Looking Back, Looking Forward

My great-great grandparents Ole and Bengte Carlson Okerlund were born in Sweden in about 1830.  Ole was a blacksmith; his wife was an opera singer.  They lived a comfortable life.  A baby son was born to the couple, then a daughter.  About the time of the birth of their second daughter their first daughter died.  They were church going people, undoubtedly Lutherans; they believed in Christ, and when the Mormon missionaries came and preached the gospel they were baptized.  They lost their jobs, their livelihoods.  They walked long distances to obtain basic food items from charitable strangers.  The Mormons were not well accepted at that time in Sweden.

In the 1850’s they emigrated to the US with their little family.  They joined a wagon train, sharing a wagon with another family.  Space was limited;  Bengte walked every step of the way to Utah carrying her young daughter in a wooden backpack Ole made for her.

Later she said she wouldn’t have wanted to travel any other way–she would have missed the beauty of the wildflowers on the plains. In Utah they had to learn new skills.  Ole’s work as a blacksmith was greatly appreciated but nobody needed an opera singer.  During the Indian Wars they were driven from new homes twice. Both times Bengte was pregnant.  She gave birth to one of her babies on top of a government wagon, and to another under the bank of the Sevier River.

They eventually settled in Loa, Utah–a beautiful farming community near Capitol Reef National Park.  Ole raised cattle and Bengte became an expert seamstress.  She grew flax, retted the flax to make linen, raised sheep and sheared the wool.  She made high quality worsted woolen and linen men’s suits.  She gave birth to ten children, nine of whom lived to adulthood, married and had families.

Life was a wonderful adventure.  They were true to their faith and to their family.  They learned to live in a harsh land. If I had to live off our garden we would be dead before the season was over.  But they didn’t start out as farmers.  They were willing to learn, to grow, to move, to try new things.

I did learn to make Bengte’s pine pitch salve, from a recipe she brought with her from Sweden.  I use pinion sap but it still soothes scrapes and cuts, draws out splinters and heals my husband’s feet that peeled during chemotherapy and my cousin’s heel after surgery. Just one small thing of many she passed forward.  So many good things to learn looking back.  So many good things to share looking forward.

Thank you.

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About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States"--Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico, Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona, and Cochise College in Nogales, Arizona. She and her husband travel extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, and have spent many summers in the remote highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala with their family. Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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