December 23, 1984
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm sitting in the family room with Jøren and Rolf.
We're all relaxing, resting, recovering from the big party last night. This letter will be longer than usual but still there is no way I can fully share all the experiences of the past few days. I'll try.
The Paulsen's have welcomed me like their own son. I have tried to help them in whatever way I could. They are more wealthy than I had imagined. Not in the American way. Their house is big, lovely, strong, old yet beautifully maintained. Jøren was born here and inherited it. It is furnished with oriental rugs on hardwood floors in several rooms, linoleum, carpet in others.
They like purple. Precious family furniture, drawings, and paintings by Rolf before the war. Tables, chairs, chest, mittens from Jøren's grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother. Lovely china, silver, many many elegant serving dishes. They don't have a new car or a VCR or a microwave or a garbage disposal. Their refrigerator is small and the washer, dryer tiny and time-consuming to use. Heat from oil burning stoves in the center of the house, 2 wood stoves, several electric heaters. 2 floors, big cellar in the basement, garage, large storage building, big yard, flagpole.
The party last night was really something. 22 people came for dinner. Candles everywhere even in the chandelier. 14 sat in a big dining room. First everyone went upstairs to have glogg - a drink made from red wine, many spices, with raisins and hazel nuts put in your glass. Downstairs for dinner. After dinner into the living room where 3 tables were set for tea and coffee and Christmas sweets. For dinner - fish. Rokefiske - a trout kind of fish eaten raw, prepared with great care and respect and time with salt and sugar and some special something. Sour cream sauce, potatoes - Jøren had help to peel them all (100!) and I helped her pour the water off them. Wild strawberries picked this autumn with vanilla cream or whipped cream. Christmas cookies, sweets - fatigmann, goro [norwegian names], macaroons, butter cookies, cylindrical cookies - kremekaki. Beer, aquavit.
When people came they all introduced themselves to me. I said, “Hello. I'm Jón Bjørnstad.” Some said in English, “Nice to meet you”, many said their names, nothing else, some said something or other in Norwegian that Anne Olafson taught me to translate as “Do bee do”. Jøren told me she had also invited Thomas (Tomas?), a young man 25 years old, a sort of adopted son of theirs. Jøren and Rolf are good friends with his parents and have kind of “shared” their 4 children. Thomas had been in the United States (S.F.) for 3-4 years, is vegetarian, and Jøren though he would be good company for me at the party. So, when everyone came at 7:30 it went something like this:
At the party there were speeches (introduced by ringing a big bell), songs (For He's a Jolly Good Fellow), tributes to Rolf (who was 70 last year), piano playing (an old but lovely out of tune piano played expertly - ragtime, dixieland, two older women dancing jitterbug - not well but as friends do among friends), and, of course, plenty of teasing, joking, playing. Gifts for the hosts. These Norwegians can celebrate!
Rolf and Jøren prepared for the dinner with such care. They set the tables 2 days in advance. The Christmas baking was done several weeks ago. The fish was kept in an upstairs unheated bedroom - their big walk-in cooler. Everything was ready and right. As they get older it is more and more work because it is more and more tiring and (as Rolf said) it has become somewhat habitual after having had these parties for over 20 years, yet - a very special day for them for which they spend weeks preparing and for which they spare no expense.
The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne.
Jøren has a memory an image of Dad sitting in his chair poring over maps of San Francisco planning, planning, concentrating, thinking, worrying about the route. And he didn't get lost! It was perfect. She remembers the non-stop teasing about the car door lock and the forgotten handbag.
I have heard about one hundred billion syllables of incomprehensible Norwegian while I've been here. Travelling through Iceland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in so short a time has helped me get used to living in a jabberwocky world of linguistic mysteries. But it is hard and at times stressful. Jøren and Rolf do me a great favor by speaking English with me but Norwegian is so much easier for them and this is the Christmas and party season with all kinds of visiting and talking and visiting and talking. Many times I simply sat, peacefully listening to the music of the voices and the hum of my own being. One time on the radio I heard an announcer talking very fast with an acute fever pitch climax - it must have been a horse race or a key goal in a soccer game or hockey. I couldn't tell. English is a struggle for Jøren (her English is 10,000 times better than my Norsk!) and but often her expression is a delight. Once she was cutting butter with a special knife, getting it ready for the party. She said, “Butter is too strong, was in freese, I want to make fancy.” I understood her perfectly. Rolf's English is academic and precise. Once when choosing a kind of herbed cream cheese he said, “No. I think I prefer this one.” He is always wondering about the sutble subtle differences in meaning - dew vs fog (when referring to glasses getting steamed up when coming in from the cold), pole vs stick (ski poles or ski sticks? A pole is tall like a flag pole?). When Jøren had trouble speaking English (she loves to talk!) she would:
Today is Christmas Eve. We won't have pizza! We're going to the house of Thomas' parents.
God Jul! [goo yule]
P.S. I'll be Jon again, not Jón, when I come back.
P.P.S I worked hard on this letter. The next ones won't be so good. Everything balances.
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