Earlier this week, the latest title from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press arrived on the loading dock here at the Cultural Heritage Center. Packed inside the heavy boxes that we transferred to the warehouse shelves were copies of “Dear Unforgettable Brother”: The Stavig Letters from Norway and America, 1881–1937. Having gone over the manuscript several times in the course of editing the book, I continue to be struck by how poignantly the collected letters of Lars and Knut Stavig convey the course of life as it passes from the possibilities of youth to the infirmities of old age.
Lars Stavig emigrated from western Norway in 1876 and eventually settled with his wife and children on a farm in Day County, Dakota Territory. Back in Norway, Lars had left behind many family members, including a half-brother, Knut Stavig. Over the next fifty years, the two corresponded—sometimes frequently, sometimes waiting months between letters—sharing news of life on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their descendants collected and translated their correspondence, which is published for the first time in “Dear Unforgettable Brother,” compiled and annotated by Lars’s great-granddaughter Jane Torness Rasmussen and her husband John S. Rasmussen.
Readers of the brothers’ letters learn of the births of children and then grandchildren, of weddings and funerals, of business successes and failures, of the loneliness of living without a spouse, and, finally, of life dependent on others in a world that seems foreign once again. They also learn of family ties that have endured over time and distance and how the brothers’ letters have brought together new generations of Stavig descendants.
To hear the Rasmussens discuss their new book and have your copy signed, make plans to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood September 20–22.