My great grandmother, Sophia Nielsen, is the undisputed matriarch of our family. She started in a log cabin and ended owning a 40,000 acre ranch. She worked hard and fought harder. Our favorite story is about how she brought a railroad to a stop–not just one train, a whole railroad because they owed her money. That makes her sound hard, but, in fact, she lived long and became greatly beloved, called “grandma” by everyone. It is said that a letter, mailed in Germany in the 1950s, addressed only to “Grandma Nielsen, The Big Ranch, Idaho Falls USA” got delivered.
Ah, yes, but it’s Mother’s Day.
So I have to ask, what would my great grandmother Sophia say was the most difficult part of her life—stopping a railroad, building a ranch, or raising a family? Obviously, I can’t speak for her, but consider the following:
- Her first child was born premature because she’d contracted typhoid fever, which caused her to go into early labor.
- When a sister-in-law died, she adopted the baby that was left behind. The baby, a girl, died three months later.
- She raised five children by herself, as a widow of the 1918 flu pandemic, and buried a grandchild the same week she buried her husband.
- After age sixty, she assumed primary responsibility for two children that she raised as a single grandparent.
The way I see it, stopping trains takes grit, building a ranch requires more than a little ambition, but raising a family will tear your heart out.