Helle Mathiasen


family history, immigration, culture


Before emigrating in August 1965, I had already experienced America while a child living in Denmark. My first American memory is the smell of Wrigley's Doublement gum. I also remember the green gum package containing the thin, shiny silver paper with the jagged edge you had to remove in order to touch the delectable candy. For me, as a child, chewing gum was America. I was born in Vangede in 1940, the year the Germans invaded Denmark. During much of the five-year Nazi Occupation, our family lived in Sydhavnen, in Copenhagen, on Sjcel0r Boulevard number 3, in a onebedroom apartment. My father, Harry Nikolaj Mathiasen (1915- ), was a radio repairman and factory worker, and my mother, Aase Mathiasen (1919-1997), a housewife. The five years of the Occupation were hard; there was rationing and certainly we had no money for luxuries. However, we were lucky enough to have a good fairy named Tante Emma, from Racine, Wisconsin. Emma Jensen (1882-1970) was the foster sister of my father's mother, Maren Mathiasen from Br0nderslev. Emma was the first family member to emigrate to America. The earliest photograph we have of her is from 1916, when she was living at 1014 Milwaukee Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin. At that time she had married Jean Christensen, a Danish man she met after emigrating. My father never saw Emma, nor did any of us meet her before she left for Glencoe, Illinois and later Racine, Wisconsin. But starting during the nineteen-thirties, and continuing into the War years and after, Emma Christensen mailed care packages to our family which introduced us to the smells, tastes, and sights of America.