Since Neset is my name and since I grew up on the Minnesota land homesteaded by Grandpa Torgus Neset, it was probably inevitable that Neset family history is where my ancestral search would first lead me. Here’s a true story about reaching a first branch of the family tree.
The first DNA-focused post shared what few facts I have about Grandma Asborg Eilifsdotter Neset—followed by three short stories about her journey to America. This post, the second in the DNA series, moves on to the ancestral branch with which I’m the most familiar. Grandpa Torgus Neset’s family.
From Oslo, I took the train to Kristiansand and then the bus up the Setesdal Valley to Byglandsfiord where I had a reservation at the Revsnes Tourist Hotel, the one hotel in the village. It looked pleasant, set amid birch and pine and small rust and gold houses. I wasn’t such an experienced traveler back then and was lugging two heavy bags with me wherever I went. Now I hauled them into a brightly colored, Scandinavian-spare lobby and approached the smiling young man at the front desk.
“God ettermiddag. Kan jeg hjelpe deg?” he says. Although I speak no Norwegian I still recognize some phrases from childhood.
“Good afternoon to you too. Yes, you may help me. I have a reservation for Neset.”
“Oh yes, Mrs. Neset,” is the response in flawless English which I would soon find everyone my age or younger spoke, “we’ve been expecting you.” The formalities are quickly over, I stash my bags, and am ready to explore.
Back at the front desk.
“Hi, I thought I’d go for a walk. Do you happen to know of a place right around here called Neset or that used to be called Neset?”
I of course have no hope that he will have heard of such a place but maybe he’ll be able to steer me toward someone in the village who would know what I’m talking about.
Jon (according to his name tag) says, with considerable surprise in his voice, “Well of course…It is right around the corner. I thought you must be related to the people there since your name is the same.”
“A place called Neset is right around the corner?”
“Yes yes. If you just go left out on the road and walk a small way you will see it. It is a campground. You can walk there in twenty minutes.”
I am stunned, overjoyed, eager. I can feel my heart pounding. Dad’s birthplace. My quest realized.
I’m shaking a little as I walk out the door, turn left and start down the two-lane paved highway. A small but steep mountain rises to my right, birch and pine climbing up the side with patches of fern-carpeting amidst the gray rocks, the grass along the roadside is summer emerald, there are tall stalks of glowing fuschia flowers scattered here and there, and patches of tiny purple and miniscule yellow blooms otherwise decorate the gravel, grass and weeds. Byglandsfiorden to my left is broad and blue, but not so wide the painterly landscape on the other side cannot be fully appreciated. It’s very beautiful. My heart needs to slow down.
It appears. Neset Camping—the green highway sign says so and a second fancifully-painted sign on the side of an ancient white barn confirms it. Neset means ‘the headland’ in Old Norse and indeed, before me, is a small grassy peninsula jutting out into the lake, there are clumps of firs and substantial boulders and, already in place, a series of small white cabins, campers and tents. I grew up in the outdoor vibrancy of Minnesota summers in “the land of 10,000 lakes” so this brightest of green and blue vistas is both brand new and yet familiar.
My dad, the old Norski, was born on the very spot of land at which I now gaze.
I walk slower, faster, slower, faster along the pavement, cars whizzing by. I turn left onto the long gravel driveway that leads to a big white general store, coca cola sign flashing in the window, the words ‘Neset Camping’ across the front here too.
A youngish man is just walking out; he sees me, and since prospective campers do not usually appear without a vehicle, he calls.
“Hei, kan jeg hjelpe?”
“Oh yes, I think you can help me. I am Marjorie Neset and I believe my father was born right here.” I explain that my dad was only seven when they left for America, he doesn’t remember so much of this except that his mother often fished for their meals and that there was a boy he used to play with.
“Velkommen, I am Olav Neset. You know my father Nils is just here in the store. I have heard him talk of a boy he used to play with who moved to America. Maybe that was your father.”
An older man comes out on the concrete step.
“Pappa, kom hit please.”
He walks over to where we stand. Olav explains to him in Norwegian who I am.
Nils responds, he is smiling broadly, takes my hand and speaks as Olav translates, “Yes, he remembers your father. He was called Svein.”
Olav waves his hand toward a rocky outcrop in a small but dense thicket of pine. “Dad says that’s where they used to play.”
It feels so…right. Nils remembers a little more than dad, after all he has never left this place. After a talk and a walk I’m invited into the family home a small ways from the store for waffles and strawberries and seriously black kaffe.
That’s when I knew I had found my tribe.
I’ve been back to Neset Camping four or five times since then; it never gets any less thrilling or meaningful.
If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. – Michael Crichton
“THE HELLIG OLAV IS APPROACHING NEW YORK CITY IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. WE WILL BE AT THE DOCKS IN THREE HOURS. PREPARE TO DISEMBARK UPON ARRIVAL.”
It has been eleven long days since May 7th when the Hellig Olav pulled away from the docks in Kristiansand and Asborg’s life was split in two as though by the sharpest of blades. Before and After. Old Country and New Country.
It is overcast this morning and the seagull cries grow ever more raucous. The passengers entering and leaving the dining room appear dazed in spite of their newly spiffed up appearances. America is very near. There had been only brød with smør and the thinnest and bitterest of surmelk for breakfast which is fine since anxiety has killed most appetites.
Svein and Ellen are quiet, holding hands, Eilif is sniffly and Gyro, after eight days of non-stop admiration of her blonde, blue-eyed, curly-haired self is as close to open rebellion as a three-year-old can get.
Asborg is reluctant to leave the dining hall which has become gossip, romance, counseling and complaint central. It started out all shiny clean and filled with strangers. Then she met Brit and Aslaug and Mattea. Each story is a little different, some have husbands to meet them at the ship, some like Asborg will travel with their children halfway across the country to Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin….
It’s still not unpleasant down here although smudged with small fingerprints and boot marks and perfumed with eight days of partially-washed bodies, repeatedly worn clothes, peed baby pants and leftover foodstuffs. It is in fact a warm rocking lulling contained place, familiar—like a womb—real life to commence soon.
She sits with Mattea for a last few minutes.
“How will you know the people who are to meet you, Asborg?”
“They’ll be there on the dock so we must hold our name card high. Then they’ll help us through Ellis Island and take us to the train. Do you know much about Chicago, that’s where the train goes first?”
Mattea is younger than Asborg, a pretty blonde woman in her twenties. She’s never been away from Evje before but her husband and his sister will meet her at the dock so she’s not worried. In fact she is literally bouncing up and down with excitement to see this new husband who left for America soon after they were married.
“I hope god will go with you too, Asborg. You are a good woman. But not a happy one I think.”
“That’s true, and god never seems to be around. Maybe he’s lost track of me.” Asborg slumps for a moment, then straightens up, face set in hard sad lines.
They are both quiet, thinking about unknown times ahead. Asborg is nervous about the rest of her long journey. “We’ll go to a place called Thief River Falls after Chicago. Torgus must work there until he has paid back the farmer who gave the money for our tickets.”
Mattea says, “That’s a funny name—Thief River Falls. What does the river steal I wonder…”
“WE ARE APPROACHING THE HARBOR… PLEASE PREPARE TO DISEMBARK IN ONE HOUR.”
Asborg goes to the corner where children are half-heartedly playing. The idea of another change just as they’ve gotten use to the ship is starting to sink in. “Barn, you must come now.”
The little family gathers their things: Asborg with the old suitcase, Svein and Ellen with small sacks with their small jackets and their latest small treasures collected on board: a stray marble of extreme blueness and greenness and some pages from what must have been a picture book of America and a rose-colored ribbon and heavy red string and two gold buttons. The babies with handfuls of their mother’s skirt clutched tightly in grubby little fists.
They come out onto the lower deck and there it is. America. Its biggest city forever defined by that first glimpse. Buildings high, low, long, short, no end to buildings. All gray today, even the water. Smoke billows up and out from everywhere. What a dark place.
For just a moment, Asborg sees Kristiansand in her mind’s eye. It was sunny when they left wasn’t it? Looking back as the small steamship chugged out to meet the giant liner, it was all green and white…against the blue of Norwegian waters…but there’s no time for tears. They can wait until memories of Kristiansand fade and America is all there is.
“THIS IS THE CAPTAIN. PLEASE LISTEN CAREFULLY….”
Was it like that Grandma?
For anyone even slightly curious about their ancestors trip over to the US from Norway, there’s a most informative website, http://www.norwayheritage.com. There’s a wealth of information about the ships that carried most of the Norwegians who came and even some ships’ schedules and logs. I’ve included a few things from the site that seemed particularly pertinent to my family.
Third Class on the Hellig Olav
There was no steerage on the ships, as they operated with a third class. The third class staterooms, all of which were spacious, and well ventilated, were comfortably furnished with iron beds, springs, mattresses, sheets, pillows and blankets, wash-stands, mirrors, towels, soap and water. They were also supplied with fresh drinking water, and kept in order by stewards and stewardesses. They could accommodate two, four and six passengers, enabling whole families to keep together. Meals were served by uniformed waiters in clean dining rooms at tables set with clean linen and porcelain tableware, and the food was of good quality, cooked in the palatable Scandinavian style, served plentifully, and with a wide variety in the menus. Ample deck space for open air promenading and exercise was reserved for the third class passengers. Ladies’ saloon, well furnished comfortable smoking rooms, barber shops and many baths were a few of the conveniences furnished to those traveling in third class. The services of a physician and nurse, and the facilities of a well equipped hospital and dispensary were at the service of passengers. The same standards of courtesy and cleanliness that made traveling in the first and second cabins were also found in third class. Women and children traveling alone were in the care of a special matron and stewardesses. (www.norwayheritage.com)
The focus moves to 7-year-old Svein in the second section of my story about Grandma.
Asborg’s mother hired a photographer to take the picture that would be all she would ever see of her daughter and grandchildren again. It would also be our only glimpse of the Nesets in Norway. There’s my dad standing in back, his head tilted wistfully as he squints into the sun. His twin sister Ellen leans against her grandma. What on earth did they think was happening to their worlds?
Now it’s a May day in 1910 as Svein and his friend Nils burrow further into their pretend cave, they can no longer hear Asborg yelling. The big gray boulder with the dense little thicket of pine trees is their special hide-out.
“Svein, kom hjem nå. I’ll throw your things in the lake if you don’t come right now.”
The boys grin at each other. They look like muddy elves with white hair sticking up in all directions, ears protruding, faces and clothes dirt-smeared. “She doesn’t even know where my things are anyway.”
“What things?” Nils wants to know.
“You know, my white rocks and the stuff we found out by the road, that old medal and the iron ring. I’m not gonna tell her either cause she’ll just make me throw it all away.”
“Why can’t you keep them?”
“Because mor says ‘there’s no room in the sacks and besides they’ll have new things in America.’ That’s what she says…how does she know, she’s never been there.”
Now Svein’s not smiling.
“I hate America. I don’t even have friends there.” He starts to cry.
Asborg stands at the cabin door. Tired. Always tired. The two big sacks and the old cracked suitcase are behind her in the middle of the room. Eilif and Gyro, the babies of the family, sit by the table, each with a piece of bread and jam that’s smeared on their faces along with tears and snot. Asborg yells again, “Svein, Kom hjem I said.”
The child comes reluctantly, but soon he’s gone again, twin sister Ellen with him this time. What hard children they are to figure out, so serious and always defending each other. She’d better try to get them in; they need baths and rest for tomorrow. Her mor Ingunn has come to help. “Barn , kommer i nå,” she shouts.
Svein and Ellen sit just on the other side of the rock, looking out at the water. They poke their sticks in the damp black soil without talking. They never talk much anyway.
“Svein, what do you think it’ll be like? I can hardly remember pappa. Do you think he’s nice?” She looks ever so earnestly at her brother.
“I don’t know, I guess he’s okay.”
Svein says, “I don’t care what mor says, I’m taking my things along. When she wasn’t looking I stuck all of ’em way back in one of the big sacks.”
“I’m going to take something special too. That tiny doll Tante Martha gave me. The one with sparkly things on her dress.”
“That’s silly Ellen. I’m going to throw it over the side of the boat.”
Ellen punches him and they run laughing toward the house.
Almost before they know it, two days have passed and they are on the wharf in Kristiansand.
So many families crowding together, several pointing to where the S/S Hellig Olav awaits them, out where the deep water starts. Even from here it looks big. “Herregud,” Asborg exclaims, “Oh my god, how can it ever float?” It is too big. It’s like a giant waiting to swallow us, isn’t it mor Ingunn?”
This worries Svein who, at seven, knows quite a bit about giant trolls who live in the mountains and swallow small children whole. “Nein, nein mor, it’s a big ship, it can’t eat us. That’s silly; you’re just trying to scare us aren’t you?” For just a moment, Asborg and Ingunn almost smile.
Ingunn mostly just stands, straight and silent and solemn; no one ever takes her for a true Scandinavian, she’s all dark planes and angles like a brooding Picasso creation. Ingunn doesn’t really understand this family exodus. Her other daughters married farmers from around Setesdal Valley who aren’t going anywhere, solid men content with the hard work of farming. Only Asborg chose badly—the restless ne’er do well Torgus who’s now lured her daughter to a place so far they’ll never return. As the crowd shifts toward the end of the dock and this little group halts, the next to board, Ingunn moves closer to her Asborg who stands as motionless and mute as Lot’s wife except for the tears coursing down her prematurely weathered cheeks like rivulets from a melting snow bank.
A crush of weeping countrymen is struggling ahead toward the small steamer that will carry them out to the smoking, belching, heaving leviathan looming so ferociously on the horizon. Last murmurs and mutters. Four-year-old Eilif clutches the stiff black wool of his grandmother’s skirt, “Bestemor, I stay with you…please please.” Ellen pulls on him, trying to get him loose to move forward as those at the front of the line climb into the first of the boats to load. Families begin to tear apart.”Eilif, hold opp. You are not a baby. Come on now. We will go to the big ship. See, look out there. We go to it.” Firmly in his sister’s grasp, the small pale boy with the tear-smeared face still rages against the unknown.
Many old grandmothers are wailing, but not Ingunn. Until now stoic, as befits the image of a dour Scandinavian, but finally succumbing to emotion, she embraces her daughter, stiffly, almost formally, then tighter and tighter. Tiny Gyro, soon to be the darling of the Hellig Olav feels crushed and scared and joins Eilif in sobs and tears and flinging about. Only the twins, Ellen and Svein, remain calm, feeling quite brave and grown-up in the midst of the chaos. They are serious children by nature and very close. Holding hands and as curious about the monster on the horizon as they are sad about leaving bestemor who had never hugged so much before and, truth be told, always seemed to find their presence a nuisance. Now, releasing her daughter, and baby Gyro, she bends down to the twins, grips their shoulders and whispers “Gud være med dere, barn.” Yes, indeed, god be with you, children. “Farvel bestemor” they respond.
Now they’ve left the pleasant shores of Norway. “Ellen, Svein, you must never let Eilif go for a moment. He will fall out of the boat and there will be no more bror. I must hold Gyro or we’ll lose her too.”
The Hellig Olav grows bigger, rocking against blue water and blue sky on this sunny spring day in 1910. Asborg and her children are joining the roughly 800,000 Norwegian immigrants that will take this trip between 1835 and 1925.
This is the first section of a story I wrote awhile ago about Grandma Asborg Neset.
When I knew Grandma Neset she was old and stooped with a deeply wrinkled face. She did not like children and usually referred to me as dårlig jente (bad girl) although I was the person she asked to read the funny papers to her on Sundays; Dick Tracy was her favorite. Her house always smelled of boiled animal fat from the thin greasy soup she cooked.
I still know nothing else about Grandma Neset except that her given name was Asborg; she was born on October 8, 1867 near Kristiansand, Norway; came to America in 1910; bore six children and died at the North Haven Nursing Home in 1965, age 98. The photos I have, now restored and framed, are of a very stern woman—at ages 43, 62, 70 and 75.
It didn’t really occur to me until I was grown and claiming my history, years after her death, that Grandma Neset had a life before she came to America and that perhaps she sometimes longed for that previous life. I know just enough about that time and place, and about the circumstances of her life to imagine how it must have been.
It is a March day in 1910 and Asborg is an old 43 years. She’s in her small damp-darkened log house which sits almost on the shore of Byglandsfiorden, choppy today with the wind blowing small whitecaps through the air into cold mist. Year round the little house smells of mossy mold and wood smoke and of fish: fried, boiled, baked. Even though the small windows are stingy with light and kerosene is too expensive to waste on coziness, it’s warm inside and bread is baking—what could be better on such a day.
Asborg is so tired. Torgus has been gone for months and she has to figure out how to keep these kids fed and a little clean and a little happy, and how to keep herself from giving up. Asborg was never exactly a pretty woman but she was distinctive and elegant in her spareness. Those eyes and that hair of near-blackness and cheekbones of perfect prominence had led to her being taunted with asigøyner or gypsy when she was a kid.
Now she hardly knows or cares what she looks like anymore. Her sharp features lend themselves to gauntness emphasized by hair pulled too tightly back. She has no color in her cheeks, no sparkle in her eyes. When Beret knocks on the door she calls out kom inn with a tired welcome.
“God Morgen Asborg.”
“Nei, it’s not good to me, but sit and we’ll have coffee.”
Four fair-haired children, unkept and noisy, are shooed to another room where wooden beds line the walls and the family’s store of clothing and blankets is hanging on nails or stacked under the beds. It’s not a picture of plenty but it’s friendly enough. There’s the potent smell of boiling coffee and the tablecloth, where the women drink their one daily luxury and eat slices of dense white bread, is a glorious garden of stitchery: bluebells, red berries, green leaves.
Beret picks up a creased and coffee-stained pamphlet on the table. “What’s this?”
“Oh it’s what Torgus sent. Seems like where he’s got to in America is a good place.”
“Ja, but why does he want to be there; if he just stayed home and worked here, he could earn a good enough living.”
“Ja, but Beret, you know how he is, always wanting to be someplace else.”
Beret studies the pamphlet carefully. “I don’t believe this. It says you can have 160 acres of land for free if you just farm on it. That can’t be true.”
“Nei, you are right. Some people have come back you know.”
The rain continues, the dampness seeps into walls and clothes and the day grows even dimmer. The coffee cooks on the back of the stove to black oily bitterness and the women talk of woman things.
There’s a knock at the door. Beret’s Gunnar is here. “God Morgen Asborg. I’ve been to the store and Olav gave me this letter for you. He said it just came.”
”Kom inn, Gunnar. Kaffe for deg?”
“Nei. Beret, you’ll come home soon then?”
Asborg just holds the letter.
“Asborg, open it. Maybe there’s good news.”
“Nei, I don’t think so.”
Asborg finally tears open the letter. It is one page of cheap lined paper. She reads:
Dearest Wife. I have good news for you. I am in a place called Minnesota.
Asborg looks up, “Beret, do you know about Minnesota?”
“Ja, that’s where the Olsons went. Ole wrote and said he had to work in the lumber camps to get money to eat. It doesn’t sound so good to me.”
I have filled out papers to get 160 acres of land in Koochiching County. It’s all woods now but we will clear it and have our own farm.
Asborg’s voice is quiet but with a tremor that seems more pronounced with each word. The children, sensing something is up, have come from the other room to silently push next to their mor.
The best news is that I am working for a farmer in a place called Thief River Falls and he will buy tickets for you and the children to come here. He says you will get a letter from the shipping company in Kristiansand telling you what to do.
Now Asborg gulps and her eyes glisten but she doesn’t cry easily.
I hope the children are in good health. We will see each other again. Your husband, Torgus.
The room is still, then Asborg flings the letter as far from her as it will go, muttering…”When did he ever care about the children or anything but going going going? Why does he have to make me go too?”
This moment of emotion is over as quickly as it began. She looks at her children, her friend, her home and mutters fiercely, “That’s what it will be then. Ja. Jeg går. Yes. I go.”
Why do I imagine her not wanting to leave Norway to go to a new country? Maybe because she always seemed so unhappy, and maybe because, after a long bleak spell, Norway was full of new possibilities. Why emigrate then?
ON THE TRAIL OF MY DNA: Part 1
What better place to begin then the waterscapes of Byglandsfiord and a mountain lake nearby; this is a view from whichever cabin I’m in at Neset Camping or on a drive up the mountainside. These are photos from 2016, interspersed with today’s tale.
The search begins here, with me, Marjorie Neset, and with dad and mom, Svein Neset and Ovidia Mathilda Floren…and quickly moves to the grandparents. Those four people: Torgus Neset, Asborg Eilifsdotter, Ole Floren, Magnhild Strom, beckon me down unknown paths, into remote villages, over fiords and mountains. Where the facts must prove factual with records and/or, better yet, DNA. Where the mysterious meanderings of ancestral genes will reveal themselves through the detritus of documents and memories.
Or to put it another way…this snooping around into the past gets complicated very fast. We can’t just follow our genes straight on back to Lucy or Leif, Cleopatra or Confucius or even Musa of Parthia or Mansa Kankan Musa of Mali. The number of your ancestors doubles every generation, so to get to Leif I must go down hundreds of ancestral paths. Then…what if it turns out old Hjalmer Anderson from the next farm/ship over was really my ancestor’s dad? What if it turns out I have no claim on Leif Erikson who discovered that America had already been founded and populated before he got there? What if Christopher had been as smart as Leif who arrived much earlier on ‘American’ soil and got the hell out without killing too many people in the process? But I digress…
I have limited resources and time to get as seriously into this ancestry game as I would like. However, between all of the amateur family trees on line, DNA spit, and six weeks in Norway and Sweden, I hope to know the immediate grandpas and grandmas fairly well.
I will outline, in this post and the next three, where I’ll be going and what I’ll be doing to get to know more of the stories of each grandparent. Through the new or supplemental information gathered from people, records, and especially places, I have this idea I’ll feel even more at home in the world. I’ll be placed/located/grounded?
GRANDMA ASBORG EILIFSDOTTER (EILIVDATTER) NESET
Starting with my mysterious Grandma Neset. There are some small stories I’ve written about her that I will post over the next few days. I’ve not written about any of the other grandparents but because I lived next door to Asborg as a child—and didn’t like her very much, and because I’ve stayed often at Neset Camping where she raised my father for the first seven years of his life, I feel guiltily close to her.
My brother’s friends, Dave and Ann in Minnesota, found the ship’s manifest from the journey to the U.S. of Grandma Neset and her brood of blonde babies. Her nearest relative in the ‘old country’ is listed as Gunnar Eilifson. Since then my Neset cousin, Arne, has helped me further identify her as Asborg Eilifsdatter although many possible details of birth and family are confusing. Since no one in my family knew Grandma’s maiden name before, this is a big step forward. Maybe the for-sure facts will come to light while I’m in Norway—stay tuned.
For me, a lover of place and geography, almost the best thing is that I have territory to explore. I’ll have a rental car and can head out from home base at Neset Camping and explore the nearby farms and villages. Asborg was born and/or lived in Vegusdal (a rural place north of Lillesand) or Evje or Lauvdal or Kristiansand or Roresand, Landvik or….
I’ve copied some maps and a couple of photos from tourism sites and the lake. Uncopyrighted.
There will be Grandma Neset updates as we find out more. Back next week to almost the same territory with Grandpa Torgus Neset.
“Ancestry” has been referenced in many of my posts. Here’s the quick and simple version of exactly what it is and how I’m using it to add both breadth and depth to my summer trip to Norway.
Ancestry.com is a website that connects us with our extended—multiple generations extended —families. This is how it works for me. I first joined in order to access their family tree maker and start the process of building my own family tree with me at the center, all my forefathers and mothers branching out above.
It all begins by plugging in information you have about any relatives, as close as your parents to as far back as you can go. As you enter the names, birthdates and places, and any other information available into the ‘tree’ format provided, hints will come from other trees also registered on Ancestry which have the same names/birthdates and so forth in their trees. Sometimes the hints are relevant, sometimes not, but as you enter the new information into your tree, it grows, each new hint something to build upon.
Family trees are an interesting visual although, in a way, an upside-down concept. They build upon me, the tree maker, with branches sprouting as more and more ancestors are identified—making the greenest of new branches older than the trunk. See what I mean—upside down.
My next step was doing the DNA testing which consists of sending some spit off in the mail and waiting for an email confirming who thought you were—or, in some cases, surprising you with who you are not. At first it was only to see if any unexpected ancestors showed up in the bloodlines since I believed myself to be 100% Scandinavian. Well yes and no. Ninety-three percent Scandinavian indeed, but those Viking forays around the neighborhood showed up as well in 3% Russian, 2% Irish, and a couple of percentage points for Britain and Northern Europe. Although I am extremely proud of and fascinated by my Norwegianness, it might have been fun to have a sprinkling of some darker (or at least rarer…) genes coursing through my bloodstream, but I’ll happily settle for representing almost the whole of Viking territory to some small degree. .
An amazing thing happened when the results of the test came back. In my Ancestry account a list of cousins appeared…many cousins…cousins galore. There were a few second-third cousins but mostly fourth-sixth cousins. My sixth cousin and I would related through the generation of our great-great-great-great grandparents (I think!). It’s complicated. Here all these years my impression has been that I’m from a fairly small family. Now, it turns out I’m from the most extended of families; we all are if we just go back a few generations.
I wonder why this pleases me so. Did I feel deprived of cousins? True, I’m only close to a few of them, and that does not include the beautiful talented mean one who was a pathological liar—but I digress. Anyway that seemed sufficient until now…when I just want to know more and more about the tracks and trails of my DNA.
The story will continue as I share, in future posts, the bits and pieces of ancestral family lives and lore I already knew or have newly discovered.
I highly recommend Ancestry.com. What fun it is…and who knows when the odd genius, the cranky billionaire, or perhaps the criminal mastermind, will show up.
I’m singin’ in the rain
Just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I’m happy again
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Singing in the rain
In the rain, in the rain, in the rain
…Sang Gene Kelly.
I woke up this morning to the sound of rain. I wanted to cling to it, keep it from being beamed away by sun. I wanted to lie in bed with a book all day. After making coffee I walked into it to take a picture—it was not a heavy downpour but nevertheless a proper rain, my gnarly dried feet are wet, hair damp.
I have always preferred rainy days. When I was a kid with a birthday in April-showers month, the first spring rains were barely warm enough to begin melting tired dirty accumulation of snow, but they signaled the Minnesota winter drawing to a close. They gave the outdoors back its earth, grass, leaf, needle, sap, swamp, lake smells. They promised May flowers and summertime and school out and hiding out in our user-friendly woods with a book fresh from the Blackduck library. Summer rains were a physical, visceral experience because we ran out into them when the thunder and lightning grew distant. Up in the pastures there were indented squares from where logging camp buildings had been, they filled with water and created a personal wading pond or two for each of us. We ran indoors bedraggly-wet and wrapped ourselves in sweaters and ate warm bread from the oven. Perhaps my favorite rains came in the fall when I could experience them tucked into a quilt reading away the cold gray day. And then the Minnesota winter when it was too cold to rain so we had to experience weather through…snow. That worked just fine. Except for the barefoot running part of course.
I could offer an apology for what might be considered an overly-sentimentalized look back at a time and place that also included blizzards, mosquitoes, wolf-killed sheep, and not much money but it was so long ago and far away that it’s permissible to focus on the joy of it all I think.
“The richness of the rain made me feel safe and protected; I have always considered the rain to be healing — a blanket — the comfort of a friend. Without at least some rain in any given day, or at least a cloud or two on the horizon, I feel overwhelmed by the information of sunlight and yearn for the vital, muffling gift of falling water.” –Douglas Coupland
Why have I always loved rain so much? Did I mention…Today, the rarest of Albuquerque weather phenomena—rain—has fallen all morning. I awoke to it and didn’t believe my ears for awhile. Happiness and contentment were poised to jump into my brain and my heart but I needed to listen to be sure. Yes, it was raining. Why has rain always made me so pleased with myself, with life, with the world? For now, shall I just propose it’s an introvert’s best environmental friend, keeping her inside in a small cozy personal space. My apartment is small and when I travel I’m always in small (and, yes—usually cozy—otherwise known as ‘budget’) hotel rooms. I especially like train compartments though, curled up in my corner for reading and writing and dreaming, my stuff nicely arranged at the bottom of the berth; in fact trains could be my favorite rainy day spaces. The passing countryside of soaked earth, drops of water adding small glimmers to leaves and flowers, the sky heavy, gray, no sun attacking your eyes with too much light, too much bright. On that train, my compartment may or may not include a roommate, but my berth is my own, with blanket and pillow, my books and Surface, and snacks and wool socks—and if one is passing through the taiga perhaps there’s hot borscht next door in the dining car—with a shot of vodka—in the rain?
“Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.” —Henry David Thoreau
My Unhappy Reality
The rainiest places on earth are India, New Zealand, Columbia, Equatorial Guinea and Hawaii. Far from me.
Over half of the sunniest top ten are right here in my very neighborhood: Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
Song For The Rainy Season
Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
In a dim age
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.
At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times–always five–
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.
House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
of silver fish, mouse,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew’s
darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water
the great rock will stare
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
in the steady sun
By Elizabeth Bishop
This will only be peripherally a travel post—it’s really about friends and family. However, since ‘who doesn’t love Bay Area’, and it all happened there—it’s a travel post. Three or so weeks ago I went to Oakland to visit granddaughter Teresa and revisit Old Friend[s] Paul Simon. AND to spend a most lovely day with some of my Norwegian cousins visiting from Kristiansand. May I just say that they are an exceptionally nice family. It can’t be just because they are Norwegian, after all there is the occasional bad Norwegian, for example the two right-wing politicians (yeah, Norway has them too) wanting to nominate Sleazy T. for the Nobel Peace Prize. My Norwegians, I say proudly, are the intelligent, humane, interesting kind.
We started our exceptionally nice Saturday with lunch at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, my idea of the world’s best restaurant. I’ve eaten there a few times and every single thing I’ve tasted has been simple and delicious. Perfect actually. Yes, perfect. Then on the Silicon Valley to see…? Well, Facebook and Google campuses and the computer museum…finished off with wine in the sun at a Mountain View sidewalk café.
So, next time you visit the Bay Area, if you’re tired of the Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square and other famous sites, try the Valley…see pretty suburbia, geeks galore, money oozing from zinnias in front of Facebook, the good life for all—well for some anyway.
Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound/Final Tour came to Oakland Friday night, May 25th. I was there, fifty plus years after my first Simon and Garfunkel concert in North Carolina. My almost 28-year-old granddaughter Teresa was with me and a little surprised when I leaned over and whispered that the first time I saw Paul Simon her father was a little boy home with a baby-sitter. I just finished the newest biography of Paul and, can I just say, it’s been an exciting fifty plus years for both of us.
Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel) and Bob Dylan truly provide the soundtrack of my life. Oh sure, lots of other folk/protest music is in there and a pop hit now and then, but for a tug on my heart strings or a powerful jolt of memory it’s first of all Paul, with Bob for the war years.
Sitting in Oakland’s Oracle Stadium last week with Bob and Teresa…sitting there in a reverie of memory.
A week later. It’s the rarest of occurrences. A rainy day in Albuquerque…feeding my soul…along with some songs of Simon softly…creeping into my brain. The intent is to blend Paul’s poetry with snapshots from my life, the life for which he set much of the playlist, but only including songs from the Oakland concert. It doesn’t work; he wrote too many songs that speak to me, that ignite big and small memories of moments in time. So instead of order, here’s the chaos of random favorite Simon lines jumbled in with scenery offered up in my mind’s eye.
Sail on, silver girl/Sail on by/Your time has come to shine/All your dreams are on their way/See how they shine. East Carolina University. I had a raspberry colored dress and a right-wing professor and an-almost lover named Marshall.
I’m sitting in the railway station/Got a ticket for my destination/On a tour of one-night stands/my suitcase and guitar in hand/And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band. Always restless. Back and forth to Minnesota with my little boys and dogs and a cat in a bird cage, air force husband overseas. Paul wrote “Homeward Bound” for me, tongue in cheek, because for awhile we lived in the Philippines and I loved it and did not want to be ‘homeward bound’ ever.
The Mississippi Delta was shining/Like a National guitar/I am following the river/Down the highway/Through the cradle of the civil war/I’m going to Graceland/In Graceland, in Graceland/I’m going to Graceland. I loved the sound and rhythm before I had even been to Africa. And a best friend was from the Delta and there’s the river and there’s history. All my favorite things in one small song.
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon/Going to the candidates’ debate/Laugh about it, shout about it/When you’ve got to choose/ Every way you look at this you lose. I was happier than I should have been, husband overseas, Vietnam war, not much money…but my kids were fine, the car ran, I had a student life and looking back it seems like Paul Simon was in “Mrs. Robinson,” not Dustin Hoffman and we watched it and played it and sang it and hummed it. Were we just ever so slightly shocked by the film or am I imagining that?
Will I wake up from these violent dreams? With my hair as white as the morning moon? I can’t remember which song these lines are from but they’re too beautiful to delete. And besides my hair is now as white as the morning moon.
If every human on the planet/And all the buildings on it/Should disappear/Would a zebra grazing in the African Savannah/Care enough to share one zebra tear? I only really listened to “Questions for the Angels” when I started reading and studying Paul Simon’s life and songs before this concert. I couldn’t imagine why…until remembering that I had stopped listening to music and was out of this country as much as possible booking artists for Global DanceFest. I’ve missed important songs. Now I have a new CD player in my house…I’ll be on Amazon as soon as I finish this post….
They give us those nice bright colors/They give us the greens of summers/Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day/I got a Nikon camera/I love to take a photograph/So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away. Sing along. What’s not to love? Especially if you’re an obsessive taker-of-pictures.
Joseph’s face was black as night/The pale yellow moon shone in his eyes/His path was marked/By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere/And he walked his days/Under African skies…This is the story of how we begin to remember/This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein/After the dream of falling and calling your name out/These are the roots of rhythm/And the roots of rhythm remain. One of the best of the best. From his time in South Africa. It’s a poem and a dance, an African story. I was in love with Africa before my first visit.
I met my old lover/On the street last night/[He] seemed so glad to see me/I just smiled/And we talked about some old times/And we drank ourselves some beers/Still crazy after all these years/Oh Still crazy after all these years. Who doesn’t want to meet the best of the old lovers…on a street in a town just south of London…but what can you do if he’s not on Facebook…or possibly even alive?
Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan/Don’t need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me/Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much/Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free. About those old lovers…
I hear the drizzle of the rain/Like a memory it falls/Soft and warm continuing/
Tapping on my roof and walls. “Kathy’s Song.” Written for/about his English girlfriend I think. And they still are friends ‘after all these years.’ I’m dedicating this to the one serious rainy day in Albuquerque so far this year.
One and one-half wandering Jews/Free to wander wherever they choose/Are traveling together/In the Sangre de Christo/The Blood of Christ Mountains/Of New Mexico/On the last leg of a journey/They started a long time ago/The arc of a love affair/Rainbows in the high desert air/Mountain passes/Slipping into stone/Hearts and bones. A lush story-poem about traveling with Carrie Fisher I believe. It was missing from my Paul Simon internal playlist…which makes me feel quite disloyal.
It’s a turn-around jump shot/It’s everybody jump start/It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts/Medicine is magical and magical is art/The boy in the bubble/And the baby with the baboon heart…And I believe/These are the days of lasers in the jungle/Lasers in the jungle somewhere/Staccato signals of constant information/A loose affiliation of millionaires/And billionaires and baby. Paul Simon’s songs are rarely overtly political…though full of social commentary. “Boy in a Bubble” is as full of the angst of living in a world out of control as most of his music seems to get. .
Time it was/And what a time it was/It was . . ./A time of innocence/A time of confidences…Long ago . . . it must be . . ./I have a photograph/Preserve your memories/They’re all that’s left you. OMG, they sound such innocents. Those two young guys. I went to a Minneapolis S&G concert, “Old Friends” in 2003. By then, that partnership along with most of the world’s better assumptions was coming to an end.
It’s a still life watercolor/Of a now-late afternoon/As the sun shines through the curtained lace/And shadows wash the room…And you read your Emily Dickinson/And I my Robert Frost/And we note our place with book markers/That measure what we’ve lost…Like a poem poorly written/We are verses out of rhythm/Couplets out of rhyme/In syncopated time…And the dangled conversation/And the superficial sighs/Are the borders of our lives. As our glorious leader might put it…Paul Simon has the BEST words. And obviously written by an English major. Who says you have to study IT or medicine to get by in the world.
I’ve gone to look for America…
Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces/She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy/I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera/Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat/We smoked the last one an hour ago/So I looked at the scenery/She read her magazine/And the moon rose over an open field. I was once on a bus to Bujumbura and met a Russian spy who gave me IT advice and said ‘stick to PCs, Apple is going to fail’ and I’m anxiously awaiting that day.
Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again/Because a vision softly creeping/Left its seeds while I was sleeping/And the vision that was planted in my brain/Still remains/Within the sound of silence. The Oakland concert ended appropriately with “Sounds of Silence”…because realistically people anywhere near ‘old’ will never experience the likes of Poet Simon again. A guy who let his personal loves and fears enter his music, as well as commentary on the whole damn world, but he rarely if ever sentimentalized, and his lyrics were never ever boring or dumb. I’m sad for the sound of silence, the void that Paul Simon will leave.
Finally however…I discovered a Simon song I had never heard, never knew existed. There were others unfamiliar as I’ve mentioned but “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War” was the best surprise of the new biography Paul Simon: The Life which I just read and of the evening in Oakland. Go to YouTube right away if you don’t know this song. It’s another The Best.
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war
Returned to their hotel suite
And they unlocked the door
Easily losing their evening clothes
They dance by the light of the moon
To the Penguins
And The Five Satins
The deep, forbidden music
They’d been longing for
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war
Were strolling down Christopher Street
When they stopped in a men’s store
With all the mannequins
Dressed in style
That brought tears to their
Just like The Penguins
And The Five Satins
The easy stream of laughter
Flowing through the air
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog après la guerre
Side by side
They fell asleep
Decades gliding by like Indians
Time is cheap
When they wake up they will find
All their personal belongings
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war
Were dining with the power èlite
And they looked in their bedroom drawer
And what do you think
They have hidden away
In the cabinet cold of their hearts?
and The Five Satins
For now and ever after
As it was before
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog
After the war
My paean to Paul…(So the photos aren’t Kodachrome-bright and they’re a little mixed up and I didn’t have a picture of me in the pink dress or Paul and Carrie in the New Mexico mountains but my intent is pure and loving.)
Cool? Gray? Dorothy, you are not in Albuquerque anymore. Well then, I must be in Oakland or, to be exact, San Leandro. Lace (also known as Teresa) is off to work and I’m still in bed with purple Surfy (also known as my beloved Surface) and a cuppa (Nescafe), my reliable on-the-road drink.
Arrived last night in time for Lace and me to have bread and cheese and coffee and wine and a Paul Simon lesson. She’s only 28 so, unlike what my friend Bob’s t-shirt claims on his behalf, she did not get to hear all of the ‘best bands’ and needs tutoring. I love this girl, she’s a true shape-shifter adapting to my basic uninteresting food likes as easily as to her family’s foodie inclinations. Lace does have a habit of eating a lot of vegetables but as long as she’s equally happy with just bread and olive oil when with me that’s okay.
This being America, as in “This is America” (Childish Gambino version) Lace was held up at gunpoint a few months ago and has moved from Oakland to the presumably safer, but slightly less interesting, environs of San Leandro. Although when a Pakistani child is getting shot down in her Texas school we are pretty much guaranteed that no place, however dull, is safe from American gunslingers. The girl’s unwary parents undoubtedly thought they were keeping her out of harm’s way by getting her out of Pakistan; unknowingly sending her to Gunistan.
So I’m ranting. Can’t help it. I’m am so extremely pissed off by us. Americans. Mostly by white Americans. Like me. Ugh.
This is a travel blog however and, the good news is, I’m traveling. A Bay Area long weekend with my best travel buddy ever. After big trips like last fall my travel juices were dormant for awhile. Relatively dormant. Everything being relative. Including travel dormancy—I mean it’s not like I wasn’t reading about or planning for future travel.
It seems San Diego a couple of weeks ago brought my ‘road warrior’ (warrior has different meanings for different age cohorts—for me it means keeping upright, moving forward, not fearful, still curious) genes back to life. Now the Bay Area, Paul Simon, Norwegian cousins, Lace’s funny smart boyfriend, Silicon Valley, Magritte exhibit, maybe another Russian restaurant, all make me excited, eager; make me forget aches and budgets; put me in full travel mode for a fairly immediate future of South Dakota, Norway, Minnesota, California wedding, the Silk Route. Maybe I should sign off while I love my life and am not getting shot at—yet today.
Excuse the tirade. Next post will be all Paul Simon.
Last week in Albuquerque, I partook of the WEDDING. With Pimms. AND it rained.
All the world‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. Shakespeare
England and America are two countries separated by the same language. George Bernard Shaw
Y’all are so cute and y’all talk so proper over here. I love England. Beyonce Knowles
England, one of my favorite countries (let me keep saying England instead of UK please). During all those English history classes, and gazing at multiple Life Magazine photos of the Queen, and sitting up all night with a friend in a dark cabin in the north woods weeping through Diana’s funeral, it’s always been England. I’ve visited a few times, the first with my friend Sue in 1984, the last with granddaughter Teresa in 2016. In between there was a road trip from Farnborough near London up into Scotland with my British lover and several visits to dance festivals and gatherings. All good…and now as a bonus there are the pretty young royals…and Netflix and Acorn to share The Crown and the best, or is that the worst, of crime from all over the UK. Not to mention a number of good histories and novels of British origin.
And for this splendid moment in time—there’s Harry and Meghan, the handsome prince and the beautiful princess, just as life was intended to be—and I’ll be there through it all, loyal royal groupie that I am. I’m prepared for the wedding: Signed onto Hulu Live so I can access CNN International; purchased the Pimms (still need the ginger ale, strawberries and cucumbers); found that tin of stale Fortnum and Mason lemon biscuits in the back of the cupboard; and discovered there’s a bit of lemon curd left in the back of the frig. I’ll be up most of Friday night so as not to miss any gushingly silly comments from the media or a single wave of Princess Charlotte’s chubby baby-queen hand.
Last weekend I was introduced to Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” next week it’s Paul Simon’s farewell tour—in other words the sad present here in Gunistan juxtaposed with a musical album of my life from Bridge Over Troubled Waters through Graceland and beyond.
THIS WEEK however it’s all England, all royalty, all of the time. I don’t actually have anything new to write that a few thousand people haven’t already shared these past weeks so, instead, I’m going to post some bits and pieces of essays from the last few years. I’ll start at the beginning…that first life-changing trip.
Part 1: The Mother
England was, for a few hundred years, the most studied foreign country in American high schools and even in colleges if poetry and literature are included. It’s the source of my language and many of my governing institutions and, more importantly Shakespeare, the Beatles, and Downton Abbey. And all those Englishy things like beans on toast and warm beer and damp greenness. My England of several visits is like those photos from that trip you just never got sorted; there they are, still in a heap in the shoe box; a heap I’m about to paw through.
The photos from that first visit in 1984 are at the bottom looking a little faded compared to my bright digitized pictures from these later years. But here we are; 1984 and Sue and I all bright-eyed, curly-haired and eager. What was playing in the background as we boarded out plane in NYC and deplaned at Heathrow? Probably, in both cases, Phil Collins inviting us to take a look at him now or Stevie Wonder calling to tell us he loved us—pop culture criss-crossing the Atlantic with the speed of light it seemed.
Look away from the photos for a minute, Marjorie—remember how heart-stoppingly excited you were to be landing in England! More than crossing into Mexico; stepping out of the plane into the Philippines; more than getting married or starting a new job; in fact damn close to bearing children but much less painful. Gertrude Stein said “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.” Maybe history had taught me, more thoroughly than I realized that England was the mother ship.
Sue and I proceeded to a proper sight-seeing of our Merry Old Heritage: Buckingham Palace and that grand array of beautiful buildings all about; Stonehenge, Brighton with its kipper breakfasts and colorful beach huts; even spending a scandalous few hours with two ex-military Brits we met at Shakespeare’s Pub who took us to the Royal Tournament where, it was announced, Princess Anne was in the audience. Our brush with Royalty. Well there was one more. Here’s Sue standing next to the Royal Guard at the Queen Mother’s residence; she looks so surprised because he had just ever so politely pinched her butt.
Here we are posed in front of Fleming’s Hotel on Half Moon Street in London.
On the beach in Brighton.
Of course, in all of the pictures we’re both smoking, me Marlboros, Sue? Salems I think. Yeah, well, back in the day we were bad…
A good time was had by all. Especially me. I do love my little escapes to San Diego where there are Russian restaurants and IKEA and, sometimes, big family events. This was one of those times for all of the above. Here’s the album.
I tend to feel something is lacking in my life if I cannot have an annual IKEA visit. But no meat balls Saturday (which we’re now told originated in Italy anyway) because the next stop was to be my second Russian restaurant of the trip, Kafe Sobaka, where the borscht was the brightest of reds and the vodka and salted water drink! was just right.
Sunday was Mother’s Day so we did what I wanted to do since daughter-in-law Sandra went up to LA to meet Teresa and enjoy a spa day courtesy of her kids. Me not being a fan of noisy Sunday brunch places, we stayed home and had super-strength BLTs, limoncello, Kvaefjordkake, “The World’s Best Cake (according to Norwegians) and lots of coffee. Steven and I baked the cake which is quite a complicated affair with alternating cake, meringue/almonds, and custard/whipped cream layers. Actually Steven did all of the serious work while I served as the sous chef/baker/cleaner-upper.
The best part of the day was spending time with Ashley and Steven who got engaged a short while ago and are busy planning a major wedding event for September 2019. Ashley will just have finished PA school and Steve will just be starting graduate school so they’ve decided this is the propitious moment. This wedding will definitely be the biggest blow-out our side of the family has ever witnessed, featuring Taiwanese, Arabic, Filipino and Norwegian components. I think the Norwegian input will come in the form of cakes or bread or pickled herring! I’ve offered to host a Viking breakfast where we gnaw on reindeer legs, drink a lot of mead, recite some of Odin’s poetry, bludgeon each other awhile, and possibly offer up a sacrifice or two (only Republicans though). It doesn’t look like we’re going to do any of that; kids these days lack a true sense of adventure.
Ashley and Steven have been together a long time and we all love Ashley dearly so it’s quite exciting to look forward to this first grandchild wedding in the family.
And just for me it was cloudy two days and almost rained once.