Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traveling to Denmark

I have been enjoying reading several of my mother's wonderful and well-written travel journals she kept from her trips to Scandinavia. The journals begin with her very first visit in 1973.

She was an excellent writer and included so many interesting details, noting what things were called, how they compared to things in the U.S., what was served at each meal, how it was presented, and so on. 

Many years of diligent research preceded her first trip. Knowing her father was from Denmark and her mother from Sweden, she had a few childhood photos of her Danish cousins and only knew they existed. She knew a few of their first names, and that's about it.  Her parents both died at early ages, before my mother herself could ask or even remember what she was told about her family.

She located a cousin, Anna Bunde-Pedersen, and they began corresponding. Anna made a list of family members for her, told her a bit about each one, and then invited her to visit.

So again, she researched, spreading out maps to pinpoint where they lived, enlisted the help of a travel agent, and with a mixture of excitement and a little trepidation, she set out to spend the month of August 1973 abroad, visiting Denmark, Norway and Sweden, meeting her family for the very first time. But first, she enrolled in a community college to learn the language, knowing all wouldn't speak English. My mother was 50 years old at the time.

My mother in the middle, cousin Anna on her right

She writes in her journals of meeting them all at a large and elegant dinner party held in her honor at a restaurant the first evening she was there. They were warm, welcoming and delightful people, telling her many stories of her father and their family there through the years. In the ensuing weeks, she spent several days with various cousins, in cities and on farms, gaining new perspectives of her heritage and family surroundings.

She then went on to Norway to see her young friend, Mona, who had taught her Hardanger embroidery here in the U.S. Mona had lived in Minnesota for a time, and had returned to Norway, her homeland. The two had become good friends.

Mom spent the last week of her trip by taking a ship from Norway to Sweden to visit the birthplace of her mother, although there were no family members living there any longer.

My mother traveled back to Scandinavia five more times before she asked me to go along in 1994. By then, several aunts, uncles and two of her cousins were no longer living. She wanted me to experience the joy she had being there among them, and at 71, she didn't want to travel alone.

It was a trip that changed my life. It broadened my horizons, as they say. I met the family she so cherished, visited the birth homes of my grandparents, saw the graves and churches of my great- and even great-great  grandparents, experienced the beauty of the Scandinavian countries, and learned new customs.

In winter 1996, we went again, this time more as tourists, seeing the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory, Isak Dinesen's home where she wrote Out of Africa, and so much more. My mother's cousin, Greta, even re-created a typical Danish Christmas Eve feast for us.

In 1998, we went again, this time with my daughter, Kristie. Now another generation has established relationships with a family so far across the sea that were so special to my mother and to me.

So, in my mind, one of the richest legacies my mother left me was her persistence in discovering and establishing the connection between our families, here in the U.S. and abroad. Any time I want to travel along with her again, all I need to do is open her journals and I'm right there.

Our Scandinavian heritage. I appreciate and value it more and more every day.