Sunday, June 21, 2009
Today marks the longest day of the year – a holiday in our home. As a child I never knew such a magical day existed. Sure, I had heard about the equinox in Science class, but no one in my family gave it much mention; and we surely never “celebrated” this day attributed to Pagan rites. The longest day was just that . . . loooong and I still had to go to bed at the prescribed time, regardless of how much sun poured through the organza criss-cross curtains of my room. At age 17 that all changed and a new holiday entered my life.
As I packed my bags to set off for a summer’s stay in Norway, I wondered about all the “newness” but also feared I would miss so much at home. Dilemma and worry tried to fill the empty crevices in my carry-on luggage (and my heart). I knew not where I would be living, as the Host family cancelled at the last minute and I received a hastily scrawled “form” stating new family information (much of which proved to be incorrect, I later learned). Nonetheless I continued packing and preparing for an adventure I had been planning for months. In the days leading up to my departure, my mom and grandmother panicked at the thought of letting me go. They warned me of all manner of “slavery” and planted fears by the bushel in my innocent heart.
I remained steadfast in my plans to jet away to parts unknown. I felt no fear as I whisked away into the night. We left at 11 pm from San Francisco and it was dark. Little did I know I wouldn’t see dark night again until I returned home in late August.
Several long flights criss-crossing the US and then one looooooonger charter over the ocean dropped me into Norway about 9 am some morning later. (I lost track of time along the way.) I disembarked, exhausted but excited. I “checked in” with the local leader and he scanned his clipboard for my name. “Hmmmmm . . .” he muttered, “Says here you cancelled your trip.” “Clearly not,” I replied, luggage in hand – I felt like Anne of Green Gables before Matthew Cuthbert showed up, as I informed him that another family had been chosen for me. “Okay, don’t worry,” he said off-handedly (just a hint of skepticism fringing his voice), “My mom has a spare room for you if nobody shows up for you.” I choked back a tear and scanned the faces of those coming and greeting the other students. “They’ll be here,” I muttered confidently.
Time passed and I sat down atop my banana yellow (brand new) American Tourister Soft-Sider luggage. I crushed the top, but didn’t notice, my heart beating faster as the crowd of kids dwindled. The check-in guy looked over and smiled. I smiled back and took a deep breath. Hope his mom is nice . . .
Suddenly a woman with strawberry blond hair, cropped short, and the sweetest accent came calling “Deeebie? I’m looking for Deeebie.” I popped up and fairly ran to claim my family. Apologies flowed about the traffic and how late they had arrived. I just grinned and waved goodbye to the organizer as my yellow valise disappeared into the trunk of a robin’s egg blue Saab and whisked me away down the road to . . . whatever happened to lay at the end of the road.
My exhaustion evaporated as I scanned the landscape in awe. I couldn’t believe I had actually left home and traveled far across the globe to find houses and roads and trees and all the rest so familiar. It looked like Lake Tahoe!
We pulled up to a modest little brown house surrounded by a vegetable garden in a neighborhood so similar and yet entirely different from home. I plopped my luggage in “my room” and set out on a hike through the forest with Mimmi, the 15-year-old daughter who spoke not a word to me . . . for a long time.
We gathered berries for supper as we wandered through the fairytale-like woods filled with mossy stones, freshets flowing fast with icy-cold water, and berries by the score along needled pathways in dappled shade. We walked and walked and walked, then returned home for a simple yet delicious meal that I barely stayed awake through. After dinner, at 7:30 pm, I fell asleep and slept until 9:30 am the next morning. Since it was light when I fell asleep and equally bright when I awoke, I assumed I had taken a two-hour nap. Not so. My refreshed body danced in the light and eagerly wondered what the day held.
The house lay quiet as Pappa and Mamma (as they would soon be known to me) had gone off to work – he at the water and power company as an engineer, she as a clerk in a local bookshop. Hungry, yet ignorant as to how to slice the bread with that dangerous-looking contraption, I waited for Mimmi to emerge from her room. I waited and waited . . . She emerged sleepy-eyed and tight-lipped some time later. We ate bread and cheese, bread and apple preserves, bread and smashed berries – yep, just smash those raspberries onto the fresh bread with the back of a fork. Sublime. Incredible. (Just finished my last bite of the same as I sit here on my deck sipping tea and rambling away on this keyboard.)
What would today hold? I wondered. Another walk through the forest, I would soon learn. Mimmi said precious little and I had the distinct feeling she intended to exhaust me into returning to the US. Mamma had mentioned on the drive home that Mimmi had suffered disappointment that her trip to the mountains with friends had to be cancelled due to her asthma flaring up. They called for a summer exchange student at the last minute as a way to cheer her up. Inwardly I groaned when I heard this. This morning as I walked and walked I wondered if she would pass the entire summer without engaging me in conversation. But then slowly she began to talk and ask questions and note that I might not be such a drag on her summer plans. (Skip ahead – we became lifelong friends . . . sisters, really. I’m so glad she decided to give me a chance.)
Ummmmmm . . . you may be wondering . . . where does the part about the Summer Solstice come in? Right now, you see this second walk happened on the Solstice.
When Mamma and Pappa arrived home from work later that day we ate a quick meal and then piled in the car to go into Oslo for the celebrations. “Celebrations?” I wondered, “What are they celebrating?” The streets teemed with well-wishers. Though becoming late evening, the sunlight shined as brightly as the afternoon. Crowds of people spilled from the parks and clearings and gardens everywhere. Huge piles of wood dotted the groupings of folks. I learned that bonfires would be set as the evening progressed. I drank it all in without a clue about any of it. We attended a musical celebrating the Summer Solstice traditions in Norway. I thought, “Good, now I’ll learn the roots of this joyful celebration.” The curtain went up: Lively music, famous actors, 100% Norwegian dialog. (Did I mention that I spoke one word: “Tak” = Thank You?) I fell asleep partway through.
I awoke to a gentle rousing as Mamma clucked that maybe we should return home as it may be too much for “Deebie.” I shook my head “No,” perked up and begged to keep going. We walked around in the “night” (now well past 10 o’clock pm, maybe even 11) but it remained bright and clear. It wasn’t “Sunny” but more like “the brightness of nearly-twilight.” Bonfires raged though darkness had not fallen. People sang, ate, sang some more, and called greetings to all who passed by. I truly felt I had awoken in a Rip-Van-Winkle-esque moment. And I have never forgotten it. I loved it!
We returned home late in the night (still light) and I fell into slumber. The next day I awoke feeling at home. I belonged. Mimmi greeted me at breakfast with a cheerful “Halloo! Good morning!” and my heart sang. “I’m Norwegian,” I thought, “Not just because my Great-Grandfather Hans (who died just months after my birth) came from Norway to America at age 16 with a wooden box of necessaries and a heartful of BIG DREAMS, but because I am living in this moment in this place and it feels so right.
The year after I went to Norway Mimmi came to visit me. She arrived at the Midsummer but I had no celebrations to share with her. We made our own. To this day I eagerly await the Summer Solstice, planning a delicious Norwegian menu to be eaten out under the trees as the folktunes particular to Norway fill the long evening. Our sun does set, but later than at any other time of the year. I sit out and drink in the twilight (always my favorite time of day) as I remember that discovery of the Midsummer in Norway so long ago.
I have rambled on for oh so long! (Kudos to those of you that stuck with me.) My blog spills over with me and my life . . . this memory came like a flood and carried me away on the wings of delight.
But now, I must be off this box and onto the business of preparing for the loooongest day of the year. We’ve much to celebrate and be thankful for. I know the celebration has Pagan roots, but for me the celebration has a different set of roots. The Midsummer will always remind me of that wonderful gateway to the joys of life without fears. To taking chances. To meeting “newness” with a smile and lots of hope and courage. To reaching for a dream . . . even if you didn’t know that’s what you were doing . . . and finding it.
And now I really must be off to drag the table out under the big oak tree, pick some blueberries and raspberries from my woods, and dig out that Norwegian folk CD. (I’ve already got my clogs on, I wear them every day.)
“Hade bra!” (Have it well)