Aka, Going back to the old country, del 1: Processing, processing, processing
So the trip to Sweden and Norway is coming up soon. I’m glad PantheaCon is out of the way so I can finally put some laser focus on this trip. (Unfortunately, work also has me learning a bunch of new programs at the moment as well, but hey–this job is also allowing me, a contractor, go to Sweden for ten days on full salary. No complaints here.) I honestly think that if I didn’t have both a family connection to Sweden and a spiritual connection to the old Scandinavian gods, I would not be going to Sweden at all (Norway, maybe–fjords and coastlines). But I do, and I am. Uppsala, here I come.
Visiting this twice-over homeland is becoming a deeply personal and private thing. I may open up a different blog for it; we’ll see if I have the time. I normally don’t have much issue sharing my feelings about a bunch of personal things on the internet, but I’ve been hesitant to talk much about my upcoming trip. It just hits that close too home, you know? Even more so given that I’m living in my childhood home currently. (OTHALA– I GET YOU. LOVE, CARA.)
Let me set the stage a bit. My Dad has been doing his bit to dig up info about his dad’s side of the family. He’s Swedish and Norwegian (50/50), and Mom’s, like, 80% German and 20% almost-Irish. The town I grew up in –the same town my Dad and his family grew up in–had been predominantly Swedish. Even today, the town is like 20% Swedish plus another 20% Norwegian). Strong Scandinavian roots are here. In this town, when I mention to strangers that my sister and I are going to visit Sweden, I get a bunch of nostalgic beaming faces and, “Oh, you’ll have a great time!” (As opposed to people from pretty much anywhere else, who ask me “But won’t it be cold?” Yes, thank you. It will, in fact, be cold. Even in May. Bless your little heart.) At least the people in my hometown get it. Here, saying that you’re going to Sweden is like saying that you’re finally going to visit Mecca. They wish me good weather and good travels and want to see my pictures when I get back.
Despite this town-wide Scandinavian presence, my Dad was just not interested in having anything to do with his heritage. He explains this to mewith two pretty solid points: 1) His father–the guy who was actually born in Sweden–was an active alcoholic all his life, and 2) Dad himself actually grew up eating lutefisk and pickled herring. (I’m amused that spellcheck doesn’t know what “lutefisk” is. It’s like the Swedes’ gastronomic equivalent of haggis.) So now that he is no longer forced to deal with drunken Swedes or their lye-soaked food, he avoids it. But my sis and I, in typical third-generation style, are far enough removed from the cultural identity to feel its lack. And the generic “Midwest middle-class white protestant” has just not been a very satisfying identity to replace it with.
Dad doesn’t really get it, but he’s trying. He contacted his two sisters who, it turns out, did a similar trip in ’86. Today that came through in a big way as his oldest sister sent us what appeared to be a family tree. (As it was all in Swedish, it was hard to tell.) The “family tree” came with a note clipped to the front of it. After squeeing at my Dad and sister about it–we’d been hoping to score something like this for months–I decided to go and translate as much of it as I could.
I got in about as far as “In order to undertake the usual probate and parcel of the estate…” before it dawned on me that this might not actually be the family tree, per se. I have to tell you–there’s no greater motivator for learning a new language than to find out that you’re reading a non-English inheritance letter, even if it’s 35 years old. I tell you, my eyes were glued to the Google translate box. Now I know the Swedish words avliden/a (deceased person); the ever-popular “dödsbodelägare” (person who has a stake in a given estate); or, my new favorite, “förrättningstillfället ” (current ordinance). And I know how to type in umlauts.
Unfortunately, though, the inheritance had long since been divvied up–apparently my Dad’s portion got put toward the white Kitchenaid mixer that my Mom still uses. Even more unfortunately, it turns out that the woman who left th einheritance had been my Dad’s favorite aunt–his father’s youngest sister. Since she lived in Sweden, my Dad had never met her, but apparently she had sent the family many long letters and gifts and everyone had fond memories of her. (Good to know at least one member of the family wasn’t an alcoholic.) We were able to get a couple useful pieces of information out of the note, though.
As it turns out, a lot of his family stayed around the old homeplace, a tiny town in central Sweden. And it is this city that my sister and I are heading to after our obligatory visits to Stockholm and Uppsala.
My aunt’s final note in her letter was, “You should just wander around the town and talk to people. You’re probably related to many of them.” Considering that the town has a full total of 6500 residents, she’s probably right.