Ramblings from the Cove...

April 2018 - Tales of Kristiansand

By Lars Gren

Some of you may have read about my previous trip in 2001 to Kristiansand, my old home town, where I was raised by my grandparents for the first ten years of my life. It was a lone trip with Elisabeth staying at home with the two caregivers. My return home was so sweet, for Elisabeth happened to be standing on the step looking up the drive as though expecting me, and greeted me with, “You’ve been away too long.” This one was also a lone trip for our last day together was June 15 of ’15. Now there are no hellos or goodbyes when the door closes at # 10 in The Cove. Still I travel a bit, and this was a return to see my cousin Bjørg for a birthday celebration, as well as to reminisce over the past-- a subject that is never far from my thoughts.

Kea, a past caregiver, who is great in finding economical flights, found one via Amsterdam. However; she noted it had a long layover before the hour plus flight to Kristiansand. She suggested I could rent a sort of elongated sleeping box, from the sound of the description, for a certain number of hours. I said, “Well, I’ll see how it is when I arrive there.” As it turned out, I instead did several things to occupy myself—watched fellow travelers (90% with cell phone or gadgets’ in their hands) read a book (very few other readers) and walked. If you enjoy walking as an exercise while waiting for a flight, I recommend this airport as being the place to connect, for miles can be paced off without going into another terminal. But mind where you make turns and note landmarks so you do not get lost on your return trek. However there are kind helpers with sort of caddy carts that are ever ready to wheel you about. I had to refuse their kindness several times prior to my convincing them that I could walk the return for they kept saying, “Oh, it is very far, better that I take you there.”

Well the 8 or 9 hour layover did pass and with the short flight it was not long before we touched down at Kjevik airport in Kristiansand. As we taxied in I said “Where am I?” I realized then that I was not returning to the place that I knew so well. The airport was three times the size of what I knew, Air Force military offices where Bjørg’s husband was stationed moved to, what I guess was the other end of the airport, for I saw a direction sign for it, but not the buildings. What I had no problem knowing was Bjørg’s smiling face and wave from the parking lot. After a quick hello and the drive toward the city, I said to Bjørg, “the apartment buildings over there looks to be near where Elisabeth and I had the cottage by the fjord for a couple of summer months, when she was doing some writing. “Oh, no we are not near there”. “This bridge is the one I used to go to Bjarne’s house”—“No, that’s gone this is a new one.” “But this goes to the bridge that crosses the river to the city.” “No, that bridge is gone and now we drive through a tunnel.” “Oh, and that leads into the city?” “No, we don’t go through the city but another tunnel that ends close to my apartment,” and so it went. We left the airport towards her home, passing beneath the city without seeing it at all.

It brought to mind Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled”—no, I have not read it—not all of it, and if I did I would not understand it. Elisabeth, when she returned from Ecuador had her house built on the adjoining property of Frost’s place. Once when we were in the area we walked up the path nearest Frost’s house where some of his memorable lines are on plaques. Should you go there and face the two houses, from the road, Elisabeth’s is to the right of Robert Frost’s. Whatever the intent of his poem was--who knows--but that line came to my mind as I wondered, like Frost, if I had taken the right road, had I been driving.

My trip lasted just shy of two weeks and in that time I realized many changes had occurred:

In my time men wore hats—not to be confused with baseball caps, which I detest except if I am doing yard work. I arrived wearing my best hat, a real felt navy blue one—a classic look. It was common to tip the brim a bit when meeting or in passing a friend. When you met a woman that you knew, and exchanged some words, the hat would come off or else be tipped in passing. Well it is a new world. I’ll cut to the chase—if at all possible. I had daily walks and so I put the hat on the next afternoon and told Bjørg “I’m off!” She just chuckled. It became the highlight of the afternoon. The weather was comfortable but too warm and some rain on a few of the days but not enough to bother me with only once or twice having to open the umbrella. Since I tended to walk at about the same time each day, I met quite a few people that began to give a nod in response, to my raising my hand slightly, as in a salute and lo, after two or three times they at times initiated the greeting. The ice was in a way at least cracked for on the whole Norwegians’ are rather somber when it comes to strangers. I at least received a smile or slight nod in return.

Two key events: My walks were in residential areas with streets intersecting or at times dead-ending in someone’s driveway so that I had to backtrack and find a new way. I never returned by the way I had left as my aim was to get to know the streets. The end always came at a shopping plaza across from the apartment. As I crested a hill one day I saw a father, a young son and the younger sister near their garage with some fishing gear in the drive. As I walked on and came nearer the young girl ran out towards me just prior to my passing. I stopped, smiled and said hello. She in turn smiled, looked up at me and very definitely asked, “Who are you?” I’m not from here but just out for a walk. Taking that in she said, “Du er en gamle mann!” (You are an old man.) “Yes, I am and how old are you?” Four fingers were held up. “Yes, you are young and I am old.” “How old?” When I told her, the response was an emphatic, “Ja, du er en gamle Mann!!!.” “Yes, you are an old man!!!!” The young pull no punches. Straight to the marrow! At that I said, “I better keep walking as my cousin is expecting me. Perhaps we will meet again when I have another walk”. I did see her from a distance but did not have another chat. True to the Nordic way neither the father nor the brother gave me even as much as a look or a wave as we chatted. She was a delight to meet and I had hoped to have had a second round.

On another walk I rounded a curve where the road was pitching down towards the apartment. I could see the shopping center and I noticed a woman pulling her cart rather slowly and coming against me with what appeared to be more than a few groceries. Our paths came together at the curve in the corner and I stopped and tipped my hat to her. She smiled and we exchanged a greeting. I could tell that she was going to rest a bit so I decided that I would also take a breather and engage in a chat. As she seemed ready to head up the hill, I asked her if I could wheel her cart up. She declined and said that her apartment was just a bit farther up the street and then mentioned that every Tuesday and Thursday at about this same time she returns from store but not on other days. I mentioned that this was my home town, year’s back, and that I lived now in the US. With that I added that perhaps we will meet on the road again or at the store and if so perhaps a tea or a coffee would be nice to have. She thanked me and said yes, perhaps we’ll meet again. I put on my hat, for I had removed it while chatting with Randi. With that, singing a little tune, I set off on the remaining 12 minute walk to Bjørg’s. When I told her of my encounters she just laughed and each time thereafter she would ask, “Did you meet up with Randi?” “No, not once did that happen even though I changed my return route to pass by the building where she lived and sauntered into the store for a look even though I had no groceries or such to purchase.” My timing was correct but alas no coffee with Randi.

In Bjørg’s building there is a lovely large lounge for owners and guests with a hostess who daily prepares open faced sandwiches for those who live there and sign up for it. Then each month there is a lunch excursion to the city and it happened that it occurred at the end of my first week being there. It was to be a taxi to the Fish Pier to partake of an all you can eat fish table including shrimp, smoked fish, mussels—oysters or clams--well you name it, it was there and this at the best restaurant on the fish pier. The limit of 12 was reached which filled the one taxi that would come to pick up and deliver the tenants. There would not be room for me but that was before one person changed her mind about going and I was rewarded with a seat. It was for me “en alle tiders” lunch for me meaning, ‘It couldn’t have been better.’ If memory is with me, I think that that evening I baked fish for dinner as though we had not had sufficient for the day and then some.

The capstone arrived on my last weekend. It was the final days of electioneering in the public square. I headed for the bus and went to the central square to find that it was full of folk enjoying the window shopping, ice cream, and finding a spot to sit and watch the goings on. There were also four or five booths set up, and before I could move, more than a bit, a young lady with a round wicker basket filled with common sweet delicious rolls offered me one and then another one, and not wanting to hurt her feelings I obliged her. Then a few steps further was a booth where a woman with a waffle iron was making waffles. She put them on a carry plate , topped them with delicious strawberry jam and offered them with an political pitch to “vote conservative.” Since one does not walk normally on one leg so it is with waffles in that to eat one is difficult, so I had a second one too. But to the other side of the street I noticed a large stainless steel kettle sitting on a gas burner and wondered what it might be? Would you have guessed a pot of hot fish chowder? It was indeed and before I could answer the chowder man ladled up a cup for me. As we chatted I told him that I used to live here in a house next to the Free Church with my grandparents. He gave me his name, Sødal. I remembered the same name from Sunday school, and we figured out it was his uncle who also lead the choir. We talked for a good bit—at least through the second bowl. That Sunday I saw him again at the church which added to the enjoyment to my time there. For as long as I walked around the town square there was a throng of folks munching and getting offered political leaflets.

We think mainly of two parties but Norway though small, abounds with choices when it comes to electing folks to “Stortinget” which corresponds to our Congress and Senate. The King is the head of the country and he has his own authority but without Stortinget there would be no law and order and the country would come to a grinding halt. I’ll list some names of the various political parties in Norway just for the spirit of it—“Mer” (More), Grønne (Green), Venstra (Left), Miljue (Nature), Chrisitian Peoples Party, the Socialists, Red (Communist) then other parties including Forward Step, Center, Conservative and there are other smaller parties. It made my head spin when Bjørg gave me a list and laughed. If you wonder, the election was held and the Conservative Party received the majority and I did not ask for the runner-ups that will have their reps in office. Much as it is with any coalition.

Now for winding this down, I suggest that Magnolia take a hint from the Norwegians for their next local election. Instead of standing in a clump on the corner waving signs, often looking cold and cheerless, get the use of the library kitchen, put on the hot chowder kettle on a sidewalk table with leaflets, and liven it all up with three solo tuba players. There will be a landslide victory for sure for the table with the best chowder.

God bless y’all and that’s it from the Cove,

Lars


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