Standing on a rock, overlooking the fjord with small ships crawling along, he turned to me. Kåre said, “This is where your great, great, grandfather stood and dreamed of America.” Never before had I felt history as I had in that moment, the power of artifacts, of heritage, and of coming home.
This adventure started with an envelope covered in stamps, addressed to my grandmother. I had joked that it was long-lost relatives- a plot from a book I had just finished reading- and I couldn’t believe that my wildest guess was close to the truth. We always knew we were Norwegian on my grandmother’s side, but had no idea of family that still lived there- Kåre and Anne. They, however, knew of us.
Inside- an invitation for a pilgrimage to Norway. A reunion with family we had never met, for the 100th wedding anniversary of our ancestors.
But calling this a “family” trip was a little far fetched. Yes, I travelled with my immediate family, but upon arrival, we were faced with twenty strangers. And I, being the youngest by a decade, felt out of place- a new country, and a new family that I was to call mine. The journey was already planned- a tour bus to take us from Lyngdal, to Rosendal, to Bergen- over the course of a week. And Lyngdal, what used to be a small fishing town, transformed to a pristine tourist location for caravans- that was the home of my great great grandparents.
Heia, it was called. Their farm, on the top of a hillside. Our crew of twenty climbed up a mountain, avoiding cow pies, picking up hiking sticks and shiny rocks as natural souvenirs that may have lasted from that time long ago. It wasn’t much of a farm as we imagine in America. Kåre said they probably raised goats and sheep, along this rocky and grassy landscape.
There was no house, hardly a remnant of a house. Simply, a stone threshold, that Kåre recognized from a photograph. All that ever remained were foundations, and I took a little piece from each place as my guilty pleasure; 3 rocks, 2 nails, and a strip of cloth.
I felt connected to that place, the whole journey feeling drawn to the next highest peak, to see what I could see from that next view, begging my family to keep up. Me, a little girl on a mountainside, strapped with ideas of how things used to be, and discovering how things are.
And I looked out from that rock. Kåre said that ships left from the harbor to go to the nearest city, where emigrants would sail to America. My ancestors were poor. Many in the region sent their children out for any farm work they could find, in other towns, for seasons at a time. They left this place, which to me is steeped in mystery and beauty of the past, but to them was oppressive. The mountains, looming over them, and the sea, an escape.
But I returned, with their youthful spirit in me. Bouncing from rock to rock, travelling from town to town, with my family growing closer, weaving together around me. All that was left, after all these years of not knowing each other- all that was left were foundations of the past. And on those foundations that week, we built a family. It is hard not to think of them, perhaps in heaven, looking down at us as we grew to love their country, and love each other.
In memory of Alvig and Anna.
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