Skeletons in the Closet…Ground…and Sea

The coastline of northern Norway rises jagged from the sea in sheer
granite cliffs. Small villages cling to the only arable land, a few
acres of soil at the base of these mountains between the rocks and
waters of the sea. At this time of year, the residents rejoice in an
abundance of wildflowers and a vivid green that one associates with a
place like Ireland, a place where it rains…a lot. My new-found
cousin tells us there is only one rule of weather here in Bodø, it
changes constantly.

Indeed. Though this is the time above the Arctic Circle when the sun
never sets, I would not really call it the land of the midnight sun.
More like midnight twilight. Or perhaps even more accurately, “land
of the midnight late afternoon on a typical spring day in Seattle.”
Except it is not really that wet! In any case, between the rain, that
comes and goes suddenly throughout the day, and the constant sunlight,
the plants go nuts, growing with abandon. How often these good people
must mow their lawns….

For the last two days my new-found cousin, Knut, has been driving us
around the area. We have been meeting people and learning all about my
family in Norway. I have a geneology that goes back to the mid-1600s
now thanks to the help of a kind man here in town who has a passion
for such research. During the course of our discussion of my family
history, I discovered why I could not find great-great-great-grandma,
True Svendsdatter. They got her name wrong because it was very
unusual. In fact, she was not from this area but from a valley near
Lillehammer.

Ah…and I also discovered that one of our immigrants to America, the
matriarch of the family was…. Hmmm. Not sure how Grandma would
feel about that skeleton in the closet being shown the light of day.
I am certain she never knew the truth. I will have to think on the
ethics of this one for a while. (Coincidentally, I found out in
Sweden that one of my family names there, when translated into
English, means something like “one who betrays secrets.” Sounds like
a name for a writer.)

Speaking of skeletons…. Today we visited the graveyard in Bodø. We
were not sure exctly which of these good people in the old graves are
my forebearers, but no doubt I am related to many there. I took a
“group photo” of the “relatives” in the older section. 🙂 What was
utterly amazing to me was visiting the church itself, Bodin Kirke,
built around 1240. Here all of my relatives from the area were
baptised, confirmed, married, and buried … unless their bodies could
not be recovered, that is. Here the grandparents of my grandma were
married. Here they went to their parish priest to ask him to certify
their good character in a document that they brought to America with
them — a document written only days before they left Norway for a new
land. They kneeled at that railing around that original altar to take
communion that last time in the family church before saying goodbye to
everyone and everything they had ever known.

This afternoon we enjoyed a delicious meal of open-faced sandwiches
(smoked salmon and cheese and all sorts of toppings) and homemade
waffles with freshly picked cloud berries. Of course coffee and tea as
well. This is a “must” in Scandinavia. Before lunch we had visited
the next community over from where Knut lives, and I saw the farm
where my family had owned a plot of land. Of course, we saw a number
of other great sites, too, such as a house dating from that original
period (with key left in the door since the owner was not going to be
around to let us in!) I found it enormously helpful for my research
to see this place in person. Ah, and fresh cloud berries are to die
for!!

After lunch I also heard today some more amazing stories. The most
dramatic involves a party of about two dozen mourners who took a boat
from their little community down to town to bury someone in the
churchyard. On the way back, they stopped at one side of the harbor
to drop off a person or two, and then they shoved off. Just then a
strong storm swept down off the mountains from the east and their boat
was wrecked. All eighteen men and a handful of women perished. A man
named Hans who was walking on the shore heard them screaming and
thought it was a sea troll, so he ran into his house to hide under the
covers. (“A draugen is a headless fisherman who foretells drowning
with a haunting wail” or so says Lonely Planet Guide to Norway on page
49.) When he found out the next day that so many from his tiny hamlet
had drowned in the night, he went mad and ever after walked around
crying. They recovered some of the bodies at “dead men cove.” Some
they never found. Another time I shall tell you about visiting the
maelstrom where we also saw dangerous waters and heard the roar of the
water acting in unsual ways. But another time….

As I sit here now, I can hear the howling easterly wind sweeping down
from the mountains bringing rain. No kidding. A storm came up
quickly in the last hour. It is light outside still, though past
midnight, but the storm keeps the light low. My friend has gone to
bed, and I must do the same. Tomorrow we return to my oldest relative
in the area, who requested a second visit. I made a list of questions
for her to consider before we arrive and the grandson of Knut has
translated my list for her even though Knut seaks English beatifully
(as have almost all of those we have met in Sweden and Norway), This
grandson has been taking college classes in English and wants to study
the subject further. He speaks very well and is a good translator for
our elderly relative. He will come tomorrow on our visit as well, I
am told.

For now, off to bed. Eye patch to block the light. Deep breathing to
relax. Boring book to calm the mind after filling it with exciting
tales all day. I am itching to write but cannot do more than write
every once in a while here when I can get internet access. For now,
though, I am off to bed to dream of cloud berries and dramatic vistas.

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