I was talking with my sister the other day about our trip to Sweden (t-minus 6 days and counting!), and had a revelation. Though my sister is not Christian, and in fact could definitely find herself on one end of the Neo-Pagan spectrum, our personal beliefs are very different. (Let me reiterate: I love my sister, but we are very different. Oddly, we look enough alike that people have in the past mistaken us for twins, and our friends are thrown off a bit more when they meet us together and realize exactly how different we are.) In any event, though we have the same genetic material and she’s open to a lot of pretty far-out spiritual concepts, she is not at all Heathen or polytheist, though she has been pretty accepting of any spiritual processing work I’ve done with her.
So it was really weird that she was the one to come up with the idea of us visiting our ancestral homelands in Sweden and Norway together. Talking with her last week, she said something else that threw me for a loop. “You know, things have fallen into place too smoothly for this trip to be about us. We need to do some ancestor work while we’re there.”
*gape* From the mouths of babes sometimes, I swear. OF COURSE this is ancestor work; what have I been thinking? I had been trying to make this all about me and the Gods (Freyr is the progenitor of the line of Swedish kings, the Ynglings, after all), and have felt like I’m banging my head against a wall with it a lot of the time. I’ve felt like I should be having all of these spiritual connections and dreams and whatnot which are just *not* happening, and it’s started to make me question the accuracy and strength of my connections with the Gods a bit. But, maybe this trip is not about me or my connections with the Gods; maybe it’s about the family as a whole! (Wow, a shift in perspective really makes a big difference sometimes.)
The ancestor who ties us closest to any of the Old Countries is our grandfather (my father’s father) from Sweden, who was the second youngest of fourteen children (and the third child in his family named “Erik”, the other two having died before they reached three years of age–third time’s a charm, I guess). He was also an active alcoholic his entire life, and he left behind six kids, thirteen grandchildren, and a whole lot of family dysfunction by the time he passed away. I’ve grown up hearing about what a horrible father this man was from my father (who was also the youngest kid of a large passel of kids). Dad likes pickled herring, and absolutely nothing else about his Swedish heritage. Half of the time when my sister and I bring up our Swedish heritage, we get an earful about what a horrible man my grandfather was and why aren’t focusing on Dad’s mother (a Norwegian-American, from several generations back), though as she herself was not that great of a parent, either, we then get a lecture on how crazy she was. (There’s not a lot of ways to win in this scenario.)
So to say that this trip we’ve got planned, which is primarily to Sweden, with hopefully a trip to Oslo wedged in, is full of sinkholes and traps is to put it mildly. And we’re diving right into the heart of it. We’ll even be spending two days in his dad’s hometown out in the middle of nowheresville, digging into any local records and scouting out cemeteries and possible living relatives.
It turns out that the trip we’re planning is essentially the same trip that Dad’s two sisters went on thirty years ago, though certainly they didn’t have any more of a reason to love my grandfather than my dad did. So, here’s one way in which the trip is about the family, not us–it’s just our generation’s turn to do this, it seems. My dad being the youngest in his family, my sister and I are the youngest grandkids on that side, and none of the others have shown any interest in researching the Scandinavian heritage. Also, though neither of my aunts are alcoholics, the daughter of one of them, my cousin, was; and a few days ago she died from complications of having that disease. She’s the first of our generation to go, and though I didn’t know her well, it still shook us. One of the family’s diseases, alcoholism, had plagued her throughout her life, and eventually it took her down.
We’ve come up with some other interesting finds in the course of our research. The other aunt sent us a letter in Swedish that turned out to be, after much careful use of Google Translate, an inheritance letter from my great-aunt Hannah, my grandfather’s sister, who was my dad’s favorite aunt, and whom everyone says was a wonderful, caring person. Everyone in my dad’s generation had received this same letter thirty-five years ago, and attached to it was a detailed list of all of the arvtagarna (heirs), all 84 of them. (The letter, from a Mr. Sven Thorstensson, polisinspektor, encouraged the heirs to give their allotment to another widowed aunt, Rosa, if they could.) I had a grand time translating this unexpected inheritance letter, even though it was 35 years old, and, considering that he had two small children at that point, I was pretty sure my dad had already cashed in his part. (Dad, who can’t read or speak Swedish, concurs. He says that he he sent it back with “SEND ME THE MONEY” written at the top of his letter. They used the money to buy my mom’s white Kitchenaid mixer, which she still uses to make Christmas cookies to this day.)
My sister and I gave booked an AirBnB place in the grandfather’s hometown, which currently has around 5000 people living it it. If the people we’re staying with–a retired couple of schoolteachers–don’t know anything about our family (which is highly unlikely, given the size of the town and the size of the family), my aunt suggests just wandering around town and talking to people. We know that at least several of my grandfather’s older siblings settled down nearby and raised families. It will be fascinating to see what the town’s take on our family will be. Alcoholism runs in families, and it sure as hell runs in Scandinavian families…
Anyway, maybe we’ll be able to bring some peace to some long-standing family ghosts. She and I are certainly doing our part to do so on the living end of the family tree.