I grew up with little Norwegian troll dolls that relatives brought back from Norway. Legend has it that these mystical and often dangerous creatures who live in Norse caves and under bridges, have a proclivity for munching up naughty children who wander too far from home. Then there are the smaller beautiful female trolls called Huldra, who are accused of attracting human males by their bewitching singing voices and lovely appearance to do their bidding, or simply as mates or pets.
As a child, I fully believed the mythology and thought of Norway as an ethereal magical place. Years later, my son, mother and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Norway where I discovered that it was indeed as enchanted in reality as it was in my imagination.
When my Mother was first diagnosed with Lymphoma in 1985, my son was two years old. He didn’t really understand what was going on when Grandma’s hair started falling out of her head or why she was spending so much time in bed, but his innocence added a bit of levity to a grim situation. The wigs my mother occasionally wore fascinated him. At one point, he thought that everyone had removable hair, giving an occasional and unexpected tug on friends and family member’s hair to see if it would come off like grandma’s. There was also a sweet bond that grew between the two of them as he seemed to sense when she needed gentleness and a quiet touch. He would stroke her arm, look into her eyes and tell her that he had magic in his eyes and say, ‘I’m going to give you some of my magic Grandma, so you will feel better.” With that said, he would quickly blink his eyes a number of times as this is how he passed his magic along to her.
While they were in her garden planting roses, she told him that one-day when she was feeling better, we would go to Norway so she could show him where she was from and the garden where she played as a child.
Years later, the roses had bloomed, she had endured a couple of grueling rounds of chemo, radiation and an experimental Interleukin treatment, and she was finally well enough to travel to Norway, so off the three of us went. To say that the trip was meaningful is an understatement. Visiting the home that my mother grew up in, the house my grandfather built, brought to life the stories she told of the cold dark winters and long sunny summer days. Standing in the school that she attended, where Nazi’s entered one day, removing teachers and children who were sent to extermination camps, never to be seen again, was sobering and unthinkable that such an atrocity could have ever happened. What was most memorable was the friendliness and warmth of the Norwegian people and the utterly astounding beauty of the landscape.
We arrived on June 21rst, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. In Norway that meant celebrations and bonfires. An artist friend picked us up by boat at the marina in Oslo whisking us off on a ride through the fjords to his house that sat on the edge of an island. We were there to join a party where buckets of fresh shrimp and round loaves of bread were served up with mayonnaise, cucumber salad and a glass of white wine. The party was set in his studio, a massive barn with giant doors opened at either end. A formidable bonfire was burning on the rock formation just outside the back of the barn where guests sat around watching the sun barely dip down to the horizon, never becoming dark, only lowering enough to bring daylight to dusk.
Upon leaving the party, we all walked through the woods to the other side of the island where we were met by a ferry that would take us back to the marina in Oslo. Mind you, we were making this trek in the middle of the night in the dim dusk of the northern summer night. It was a jovial parade of party goers all holding hands as we meandered our way through the woods where the trolls slept undisturbed under the bridges and footpaths.
The next time I visited Norway, it was again a pilgrimage. This time it was with friends and family to return my mother to the country she adored. As our flight approached Oslo, the friends who had never been to Norway commented on the beauty and almost unreal colors of the landscape the emerald-green grass that covered the hillsides and the deep blue sea and fjords.As a family, we agreed that we would celebrate my mother’s life with a trip to Norway instead of having a funeral. Our plane touched down one year to the day of her passing.
It was a brilliant way for all of us to at once, remember the beautiful woman who had graced our lives and also, by way of an antique Norwegian boat making its way through the fjords, to bring her journey full cycle – to bring her home. Except for the actual moment we released her ashes into the waters of the fjords, there was no sadness, only celebration.
It was an emotional letting go and healing of dinners and parties in her honor with American and Norwegian friends and family, all there to celebrate my mother, Norway, family, friends, and relationships that live beyond a single lifetime, often surviving and thriving for generations. Yes, this is a magical place.
A few words about Norwegian cuisine:
Norway is an extraordinary country where the sea offers a bounty of amazing seafood , grass-fed sheep and cows allow farmers to produce divine cheese and dairy products. In the short summertime, you can find beautiful fruits and veggies, the fruit being particularly delicious as the cooler temperatures slow the ripening process which delivers more intensely flavored produce than what we taste here in the States.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, much of my love of food and cooking comes from the hours spent sitting in the kitchens of my grandmothers. One Norwegian and the other Mexican. The rich aromas and flavors that are distinct to those countries are nostalgic for me and while the foods are extremely different they both use warming spices. Mexican food with chili peppers and cinnamon, Norwegian cuisine using nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and peppercorns to add depth to their rich baked goods and sauces.
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