ellen is not expecting these mixed thoughts and emotions, these misgivings she hoped had been put to rest. The exhilaration she imagined feeling at this moment is muted, yet again, by doubt; her resolve challenged by anxiety, maybe even panic. Is the promise of this new life worth the price of leaving all she knows, this little corner of Sweden, all whom she loves and who loves her back? There is no guarantee of returning in the near future, if ever.

Would calmness subdue her fear, could she envision her future in the small community of Andover, so much like her Sweden, surrounded by flower gardens and open fields; a fun loving, inventive can build and repair seemingly anything spouse; three healthy children who fill her life with meaning and, even more so, becoming a grandmother many times over? 

Or would she shred the documents before her if she could have foreseen living with an infant in a triple decker (on the third floor, of course) where you could almost reach the neighboring buildings; the city sounds overwhelming any chirping birds, with a language so foreign you feel lost wherever whenever you leave your home? Or the joys of raising two children in a home sited on the end of a dead-end street, under major repair for years, while your husband worries, each week, if there will be a job, a paycheck, the next? If Ellen knew then she would never gain her dream of independence through employment or even the driver’s license she wrote about in her letters with David, what would she have chosen? I never asked her those questions.

I picture the steamer trunk that resided in my sister’s basement for so many years might be the very one whose cover rests against Ellen’s leg just now. About 30 inches in every dimension, the top is rounded with a few wooden slats which add to its appearance and probably strength. The interior is lined with flowery, pale blue paper. There is a removable tray on runners at the top, perhaps to separate immediate needs during travel from all the other precious items one would need at the end of one’s voyage.

In one of David’s letters, he advised Ellen to bring just a few clothes, suggesting she might likely prefer American styles. Perhaps that was self-serving on his part as he spoke longingly of the items they would need to make their home a “Swedish home” – the hand-woven tablecloth, lovingly embroidered pillowcases, the dala häst, a bright orange, intricately painted wooden horse ubiquitous to Swedish homes; and of course, the demitasse coffee cups, with matching sized spoons and tiny tongs to cut and deftly transport the cubes of sugar. David, as many Swedes, loved to place a cube of sugar on his tongue, then draw the coffee – slurping, oh so quietly, from the saucer to his lips. And of utmost importance – the wooden circular plaque, perhaps 18 inches in diameter, that was displayed prominently in our kitchen my whole life – it was a painting, rich in color and detail, of a gaily dancing couple in traditional Midsommar garb, she looking over her shoulder – her expression exuding pure happiness.

Ellen’s ticket for the ocean liner, MS Gripsholm, reads “Departure, Göteborg, Sweden: February 28, 1929, Estimated Arrival: New York City, March 6 or 7, 1929”. Her passport and visa are in order.

Are there warmth, well wishes, resolve and understanding in the family home that evening as Ellen’s preparations are now obviously underway? It is the season of shortened daylight, bitter cold and contagious ennui – does sadness overwhelm? Will resentment follow Ellen as she willfully proceeds despite their objections, their concerns?

As Ellen’s father and brother ready the horse and buggy for travel and Ellen’s departure, I’m guessing the goodbyes were quiet and stoic, Swedish style. As they travel across frozen Lake Vänern, the silence is interrupted only by the snorting horses, exhaling clouds of frosty air, and hooves meeting crusty snow. They would use the lake path, saving time and kilometers, reaching Mellerud’s station where Ellen would board a train for Göteborg and the ship that awaits her passage.

I can only imagine the crowded environs, monotony, anxiety, loneliness, the unfamiliar, on what must have seemed like an endless journey. Knowing my mother, she would have worried about reaching land and finding no one there to meet her.

Yet, of course, David meets Ellen, as planned, after the processing at Ellis Island is complete. David had prepared Ellen that a marriage by the ship’s captain might be needed before she could enter the country, but that did not come to pass. Together they make their way to Roslindale, a suburb of Boston, where David has made his home in America.  David’s brother, Daniel, and his wife, Hilda, welcome Ellen to their home until the newlyweds-to-be marry four months later.

A son, Roy, is born two years later; a move to the suburbs of Dedham follows, and a daughter, Ruth, arrives in 1935. Ten years later, despite thinking their family was complete, another daughter, me, surprises all.

Though the move to Dedham had served them well, our father and mother yearned for a country life for their growing family. Dad had been fully employed during the war years and therefore able to scrape together some savings to hopefully make that dream a reality, to purchase a home surrounded by a few acres of open land.

In Andover, New Hampshire they found just what they had imagined – an affordable fixer upper farmhouse surrounded by twelve acres of land – a four-bedroom home with an attached barn, a view of Ragged Mountain, with Elbow and Horseshoe Ponds nearby and Highland Lake just a little further, amidst sprawling fields. For a purchase price of $3000, they had arrived!