My Grandma - Etta Ardell Jensen by Ann Christopherson Calder
Contributor: Pan Argo Created: 1 month ago Updated: 1 month ago
In January 2021, while participating in a Gospel Doctrine Class via Zoom, I reflected upon my paternal grandmother, Etta Ardell Jensen Christopherson.
I have discovered that little has been recorded about her life. Only a few family pictures remain. Limited details have been written about her in other family histories, but they have not yet been combined.
I suddenly realized how much Grandma Christopherson is a part of me. She sacrificed for our family. She set a pattern of righteousness and endurance for her posterity. She is the mother of my father.
Am I the likely remaining family member who can compose an account about her life for future generations? Grandma Christopherson died a few years before I was born, but I have wonderful childhood memories about her that I gleaned while listening to stories my parents and Grandpa Chris related through the years.
Memories of my Grandmother Christopherson
Etta Ardell Jensen Christopherson, was born September 8, 1885, in Richfield, Utah. As a little girl, I was not certain whether her last name was Nielson, Nelson, Nilsson or Jensen, because her father changed his name when he entered the United States and her mother was married three times.
Family search has clarified this question for me. Her Father was named Andrew Jensen. (Andreas Nilsson who took the name of Andrew Jensen when entered the United States, March 1864.) He was born in Stora Herestad, Malmohus Sweden May 8, 1829.
Her Mother Ann Eliza Swanigan was born May 2, 1851 in Davis Indiana. Her Father was Oscar Swanigan and her mother was Mary Ogden.
Etta Ardell died March 28, 1939, in Provo, Utah at the age of 53. I was born four years later, and have often wondered if our paths may have crossed before I came to Earth.
For an added historical perspective, consider the following:
· Her father, Andrew Nilsson Jenson died when she was just seven years old. He was born in Sweden May 8, 1829.
· Utah became the 45th state in 1896 when she was ten years of age.
Grandma Ardell married Christian Andreas Christopherson on January 19, 1905. They were later sealed in January 1916 in the Salt Lake Temple. They had two children.
My father, Merrill Deloy Christopherson, was born November 5, 1905, in a railroad boxcar on a siding in Mapleton, Utah. He was their first child, and their only child to reach adulthood. At the time Grandpa Chris worked for the railroad. Their second child, Elma Eliza Christopherson was born January 5, 1908 in Palmyra, Utah, and died March 24, 1908. She lived only three months because of a RH factor incompatibility.
Grandpa Chris was then working as a farmer and sometimes a carp fisherman on Utah Lake with his brothers.
Soon after the death of Elma my grandmother contracted a disease called “sleeping sickness.” They later thought it was encephalitis. She became very listless and unable to do her work. At times she would fall asleep at the table while eating.
She never fully recovered from this illness and continually seemed to get worse. Prior to that time she was very involved, managed the house and was active in the Relief Society.
In 1919 because my grandmother had missed and grieved over the death of her tiny baby girl for ten years my grandparents decided to adopt a little baby that needed a home. They thought perhaps having a baby in the house would help Ardell.
Chris’s brother-in-law, Loring Harris, who was married to Ardell’s half sister Luella, had a brother named Herbert Harris who had just lost his wife in the 1918-1919 Spanish flu.
When baby Helen Harris was just three months old her father Herbert (Bert) decided he couldn’t take care of the baby and take care of his two older children. Bert decided to give her Grandpa Chris and Grandma Ardell to raise.
Helen Briget Bjarnson Christopherson became a member of their family. Although she was never officially adopted she went all her life until she married by the name of Helen Christopherson and considered herself as their child.
It helped to have the baby in the house but Grandmother’s health continued to deteriorate. She was taken to doctors and they called what she had nerve paralysis. After much hospitalization and many years later the doctors finally determined that it was Multiple Sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the nerves of the body and which also cripples. Each year Grandmother became more incapacitated. At first it was the ability to walk, then cooking meals and taking care of the house. Then it was the business in the home that became difficult for her. She gradually became totally paralyzed.
Ardell, Chris, and Merrill (15) loved the little girl Helen. Ardell was getting more crippled all the time. Grandpa and my father Merrill took good care of her. Ardell was completely invalid by the time Helen started school. They had to do everything for her. They dressed, washed, fed, and carried her to the outside toilet. As Helen got old she also helped take care of grandma before and after school.
Grandpa had a difficult time working and keeping a job because of the care both Grandma and Helen required. My father Merrill worked after school and evenings while Grandpa worked at night to support the family. My father worked at Chases Ice Cream plant all through Provo High School and Brigham Young University. Grandpa Chris farmed, mined coal, and sold fish.
Grandpa Chris and Merrill also took in another little girl by the name of Violla Brown. Violla was a relative of Ardell. She helped take care of Ardell and Helen. Violla’s mother had also died and left her father with a large family of eight sons and a daughter. She was a bright and happy little girl and very willing to help run errands and do housework for grandma as well as take care of Helen. Vella stayed two years. The next twenty years Ardell continued to lose more abilities.
Ardell’s sister Luella and Loring Harris lived in their basement for a time with their four children and also helped with Ardell. It was a busy house filled with a lot of people. By the time Grandma died in 1939 she was completely paralyzed. All she could say was “OOOO” for no and “SSSSSS” for yes. The family had to guess what she wanted.
In 1935 when my mother married my father, she became the caregiver for his parents and a quasi-stepparent to Merrill’s unofficially adopted sister Helen. Merrill’s mother Ardell was ill, and essentially disabled, Chris, was drained from supporting the family and providing full-time care to Ardell. Meanwhile, Helen was very much a 16-year-old adolescent.
Friends had quietly advised Mom not to marry Dad because of the monumental responsibilities she would automatically assume as she became a part of their family. With all of these variables, Mom said that on her wedding day if she could have found an exit door at the Salt Lake Temple, she just might have taken it!
But Mother loved my Dad and was deeply impressed by the unconditional love and care that he and Grandpa showed for Ardell and for Helen. They were always gentle, patient, faithful, giving, and kind. These qualities quickly offset any supposed misgivings she may have felt.
Mom and Dad vowed that they would make it all work. Everyone did their part in taking care of Ardell. Mom and Dad helped Grandpa Chris launch a new business after they were married that they named the Christopherson Coal Company. Mom quietly worked behind the scenes, carefully keeping meticulous records and tying up all of the many loose ends. Dad had the foresight and vision for the business, and Grandpa did everything else including the mining, transportation, sales, and delivery. It was a demanding business, but they made it work. As a freshman student at BYU, Uncle John Weenig, mother’s brother, also lived with them and helped Grandpa Chris in the business.
Early in the wartime years, Grandpa Chris became a part of the workforce at the new Provo City Municipal Airport. Dad was the airport manager, a fixed base operator, and a flight instructor. Mom and Dad operated a flying school mostly attended by cadets preparing for military service. Dad was a part of the Civil Air Patrol and was constantly flying.
Grandpa faithfully helped Mom working on anything at the airport that needed to be done. He took daily weather readings and reported his observations to the FAA in Salt Lake. He was always available and willing. He did everything from tending the garden to repairing the runway lights. On one occasion, he saved the life of a downed pilot when he spotted him while flying as an observer on a rescue mission. Most importantly, he often read books to me in the evenings and told me bedtime stories.
Grandpa lived with our family from the time my parents were married until he died in 1972. Along with everything else, Grandpa Chris and I were close friends.
My older brother Kent was born (in 1937) two years before Ardell died. Mother said Ardell’s eyes would brighten when she saw her new little grandson. Kent brought an added dimension into their home. It thrilled Ardell to have him next to her. She couldn’t talk, but neither could Kent, and it was obvious that he brought a spark into her life that really made her happy. It was like she could sense that Kent had come to their home from recently being in the presence of the Lord. Ardell was a faithful woman.
It was not an easy task for any of them but with love and faith and sharing the responsibility they accomplished the necessary care. I am so grateful for my parents and grandfather. They bore the burden for Grandma Ardell with faith and hope. I have great respect and love for all of them.
I have no cousins on the Christopherson side of our family, but I have an adopted Christopherson cousin, Joyce Dearing Hicks who provided some of the information for this history from her mother’s life story.