Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Water Water Everywhere

Splash! Splash! Splash! The chubby arms and legs were waving and kicking the water into small waves. Sisters Marie and Helen appeared at the door and put their hand over their mouths to suppress giggles. Brother Chris ran after Mama. Only sister Sophie came closer to admire her favorite baby brother. She was very fond of him, also very protective.

"Don't spank the baby, Mama," She exclaimed when Mama appeared in the doorway. Sophie plucked the dripping baby out of the tub, remembering too late that Manuel loved water, and she should have emptied the tub after giving him his bath in the warm kitchen. Mama pulled off his shoes, velvet suit, long socks, and underwear, and then toweled the black curls.

"We will be late for church," She explained in Danish. The older children stood by appreciating the scene and loved Mama all the more for not becoming angry. Manuel was very special to them. He was a baby when they came from Denmark on a big ship. In fact, he had almost died before they reached Ellis Island. Was this love for water to be a sign of his lifetime enjoyment of swimming?

The immigrant family had settled in the Midwest, choosing an area with other Danish families. They were used to hard work and shared each season with its planting, harvesting and canning. When of school age, they walked to meet their Scandinavian friends and helped their teacher who knew them well, having taken turns boarding in their homes.

As high school graduation time came, many students went to the Hutchinson Seminary in Minnesota. Sophie was happy to get the suitcase packed for her favorite brother. "I will write often," Manuel promised his mother, speaking in Danish. She spoke Danish during her lifetime, never admitting that she understood English. The older sisters married and moved to farms of their own. When they got mail from Hutchinson, they shared each letter over and over.

Their younger brother was a good student. He loved language and history, and he loved his religion classes. After the first year he was editor of the school paper. His friend Glenn Rasmussen, was the art editor. They spent many happy hours assembling news items. In one edition, they decided to honor the young men on campus who would volunteer to help relieve the young women in the kitchen on Saturdays. When the edition appeared, they were in deep trouble. Glenn had drawn the young men in aprons. This was a matter for discipline by the president, M.L.Andreason.

When the family read Manuel's letter, they could not help smiling. He finished his letter by telling them of the frozen rivers where students would put on their winter coats and skate off smartly, holding their best beaux in a close embrace. No one seemed surprised when Manuel wrote of the girl he was skating with, pretty Maggie Irene Hanson. She was the only blonde in a family of twelve brothers and sisters: five with red hair, six with brown hair, and then this lovely slim girl, who complimented Manuel's handsome dark appearance. Maggie was the trusted secretary to the president, M.L.Andreason, and this job earned her tuition at school.

Summers Manuel worked selling books. He had a genuinely warm appreciation for everyone he met, accepting their hospitality and helping with farm chores. Now he had two more brothers and two sisters: Clarence, Rose, Arthur and Myrtle.

During the second year of school, Manuel wrote that he had been chosen to go back to Denmark to school. It was the tradition amongst the Scandinavians that a student was chosen to return to their home of origin and encourage other young people to immigrate. They were a liaison and would keep their Scandinavian heritage bright in America. In those years it was noted that most Seventh-day Adventist Danish families settled in one area, the same for the Swedish, Norwegians, Germans and Russians. The one melting pot came later when they would arrive in Nebraska to attend Union College.

The year 1917 found Manuel on board ship, bound for Denmark. One of his first friends was the young man Sammy Mankewitz, who was traveling as far as England with his father. The two young men spent many delightful hours and formed a friendship that was to last many years. Sammy returned to New York to enter into his father's furrier trade. In later years he would send a large doll to Manuel's first daughter. The doll said "Bubbles" on it, along with the year "1924." I should know, as this doll is sitting, right now, on the eyelet comforter on my granddaughter's bed. No one can imagine the thousands of miles "Bubbles" has traveled.

After Manuel waved goodbye to Sammy, he opened a letter from the John Jacob Raft family in Denmark, inviting him to live with them while he attended school in Copenhagen. They made him part of the family, and introduced him to his roommate, Balle Nielsen. (Many years later, they would meet again in Ethiopia, where Manuel was Union President and Balle a very capable Union Treasurer.) Bicycles were everywhere on the streets, and those who could not afford a bicycle walked everywhere.

News had come to this peaceful country of the Bolshevik uprising in Russia and the brutal slaying of the Czar Nicolas family. Empress Marie, mother of Czar Nicholas II, was Danish, and in Denmark when she received news that her entire family had been slain. She walked the streets in black, mourning, and not believing the news. Passersby, including Manuel, would tip their hats respectfully as they walked by Empress Marie, known as Princess Dagmar to the Danes. She sometimes visited her sister who had married Edward VIII and was Queen of England.

Before leaving Denmark for America, Manuel found holiday time to enjoy swimming in the ocean around Denmark. He found those cold waters exhilarating.

The trip from Denmark to the United States seemed to take longer than the trip to Denmark. Maybe it was the anticipation of seeing his sweetheart, Maggie. They were married in October, 1922, in the Exira, Iowa, home church. Mother Hanson never made any pretense but that Manuel was her favorite son-in-law, then and ever after. No one seemed to mind, as they agreed with her.

The honeymoon trip was to take the young couple to Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, as it was known then. The entire county arrived in their horse drawn buggies to bid farewell at the train station. They had been studying their maps and knew this would be a far distant land and the ships crossing the Atlantic the only communication.

Their friend, M.L. Andreason, met the young couple in Washington, D.C. He showed them the sights and gave them friendly advice in Danish. He had a multitude of stories and amazed them with the following story of his family in Denmark many years before.

Peter the Great had taken a trip from Russia to England. His trusted entourage was cautioned not to divulge his identity as he wished to travel incognito. Since he was a very tall Czar, this was very difficult. He was collecting ideas and implements to be used in Russia, and his entourage was somewhat fearful of his interest in surgical instruments, as they did not wish to volunteer for his experiments.

Once in England, the Russian delegation was situated in a beautifully landscaped palace. It was then the M.L. Andreason's family of tailors had been invited to come to England to outfit the Russians. This occupied quite a long time, and the Danish tailors were very interested in observing these fun loving Russians who had never seen wheelbarrows and delighted in taking turns racing them across the immaculate grounds, flower beds, hedges and all.

It was with mixed feelings that M.L. Andreason waved goodbye to the young couple as they boarded their ship in New York Harbor. Maggie was still clutching a few apples that had been a parting gift. The ship was one of the White Star Line that would dock in Marseilles weeks later.

Manuel was a seasoned voyager, and comforted his bride when she could not walk on deck. There were no stabilizers on ships then, and during high seas the passengers kept to their bunks. In Marseilles the young couple stopped to make a few purchases, one being a feather mattress. They would soon be on shipboard traveling through the Mediterranean to the port of Djibouti in French Somaliland. (There would be nine crossings of the Atlantic during Manuel's lifetime. He enjoyed each of them, especially when the deck featured swimming pools.)

Many times in Ethiopia, Manuel and Maggie, traveling with pack animals, crossed crocodile infested rivers, as there were no bridges. The lakes, however, were lovely and cool. Lake Tsana in the north was majestic. From it flowed the rivers that cascaded down the steep mountains into Egypt where they joined the Nile. Swimmers in the lakes shared the water with wild animals, which included families of hippos.

The entire country shared its pristine beauty with anyone with the patience to apply for documents for entering and leaving each province. Patience was the key word for negotiating with the servants and with the mules that had to be loaded and unloaded. Favorite lakes were Lake Bishofto, where the royal family vacationed, and Lake Kalole, rarely visited and not found on modern maps.

Later in life when Manuel was president of West Indies College in Mandeville, Jamaica, he swam in the Caribbean. Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and other islands were not yet developed by tourism. Maggie usually found herself under an umbrella since she did not have the complexion for the sun and did not share her husband's love of swimming.

Manuel was still a strong swimmer when he was eighty. Dr. Rohrbough, a friend who had known Manuel in Africa, wrote, "I think it is all the swimming that has kept Manuel in such good health." I agree. Whether it was testing the Dead Sea for saltiness, swimming in Lake Galilee or in later years in the Olympic pool at La Sierra University, Manuel went swimming whenever the opportunity presented itself.

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