Family tree of
Søren Nielsen & Lene Dræby Kottal

My grandmother, Jenny Kristine Juhl

My grandmother Jenny Kristine Juhl was born in Holsted on September 5, 1921. She loved telling about her life, which included many hard times.

In Jenny's childhood, Danes went to church every Sunday. Jenny did not find listening to the clergyman particularly interesting, so she fell asleep during almost every service. At first she was rebuked by both her parents and the clergyman, but as time went by they gave up and let her have a nap.

Not all church events were boring to Jenny. She loved singing psalms. When she attended school, she had to write recipes in a booklet, but that was apparently not interesting enough to her. She did write the recipes, however, if one turns over the booklet and starts at the back, one finds citations from the psalms she loved the most.

When Jenny was a young woman, she served at various places in the vicinity of her home; however, that was enough for her. She wanted to go to a large city, so she applied for employment in Copenhagen. She got the job, but her mother forbid her to go so far away, so instead she took a job at Åløkke Children's Home in Odense.

Going to Odense in 1943, Jenny travelled by train for the first time ever, and she has told me that it was a scary experience going so far away from everything she knew. When she arrived in Odense, she had to walk 3 km to get to the children's home.

Jenny liked being at the children's home and quickly became friends with one of the other maids at the home. At New Year's 1943-44, Jenny was invited to a party by her new friend. At that party she met her husband-to-be, Helge Løve Hansen. Since this was during World War II, they were not allowed to be outside after dusk, but because it was New Year's Eve, they broke that rule and stayed late at the party. When they eventually returned to the home, the front door was locked and they had to wake up the matron to get in - naturally that was not appreciated. Anyhow, their bad standing became worse, once they were in their rooms.

Jenny and her friend had rooms right next to each other. Apparently, they both found Helge attractive, because they fought about which one of them should have him - from each their room through the wall! The fight did not end until the matron came and reprimanded them, because they were too loud.

Jenny won the fight for Helge and in 1945 they were married. They never had their wedding photo hanging for display, because Jenny was pregnant at the time. In fact, they were married hastily at the city hall four days before their first child was born. At that time, it was unwelcomed to have a child outside marriage, and children born outside marriage were often teased and in a way treated badly by others. Therefore they rushed getting married. Anyhow, they did not want to display their shameful photo to their guests, so they hid it in a drawer.

At first, Helge and Jenny lived in Nørregade at the centre of Odense, but when my mother was a few years old, they moved to Njalsvej in the suburb Bolbro. Their home in Nørregade was a very old, worn-down apartment - in fact, the floor was so worn-down that at some point it broke under one of Jenny's legs, while she stood with my mother on her arm. My mother was not hurt, but my grandmother got a wound on her leg, which became increasingly worse and hampered her for the rest of her life. Their new home in Bolbro was a brand new terraced house, so it was pure luxury compared to the apartment in Nørregade.

According to herself, Jenny had a wild temper. One day she was angry about something (which could no longer remember what was) and had lifted the door to the living room off the hinges. Afterwards she could not put it back on, so she put it on the floor. Apparently, her temper was not unknown to my grandfather, because when he returned from work, he put the door back on the hinges - and never asked why she had taken it off.

I have never met my grandfather, because he died about 2 years before I was born. He had had several heart attacks and had been revived, but one day he felt it was enough and asked not to be revived next time. Naturally, my grandmother became angry and thought that it was selfish of him giving up on life like that; but he insisted. Shortly after, he dropped in the garden, where my grandmother found him lifeless and had to realize that her companion through 31 years was no longer with her.

It must have been incredibly hard for my grandmother, but I do not think she ever felt lonely, because she had her children and soon also a lot of grandchildren. I loved visiting my grandmother, because she always told a lot of stories about her life. She told many interesting stories, but also some frightening ones, for instance her stories about World War II.

I was raised to believe that my grandmother had to be protected from anything bad, including knowledge of her children's illnesses. My aunt Birte had thromboses in her intestines, so she needed surgery. The surgeon had to give up and sentenced my aunt to death. The entire family went to the hospital to say goodbye, but my grandmother was not informed, because "she would not be able to handle that". When Birte woke up, she asked for her mother and then someone went to get her. I am sure that was one of the worst days of my grandmother's life, however, she showed a side of her which I had not seen before. She was strong; in fact, she was stronger than any of us. Maybe she thought it was her job to get the family through this awful situation.

Shortly before Christmas 2007, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and it had spread to the liver, so nothing could be done. She did not grumble, but it was evident that she did not like being at the hospital. My mother is a trained nurse for elderly people. Therefore my grandmother spent her last days on a hospital bed in my mother's living room.

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