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Syttende Mai with Grandparents 1980s
Heritage,  Hospitality,  Traditions

Going deeper with those we love (and how food helps)

Syttende Mai with Grandparents 1980s

Each of us has an ache, I suspect–a longing for deeper connection.

If you’ve been following Outside Oslo for a while, you may know part of the story of how I began writing about Scandinavian food over ten years ago.

It was a bright, sun-splashed July morning in 2009. I had put on my jersey dress and my pearl earrings and was almost ready to leave my house to buy a celebratory kringle at the neighborhood Scandinavian bakery. My parents, husband, and I were planning to meet at Grandma Agny’s house to celebrate her 93rd birthday. This wasn’t just Grandma’s birthday, however. This was the day I was going to ask her something important: Would she begin to tell me her stories? Could she unravel what it had been like to grow up in Norway, to live through the occupation, to lose a baby boy to a respiratory condition, to leave her country for a new opportunity in America when her life was established back home?

That curiosity had been growing since the summer before, when I visited Norway for the first time and felt an inexplicable, profound sense of home (more on that sometime in the future). So Grandma’s birthday seemed like the perfect day to ask.

Then I got the call.

Mom’s voice. Grandma, she was gone.

Standing there in that sun-drenched home, the bitter news flooded over me. My celebration turned to grief laced with regret. And bitter it was.

I stumbled my way through the following days trying to find some way to feel close to her again, some way to piece together my shattered heart. Wandering into a bookstore, I searched for Scandinavian cookbooks (which were not as plentiful on store shelves in 2009 as they are today). I began cooking Scandinavian recipes, transforming sticks of butter and cups of sugar into Norwegian cakes and tarts as a way to try to heal. I knew it would never bring her back, but the act of creation–chasing my curiosity about our shared heritage–eventually helped the regret to fade and the tears to dry and to inspire me to take a next step.

I still had one living grandparent–Grandma Adeline. (I’ve shared some of her recipes on my blog; some of you have made her mother’s recipe for Norwegian heart-shaped waffles over the years.) I didn’t want to make the same mistake, so I began a new tradition: Mom, Grandma Adeline, and I started to bake together regularly. Grandma–who had been a professional lefse baker back in the day–taught Mom and me how to make various Scandinavian classics and specialties from her days in North Dakota. As we baked, I’d try to coax out stories of her life. The memories we created–they are like gold to me today.

So back to that point about longing for connection. We all know grief, don’t we? But also, many of us yearn to go deeper with those we love who are still with us. As you’ve read from my story, food was part of how I healed in that dark season of grief. More hopefully, food also was a very easy and real way to make sure I was spending intentional, meaningful time with Grandma Adeline. 

I wonder: How many of you have someone in your life you’d like to create such memories with? A mother or grandmother, perhaps? Or maybe a son or grandchild? Do you long to pass on your traditions, carry on the older generation’s legacy, or preserve family recipes? Whatever you’re longing for–if there’s anything in this email that prompted an ache in your heart–will you please tell me about it?

I’m working to create something for you, and it is in a key developmental stage right now. I would so appreciate it if you leave a comment or send me an email and share your thoughts with me.

3 Comments

  • Amy

    My mom’s parents were both first generation Norwegian Americans, and growing up going to their farm planted in me a longing to know more about my heritage. I remember hearing Norwegian at their home and in places in the community, like a full service gas station where, when we pulled up, the attendant spoke only Norwegian to my grandfather. It’s interesting how seemingly insignificant memories like that stick with you. When relatives passed on or other significant events occurred there were telegraphs in Norwegian sent across the distance to Stavanger and back. And then there was the food — lefse, komla, dravla, potato cakes (like lomper), and kringla (wonderful cookies I’ve never seen in a Norwegian cookbook that only showed up at Christmas time). I wish I’d been older when they passed away so I could have heard more of their stories first hand, and I wish their children had lived closer together, but most are now gone. We’ve been fortunate, though, to connect with and visit relatives in Norway, and I’ve heard some of their stories too. I”ve also connected with a local group of Rosemalers and am enjoying trying my hand with paint. Reading your post makes me realize its time to send off another email to Norway and catch up. We’d hoped to visit this summer but COVID-19 made that impossible.

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