Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Face Behind the Story

As we enter the holiday season, I thought it would be fun to share a couple of pictures. Last year I released my Christmas novel The Christmas to Remember. It is based on stories from the life of my paternal grandfather from when he lived in Denmark.

His birth name was Nils Peder Jacobsen (I called him Jens Pederson in the book), and his mother was Jacobina. He was the oldest of several children, unlike my novel where he was the youngest. He did have one sister who was named Ove, but I do not know much about the real Ove. He also had some brothers and another sister named Mary.

When he was very young he had to go to work to help his family. Jacobina worked hard and had many jobs -- cleaning homes, taking in laundry, etc. -- until she became a seamstress which as a good job and helped to lighten her load. There was no father in the family which I'm sure made Neal feel as if he needed to help out.

His family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when he was a 11 he left Denmark forever to come to America. His name was changed to Neal Jacobsen and he went to live with a couple named Hillyard who had a farm in northern Utah. He never saw Denmark or his mother again. It wasn't until he became a soldier in World War I that he added the name Hillyard to his.

This picture to the right is the photo taken of Neal when he arrived in America at Ellis Island. His recollections of coming to the United States, his train ride across the country to his new home in Utah, and his experiences learning to speak English and how to live on a farm are poignant and filled with spiritual lessons that continue to guide me.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to continue to write his story, it's so interesting to me. I think he was a very brave young boy, and a brave man. He never really had a childhood to my mind, at least not like the kind of childhood I had. He went to work when he was 8, and worked until his retirement. And even then he was always a body in motion. I don't remember him being a couch potato ever!

The photo on the left is of Neal's mother, Jacobina Jacobsen (Stina Pederson in my novel) and the woman I heard my grandfather refer to as "my little moder." In my mind she is a tiny, hard working, loving mother. Neal told the story of when he gave his mother the money from his first pay and how she cried to get it. Yet, as much as they needed every penny they got, she instructed him to make sure he paid his tithing and give thanks to the Lord for their blessings. As a child of 8 my grandfather told of how tall and imposing the bishop looked to him, yet he collected himself and paid his tithing. My mother has said that she learned of the law of tithing from him when she married my father. "Always pay the Lord first, and He will take care of you," he taught her.

He was not the only child Jacobina sent to America with members of the church. His younger sister Mary also came, though they were sent several months apart. Mary and her husband lived down the street from my grandparents, and we often would run down the lane to visit with her and have some of her wonderful cookies that she would have on hand when we would visit from California. As an adult, I think Neal and Mary lived so close because of their experience of being sent as small children away from their mother and family. I believe they needed to be near each other.

If you have read my book you may find these photos interesting to see. If not, you may want to pick up a copy and read more. Either way, Neal Jacobsen Hillyard is a man I deeply love and admire. Maybe his story will touch you as well.

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