Over fifty years ago, I accompanied my grandmother on a trip to Førde, Norway to visit her aging brothers and sister. The eldest grandchild, I was designated to help Grandma in her travels if she needed it. Even though I went along with my duty to represent our family, I did not anticipate feeling any connection to Grandma’s family or her far away home in Norway. A teenager still trying to figure myself out, I had never wondered about my grandma going to school or having friends or being my age. She was Grandma. If I helped her a bit, I also learned how closely I am tied to the people and location of Førde, my mother`s birthplace.
Today, I am the eldest living person in our immediate family who has personal memories of the people of Grandma´s generation. My mother, her sister and most of their fifty- two first cousins have died. Dusty boxes of black and white brittle snapshots, fading color slides, crumbling, handwritten letters and postcards bring back names and expand stories, many from that first trip with Grandma Kristine. I have returned to Førde regularly and claim it as one of my homes even though I lived there for only a few months as a college student.
For four weeks, Grandma took me to Grandpa and her sibling´s homes. We stayed in the house where my mother was born, and worshipped at the church where she was baptized. We visited Grandma’s childhood friends’ apartments, farms and hyttes, mountain cabins, and day after day had kaffe, the Norwegian version of tea-time, a mini meal. Not understanding Norwegian, I learned to cross stitch, ate too many cakes and grew to understand this was a trip about people more than places.
We did do some sight-seeing on the way to visiting. I am still teased about the pumps, dress coat and white straw hat I wore to see my first glacier. We saw medieval stave churches and I hiked in the mountains, but the real purpose of the trip was to experience a Grandma´s way of life before America.
I celebrated my birthday at a summer home, hytte, on the sparkling shores of a mountain lake, Jølster. I knew very few of the thirty family members who were in and out of the cabin and sitting in the sun. Grandma knew everyone, three of her brothers, a sister, their spouses, their children, their grandchildren. She moved among them with a joy I had never noticed before. As generous and kind as they were to me, the real celebration was the coming together of the generations with two of the family who went to America.
After the traditional birthday bløtkake, a sponge cake with berry jam glaze, covered in whipped cream and fresh strawberries was served, I was given the ultimate symbol of Norway, a handknit white sweater with a yoke of blue and yellow in a stars and snowflake pattern.
My birthday sweater was knit in the Nordic style of stranded knitting. There is a base color and other colors are introduced into the pattern. When a new color yarn is knit into the sweater, the other strands of yarn are carried along the back of the garment and picked up again to form the pattern. The yarn is not cut even when it is not visible in the pattern. For me, my Norwegian heritage is an important strand in the pattern of life. It is not always visible in the forefront of my days but is carried along, not cut, until it emerges in people and shared experiences.
The lives of Grandma Kristine and my mother Odny, are the uncut strands in the pattern of my life. Now, a grandma I knit stories for another generation, carrying the colors of heritage and identity. I am the keeper of the stories.