13 years ago I left part of my heart in Norway. That sounds terribly cliché, but it is entirely accurate.
About 30 years ago, Tom, my third cousin, came to the United States from Norway to bridge the family gap. On that excursion he was able to meet my mother in person, which led to an enduring international bond. Later that very year my mother, at the age I currently am, took a journey to Norway in pursuit of her family legacy. She became very close with her extended family that she met, as well as Tom’s best friend, Jatto. Throughout the years, Tom and my mother paid visits to each other.
Fast forward to 2003, my mom finds herself married with two children and the same goes for her dear Norwegian family and friends. She now wants to share this portion of her life with her darling children. So, she takes the two Tasmanian devils, Harrison and I to Norway for our first time. Understandably, I cannot claim that I recall every second of our vacation in Norway. Tom now has a daughter, Andrea, and Jatto has a daughter, Silje, who is my age. Tom’s son Morten was born after my visit in 2003.
To be honest, a lot of my memories revolve around our introduction to Nutella on waffles at breakfast by the lake at Tom’s home. I remember the feelings associated with being there amidst all of my extended family, hiking extremely tall mountains, and getting to know Silje, Jatto’s daughter. Through countless reiterations I have come to understand that we visited my great-great grandfathers’ childhood home and saw where he fished, housed his sheep, and met his daughter, my great-aunt Jenny.
It has never been a question if I planned to return to Norway, more of a when.
For years I’ve asked my family when we would be able to return to Norway, and they would say ‘someday.’ Someday just happened to be the end of January 2016. So here I am, in Norway 13 years later. The town of Bergen has evolved a bit. Tom’s family has moved houses, some relatives have passed on, but nothing has exponentially changed.
I did not realize how much I didn’t know about my family until Tom started rattling off facts as if he were being quizzed. My great-great grandfather had been born and raised in Norway only to have his one Norwegian child Jenny and then he immigrated to the United States. He then met his wife there and continued to have children. Little did those children know about their half-sister back in Norway until Tom’s visit all those years ago.
I have such an intriguing family history that I had no idea about. When I was seven years old I visited the house on the side of a cliff where my great-great grandfather grew up. I revisited it this time with a much higher level of awareness. It took an hour drive to get to the town of Hesjedal. We wound through precarious roads that took us deeper into the dramatic fjords. We all instilled complete trust in Tom as he drove down the icy roads that would be hazardous even on a summer day.
When we stepped out of the car the air was fresh and a few degrees colder. We were 520 feet above sea level and the view was absolutely stunning. We toured the house of my ancestors. I saw the blanket that his family slept with, the butter churners they used, and a book he took notes in. It’s incredible to think about these possessions that made up an entire life back then. A life that somehow led me to be standing there with the landscape of the fjords. Being there was indescribable, it was eerie as if my ancestors were there smiling on as I explored my roots.
Throughout my visit I saw family members who had met me on multiple occasions but I couldn’t recall crossing paths with them. The Norwegian language barrier also decreased the ease of communication a bit. It’s strange to know that these people are your family yet you struggle to successfully communicate with them.
One day Tom’s sister Trina took me to the lake house where I ate those memorable Nutella waffles. Seeing the old slabs of rock that made up the path I remember walking as a child was magical. Being at the house was like stepping into an old photograph. In my absence her husband had died. It made the lake home a little less colorful than how I remembered it. We chatted over dinner about her kids and who they’ve grown into, her surrounding property and what color she should paint the walls. The following day Tom’s sister Kari and I met in the city center and took a funicular up to Mount Fløyen. We hiked into the forest, a walk she is very familiar with. She showed me trees that had been knocked down by a past storm, and first graders that were learning to appreciate nature in their beautiful hometown.
On our way down the mountain we chose to wind through the cobble stone streets of Bergen. We passed her childhood home, her husbands’ childhood home, and a house she once attended a teen party in that is now a firehouse. Back at her flat she handed me a cup of Christmas tea in an identical tea cup as the one my mother has at home from the Lillehammer Olympics. Following lunch we admired her spectacular rooftop view.
I could feel her motherly tendencies being projected upon me as she insisted I take a nap before I join her and her husband for a dinner of fiskepudding – yes, fish pudding. As for the people I could communicate very easily with, I was lucky to be reunited with my childhood friend, Silje. Thirteen years later and we hit it off once again, laughing over the photos of the childhood versions of us wearing life jackets on dry land with a razor scooter.
I find it so endearing that there is an entire family tree out there filled with stories and different lives on each side of my parents. How different things would be if I had never known about my Norwegian family. They have all brought so much love and discovery to my life, which is part of the reason I chose to study abroad in the Czech Republic this semester. My last name is wholly Czechoslovakian and I hope to shed some light on where exactly it originated from and if I am able to locate a few second or third cousins in the process I wouldn’t mind one bit.
The world awaits…discover it.