Could there be any better way to spend Christmas than in a Swedish gift shop?
For three boys under the age of 10, the shop mattered little. It was, after all, their grandparents’ house on Glen Road, near Silver Lake. The furniture had been moved a little, and there were tables in the living room with Swedish gifts and handicrafts.
In one corner, there was a Christmas tree, with a few gifts. Of course, there would be lots of food. In another corner sat Grandpa, his lap always open to his grandsons, eager to hear his stories. He would adapt stories to a local setting, landing The Ugly Duckling in Silver Lake, or make up his own stories, like the three little mouse boys dancing around the Christmas tree.
Caroline Neilson did her best to carry on the Swedish Christmas traditions. The boys never realized that the festivities were only possible because of the Swedish decorations and crafts their grandmother sold. Caroline Neilson had built a small business and was able to provide a few things for the family.
Pete Neilson and Karolina Sjoeberg were married in 1904, settling in Woburn. Eight years later, Pete built a home on Glen Road in Wilmington. He was a Danish stone mason, and the house shows his talent. It is a sturdy house of hand-made cement blocks with a beautiful stone front porch.
Karolina had emigrated to the U.S. from Gothenburg, Sweden in 1901, following her sister and brother. In her last job before leaving Sweden, she had worked in a shop selling Swedish crafts.
While Pete was a hard worker, he was not adept at business. There were jobs where he would furnish materials and labor, paying the help, only to be left with no payment when the job was done. Caroline pressed him to use contracts with a payment schedule, but he would have none of that. But it was clear that she had a head for business.
In 1927, the local correspondent for Svea, a Swedish-American newspaper, departed with some problems. Caroline was hired as correspondent, a position she would hold for nearly 30 years. She would visit the Swedish families in Woburn and Winchester, collecting news and selling subscriptions. She loved making sales, selling advertising to businesses. The commissions she received were her only compensation. There was no pay for her writing.
Her Svea press card opened the door to countless Swedish activities in the area. In the winter, Pete would sometimes drive Caroline around on her collections. When Pete and Caroline came chug-chugging up in their jalopy, Sylvia wrote, things could take on quite a festive air.
In the summer of 1929, Pete and Caroline were the guests of honor at a surprise 25th anniversary party in their own home, with more than 100 Scandinavians present. Bernard Lindstrom of Woburn wrote up the affair for Svea.
“Few persons, no, I dare say no one in Woburn and its surroundings has done so much for the Swedish lodges as Mrs. Peter Neilson.”
While the newspaper job itself was hardly lucrative, it provided her with contacts. She took on selling various lines, at one point, selling can openers. Then she hit on selling Swedish crafts. Eventually, she developed enough of a business to put a seasonal showroom in her home, with copper coffee sets, Christmas cards, wooden craft work and Swedish glass. Pete’s contribution would be to entertain the men folk with his stories while the women were free to browse and buy.
She also wrote verse for a greeting card company. The pay was meager at first, but as her work progressed, so did her income.
With the onset of World War II, Swedish crafts were no longer available. She was able to resume her business after the war.
During the war, she began knitting sweaters for servicemen. A Boston Globe article from 1944 credited her and Mrs. George Garrow with having each knit more than 100 sweaters.
Sylvia Neilson wrote their story in a book, Lars and Dorothe’s Kith and Kin.