Sunday, October 18, 2009

On midwestern adventures (part one)

I was terribly nervous before I left for Minnesota – both the fact that I was about to meet someone I had not seen for 16 years, and the fact that I had to fly to get there contributed to my “close to breakdown” state of mind on Friday morning. However, thanks to the (placebo?) effect of some long-since expired motion sickness pills and the distracting effect of the Nobel Peace Prize, I was surprisingly unaffected by the flights.

When I arrived in Minneapolis Darlene and her son, Troy, were waiting for me. It took about two seconds – the same two seconds it took to recognize each other (I have, after all, changed somewhat since 1993) – and then it was as if we had known each other for ever. It felt a lot less weird than expected to meet again someone I’ve basically communicated with through postcards since I was six years old. Darlene has always been the nicest of people, and meeting the rest of them, I was about to discover that nice runs in the family. On our way to Sartell we stopped for dinner. That was where I discovered a couple of things. First, that I was not allowed to pay even a dime whenever we ate somewhere. To Darlene, this was the most natural thing in the world seeing as this was her way of paying back for the hospitality she and her mother received in Norway when they visited (did I mention that I was only six…?). Secondly, I discovered breakfast for supper. The beauty of this is that I often find it too much to eat the American (or even worse, the British) version of breakfast in the morning. At night, however… (I love hash browns!)

Once we got to Darlene’s house, where I also got to meet her husband, Dick, she gave me the grand tour. Darlene runs a daycare from home. The basement of the house was dedicated to this. In the rest of it, however, her house was filled with all sorts of Norwegian artifacts – either souvenirs from her trip there, or items her grandmother or other relatives brought with them when they emigrated. The Norwegian identity means a lot to Darlene. She also let me see some photographs – both from her vacation in Norway (how strange it was to see how little I was, and how young my parents looked! Also it was weird to see people, like my grandmother, who are no longer with us), and some older ones inherited from her grandmother. Some of these had Norwegian inscriptions, so I happily translated for them what I could decipher (old handwriting can be hard to understand).

The next morning we woke up to snow! Snow in mid-October is early even for Minnesota, especially considering they had just had a warm period. However, I absolutely loved it – made me feel right at home (though they haven’t had any snow at home yet, as far as I know). Luckily I had been warned, so I had made sure to bring some warm clothes. This was especially fortunate since we were to spend much of the day driving north, where it got colder still.

“North” technically meant about mid-Minnesota, to Darlene’s mom’s hometown, where a number of her (and mine) relatives still live. We got to meet her cousin Jeanie (or Janie – it was kind of hard to tell since they were identical twins. Even if I only met the one, the fact that they had such similar names made it hard for me to keep them apart. I’m told I’m not the only one) for lunch. Together the twins run a beauty salon, and Janie (I found the card she gave me, so I’m pretty sure this was her) is going to D.C. this fall on business. Unfortunately this is after I leave – otherwise it would be a lot of fun to see her again.

After chatting with her for a while (the diner we went to was a really stereotypical truck stop, one of those who probably haven’t changed much the last 30, 40 or even 50 years. I loved it!), Darlene and I headed for her brother John’s house. John is the family genealogist. I don’t know if his interest for family history got a kick start when he visited Norway back in the early 70s, but he definitely had fond memories from back then and he was happy to share. He also showed me several documents (some of which I could help translate). He had some charts, a family tree of such, sent to his grandmother (the one who emigrated, my great grandfather’s sister) by a local clergy man from her parish in Norway in 1935. Looking at these charts, I thought the handwriting was somewhat familiar. And quite correctly, in the corner of the charts was an inscription in Norwegian – “from your old friend, O. Gjörvad”. The local clergy man, Olav Gjørvad (as the modern spelling would be), is no other than my great, great grandfather on the other side of my family. Small world, huh? Since John had copies he offered me the charts, so I will now return them to Norway, after they have been in the U.S. for almost 75 years.

We spent the evening with John and his wife Shelley, and their gorgeous one-year-old granddaughter Arenda, that they were babysitting. After everyone in the family had beaten me thoroughly in every sport their Wiii had to offer, we went to the closest neighbor – Arenda’s parents Nick and Candi, where we stayed overnight. The next morning, Nick and Candi, who had been to a wedding Saturday night, were able to join us for breakfast back at John and Shelley’s. You might wonder why I am offering all these details. Basically, it’s primarily because I feel that it illustrates so well the hospitality they showed me. I felt so welcome everywhere, and they were such nice people. All this just because I’m family! Needless to say, I made sure to tell them all that they would be as welcome should they ever decide to visit Norway (I’ve got something of a debt to pay).

On Sunday we went back south, where we were scheduled to visit a grand old lady, but not a relative this time. The history museum in Saint Cloud is currently hosting the dinosaur “Sue”. She was pretty impressive, and I also liked the rest of the museum.

That night Troy took me to the local movie theater (which I loved, since this actually is the first time since I came to the U.S. I’ve been to the movies). And the next morning, to finish off my Minnesota stay in style, we went to the Mall of America. Depending on how you count, it’s either the largest or the second largest mall in the USA. It’s got more than 400 stores, I’ve no idea how many restaurants and cafés, there’s an amusement park and an aquarium, to mention some of the attractions. It’s also a good place to get lost, and to spend more dollars than you can afford. I enjoyed seeing it, though, and it was a nice end of my stay. We went directly from the mall to the airport, where Darlene and Troy dropped me off. I really hope I will get to see them again, and I certainly will stay in touch!

Leaving Minnesota behind for this time, I was so excited to go to Michigan to see Tami that I arrived three hours early... To get the details from the mayhem we caused, however, you will have to tune back in tomorrow…

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