February 1st…“BEING FULL-BLOODED NORWEGIAN, WHAT KIND OF HERITAGE RELATED THINGS CAUGHT YOUR ATTENTION AS YOU WERE GROWING UP?”
The tire treads of our family car against the gravel road sang a lullaby to this tiny boy as I drifted off to sleep upon my mother’s soft chest. Little toddler that I was, I had expended every ounce of my young Norwegian battery from playing with cousins during our fun visit and now Dad was pointing the car homewards and back to our farm there in southern Minnesota. As I slid from sleep to consciousness and back to sleep again, I was comforted by Mom’s voice, droning from the cavity of her bosom, as she conversed with our father while driving along. It was a most pleasant way to be introduced to Norwegian-sounding words and their use in my infantile time of early life.
But, later in life, when it came to adults talking amongst themselves, something unique to my Norwegian heritage began to evolve. As I grew, I began to discern something distinct in my grandparent’s generation; the sound of a Scandinavian accent, a flavoring, if you will, to their speech.
My Father, in his young generation, told me of growing up in a Norwegian household. He shared, “I grew up bilingual, that is speaking two languages. I could be speaking Norwegian to my mother, then spin around in the room and speak English to my father.
Later in life, I found a photo of our Dad standing for a very solemn photo with some of his brothers. I’d ask why the scowling faces? The answer was that they, in those days, had to sit through TWO worship times in church each week. The one church time was in English and the same sermon was repeated…..in Norwegian. No wonder he and his energetic brothers were moping and frowning.
From the time my mother (Clarice) was little, the same held true for her side of the Norwegian culture that followed our ancestors from the shores of Norway. What really caught my attention the most, though, was when my parents and the elders of the family would “shift gears” while visiting among themselves. English was being spoken at first, but all of a sudden the adults would begin conversing in Norwegian and leave us kids in a cloud of confusion as to what was being conveyed between their adult ears. At first, it was hard for my little boy mind to wrap around the event unfolding before me. Adult lips were moving, but I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying!! Over time, though, I discerned that if the grownups talked Norwegian in serious or dark, hushed tones, they were likely talking about a confidential family matter, but, if they spoke the Norwegian in happy tones, with inflections of whimsical winks, and they ended up laughing their heads off……it was very likely a “colorful” joke that our little kid ears either shouldn’t hear or wouldn’t have understood anyway.
In our early days, we Noorlun kiddos learned various Norwegian phrases as we listened to our parents and grandparents. The phrase “UFF DA!!!(pronounced OOOFF DAH)” is a Norwegian term used to express shock or disbelief or even being upset about something. Then there was the customary Norwegian way of saying “many thousand thanks for the food”, which was “Munga Tusen Takk For Matten”.
Some NON-Norwegian ears, one night, heard something and misinterpreted what he THOUGHT he heard and our whole family laughed a good one!! You see, each evening, at bedtime, it was customary for Mom and Dad to give us children a Norwegian blessing of “sleep good” as we went upstairs for slumber. The phrase “Sov Godt” was kinda transliterated to our family version of “Suva Gut”. Well, anyway, Douglas Ehrich was over visiting one evening at bedtime and as we raced up the stairwell to bed, Mom and Dad hollered out the Norwegian blessing to us and we returned the blessing back down to them from upstairs. Doug leaned over to sister Rosie, on the couch, and quietly asked, “Do your folks always cuss at the children that way??” What a hoot!!! First Rosie started laughing, then our folks and then all of us roared as we told Doug that they were just saying “good night” to us in Norwegian!!!
One of the tender times of our Norwegian heritage was when our elders and parents would recite the Norwegian Table Prayer. You could almost see the olden days, in their eyes, as they gentle spoke these words. I would surmise that they were seeing their own elders of days gone by as they, too, recited these words of loving thanks to our Lord Jesus for giving them another daily meal. These fond memories brighten the heart of this Norwegian Farmers’ Son.