"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Norway, revisited

By on July 29, 2019 in Travel with 0 Comments
Vicki is having fun with a Norsk souvenir item from a display case in front of a Bergen gift shop.

by Vicki Olson Carr

The Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord districts of southern Norway had put on their fresh spring clothes after a long, dark winter when I returned to my grandparents’ homeland a few weeks ago. 

The apple and cherry trees were in bloom and people were outside enjoying the returning sunshine. Norway was beautiful  —and my father’s cousins and families welcomed my son Steven and me into their homes.

In 1971, I was 27 when I made my way from Anchorage, Alaska to Sogndal to meet my grandma’s five sisters — Klara, Magnhild, Inga, Gunhild and Maia — who had gathered there to meet me. 

My Anchorage Norwegian tutor had taught me some basic Norsk so I could make simple conversation with them, but they kept correcting my pronunciation because I did not speak their dialect. 

“Hilsen til Belle (greetings to your grandmother),” they said during their tearful good-byes.

On that trip, Tante (aunt) Klara escorted me to Tysselvik on Hardangerfjord to Grandma’s brother’s home. Onkler (uncle) Karl came flying down his driveway, nimble as the goats and sheep he raised. 

Cousin Oddvar Øyre’s vacation cabin in Fardal overlooks Sognefjord.

What a myriad of relatives I met, and I roughed out a family tree to try to keep them straight in my mind.

In the fall of 1982, I was 39 when I took my father, Ray Olson, to meet his Norwegian relatives and see the farm his mother left behind when she and brother Ivar came to the U.S.A. 

My father stood on a knoll overlooking the fjord far below, shook his head and wondered aloud how a 16-year-old could leave the security and beauty of such a place. 

The answer was simple. There wasn’t enough food to go around. 

On this trip, I noticed more relatives owned cars, and there was more indoor plumbing. A welcome relief. 

Aunt Gunhild and Uncle Endre lie in sweet repose in the Jordalen Cemetery.

Once again, the family was very hospitable with meals and coffee hours. A cousin’s wife in Jordalen made rømmegrøt for us, a special pudding made by cooking and stirring heavy cream with flour and sugar until the butterfat floats to the surface. 

I learned that when aunt Gunhild was about 15, she went to Jordalen in the summer to be the village cheesemaker, caught the eye of the eldest Jordalen son and that high isolated valley, only accessible at that time by climbing four long ladders, became her new home. 

This year I found that Norway is now a very wealthy nation, thanks to the North Sea oil rigs and international trade. 

My Norsk relatives all own fine homes, as well as mountain or seashore cabins. They are world travelers. Some own condos on the Mediterranean in Spain. Many have visited the Olson family here in Washington and California.

The oil money has also been used to tunnel through mountains and under glaciers rather than force everyone to drive the narrow roads hugging precariously to the contours of the fjords. 

One tunnel we passed through was 16 miles long. 

Six miles into another tunnel, we came to a roundabout under bright blue lights, where four tunnels intersected. A driver could exit into a tunnel leading to Oslo or to Bergen, or exit toward northern or southern destinations. 

All tunnels are well-vented, with bright lighting, pull-out bays and SOS phones every kilometer along the way.

I made visits again to the burial sites of my great-grandparents Knut and Maria Øyre, and Grandma’s siblings and their spouses. In many cemeteries, the gravestones have glass globes attached where candles are kept burning during the long dark winters — a charming custom, I think — for those who are lonely and left behind.

This trip will probably be my last visit to Norway and was both sweet and sad. 

Six of my father’s first cousins are now in their late 80s. Torleiv in Fardal is 91. Anders in Jordalen has a new four-mile tunnel into the seven homes there. His three children and their families joined us for a lively day of sharing photos, memories and food.

When it was time to go, Anders (88) came to offer me a special good-bye. 

He is of the last generation that didn’t have to learn English and my Norwegian is sketchy, so conversation was not an option. But Anders put his hands on my shoulders, and stood for several moments looking into my eyes, giving me all the love and regard that he could give me — without words.

I am proud of my Norwegian heritage and, just like the custom of my Norwegian relatives, I also have a menagerie of little trolls scattered around my house to keep me company.

Chelanite Vicki Olson Carr’s paternal grandparents both immigrated from Norway, becoming acquainted while working on neighboring farms in North Dakota. Her maternal grandfather was the oldest of 15 siblings in Byelorussia, and immigrated to the U.S. to escape hunger and being forced to serve in WWI. 

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