My eyes welled up when the news came through about the bombing and shootings in Norway. No, not Norway. No way. Especially Oslo, home to the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Peace Center. I was even more shocked when it was reported that the murderer was an Oslo native, Anders Behring Brevik, the 32-year-old who has admitted to killing 76 people and injuring dozens of others. I watched the horror unravel live online via the BBC.
My in-box was quickly filled with Norwegian connections. Among them were condolences from the president of the Grand Lodge of the Daughters of Norway, of which I’m a charter member of Whidbey Island’s Ester Moe Lodge No. 39. Another was from a friend in Canada who had recently visited his sister in Oslo, staying at a hotel 150 feet from the epicenter of the blast and biking in the area just a few days before the deadly bomb went off. He said his sister was shaken and stirred, but OK — he felt so sick to his stomach that he left work early Friday afternoon.
Growing up in Arlington north of Everett, I was surrounded by Norskes. My non-English speaking grandparents, Paul and Henrietta Bjorn, emigrated from Trondheim, Norway, to Snohomish County. And during the holidays, my Norwegian aunts would roll out the fattigman, krumkake, and lefse that I so loved (lutefisk not included). Back in the 1950s, it was a big deal for kids to recite one’s heritage: “I’m half Norwegian, one-fourth French and one-fourth Irish,” I’d proudly proclaim to anybody who listened. And while my gaggle of pals watched Stan Boreson on KING-5 do his corny Uncle Torvald routine, we thought he was just another goofy relative. The “King of Scandinavian Culture” somehow kept our roots alive. My dad was most proud of U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, a fellow Norwegian born in Everett. Whenever Scoop appeared on TV, my dad acted like they were the best of friends.
My dad didn’t talk all that much about the “old country,” since he’d never been there, but I'd spend hours leafing through his dogeared, over-sized magazines featuring black and white photographs of Norway's massive mountains, fjords, and farmlands. When I reached the teenage years, my Scandinavian heritage turned out to be a financial boon. I begged my dad to join the Sons of Norway Mjolner Lodge No. 34 so I could attend the rock 'n roll teen dances for free at the lodge’s Viking Hall in the nearby farming community of Silvana. He complied.
Although Scandinavia is probably not the No. 1 choice for honeymooners (think Hawaii or the Caribbean), that’s where my hubby and I went following our August 1974 wedding. Actually, we didn’t intend to go there; New Zealand was our first choice. But several months before the wedding, I realized it would be winter in the land of kiwis. Thinking that Norway would be somewhat similar to New Zealand, with its fjords and greenscapes, we booked a direct flight to Copenhagen on SAS and spent two weeks in the land of my relatives.
Our arrival at the train station in Oslo was a bit on the chilly side, as we were greeted by “Yanks Go Home!” That’s when I realized we should have sewn Canadian flags on our backpacks, as the negative sentiment over the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was still strong. But outside of that incident, Oslo's atmosphere was open and warm, although the summer weather unseasonably cool and rainy. No surprise that we felt right at home.
I re-visited Oslo in February of 2008 and made pilgrimages to the places my hubby and I had visited 34 years before: Akerhus Fortress & Castle, the city’s waterfront along the Oslo Fjord, the Viking Ship Museum in Bygdoy, and Vigeland Sculpture Park. New since I’d been there was the Oslo Opera House, which opened in April of 2008 and is an impressive glacial structure perched on the edge of the Nordic seaport city.
When I returned home, I remarked to my hubby that it would be fun to replicate our honeymoon some year. We could retrace our steps that took us from Copenhagen to Bergen, Oslo to Trondheim. We’d be older, in our 60s instead of our 20s, but so would Norway. Now, it's a place that will forever be changed by the senseless and tragic murders in Oslo and the island of Utoya. As one Norwegian said, “Always something of this kind happens somewhere in the world. This time it happened in Norway.” And for that, I’m very sad.