A little Norwegian and French Canadian Family History
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Dad wanted three boys because he was an outdoorsy-type guy, an adventurer and “wanderlust,” but he got three girls: Monica, me and Karen. I guess God has a sense of humor, I heard him say one time. He claimed he didn’t know how to raise girls, since he was an only child back in Norway, which he pronounced “Norvay” because he couldn’t say his w’s. He also couldn’t pronounce “th” and so he would tell us to “tink twice about doing dat!” It was funny sometimes and we all laughed when Dad was in a good mood. When he was in a bad mood, we didn’t dare laugh.

Mom-and-Dad-1958

Dad immigrated to Canada first and then to the United States in his early twenties. He didn’t speak any English and had very little money when he met our Mom one summer weekend at the beach in Blind River, Ontario.

He raised my sisters and me ruggedly, building houses, riding horses, spearfishing, sailing and hiking. He didn’t let the fact that we were girls stop him from showing us daring things in life.

In a good mood and feeling talkative, we had a routine we sometimes did like other families I’m sure. Dad would tell us stories of growing up in the old country. It made me feel good, at age seven or eight, to hear the same stories over and over again. I loved the stories from his days as a boy in Norway even though there weren’t that many.

I loved to crawl up and sit on his lap, laying my head on his chest with my knees tucked in all cozy like. I loved my daddy, he was my hero, and he always let me sit like that.

Mom in the kitchen doing the dishes, listening with one ear over her shoulder, while Dad had a highball in one hand, he’d always start the same way: with the ocean, his one big love in the world.

“When I was a young boy I used to help race twelve meter boats in the North Sea, the coldest sea in the world!” he would start.

“How cold was it?” I asked.

Bjorn-age-14

“So cold that your toes, yes, these toes right here,” and he grabbed my toes squeezing them tightly,“would freeze off.” I squealed like a little puppy, squirming in his lap.

Monica and Karen sat next to us on the couch, and giggled and snuggled in too.

“What’s a twelve meter boat Daddy?” Monica asked.

Dad would raise his arms and spread them out like an eagle to show how big the boat was. “A big sailboat that goes fast,” he’d answer.

He told us how he loved the ocean. He got a faraway look in his eyes as he’d stare off into the distance. “Someday I will take you girls and sail around the world and show you all the unique cultures. You will grow up knowing how lucky you are.”

I could feel his love of the ocean from a very young age and it intrigued me deeply.

“Tell us morrrre Daddy. Keep going,” Karen slurred out unable to say her “r’s” yet.

He continued, “When I was eighteen years old I got certified to work as a deep sea diver fixing the oil pipelines at the bottom of the North Sea.”

“That must have been scary,” I said.

“Yes at times it was scary, but it was good money and I dreamed of coming to America.”

“Tell the girls about their Bestefar and Bestemor,” Mom encouraged from the kitchen as she finished cleaning up.

The mood always darkened when Dad told us about his parents.

“Ah, Paula, just leave it alone,” he’d say.

“Go on Bjorn. Tell them.”

He’d start talking. “My father worked hard all his life and loved a good highball. That’s all you need to know about your Bestefar.”

I closed my eyes and lay very still. The heavy silent air felt ominous as Dad stayed quiet for some time, and then spoke again: “Your Bestemor was a hard woman, tough to please. She died of heart attack right before I came to America.”

Mom added, “Bestemor was Swedish and had eight brothers and sisters in Sweden. She left her family when she married Bestefar in Oslo.”

We knew all these stories because Mom told us sometimes when Dad was gone. Mom had travelled to Norway with Dad when they first married. She stayed in Norway and Sweden for 6 weeks and missed having bacon and eggs the most.

These stories were our ritual and the only Norwegian history we could squeak out of Dad when he was drinking and still in a good mood.

He continued on, “When I was six years old, like you Leslie, I had to ski to school each day with a heavy backpack. In the winter it was night all the time and I still had to ski to school in the dark blizzards and storms.”

Bjorn-about-age-7

“Why was it night all the time?” Monica asked.

“Because in the winter the sun travels far away to the south, so everything stays dark in the north.”

“I don’t like the darrrrk,” Karen whispered.

“You don’t like the dark, do you?” Dad teased and pinched her cheek affectionately.

“Did you ski to school downhill or uphill Daddy?”I would say, or my sisters would say, right on cue because that’s the way the story ended.

As he tickled all three of us he would say, “It was uphill BOTH WAYS.”

I screamed and squirmed from the tickling, right out of his lap, readjusted my dress and climbed back up for the rest of the story.

“It made me strong to be responsible for getting myself to school. I never asked my parents for a ride like you girls do.” Then he would add, in a high pitched whiney voice, like Monica and I used every morning before we left for our long half-mile walk up the hill to Skyline Boulevard to catch the school bus, “Give us a ride Daddy, pleeeeease give us a ride to the school bus.”

We all giggled and laughed as mom sat on the edge of the sofa smiling. “Now get in the bath girls, it’s getting late.”

And that was the end of the “sometimes” ritual of our Norwegian family history.

Later, as an adult I travelled to Sweden with my own family to visit, and found out that Dad used to spend his summers in Sweden with his cousins and that he was a trouble-maker who always seemed to break things and make everybody mad.

My mother’s family history wasn’t ever discussed when I was a child. It wasn’t until I had reached adulthood that I heard some of the difficult stories of my mother’s youth, but those are for another time.

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