One of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press’s upcoming books is “Dear Unforgettable Brother”: The Stavig Letters from Norway and America, 1881–1937, compiled and edited by Jane and John Rasmussen. The book spans fifty years of letters exchanged between two brothers and other family members. One brother, Lars Stavig, emigrated to the United States with his family in 1876, and the other, Knut Stavig, stayed in Norway. The book is a touching, moving account of their lives. More than just reporting how their crops did that year or how the fishing was, the brothers put their heartfelt emotions down on paper—what a treasure the Rasmussen family has, and how fortunate we are that they shared it with us!
Today, my own family keeps in touch with e-mail and text messages—in other words, short communications. My mother never joined the “computer age” and still sends the occasional handwritten letter (which I keep). She is the youngest sibling of a family of six and kept in contact with her brothers and sister through a “round robin” letter. One sibling wrote a letter, put it in an envelope, and mailed it to the next, who added a letter, and so on. My mother’s siblings and their spouses have now passed on, and she is the only one left with the memories of their youth, my grandparents, my father, stepfather, and others. She tends to forget things that happened yesterday, but she is starting to open up more about her childhood and her life as a young wife and mother, telling stories we have never heard before—some that she found difficult to share. I have asked her many times to “write it down,” and she does keep a “journal,” she says, with notes about the weather, books she has read, and so forth. None of her children (there are seven of us) have ever seen it. It will be something we will read after she is gone, much like the families of Lars and Knut Stavig did with the brothers’ correspondence. Perhaps, the Stavig letters can inspire us to fill in the blanks, to “write it down” for our children, before it is forgotten.