Visiting the Birthplaces and Lost and Found Relatives

I stood on a small hill this afternoon surrounded by the ruins of a crumbling stone foundation, crying like a baby. A blue sky, puffy clouds, light breeze, mild temperature, and daisies waving in the wind.  A tree growing up crooked out of the stones. Oscar’s birthplace. 

My Swedish cousins had brought me to the place where Grandma’s father, Oscar, was born in 1878. You know the way a little half-surge of emotion wells up, a signal that comes just before the tidal wave, warning you to take cover?  That little catch in the throat gave me just enough time to step over the rope fence and turn my back to my relatives, who had brought a little picnic of coffee and sweets to eat after a long day of visiting various family sites. As they passed tupperware boxes full of cake and little buns and poured coffee and juice for one another, I sobbed in Oscar’s little ‘house.’

It’s hard to explain what happened to me. Partly I am just still so hurt by Grandma’s death.  The two year anniversary of her death is fresh, and I kept thinking how sad that she had missed this, that it would have meant so much to her to be here.  But more than the grief and pain of her loss, I also felt a strange sadness, an overwhelming ache.  How could Oscar’s parents leave here and get on that ship to go to America?  Such sacrifice.  So brave.  Being in that exact spot in person somehow made the enormity of what they did hit me full on. This place is beautiful and today especially so with such perfect weather.  How could they turn their back on this place and turn their face to a new land?  How could they say goodbye and then never see their family again?

I mean, my geneology, handed to me on the first day, goes back NINE generations!  And that is just the names and dates.  Of course, they had lived here forever, my family. Maybe my having lived in over twenty different places in my life makes it hard for me to imagine ever feeling so rooted in one place.  For me, then, coming here is like finding something lost. A sense of ‘home.’

So, I cried.  And my friend who is traveling with me later told me that my cousin’s wife was standing behind me down on the path holding a box of cake.  She kept inching forward and backward, undecided about whether to approach me.  In the end, she left me to my tears.  They all did. And I’m glad that I spent that powerful moment alone.  I don’t know what it all means, but when the wave subsided, I turned and saw my living realtives, the lost and found relatives, laughing, eating, talking happily.  I stooped to pick four daisies, one for each of the family that lived and left there: Johan Agust, Eva Charlotta, Oskar, and Gerda. 

Stepping back over the fence, I was received by our hostess with a big bear hug and immediately handed a bun. Eat! she said. Another woman handed me a tissue.  I blew my nose and took a big bite of my pastry. It was good.  She was right.  Sometimes a bit of cake makes it all better.

Three hours later, we sat at the house again and more relatives kept coming and coming. We ate and laughed and talked and looked at pictures and played with the little children and discussed recipes, and I became family — for real — by the end of the night.  I kept wondering how people could be so welcoming and so hospitable and so incredibly generous with a person who is virtually a stranger to them.  But then it hit me that while I had felt a sense of a lost home, they had felt the loss of the people who sailed away. We were lost to each other and now we are found. It was a joyous reunion.

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4 Responses

  1. I have read your post and I know I can feel what you feel. You could well be a writer. The way you have expressed your feelings and that of your ancestors when you left for America is remarkable. You must be a very nice person to have such pure emotions. Life is so fast paced that no one has the time to feel such emotions or to think so deeply and so intensely. The way you have described your emotions makes me a big fan of yours. If you ever write a book, let me know I will surely read it. Goof luck for the future.

  2. Amrit, that’s so very nice of you to say! I am glad that you enjoyed reading my blog. I hope to finish grandma’s book someday soon. Maybe I will find a publisher — I HOPE!

    I understand what you mean about not taking time to let ourselves feel, or for that matter, think. Yet life will keep going. We must not lose our chance to live, for real, in the moment.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. Hope to see you again!

  3. You brought tears to my eyes. I’m so happy for you.

  4. Thanks! It’s been a great trip.

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