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Oral history interview conducted by Gregory Ruf
May 09, 1994
Call number: 1994.007.11
RUF: This is an interview conducted for the Brooklyn HistoricalSociety/Chinatown Museum Oral History project on Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The interviewer is Gregory Ruf. The interviewee is June Flodsand. The interview is being conducted on May 9th, 1994 at the 59th street Lutheran Church, between 7th and 8th Avenues. I'd like to start, June, if I could, by just asking you to just introduce yourself.
FLODSAND: OK. My name is June Flodsand, as you heard, and live here presently atthe church. I've been in this neighborhood since 1958.
RUF: When you moved here, if I can ask, how old were you at the time?1:00
RUF: With your whole family you moved here?
RUF: How large was your family?
FLODSAND: We were six children. We are six children.
RUF: Do all of you still live in NY?
FLODSAND: Just one other.
RUF: Just one other. Yeah. And before coming here you lived where?
FLODSAND: I was in Brooklyn, but we lived five years and five days up in Nyack,NY. But we were in Brooklyn, and I was born in New York City.
RUF: Are you the oldest?
RUF: And your parents come from where?
RUF: Were they immigrants themselves?
FLODSAND: Yes. Grandparents as well.
RUF: Grandparents and parents.
FLODSAND: First generation Americans.
RUF: Did they ever tell you children stories about how they came to the UnitedStates or what it was like when they first arrived? When they arrived?
FLODSAND: Not all that much, except I found out why my father and his brotherwere so young to leave Norway -- fourteen to sixteen years of age and I found out that it was a choice of either staying there to farm or going out to sea, 2:00and then you were away from your home quite a bit, or come to this country and make a new life, and that's basically what they did. On their own.
RUF: On their own? How did they get passage? Did their family help pay for theticket? Or, do you know?
FLODSAND: That I don't know, but I'm sure they either worked themselves over, orthey had whatever funds they could get. At that time it was so cheap, it wouldn't be like today. And going by boat, of course.
RUF: Did they leave a large family behind?
FLODSAND: Oh yeah. You're talking seven or eight brothers and sisters. Older andyounger than them.
RUF: And the family had had a farm in Norway. Whereabouts in Norway?
FLODSAND: My family's from Hoegesen, [unintelligible] of Conway.
RUF: And they came here and established themselves where?
FLODSAND: My father went out West, and then he came to New York. His brothercame later on, working on the boats, tug boats, drudging, and my father 3:00eventually went to seminary, which is part of our church. Lutheran Senate. But then he worked for Bethlehem Steel, and then he went into working for the Bethesda Mission, which was a mission for homeless men down in Woodhole Street in Red Hook section.
RUF: Was he a minister?
FLODSAND: No. He started to, but then he didn't. Too many kids came. [laughter]Yeah. And then he worked, as I said, in Bethlehem Steel, and then he got a job working on the Tappan Zee Bridge, and that's how we got to Nyack.
RUF: Building the Tappan Zee?
FLODSAND: On construction.
RUF: And by that time he was already married?
FLODSAND: Yes. Oh, yeah.
RUF: How did your parents meet?
FLODSAND: I think it was through church.
RUF: Was church a big part of everyone's life?
FLODSAND: Oh, yes. Very much. They were the ones that really helped many of theimmigrants over here. This church was not in this location. They were in New York City at 168th street, and my grandparents, they had an established 4:00restaurant business on 5th Avenue and 54th or 6th street. The Promenade Restaurant. And then they became the superintendents of a building in New York City, which is where I was born and raised for many years.
RUF: Now, you say your grandparents. Before you were talking about your fatherand his brother coming. Were your grandparents here before they came? Or did the brothers -- your father and your uncle did they sort of lead the family's wave of immigration?
FLODSAND: My father came over in the early 1920's, and I would imagine that mygrandparents might have been here by that time, because of course, they are older.
RUF: Was there a network of Norwegian immigrants that they could tie into to tryto find places to live, or jobs?
FLODSAND: Well, all over Bay Ridge. That's basically what you have. A lot ofthem started out in New York City with the church up there. Then they moved downtown Brooklyn. There's a whole population down there. And then they floated up towards Bay Ridge and Sunset Park area. And there you have the majority of 5:00Scandinavians. And by coming to an area where you are familiar with your language, your culture, your foods, that's where you hung out.
RUF: Did your grandparents live in this area?
FLODSAND: No. My grandmother died in 1945, so that was in New York City. When wewere still living there. And then my grandfather, up in age he became a night watchman of one of the buildings in New York. But he lived in Brooklyn, on 53rd Street.
RUF: Did your mother work at home? Or did she work outside of the home?
FLODSAND: She basically was home, until later on when we were in our mid-teens,then she was working on the outside. Oh, I have to correct myself. When I was young below ten years old -- she did work in New York City in the news building 6:00in New York City. But I don't know for how long, because then she was home for a while, and when we were living in Nyack, she was working again.
RUF: Do you know or can you think if it was typical at that time for manyworking families to have both spouses working?
FLODSAND: I think it depended on your home life and your needs. In construction,you didn't work all the time, so you needed extra income.
RUF: Find some sort of gap to fill in.
FLODSAND: And we had six kids.
RUF: Now, you were the oldest, right? And following after you were how manybrothers, how many sisters?
FLODSAND: I have four sisters and a brother.
RUF: And what have they all done with their lives?
FLODSAND: Married the United Nations. I'm the only one that married a Norwegian.
RUF: Oh, really?
FLODSAND: Yeah, All the other have married either Polish Americans or SwedishCanadian mixture, German, Irish Italian mixture, and Italian.
RUF: How did most of them meet their spouses? School, church, work?7:00
FLODSAND: I met mine in Brooklyn. I used to commute from -- not commute, but Iused to come to Brooklyn a lot from Nyack on the weekends with my friends, and we had a wonderful ice cream parlor around the corner. And so you had the clique from the church hang around the ice cream parlor. That's where I would meet my friends, and my husband and his friends were older than me. Met them through the crowd, and from there, started dating. And with my sisters, they met theirs through other channels. They had another ice cream parlor which was an Irish crowd. So my sister hung around a lot with the Irish guy, which through her friends, she met her husband, and then the others just met in the neighborhood when we moved to Brooklyn.
RUF: What did one have in an ice cream parlor in those days?
FLODSAND: The best place to hang out. I really feel that if your kids are gonnabe out on the street, it's nice to know that if you wanted to reach your children, you can call them up and tell them get home, or you knew where they were hanging around. They went out at seven, and they were generally leaving at 8:00nine or nine thirty on a weeknight. But there, you didn't need much money to sit around and have a coke all day, and sit with your friends. So it was a meeting place.
RUF: Tables, booths?
FLODSAND: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, I became a soda jerk myself at anotherice cream parlor around the corner here, at Mayer's.
RUF: Did you like that job?
FLODSAND: Oh, loved it. Sure I did.
RUF: Did you eat lots of ice cream?
FLODSAND: No. Just ate nice lunches.
RUF: I had a teacher in elementary school tell a story about getting a job in anice cream parlor, and the owner said to him, eat as much as you want, and he couldn't believe it. He didn't the first day. He started the second day. He said, by the third or fourth day, he was so sick of ice cream he never ate it again.
FLODSAND: Oh, no. Ice cream -- you know, I would have a milk shake for lunch andstuff of that nature, but I never freaked out on making all those globs of stuff. My husband at that time was the biggest tipper, so not bad. For a ten cent cup of coffee. So those were the ice cream days.
RUF: Those were the ice cream days. It was a big feature of social life for you.9:00
FLODSAND: Oh yeah. And Friday night or Saturday night was date night, usually.
RUF: What would people do on a date?
FLODSAND: Basically, when I came to Brooklyn, upstate they only had one featurefor the evening. I didn't know that when you came to the theater, if you missed part of it, you could stay and catch up with it. That was something new for me. But basically, you were either going to the movies, drive-ins out in Valley Stream. There were those of us that, instead of having the ice cream parlor, we took a ride out to Mitchell's drive in, which is a food place now occupied by Nathan's on 86th Street and 7th Avenue. That was another big thing. We went out to Mitchell's.
RUF: And it was food as well as a movie? Or it was just a drive-in? Was it amovie drive-in?
FLODSAND: Well it was a food drive-in, Mitchell's was a food drive-in. But ifyou wanted to go to a movie drive-in, I went a couple of times; it was down in Valley Stream.
RUF: I don't think much of movie drive-ins in New York.10:00
FLODSAND: Yeah, that was then. And then there were people who just went down toShore Road.
RUF: I have heard a lot about Shore Road in the last 48 hours.
FLODSAND: You better believe it. [laughter] You haven't hit Shore Road, youhaven't been in love. That was a smoochie place.
RUF: I hear lots of the road with the hills and the trees on the side very quietand secluded.
FLODSAND: It really is very nice. As a matter of fact, I even now, before I wasworking here, I would just take the bus down to Shore Road and sit and enjoy the afternoon down there.
RUF: Some people told me they felt quite badly when the Belt Parkway was put in,or the Verrazano Bridge was built. They felt it ripped up the area.
FLODSAND: Oh, sure. It disrupted -- they disrupted a lot of people's homes, andthat was a setback. But at the same time, many times we also, when you talk about Staten Island, we would take the ferry over to Staten Island, and often there was a long, long, long line on weekends to get over there. That was the 11:00drawback to the ferry ride. You had to line up early to get across to get out early.
RUF: It would run from the Brooklyn side?
FLODSAND: Yes. Over to where they have the ferry now to New York City fromStaten Island. But sometimes I miss that, because even with girls, we would hang around and go out on the ferry boat ride back and forth, and it was a nice evening. Going no place fast, but it was a treat. And I feel a lot of kids miss out on that enjoyment, because now there's nothing for them to do. Go to the movies, you're paying top dollar for a movie and whatever else you buy there, so it gets to be hard on families who don't have enough money to send their kids to the movies. That's why you have this video stuff at home. So you miss out on a lot of friendships. Yes, you have your school friends, and I still have friends from grammar school, and from when I was in high school. I keep in touch with them.
RUF: What was the area like in 1958 when you moved here? Couple you describe it?12:00Did you think about the area as being a community or a neighborhood?
FLODSAND: No, because I was used to this area when I had all my friends fromchurch. Or from - when I moved to Brooklyn, I had my high school friends. Basically those people from church went to the same high school, and you had more friends at school. But it didn't faze me. It didn't bother me, because I was familiar with this area, and I was down here enough. We came down on Sundays for church and Sunday School.
RUF: Even when you lived upstate?
FLODSAND: Yeah, my father drove us down.
RUF: So at least every Sunday. At least once a week.
FLODSAND: Oh, yeah.
RUF: And afterwards, you would get together with friends? Or was it a familyouting altogether?
FLODSAND: Yeah, basically -- no, not often. Right after church we went home andhad dinner. Sometimes my mother was with us, and sometimes not. If I wanted to hang around for the night crowd or church or whatever, then I would take the bus 13:00and subway. It would be two hours traveling. But I also had an aunt and uncle and cousin here, as well as my grandfather, so there was always something to do or someone to visit, and if I wanted to come down in the middle of the week, or on a Friday night, I would take the subway down, the bus, sleep over at my grandfather's, and go home with my father or just go home by myself. Those days, you didn't mind to send your kid on the train or subway at the age of thirteen or fourteen. I still go by myself, but that's beside the point. And I don't have to listen to my husband. See, it doesn't bother me to travel. I so enjoy it.
RUF: Now when you came in '58, your parents bought the house here?
FLODSAND: No, we just rented. We've always rented.
RUF: What were rents like at that time?
FLODSAND: I really couldn't say. I really wouldn't know of it.
RUF: What was the house or the apartment like that you lived in?
FLODSAND: Well, when we first came, there was a house across the street, butthen we lived in various places in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge. We always had two 14:00or three bedrooms, because we were so many kids, and we all stayed home till we got married.
RUF: Was it a very strong family life around the house, or did the childrenspend most of their time outside with friends?
FLODSAND: We had a lot of responsibility. We had our things that we had to do athome, but we also had time for our friends.
RUF: Such as, how would you divvy up the chores at home?
FLODSAND: Depends on how well we fought. [laughter] There were those who had todo the sweeping, those that were responsible for dishes, for vacuuming. We always maintained the property that we lived at. We called one of my sisters the broom girl. That was her responsibility, regardless of what age. There were laundry to do, ironing to do, things of that nature.
RUF: And brothers and sisters would split up jobs equally?
FLODSAND: No, usually the oldest got the brunt of it, and then --
RUF: So you shouldered more than your fair share.
FLODSAND: Yeah, and then the others had other responsibilities.15:00
RUF: Would your parents assign you jobs? Or did you work it out among yourselves?
FLODSAND: No, your parents told you, and you did. You can argue, but you did.
RUF: Didn't get you very far.
RUF: Did you or your brothers and sisters work when you were younger?
FLODSAND: I did.
RUF: You did. Doing what?
FLODSAND: Up in Nyack I was working as a soda jerk. At fourteen you were allowedto work there, and then I got that job here in Brooklyn, and I worked there for a while, and then I eventually worked for H&L Greene up on 5th Avenue. They closed up.
RUF: They were what?
FLODSAND: A five and dime type store. Then I believe I went down to McCrory's,which is on Fulton Street. So I worked there six days a week. Evenings and Saturday.
RUF: Six days a week, wow. At that time it was just you and your parents were working?
FLODSAND: Well on and off with my mother, but yeah, I was working, to help frayschool expenses and stuff of that nature.
RUF: Were public schools free at that time? Or you had to pay?16:00
FLODSAND: Oh yeah. Well, what do you mean by paying?
RUF: Well, not being homeowners, you didn't have property taxes you say to helpdefer school expenses?
FLODSAND: Well, for school supplies, you had to buy your school ring,graduation, things of that nature.
RUF: Did your brothers and sisters ever work before they finished high school?
FLODSAND: Oh, my brother was a great shoe shiner. He did that when we lived inBensonhurst. My other sisters, I can't remember. Arlene quit school, worked at the bank, but she eventually got her GED later on in life.
RUF: She found it was an important thing to have?
FLODSAND: No, she just wanted to have it behind her belt. This was just maybeseveral years ago that she got it. Both my sisters got it. And my brother dropped out of school, but he got his in the army.
RUF: Was that quite frequent at that time, for people to drop out of high schoolwithout finishing? Quite common, do you think? 17:00
FLODSAND: No, not always, no. No, it was just that our home situation, so thatwe had to go and make money for ourselves so we didn't have to depend on our parents. Supplies or clothes and so forth, things of that nature.
RUF: Did your parents, or even you yourself, did you make many things at home?Did your mother make your own clothes?
FLODSAND: No. No.
RUF: With your father and mother, your father worked a lot outside, butsometimes irregularly, contracting work.
FLODSAND: Construction, right.
RUF: Was the family tight knit at the time?
FLODSAND: I think it probably was and we weren't aware of it. I see now betweenall of us -- and people see that amongst us six -- that we are very, very close-knit in the sense that we stick with each other like glue, and yet if we have something to say to each other, we have that freedom to say so. 18:00
RUF: That probably contributes to why you stick together like glue, cause youair your differences.
FLODSAND: Yeah, right. That's the best part. We can talk amongst each other,what's bothering us, and when it gets to a certain point where something has to be said, then you just say it to that individual.
RUF: Were your parents like that with each other?
FLODSAND: I presume so. A lot of Scandinavians, they have a tendency to keepanything that's private in your home. They didn't sit and talk outwardly. They wouldn't think of sitting in a group of some sort, for example in a bible study, and say, "Gosh, my child got in trouble at school." That was kind of hush, hush. A lot of those things were. But now I see that they are much more open because they are learning that their children and their grandchildren are in a different mode of life than they were, and so as grandparents and mothers, they're facing 19:00crises that they never did when they were children. I remember when I was up in junior high school and high school in Nyack, if a child got pregnant, if a girl got pregnant, whoo, that was big time. Now, it's so nonchalant that you don't think the way that you did back then. Back then, it was a no-no, and in our eyes it still is. But I mean, it wasn't discussed openly as you do here. And the shame wasn't as heavily as it was then. Things of that sort.
RUF: You talk about when people meet, for example, for bible study. You werejust speaking a moment ago about how young people would gather at ice cream parlors or soda parlors. What about adults? Where would they meet? Where would 20:00they socialize?
FLODSAND: Basically in church. For those that are from here, I mean, I'm talkingabout people I'm familiar with this church. Then you had the Sons of Norway groups. On 8th Avenue, right next to Hanson's between 59th and 60th, there was a great Sons of Norway hall. It's now -
RUF: It's the mosque now, right?
FLODSAND: A mosque, yeah. There you had a lot of people coming to socialize on aFriday or Saturday night dances. Also on 8th Avenue it was nothing but bars on every corner. So a lot of the Scandinavians who couldn't get alcohol so freely, they got smashed here on 8th Avenue because it was so free, it was so cheap. You still pay top dollar in that country today, and you don't have a bar. You either get it in a restaurant, or you go to a liquor store, which is almost like a library, it was so quiet, but it's not so close by. You had to travel a distance to get it. So here all the sailors that came over on the boats, working on the 21:00boats, Brooklyn was one of the highlights that they stopped in because there was a Norwegian seamen's church downtown which offered them a place -- I don't know if necessarily to stay -- but a place to visit, get their Norwegian papers. They kind of socialized a little bit at the Norwegian church because they had activities for them, and then they would drift up to 8th Avenue with their friends and go to the bars, go to the Sons of Norway, get drunk, carry on like a bunch of nut jobs. But that was their fun, so you had that, and you still have the Sons of Norway societies. Different groups all over Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, Connecticut. They're all over the United States. That's a nice organization where Norwegians still can enjoy their culture, their food, and be together with their own nationality.
RUF: What about women, for example? We just talked about men, or sailors, menwho would hit the bars on 8th Avenue. Did women have social networks or social 22:00forms in which they could gather and socialize outside the home? Or were their contacts with each other more informal?
FLODSAND: I think a lot of them -- you did a lot of house visiting.
RUF: House visiting.
FLODSAND: Yeah, and to this day I still do that. I still believe in visitingfriends and family. Yes, you had women going to the Sons of Norway dances. Some of them were in the bars. Not that many, it's mostly guys, but you've seen them there. But a lot of the women just hung out at each other's' homes and so forth, which I really feel is a great spot for socializing.
RUF: Where would it be? Living room, kitchen, a porch, a yard? Was there aparticular --?
FLODSAND: Basically it was in the living room. But by the time you set the tablewith coffee and goodies, you ended up gathering around the table, and that's where you pretty much ended up for the evening. Sometimes the guys would just drift in the living room and gather among themselves afterwards. But yeah, it 23:00depends on your locale.
RUF: The table being usually in the kitchen or in a dining room?
FLODSAND: Both. Many times we had dining rooms, but if you didn't, you had a kitchen.
RUF: Nice, big eating kitchen. That's what my wife misses most of all.
FLODSAND: Well, I don't blame her for that. Well, I'm from Upstate myself. Imean, I have a home up there right now, but it's in Saratoga Springs. So I'm way up.
RUF: Well, I grew up in Binghamton, so -
RUF: Yeah, westward from there. Can you tell me something about -- church seemsto have been very important for Norwegians who lived in the area. What were some of the church activities that would be? What would a day of services be like on a Sunday?
FLODSAND: It depends, because in this church we had many organizations. A lot ofthem have dwindled down or have been eliminated, because they had so many people in each of the organizations. One that is in existence today is the Martha Mary 24:00Society. And they basically support missions. There was a society called Yelpsome, which was a group of women -- and you're talking groups of sixty people or more -- sixty women or more -- where they would provide care or visits to those that were sick at home, visit those that were in the hospital, going to other institutions where people were hospitalized. And the Yelpsome society, I think twice a year they provided fruit and other goodies. Probably soaps or things of that nature that they would bring to these individuals who were hospital-bound or who were in the institution. I know they even made a visit out to Pilgrim State Hospital. Some of them would even sing Christian music of course, for the group. So that society has dwindled out. And then there was 25:00another Norwegian group, and because the people either moved into the home or went back to Norway or literally just died off --Thamsukland. They just finished off last year in this church because they were so few and they were so elderly they just don't have the capacity to do the services that they once did. And so now we just have Martha Mary, which is a handful of people, maybe a dozen or more. A dozen and a half. We have several years now, ten or more years, had Senior Lunch once a month. And there were three groups taking turns. Now we're down to two. The English group provide dinners and Martha Mary, they have sandwiches and jello and cake and so forth. So you have these huge organizations. And then there's still one, excuse me, that started many, many years ago almost at the beginning of this church, I would say -- called Fredenspan Society. And they're still in existence today. And they are basically 26:00all Norwegians with Norwegian programming. They are one of our biggest supporters or raisers for our mission field. Our mission workers. So they provide programs twice a month on Saturdays. Every other Saturday. They had big meetings up in Tuscarora, Pennsylvania on Labor Day weekend. They are still in existence, and they basically were the starters of 59th Street Church.
RUF: So what kind of programs would they run?
FLODSAND: When I say program, they're meetings, which is just your singing andpreaching, and you had guest singers, guest speakers, and so forth.
RUF: Were there lines of division along language in the community? Those whocould speak English and those who could not?
FLODSAND: In this church, we always had two services going at the same time. Wehad an English Department and a Norwegian Department, and we had Norwegian ministers, and you also at that time had people coming from Norway, where today 27:00you don't.
RUF: We're talking about the 60's or the 70's?
FLODSAND: People come from Norway from the early 20's.
RUF: But I mean when these programs were running full steam.
FLODSAND: The highlight were in the 50's. I mean, when I look in my record bookshere, the amount of Norwegians in this neighborhood was phenomenal, and you didn't only have this church. You had a few Norwegian churches. 52nd street, 66th Street, 46th Street Church, they were all Norwegian American. So you had from your locale, wherever you were living, you went to that church, basically.
RUF: Did congregations divvy themselves up in terms of place or origin inNorway, for example?
FLODSAND: No. If it was Norwegian, it was Norwegian. And then they would alwayshave special services during the year, whether it be for Easter, Christmas and 28:00whatever other. We also had concerts there. We had, and still do once in a while, we get them from Norway when they are up in Pennsylvania, Fredenspan has usually some Norwegians come over, and so if they can stay another week, then we have them as guest speakers or singers here in the church, or musical programs and so forth.
RUF: Now, outside of the church-sponsored activities, were there other secularlysponsored celebrations or festivals throughout the year that gave people a sense of belonging or community or identity as Norwegians or something else?
FLODSAND: I really can't think of any. You would have to check somebody whowould be more familiar with that.
RUF: There's the parade, right?
FLODSAND: Yes, definitely. But you see, many times there were other festivitiesin other churches, so all of them would join in under the one roof.
RUF: But many of the festivities were organized through the churches.
RUF: So church was a major part of people's lives?
FLODSAND: Oh, very much.
RUF: Were the congregations at all mixed? Non-Norwegians? Did they…29:00
FLODSAND: There were a few. At that time you would say just a few, because therewere Norwegians that married Italians or Irish people. But I know all of the men that married into our family, they were Catholics, and they're now Protestants. Not that all of them are as strict as some of us were or want them to be, but yeah, they converted, and they attended the Protestant churches, and they even work in them. In other words, volunteered doing things in their own churches.
RUF: What about the women in your family who married non-Norwegians? Have theyconverted? Or did their husbands -
FLODSAND: It's all their husbands.
RUF: Always the husbands?
FLODSAND: Yeah, and never under pressure, because a lot of my sisters never wentto church, you know, as far as being active in church, I should say. But eventually they left their Catholic church, and when they saw the activities 30:00here, and learned more of what the Christian faith is, they realized that they didn't particularly care for what they saw in the Catholic Church. And so they got active in the Lutheran churches or whatever church they became a part of.
RUF: To them, do you think it was too closed? When you say you think they don'tcare for what they saw?
FLODSAND: Too many rituals. It was the rituals that they -- as a matter of factone of the guys was an altar boy. And yes, it's very important for them at that time. This is what they knew and this is what they grew up with. Becoming a little bit active in our church and seeing the activities we had and hearing the preaching that they heard, well then that took on a new light. And now one of the Irish Catholic boys that was an altar boy, he is very much into his faith more than my own sister. And he is now a member of this church, or his 31:00congregation out in Long Island, which is a sister church of this.
RUF: The children from the mixed marriages, were they very active in the churchin terms of bible study?
FLODSAND: No. Not enough. Because the mother didn't participate. It depends onwhich sister you were talking about. Some of them were and others aren't, and I feel that they lost out a lot because they don't know anything. They don't know from a Catholic to a Protestant to a Jew. So, yes, they attend church once in a while. But that doesn't make it. It really doesn't cut it.
RUF: Do you send your own children?
FLODSAND: I don't have any.
RUF: You don't have any. In terms of the neighborhood, the residents in theneighborhood, was it all Norwegians at the time you moved here? Or was it--
FLODSAND: Basically. You had Irish. As a matter of fact, you go up in the nextblock, and it's full of Irish people.
RUF: On Sixth Ave?
FLODSAND: Between sixth and seventh, or rather seventh and eighth, definitely,that's all Irish up there. And you still have an abundance of Irish people, but 32:00not as many. I lived on 58th St. between 11th and 12th, and there were maybe four Norwegians when I came there, and we ended up being the last to leave. We had a majority at that time of Italians on that block. Now the upper half is Italian, and the lower half is the Jewish people. You have the regular Jewish people, and then you have the Hasidic on that block, and now I call it brick city, because they have literally taken down these very lovely old fashioned porch homes, buying up property, ripped them all down two at a time, and it's all brick homes. And so the enjoyment that I had looking out of my back yard, which was a country-type setting with a ranch home and these old-fashioned houses. They took that view away just before I left there; they were building up 33:00more and more brick homes.
RUF: Why the brick homes?
FLODSAND: Because it's more money. You get more rent. The Jews had the money forthat. They also don't -- their importance is space. You can build bigger homes by not having a back yard and a front yard. So you could get maybe eight or nine rooms, and if you get two-three levels you have income, which is what you want to have to pay for these homes. There are other Jewish people that bought the existing homes, and they created beautiful yards, and the neighbors that I met, those that were on my block as Jewish people, we were very, very friendly with, and got along with them greatly.
RUF: Were yards and gardens a big part of your life when you were younger?
FLODSAND: Only because I lived for over 30 years in one place, and we did thatfor our landlord after his wife died. We did that as a courtesy. He was almost like a father to us. He was up at our house all the time.
RUF: He was Norwegian, too?34:00
RUF: He was Swedish.
FLODSAND: So we took care of the yard and the shoveling and all kinds ofpainting, and we did that ourselves.
RUF: For other families in the area -- I see many houses with now-small yards. Ipresume that in the past they may have been bigger.
FLODSAND: Well, in our neighborhood it was all standard size. You'd get some ofthese homes that are one-family homes and you did have bigger property. But those that are attached, you only get so much in the front. And in the back, my landlord did say where we lived; it was strictly all farmland around here.
RUF: It had been?
FLODSAND: Yeah, all farmland. Much, much -- I would love to have seen picturesof that.
RUF: That's quite interesting. What do children usually cover in bible study classes?
FLODSAND: It depends on the age group.
RUF: How early do they start?
FLODSAND: With the teenagers -- we have a group, they start around 13 or 14, andthat's Peg Zweigart's division. She handles the youth group, and many times she will discuss a certain subject, or she'll go perhaps into the bible and view a 35:00certain chapter, ask them what does that mean to them, try and get their input what does it mean today. Because it's relevant just as it is then as it is today. And with the things that the kids are dealing with today, it helps them bring a little bit more light to their life of why it's important to be grounded in the bible. Why you can go there for your source of strength, of encouragement. You'll read about other men and women who have had just as much tragedy, if not more than you, and how they overcame that. And the bottom line is, you have your faith, and your faith will bring you through no matter what you go through. Because it'll tell everyone that no matter what happens in life, you're gonna face problems. You're not gonna go through life scot-free. It's gonna be there. It tells you it's gonna be there. So it kind of sets them up and kind of grounds them. Whether they retain it now, it may come back to them later 36:00on, which happens quite often. I was gonna say, they want to sow their oats or whatever. Especially when you go off to college, you go off into a different atmosphere, from what my nieces tell me. You have a whole new life. You get this complete freedom that you didn't have at home. And the other drawback that I hate to hear about college kids, but it seems to be quite frequent, is all the drinking that's done there. And I am very fearful of a lot of them that don't know how to handle it. I don't begrudge them having fun, but I have also seen a lot of alcoholics, and I know a lot of alcoholics. And it's a sad commentary on your life. It affects you; your family, your friends, everything, and it can destroy you. And kids don't understand that, and I feel it's gonna hurt them. And I wish there was a little bit more control of their drinking on campus, because they just have these -- they studied, don't get me wrong. My nieces did well. But when I hear of all the things that go on in college, I kind of feel 37:00sorry for them because it seems that there's no other way to have fun, and I don't mind having a glass of wine myself or anything of that nature, but I can very easily say no, I do not want any, thank you. Why can't you be bothered? No, thank you. I don't want any. It's not to make the other person feel guilty, but I can have just as much fun, and I can go into a fit of laughter, and then if I were drinking, they can say, "She had one too many." Well, they can't say that to me, because, this is it.
RUF: Was there a problem with alcohol earlier in the community? In the past? Youtalk about the sailors, and the men drinking.
FLODSAND: I always think there's been a problem with alcohol. I don't think youever will get away with it. It's just how you can handle it. Sometimes people 38:00will drink not realizing how much they are drinking. Well, that's excusable. But just for the sake of going out and drinking, just to drink, drink, drink, drink, I just have no use for it. That's me. Everyone has their own priorities.
RUF: I understand, but I remember what it was like when I was in high school, oreven college, and how people wasted years of their life, realizing only too late that it's sort of important that I was here, and I missed it. Was education something that was highly valued?
FLODSAND: I really don't know, because we just, at that time when I was going toschool, some went on to college. I felt that I wasn't college material, but the idea is I went to work, got a job, as well as my sisters. They all did the same thing in New York City. And we got along very well without an education.
RUF: Did any of your brothers go to college?
FLODSAND: None of us went to college.
RUF: So it's their children who are the first generation of college-goers.
FLODSAND: Right, mmhmm, exactly.
RUF: When you were young, were the customs and traditions that came out of your39:00ethnic or national heritage important to your family or important to you?
RUF: How would they be passed on?
FLODSAND: Well, basically you remember what you had from home; you saw thefestivities in the church. You still enjoy the foods that you're familiar with. Some of us are more Norwegian than others in our family. I would have the Norwegian cookies. My sisters would go the American-style cookies. But other than that, just, some of them just have a hint of the Norwegian in them, whereas I'm more Scandinavian.
RUF: Did you all grow up speaking Norwegian?
FLODSAND: No. I learned it on my own.
RUF: Your brothers and sisters, they don't speak?
RUF: Was it difficult to learn? When did you decide to learn?
FLODSAND: When I wanted to hear what my parents were saying. Try to figure itout. You pick out a few key phrases, but my in-laws were Norwegians, you had Norwegian people here in this church, you picked up words, but when I went to 40:00Norway for the first time, I thought, boy you better start learning, because here you have a four-year old, that is, your niece, and she can't understand English. Whereas now the majority of them understand English.
RUF: Was it important to your parents that the children learn English?
FLODSAND: Oh, they spoke English all the time at home.
RUF: Did they make a point of having you all understand that you were Americansnow, or was it an issue for them?
FLODSAND: I think they were--Americans. I always felt I was American. There wasno stress that, you have to do it because this is how we do it in Norway. There was nothing of that sort.
RUF: Did you feel you or any of the people in your family or in the Norwegiancommunity face any discrimination from other non-Norwegians?
FLODSAND: No, never.
RUF: Was there a lot of interaction? You talked about some Irish being nearby.
FLODSAND: Well, there was always harmony between your neighbors, because I don't41:00know about other nationalities, but I know the Norwegians were known to be very clean and fussy people, and a lot of the women who did have outside jobs, they were housekeepers, and boy, they earned their keep. They worked extremely hard. Some of them were live-in -- a lot of the young women that came over single, that's what they did. Speaking no English, but they were able to get, through an agency, a job cleaning the house, or whatever, cooking. And so they made out that way.
RUF: Not necessarily working for Norwegians?
FLODSAND: No, not at all. My aunt came over here in her fifties and worked as ahousekeeper, and she knew not a word of English. So she just dove right in.
RUF: How would people who came single socialize or meet?
FLODSAND: Meet, I don't know, but I know a lot of these brownstone homes, theyhad a lot of rooming houses within the buildings. They would rent out bedrooms 42:00versus apartments. So you could rent out two or three rooms. And I gather, just as you meet a friend, you start hanging out with them, and then socializing wherever they would want to go. So yes, you would share a bathroom with all these other people on the same floor.
RUF: You talked about visiting Norway. Have you visited many times?
FLODSAND: Yeah, I had my in-laws over there, and with my family there and myhusband's family is there. Yeah, I still like to visit whenever I get the chance.
RUF: Do most people in New York, do most Norwegians still retain close ties toNorway? Do they go back frequently?
FLODSAND: If they can, yes.
RUF: Have a lot of contact? Telephone?
FLODSAND: Yes, very much so. It's very cheap to call if you stay up in themiddle of the night to call, no problem. And at the time when many people were going by boat, years ago, in the 60's, they had group charter rates. So some bureau of travel would offer a great rate to go. So that's how we started, basically.
RUF: Big groups?43:00
FLODSAND: It varied. If there was a church group going, they could have close toa hundred people going from the various churches if you could get on board.
RUF: And then you would split up and go on your own when you got to Norway?
FLODSAND: Yeah, right. Just meet when the plane leaves, and that's it. Oh, itwas great. It really is great. And I find a lot of changes over there within the family because they don't show their emotions over there, and many of them over here, for that matter. And I was commented, you know, people over here don't talk like that. Well, that didn't stop me, and now I find a big, big difference over there. They'll come over and give you a hug and a kiss, and show their emotions, which they never did when I first went over.
RUF: What do you think changed that?
RUF: Well, good for you.
FLODSAND: Well, yeah. I think they loosened up, and even one of my nephew'swives said, "I wish we would hug more over here like the Americans." And I think basically Americans were doing that probably without realizing it, thinking it was natural, and it was natural for us over here within our family, anyway. And 44:00so little by little, it broke down the ties.
RUF: You talked about bible study with children beginning in their early ormid-teens. Was there a Sunday school for earlier?
FLODSAND: Definitely. You had pre-K or kindergarten, nursery school age on up.
RUF: In the course of Sunday school, what sorts of things would be covered?Would children learn about Norway in Sunday school?
FLODSAND: No. You basically had your singing of songs, you had your bible lessonor your Sunday school lesson. They would know of Norwegian festivities when there was what we call a fest, which is a Sunday school Christmas program. At my 45:00age you had a piece to say. You had to recite something with your class, either individually as a group, or they sing. So they got a little bit of that, and we would go around the Christmas tree downstairs singing the Christmas carols as well as some of the Scandinavian songs.
RUF: And you would celebrate Norwegian Independence Day as well?
FLODSAND: Which is coming up now.
RUF: That's what the parade has always been focused on.
RUF: Alright. I want to -- before we wrap up, I want to ask you about some ofyour reflections on the changes that you've seen in the community, particularly as it relates to since Chinese have begun to move in and settle.
RUF: Or reactions.
FLODSAND: The idea -- well, it's sad to see so many people move away from theneighborhood, number one. Either out to Bay Ridge or surrounding communities in Long Island, New Jersey. Some by choice, others not a choice. And there's no 46:00problem with the change in the neighborhood, except that the neighborhood is busy seven days a week, and we never had that. Sundays was always a quiet day where you could walk the streets, see clear down to 52nd street, and now it's like Times Square. And the parking is horrendous. Double parking, truck parking. It makes it very difficult to have festivities here because we can't park. And you're dealing with elderly people who can't walk that far, and so they get dropped off and then they have to go looking all over the neighborhood for a parking space. So I kind of dislike that aspect of Sunday being such a busy day. I realize that the Jewish people in our community, Saturday was a very quiet day, more activities on Sunday. But I do like the one day of quietness where you can come here in the neighborhood and get a parking space and you can't anymore. It's seven days a week. And I guess it's a lot like that no matter where where you go. The malls are open seven days as well. But at the same time, Chinese people also work six days a week, many of them, so Sunday's their only day off 47:00to come shopping. So that's the only drawback. Too much business. I am not crazy about that. I never will be, I don't think.
RUF: Before we started the recording you had mentioned to me a sort of a goingdown or a depletion of stores, or services -
FLODSAND: Specialty stores.
RUF: Specialty stores.
FLODSAND: The delicatessens, I have to go out of my way to get good German delisalads and so forth. Scandinavian's foods, yes, there's Olssen's bakery, and I do go down to 69th Street or 5th Avenue. Wherever. But it's not convenient just to walk. I'm used to walking around the corner for something like that. So miss my foods. I go down to 11th Avenue to do a lot of my shopping for cold cuts. That's the nearest place that I enjoy going to. Italian, but that's OK. But that's the only drawback, because I'm not a big lover of Chinese food. Simple as that.
RUF: Is there much interaction between the Norwegians in the area and the48:00Chinese immigrants?
FLODSAND: No, because of the language.
RUF: The congregation here is not--
FLODSAND: We have a Chinese congregation. They do have their Chinese service.They have a youth group, which is a lot of English speaking kids. There's no problem with that. But it's very difficult, even if I want to go around and find out what something costs. Everything is written in Chinese. Well, you're not telling me what that is. I have to ask. And so there's that barrier. They do speak English, but I'm sure it was like many years ago. You heard Scandinavians on the Avenue speaking their language and I would hear another dialect.
RUF: The congregation that's here, are they affiliated with you, or do they rentspace form you?
FLODSAND: No, it's part of the Lutheran Brother Church from our synod out inMinnesota. And they have different churches in different parts of the country. They have one out in Long Island, New Jersey, and so forth. So we're all over.
RUF: Is their pastor Chinese?
FLODSAND: Yes, we do have a Chinese pastor, Peter Ang. You're right. He's not intoday, but tomorrow.
RUF: Some of the Chinese who we've interviewed have been talking a lot about49:00concerns about safety and crime in the area.
FLODSAND: Picking up the paper, especially the free local paper that they havein the neighborhoods, yeah, it's crime all over the place. And I'm saying I don't see it. I mean, including broad daylight. Including my old neighborhood. But haven't come across it yet. I am sure my day will come, as they tell me, but I have always walked around without any fear, and it hasn't bothered me yet.
RUF: Thank goodness. You live exactly where now? You live on 59th, 58th?
FLODSAND: Now I live two doors away.
RUF: Two doors away, right here on 59th Street.
FLODSAND: Yes, but for over thirty years I lived on 58th between 11th and 12th.My favorite neighborhood. It really is.
RUF: The place you own now, you rent or own?
FLODSAND: No, I rent from -- I'm part of the church.
RUF: OK, so you rent right from the church. The residents in the area, are the50:00apartments or the houses here, are they turning over to Chinese owners or Chinese tenants?
FLODSAND: It depends. You have a mixture of Americans still living on thisblock, but to be honest with you, if you were gonna sell, you're not gonna find too many Americans coming here to live, because of the shopping or the language. So naturally your tendency is probably to sell to a Chinese, because they're the ones that want to live here. You're not gonna find Irish people moving in too quickly, nor any other -- maybe Polish. We have a few Polish living here.
RUF: Is that something that has started recently?
FLODSAND: I think in the last several years. Even in my old neighborhood,there's some Polish.
RUF: Do you have any --I'm flipping around on topics now, 'cause I know that youwant to -
FLODSAND: Yeah, I really have to go.
RUF: Let me ask you one last question. Do you sense get a sense that there'sparticular needs that the Chinese community has in terms of social services that 51:00may be lacking for them?
FLODSAND: I couldn't answer that.
RUF: You really don't know.
FLODSAND: There are some places on 8th Avenue, services or banks or whateverthat may be able to help you on it. I couldn't answer that.
RUF: Do the children play together? Chinese children, Norwegian children?
FLODSAND: Well, while they're here. Yeah, we have a nursery school downstairs,and you have American and Chinese together, and they get along famously. What children don't? You don't have you parents butting in.
RUF: The diplomats of the world. Our children.
RUF: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
FLODSAND: OK. Okey-dokey.
Oral History Interview with June Flodsand
June Flodsand was born circa 1942 in New York City to Norwegian immigrant parents. Raised in a working-class family, she lived on 58th Street in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn beginning in 1958. She is the eldest of six children. Flodsand's life has been spent in an equal ratio of hard work, innocent socializing at neighborhood soda shops and ice cream parlors, and activities at the Lutheran Church. After graduating high school Flodsand married. She has spent her life as an observant Lutheran and proud Norwegian American. Remaining a Sunset Park resident, she called 59th Street home at the time of the 1994 interview.
In this interview, June Flodsand recounts her life as a working-class, first-generation American, a devout Lutheran of Norwegian parentage. She remembers an innocent childhood of family chores, a first job as a soda jerk, and weekly participation in church and its activities. As an adult, Flodsand married a fellow Lutheran and continued a life devoted to work, church, Norwegian-themed festivities, and socializing. Flodsand laments the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park's transition from a dominant Scandinavian culture to a largely Chinese and Hasidic population. She was interviewed at the Lutheran Church where she is a member. Interview conducted by Gregory Ruf.
Brooklyn Historical Society collaborated with the Chinatown History Museum (now the Museum of Chinese in America) in order to conduct a series of oral histories with residents of the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and English language interviews focused on what was then a new presence of Chinese and Asian immigrants concentrated along Eighth Avenue. Among the topics that are explored in the interviews are tensions between different groups of Chinese immigrants, crime and safety in the neighborhood, Sunset Park's relationship to Manhattan's Chinatown, and how long-term residents of Sunset Park had adjusted to the area's "newcomers."
CitationFlodsand, June, Oral history interview conducted by Gregory Ruf, May 09, 1994, New Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records, 1994.007.11; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- 59th Street Lutheran Brethren Church
- Flodsand, June
- Chinese Americans
- Community identity
- Emigration and immigration
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Ethnic relations
- Lutheran Church
- Scandinavian Americans
- Social history
- Working class
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Sunset Park (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidNew Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records