September 20th…“DID YOU EVER LEARN ABOUT YOUR NORWEGIAN HERITAGE FROM SOMEONE WHO ACTUALLY LIVED IN NORWAY?”
There I sat, in all the blank-brained innocence of a pimple-faced, “wet behind the ears” 16 year old kid who was about to put his proverbial “foot in his mouth” with a stupid statement to an elder guest visiting our home. My father’s Aunt Dagny (pronounced “DAHGnee”) and her husband, Trygve (pronounced “TRIGvee”) Tolakson Lenning had just arrived at our home, there in Battle Ground, Washington. They had made the long journey from their home state of Iowa and we were thrilled to welcome them into our home and make them feel comfortable with some coffee and visiting. To accommodate everyone being able to get into our Living Room for visiting with one another, Trygve and I placed our bottoms on the brick hearth of our fireplace. I was intrigued by this quaint Norwegian man who still had a very distinct Norwegian lilt (or accent) to his English, even after having lived in America for many years. Just as I was 16 years young, at the time, Trygve shared that he ALSO was a mere 16 year old boy when he emigrated from his mother country of Norway to America for a new life in our grand nation.
My father, Russell, and mother, Clarice, were both fluently bilingual in their ancestral native tongue of Norwegian. That came as a natural result of both maternal and paternal grandparents speaking Norwegian regularly as our parents grew up, and, therefore, our folks spoke the “mother tongue” very well, also. With the fragrance of coffee casting a happy ambiance, it was an extra pleasure to listen to our folks “switch gears” into Norwegian on occasion, during the evening, in order to have their own “private” sort of chats with Dagny and Trygve. Feeling emboldened by the overall Scandinavian aura of the room, I then jumped in to the conversation with my “foot in the mouth” statement. “Trygve, your name sounds like it’s Swedish!” Ohhhh myyyy goodness, by the look on his face, you’d think I had just busted him in the mouth with a baseball bat!! “Don’t yew sayee DAT!! Dat’s an insult!!!”
Of course, I apologized immediately with all due embarrassment. It was then that I learned from Trygve about the long and bitter ill feelings between the Norwegian and the Swedish peoples over the centuries.
At some point, in the annals Scandinavian history, Sweden had conquered Norway. They ruled and lorded over the Norwegians for a long period of time. In 1814, the Norwegians drew up their own constitution and then declared their independence from Sweden. War between the two neighboring nations ensued and the outcome was a victory and freedom for Norway to be its own independent nation once again.
Once Trygve’s pride was restored from my innocently-made insult, we all settled back into a grand rest of the day reminiscing of the old days in Minnesota and Iowa. A great meal was prepared by the hands of our mother, Clarice, and Aunt Dagny, too. Throughout the evening, Uncle Trygve enjoyed giving some jovial ribbing of jokes aimed at the Swedish “bad guys” (in his opinions).
Along the lines of Norwegian pride is also the way their Independence Day is pronounced. In Norwegian, May 17th is pronounced, “Syttende Mai” (Sit en deh My).
There’s even a silly song that’s been written to express the Norwegian’s feelings about the “Swedes”. The tune comes from the cowboy song, “Home On The Range”. The words are written in a “broken English” as if a Norwegian from the shores of Norway were trying to sing it with his accented English/Norwegian flavor. It was a fun occasion, that day (and the coming days they spent with us) to learn of the heritage of our family from these two dear folks. A fun evening it was for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.