CHAPTER 12: Erik Hetle and Ole Rölvaag
ERIK Hetle and Ole Rölvaag were the greatest of friends as students at the college. We always spoke of them together, and always with the name of Hetle first, until, I suppose, when in later years Rölvaag became so famous for his novel Giants in the Earth. They were a little older than most of the college boys in those days and stayed at the college all summer doing various jobs such as painting, mowing the lawn, repairing the buildings, or doing whatever might be needed in readying the school for the coming year. They were great friends of mine, and I remember that after supper during the long summer evenings we used to play croquet on the croquet grounds just in front of Ytterboe Hall. As I look back on those years, I wonder that they were not bored playing with such a little girl, but they never seemed to be. In fact, I used to beat them very often and that filled me with a great sense of achievement.
Father had a little difficulty with Rölvaag. Rölvaag was older than most of the other college boys. In fact, he was a grown man and couldn't quite accommodate himself to the strict discipline of those days. He had acquired the habit of smoking, and smoking was definitely frowned on by Father.
I remember well when Rølvaag went back to Norway to study. Mother, who was then a widow, did not have much money, but she gave some money to Rølvaag. This money he was to spend on himself. I, his great friend, sent him a picture of myself taken on my sled. That picture, Mrs. Rölvaag said, he kept for many years. At Christmas time he sent a present to me from Norway. It was a beautiful silver napkin ring, and I have treasured it all my days, only now having given it to my daughter, Elise, who admired Rölvaag's great writing, and is herself a writer.
Another thing about Rölvaag that I remember: he asked my sister Evelyn for a date to go skating. Evelyn was a beautiful girl with lovely auburn hair and the complexion that went with it. She was slender and feminine looking, and very popular with the boys. When she came back from her date, she said to us, "I am never going out with Rølvaag again!" Mother was surprised and said that Rölvaag was such a good friend of the family.
Evelyn said, "Do you know what he did? As we were skating, he sang out in a loud voice 'I left my wife and seventeen kids, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!"'
Evelyn said, "I was never so embarrassed!"
At that time Rølvaag was not the famous man of the world of letters that he later became.