Walking the dog…while the guys run away

So I think I mentioned before that my son and husband have taken up running. This was part of a deal we made with my son, who wanted to quit playing travel team soccer this year after playing the sport since he was four (he’s almost eleven, so quitting is a big deal). We have all signed up for a road race on October 18 to help raise money for an orphanage in Kenya, and the guys have been training hard for their 5-mile run, and I’ve been, well, er, thinking a lot about training hard for the 5-k walk I’ll complete.

Anyway, our son really has set his heart on running as a sport now and is eagerly awaiting the day that he will be old enough to enter the Olympics. (He’s calculated when the first games will be held for which he will be eligible to compete–2016–and he’s been asking where those will take place.) We agreed to let him quit soccer (yes, we are that controlling as parents) but only if he had some other form of regular exercise. Let’s face it, one 45-minute session of gym each week at school just doesn’t cut it!

So I’m happy to say that the guys have worked up to running three miles now, at six a.m.! Pretty impressive, I think. Of course, for this to work now that my husband has a long distance to commute to a new job, we all have to get up at six a.m., and I need to take the dog for a walk almost immediately while the boys get ready. They pass the pup and me somewhere during the first half mile leg of my one-mile walk with dogga (I need exercise, too, right?!) We turn around at the entrance to the State Forest and head home to heat up some oatmeal for breakfast. At least I do the cooking. The dog does the worrying. You should see the pained look in her eyes when she sees that once again her beloved one (the hubster) is running, oh joy RUNNING towards her … only to pass her up yet again, and then disappear from view…

Oh, no, I must run faster…arrgh what is that thing poking me in the neck..ouch…Training Collar. Sit? SIT??!!! But alpha dog and that boy are running away, and I must join them. The pack is leaving without me. There could be WOLVES in that forest where they are headed! They may need my protection. I must…ouch. Sit. SIT? Fine. Make me turn towards home. I will just wait at the window until they come back, IF they come back. Oh, just thinking of what could happen out there… pains me. Hooooowwwwl…ouch. Damn training collar. SIT? Fine. Have it your way, but don’t come cryin to me when they are eaten by a coyote. Oh, my goodness. Are there coyotes out today. Sniff, sniff. Maybe I can sneak a peek back and still see them before they disa… Ouch. Sigh. Poor alpha dog. I loved him so. And it was so delightful to lick his sweaty face the last time he came home from running away from the wolves. Mmm. Salt. What’s that? A squirrel??? Ouch. Leave it? But it’s a SQUIRREL! What’s wrong with this lady and her jerky leash anyway??? Sit? SIT!!!!! Sigh.

The dog back when she was CUTE!

SIT???!!!!!!   Are you kidding?  Let’s GO!!!

When I had cancer…

When I had skin cancer, I thought a lot about what would happen to my family if I died. I also thought a lot about what I would change immediately about the way I was living my life. How would my teaching alter? Would I even be able to continue teaching? What would I tell my students or would I even tell them? Would I finish those scrapbooks of my son’s last eight years that I keep meaning to get to…just in case? How would I complete Grandma’s book?

I had gone in for my annual skin check at the dermatologist and asked about a suspicious mole on my back. It was irregularly shaped and was two-tone. Uh oh. So when the doctor asked if I wanted her to take a biopsy, I jumped in with a resounding YES. Then I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. I had other matters to attend to.

A week passed and then I was supposed to call to get the results. But the nurse refused to speak to me about it, and in a grave voice said she would have to have the doctor call me back. So for two hours I panicked, thinking, oh, great, now I have cancer.

The nurse called back, not the doctor, and said the doctor told her, “There’s no cancer, nothing abnormal. The cells were absolutely clear.”

Wow! That night at dinner when my family did our little ritual thing we do every night now where we each share three things for which we are grateful, I kept saying I’m grateful I don’t have cancer. 🙂 Then…

The next day I got a call from my regular doctor’s nurse about my recent mammogram. She said, “Well, the technician said that it was ‘questionable’ but that there appears to be an emerging mass on your left breast.”

Stunned silence. Oh, shit! That’s what I get for gleefully reveling in the no skin cancer diagnosis. Now I have something worse.

“We’ve made your follow-up mammogram appointment for September 11th, and they’ll also do an ultrasound to investigate further.”

“Yeh, okay, 9-11. But you said they said it was ‘questionable,’ right?”

So then I waited for two weeks further before my appointment. Mostly I was able to move on with my life, but the sobering realization that this time there really could be something wrong made it hard to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. Once more I went through all of the questioning and reevaluating, which made the start of this school year just about the most bizarre ever.

My cousin reminded me, “Nothing’s happened yet. Try to remember that.” And mostly I did. Then the day of the mammogram re-do came and with it all the gloom of remembrance for the great tragedy on that day in 2001. I was fine until the technician had to re-do one of the pictures she just did. Then I lost it.

At first I couldn’t speak as the tears flowed. Then I squeeked out, “Usually these things are nothing…right?”

She handed me some Kleenex, ignored my question and instead replied, “Everyone feels this way. Whether they show it or not, everyone feels this way. It’s perfectly normal.” She took the re-do of the re-do and then showed me where the bathroom was so I could calm down privately.

I sat back down in the waiting room, trying to grade some student’s essay. I have to get my mind off of this…. Then the radiologist came out and told me that there was something, indeed, on the mammo and that she was going to take me over to ultrasound right now. “They will determine what it is and you should get the news today. Nine times out of ten, these things turn out to be nothing serious.”

Waiting in the ultrasound area, I was too stunned to cry anymore. I had convinced myself — at least it was my party line — that the original pictures were just flawed and that there was nothing at all to see in my left breast. But now there was confirmation that something WAS there. I felt a sense of dread mounting.

By the time I was stretched out on the ultrasound table in a very dark and very large room, I was crying again. Then the ultrasound technician, whose cheerfulness I will never forget and for which I was immensely grateful (for, who would be so cheerful if the patient in front of them had cancer, right — so it must be good news!), chirped, “Oh, that’s a cist. Don’t worry!” She took a few more pictures and added, “The radiologist will come in and say the same thing in a minute. I’ll go get her.”

When she arrived after a long while (where WAS she that it took that long to come and confirm that I will live to see another day?), she took a quick look and said, “Clear cyst.” But I wanted to know HOW she knew that and how SURE she was. I was not content after all I had been through to sail on blithely through this experience as if nothing had happened. I had cancer, damn it. If I NOW did NOT have cancer, the story had to be as convincing as when I DID have it.

So the stately radiologist lady explained all about ultrasound technology and the way that tumors (solid masses) block the ultrasound waves from penetrating and thus can’t imagine the breast underneath, but how with clear cysts the waves pass through and show the breast tissue on the other side. She showed the cyst on the screen, my cyst. And there was the breast tissue on the other side. Okay. I bought her story.

This little blip on the screen looked huge, by the way, but it was only .83 centimeters. I had not even caught it on a self-exam. But the diligent technicians did. And I am grateful for their caution and care.

I have a big imagination. It’s generally a good thing. Sometimes, though, not so much. Yes, of course, I did not ever really have cancer, thank goodness. But in my mind, I did. I really did. And the experience — just a tiny taste of a much more shattering reality for so many others, I’m sure — did make me stop and think, once more, about what matters, about my priorities.

A sobering reminder not to take any second of this precious life for granted.

…and to get regular mammograms and complete regular breast self-exams.

P.S. I asked for a picture of my cyst from the ultrasound machine so I could put it on my blog! They thought I was NUTS and were ultra concerned about my privacy — really freaked out, actually. But I assured them I would only put the picture itself up without any identifying info. But the printout I did manage to get from them was too dark to scan, so I’ll just have to leave it to your imagination. For the life of me, I can’t think of a good reason not to post about this experience, though the way those two women freaked out gave me pause and delayed my posting by a couple of weeks. Ultimately, though, I decided it was an important story to share. I want to remind women to get those mammograms and do those self-exams. It’s really important. And though it was a scary experience, nine times out of ten everything really is okay!

Dear Grandma…

Dear Grandma,

I miss you.  Lately these flashes of memories keep intruding on my day.

Your laugh.  You looked so regal, so classy.  But your laugh was down home, real folk, spilling out of you whenever the smallest opportunity for mirth arose.  How much we laughed, working on your book, our book.  Every Sunday night when I called you on the phone, we inevitably found our way into a laughing fit.  Such simple things, too. Silly, really.  But you and I, fifty years apart, found so much to chuckle over.  No cynicism in you.  Honest and kind good humor.

I miss you.

Your reassurance.  When I sometimes had not had a chance to work on the book that week and we spoke on Sunday, I knew you were disappointed, but you always said such kind words. You knew I had other responsibilities. You never pressured.  You had faith in me to carry on after you were gone.  And I feel so bad that sabbatical is over and the book is still not finished.  I’m sorry, Grandma.  I’m still working on it. I thought I’d get farther.  Of course, I traveled a lot to research the book settings and stories.  And that was a jolly good thing I did since I found so much usable information that the book is being transformed into a much fuller account.  You’d hardly recognize chapter one anymore, Grandma.  Did you know that Grandpa Skaug’s mom was illegitimate?  Did you know your Dad’s relatives were soldiers back in Sweden?  Did you ever hear about the shipwreck at Kløkstad, Norway?  Did you know our famiiy church was built in 1240 and is still standing?  Did you know that the sea off the coast of Bodø can be as still as a pond and turn savage within minutes? Did you know in Sweden they had a big stick in church to poke people with when they fell asleep during the sermon?  No, you never knew these things.

I miss you. Lately all I want, suddenly, is write your story.

But timing is everything.  I know you’d say now that I ought not to be too hard on myself.  That I have to work and take care of my family.  You’d never begrudge me that.  I was thinking only the other day about the story you told me of when my mother was a baby and Grandpa wanted to go to a movie (always go go going, that Grandpa).  So you swooped up the baby in a blanket and got your coat.  In the theater, you wondered what was poking you, only to find the coat hanger still inside the coat you were wearing.  I understand such exhaustion. I know it’s okay with you that this project is taking a while longer than anticipated.  After all, we moved at a snail’s pace, and I asked you if you wanted me to speed up.  You said, “Do it right!  It’s more important for it to be good and to be read than for me to see it finished.” So you died without seeing it.  And here I am pluggin along over two years later. Still.  I’m sorry, Grandma.

I miss you.

The last orchid of summer…

I don’t understand how orchid blossoms can last so long.  It seems like a miracle.  Week after week, even months at a time, the cluster of orchid blooms cling to a brown stick shooting out of the base of the plant.  MIne had ten blossoms.  I say “had” because suddenly this weekend, they began to drop.  Now I have one.

The last holdout isn’t looking so good.  A bit shrivelled. But it’s hanging on.

It’s perfectly natural for this to happen, yet it feels a little tragic.  Why can’t the flowers remain always beautiful, always there to admire? But, honestly, how greedy of me!  I mean, my plant has been flowering for a good six months and here I am lamenting not to have the flowers even longer…?

That is the way, isn’t it?  I had a year’s sabbatical leave during which I read and wrote regularly and got a good night’s rest every night and exercised and spent time with my family.  It was a beautiful time and a real privilege that I realize by far most people do not get the opportunity to enjoy.  Here I am lamenting that it’s over, though, anyway.

It’s not as if I’m not enjoying being back in the classroom.  In fact, every day I find pleasure in my students and in helping them to learn and grow.  I am beginning to get to know them, and this helps immensely. I recognize that it is also a privilege to be allowed to teach these fine young people. (Er, or not young, as the case may be in my university classes where we have a range of students from traditional college age to older returning students.)  Anyway, you know what I mean.  It truly is an honor.

The last blossom will fall today, perhaps while I am on campus.  And eventually I will get tired of looking at the dead stick with no flowers attached, and I’ll cut it off. Then, when I’ve almost forgotten what color those flowers will be, a new stick will shoot up three inches in one day.  Within a week, the buds will emerge and begin to open.

Maybe in time for summer…

Dog Idolatry

Please do not be offended. It’s not my fault that idolatry is tolerated in my home. I am certainly not guilty of it! My son isn’t doing it. My husband isn’t…well..isn’t doing it, per se, though he is the object of devotion, a household god of sorts.

Our dog, as I think I’ve mentioned before, adores my husband. Adores might not be the right word, if you get my drift. Really she worships him.

This summer the hubster has been taking two on-line classes in preparation for launching a new career in IT. And right now it’s final exam time. So hubbie is locked away in the den working on his C Programming final. The dog is not happy…

Prostrate before the almighty, she offers herself, a living sacrifice. “Take me, oh, take me, alpha dog,” she cries. Sigh. Double sigh. “When is he coming out of there?”

I took this picture with my cell phone and sent it to my husband, thinking he’d get a kick out of it later. Turns out he had his phone with him in the den. As soon as he saw what was waiting for him on the other side of the door, he got up and greeted his loyal devotee, who was beside herself with joy. “Ah, let me nibble your ear, O Wise One! You have emerged from the great beyond at last!”

Is it any wonder she continues with such encouragement? My husband is a marshmallow. 🙂

Anniversary Gift

This week my husband and I marked our 18th wedding anniversary. The hubbster gave me a thoughtful and well-written card (he’s a fabulous writer), and I gave him my annual poem written for the occasion and enclosed in a less thoughtful and well-written card. But, hey, he got a poem, so I’m off the hook for the card, right?

My poem this year, no surprise, arose out of my research on the ancestors. Turns out that in Swedish, the word for married is GIFT! (Not at all pronounced as it is in English, but when reading the word on my geneology, it tripped me up each time.) Anyway, the poem is about the ancestors who were gift in the past and the choices they made to be with one another, to make a life together, and in some cases to leave their life in search of a better future in a new land. Thank God they were so brave and strong!

So yesterday I gave my partner his poem even though Tuesday was actually our anniversary. But he is taking classes (in addition to working full time) and had to finish up final exams and all that this week, so we postponed our official anniversary card exchange, etc., until Saturday. On Tuesday, though, we did manage to watch some of our wedding video with our ten-year-old son, who had never seen it.

Wow! First of all, we were SOOOO young! I mean, compared to now. We got married when we had both just turned 26, which is young, sort of, though not really that young to get married, I think. But looking at us! Oh, my, we were so goofy.

Then my attention was grabbed by grandma and grandpa, who were all over that video. My heart skipped a beat when I first saw them. I had no idea that I had them on tape. What a joy to see them once more! Grandpa was so funny. He just didn’t understand what the video camera was. Every time my step-sister pointed it at him, he’d say, “Take it. Take it, Michelle!!” He was waiting for the flash of a still camera. They just couldn’t get across to him that they were filming moving pictures. 🙂 All the while there was Grandma, serene as ever, gracious and loving, never once cracking a smile at her husband’s expense. They were married over fifty years.

And last night, after all of this thinking about the anniversary, the wedding, my grandmother, I dreamt one of those beautiful and rare dreams when Grandma came to visit me in my sleep. She and I were walking around together before my wedding. I was marveling how well she was managing to walk. Of course, she used to walk all the time (duh!), but she had many years with a walker and then was bed-ridden in the final years of her very long life. Those later years had taken over, it seemed, in my memory of her. But here she was walking with me, arm in arm, around the hall where I was married. We were laughing and talking, and I was so happy. As happy as I was that day.

And I was very happy that day. I recall with crystal clarity that I felt complete assurance that I was doing exactly the right thing in marrying this man. I KNEW that it was right. I still think that today. Not that everything is always rosy. But I knew going in that life (and marriage) aren’t like that. No, I knew, though, that here was a guy to be tied to for life. A guy I could trust and enjoy and who would work beside me to build a good life together.

A lovely gift.

Welcome Back: On Loving Our Diverse and Complicated Country

The audience sat hushed in the oldest church in Lowell this morning. Even the baby near the back who had been fussing for most of the concert was silent. Then the familiar strains began of our national anthem. It was the final song of an hour-long concert. As I looked at the faces of the children, playing in this summer orchestra program for kids in our relatively impoverished and highly diverse city, I saw the face of America. Maybe more accurately, I saw the face of the world. Children of immigrants all, they played their instruments with concentration, skill, and joy. And I cried.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not really patriotic. I believe that patriotism is a dangerous stance. I fear it causes more harm than good most times. But this morning in that 184-year-old church, I wept. I felt so proud to belong to a country that has welcomed immigrants from every continent in every century since our founding, a place where my ancestors were welcomed when they risked all to leave Norway, Sweden, Ireland, England, Italy, and who knows where else.

Is there anti-immigrant sentiment in the US these days? You bet there is. Is there racism and discrimination? Quite obviously so. Still…there is a man running for president whose father was African. Obama is a first generation American, the son of an immigrant and he could end up holding our highest public office. Our country may have have it’s problems (no argument there), but we are in many ways still a welcoming place for newcomers — at least we ahve that intention and potential.

Like in my city, for instance. We face a lot of challenges here in this historic mill town. From its inception, though, Lowell has always welcomed immigrants. While it’s true that these newcomers generally live in the most degraded part of town when they first come, they often begin to improve their lot well within one person’s lifetime, if not sooner. As each new wave of immigrants has swept into the city — Irish, French Canadian, Russian, Greek, Southeast Asian (especially Cambodian), West African, Caribbean Latino, etc. — they have worked hard and moved out of “the acre” to make room for the next group of arrivals.

And there were these immigrants’ children and children’s children at the concert today, my son among them. Just having returned from Scandinavia and having spent the last three weeks thinking constantly about my immigrant ancestors, I heard and saw the concert with this filter in place.

So I made it home fine from my trip to Scandinavia. Our journey the last day was long and extended even longer due to a violent nor’easter storm in Boston that closed Logan airport. We finally arrived two hours late. At the immigration counter, we waited an especially long time. In our line before us, there was a family that looked to be Indian or Pakistani. The US government let these good folks enter our country, though not without a lot of checking and double checking and triple checking and quadruple checking. But after all that, the officer said, “Welcome to the United States.”

“What was your business in Sweden and Norway?” he asked me when I went up to the window after the family walked away to baggage claim.

I was there doing research for a book about my immigrant ancestors.

“Really?”

Yup. It was a great trip. Gotta lot accomplished.

“Okay. Welcome back.”

Welcome. Yes….

I get frustrated with the erosions of civil liberties and basic civil rights happening these days in the US. I am infuriated that we went to war in Iraq — a senseless and brutal act. I see so much that is broken or damaged in this country, so much work to do that it is overwhelming at times. But I also know that our diverse and complicated country has held and continues to hold out a beautiful promise to millions of people. They are welcome. Let us live up to that promise.

A Whirlwind Trip Across England: On the Trail of the Immigrants

We arrived in Newcastle, in the northeast of England, on Monday morning and disembarked from our ship, The Queen of Scandinavia.  What we didn’t know was that we were not actually in Newcastle and had to catch one of the DFDS Seaways buses to the city.  Having waited until the majority of people left the boat to get off because our backpacks were so heavy to carry as we just stood around in line, we missed the bus.  Not knowing there was such a thing as this bus, we had not realized how waiting our turn would mean a costly cab ride.  Ah, and then there’s the fact that we had acquired no English money yet and the bureau de change was closed in the boat terminal!  So we walked with our heavy packs to a mall down the road and got some cash.  Then we stopped in at a hotel and asked the receptionist to call us a cab.  Turns out we had a very interesting taxi ride into the city with an entertaining cabbie who pointed out all the best drinking spots in the neighborhood on the way to the train station.  Great guy, very friendly.  Even gave us a break on the cost of the trip.

Discovered that trains do not run as often out of Newcastle as the internet had indicated, but only had to wait an hour and a half.  Ah, well.  Ate a picnic lunch of some leftover bread and cheese and apples from Norway and bought some nice little chocabits, our word for anything sweet, in this case freshly baked cookies. Took the train to York and transfered to a train to Hull. Only one minute to spare but the train was waiting for our delayed train from Newcastle, and it was literally sitting right beside our train when it arrived.  Nice!

Once in Hull I was quite struck with the similarities with my own city of Lowell, Massachusetts.  Both cities have a reputation as a bit on the rough side, a lot of immigrants and poverty, industrial, but rich history.  I found Hull to be an interesting city with quite a lot to offer.  Would have been able to fill our time if we had been able to stay longer, but this was a short visit.

The exciting part:  Met an old fisherman, Bill (according to his tattoo), who talked with me a good quarter of an hour about tides and fishing and boats and all that.  Pointed out a fantastic statue on another pier that I made sure to see the next morning.  Amazing guy — real salt of the earth.  Only understood every fifth word, though!  Harder to understand the peopl in these parts of England than in Scandinavia!  He said if we were “loaded with cash” we could go to the Minerva Pub right at the end of the street at the water’s edge.  I had read of this place since it is almost 200 years old and would surely have been seen by my ancestors.

We weren’t rolling in dough, but I did want to go to the place.  Turns out it was quite reasonable.  We had a lengthy talk with the cook who kept getting in trouble because he was talking to us iunstead of cooking. Told us about how the place is haunted.  Showed us all the spots where supernatural things have happened.  Sadly, the pub is set to be closed in the fall.  I can hardly believe it, but they can’t break even, let alone make a profit.  We ordered the only thing on the menu that the chef said he cooks fresh: fish and chips.  My, oh, my!  Fresh indeed.  Lovely.  Had a half pint of cider to wash it down, too.  Got the tour of the place and took a thousand pictures of all the photos and drawings on the walls.  That place is a museum!

Unfortunately, we also found out that our hotel was in a bad part of town.  We had already checked in and noticed some of the telltale signs on our walk downtown, but we figured we’d just take a cab home instead of walking it at night.  It wasn’t that bad!  But the folks at the Minerva were so shocked. To me, though, I thought, “I’ve seen much worse.”  Turns out our B & B is a sort of rooming house for working class folks and a place where people can get breakfast.  Good, solid citizens, just trying to make a living.  I was glad we did not get scared away by the reaction of the pub staff. This, too, is Hull.

Well, anyway, before we left in the morning, I ran down to the statue that Bill the fisherman mentioned and was glad to have done it.  There were several plaques with immigrant information and the statue was wonderful — looked like my Swedish ancestors, a family of four with children just the right ages.  Ran, literally, back to the station to catch the train to Liverpool, via Manchester.

What we didn’t realize was that we had booked seats with built in entertainment: Wendy and Carol, two Hull women going on a shopping extravaganza in Leeds, cracked us up with their recounting of various shenanigans and their boisterous stories.  When they departed, they left a gap we could feel.  We had a quiet journey the rest of the way.

Once in Liverpool we were surprised once again by the kindness of strangers. A man approached us just outside the train station and excused himself and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear that you are going to the International Hostel.  I work near there but it’s a bit tricky to find.  If you’d like, I can show you the way?” We gladly accepted, though we both eyed the stranger with a little suspicion.  When he asked if he could help carry our bags, we both declined and kept feeling wary.  But it soon became clear as we walked through crowded streets where each block the road changed names that this bloke was truly just doing us a good turn.  Along the way, he told us all about where we should go when we were in the city.  Lovely!  Our own personal tour guide.

By the late afternoon when we had checked into our room, there was little time to do any research, so we visited the Tate Liverpool, a fantastic modern art museum.  Had a delicious meal at an Indian restaurant (always have had super good Indian food when I’ve visited the UK). This morning I spent a few hours at the archives at the Maritime Museum and discovered that the dates I had for my ancestors’ departure from the UK were wrong.  In fact, they spent only about 24 hours in the country!  Also, I learned that they stopped in Queenstown, Ireland, ony the way to New York.  Who knew?  Glad I spent the time tracking down those last details.  At least for the Norwegians.  The Swedes’ journey beyond Hull remains a mystery for now, but I have a better idea of how to pick up their trail later.

Having completed that research, we hopped on the famous Mersey Ferry and then high-tailed it to the Adelphi Hotel for afternoon tea, having been told that they serve until 4 o’clock.  NOT true.  And the odd thing was that the people there had absolutely no idea of an alternative place.  Starbucks said one.  McDonalds or KFC said another.  As if!!  So we began to walk back to our hotel area, hoping to find something.  Now almost four and absolutely starving, having skipped lunch, we were getting desperate and cranky.

Stopped to take a photo of a strange sign across the street and when I turned around a sign behind me caught my eye: “Afternoon Tea.”  Bingo!  Ah, but that place is too above and beyond expectations to include at the end of this very long post.  I am going to post a proper review once I return home so I can give it it’s proper due!  Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves, walked around a bit, packed back at our hotel, and then stuffed ourselves again at a dinner place that the tea guy recommended.  What a perfect end to an incredibly fruitful and fun adventure.

Tomorrow we’re for home.  I’m ready to return to my life at home and my family.  Also, a bit of sadness for the end of such an incredible journey. At dinner tonight we drank a toast, to the immigrants, for their courage and for giving us such a lovely excuse to take this journey, two friends exploring together the past and the present.

Cheers!

Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.

Goodbye to Landegode, Goodbye to Norway

Our last day in the far north of Norway, my cousin arranged for us to take a boat ride out to the island of Landegode. From every village on the coast for miles, this is THE major landmark, and even more importantly for fishermen trying to head back to shore, Landegode has been a crucial navigational aid. It is also a place almost deserted these days, with few people living there. But my traveling companion and myself were amazed to discover that many people in town have never been there.

The island is very important to me and my Norwegian cousin because that is the place where our mutual ancestor lived. It was an incredible ride out to this island that rises straight out of the sea in jagged spikes. We stopped a little ways from Landegode to throw a line off the side of the boat, no bait, just a flashing lure and some empty hooks. After a few minutes of my tugging on the line up and down to fool the fish, we reeled in two lovely pollock, which we ate for lunch upon our return.

The water is crystal clear, and we enjoyed an unusually calm ride out to sea. By the time we turned toward shore again, however, a cold wind picked up and the clouds moved in to obscure the peaks of Landegode. The island’s name translates into good-land. Yes, what land exists on the shore in tiny patches is good, I suppose. But more so, it is a land to inspire awe. My cousin says that when he goes fishing on a beautiful day like it was when we started, he doesn’t care if he does not catch a thing. It is enough just to view the rugged land and calm, blue sea.

The elderly relative we visited twice during my trip, Kristianna, told us: “…beloved Landegode, most beautiful thing I know.” She lived with the sight of that good land for seventy years before moving to a nursing home. Above her head on the wall hung a painting of Landegode in winter.

And so we have left the far north now, and today visited Trondheim. Tomorrow we fly to Bergen, moving south in great leaps. The next day we board a ship to take us over the North Sea to England. We are tracing the immigrants as best we can.

No internet, I expect until we arrive in the UK in a few days. Meanwhile, I leave you with my hope that all is well and you are living in a good land, a land that you call beloved.