Visitors from the Old Country








I bet you wish you were related to the people in this black-and-white photo.  But then you’d have to be related to me.  And you don’t want to be related to me.  Just ask most of my relatives.

But I digress.

My cousin Charlie and my second-cousin-once-removed, Bob, visited us this week.  Both live in Minnesota, my dad’s home state.  In exchange for deer hunting access, they brought us some treasures, like these potatoes from the fields near Charlie’s home.



And like this wild rice, which Bob harvests from the lakes near his home and then sells at the local farmer’s market.  I think there’s something really meaningful, really basic and — for lack of better words — old world, in the sharing of a gift that one can coax from his own spot of earth.



Bob, the second-cousin-once-removed, shared another kind of treasure with me:  photos like the one at top.  It shows my great-grandparents Hans and Johannah Arvik on their wedding day in Norway.

Bob is a bit of an Arvik family history aficionado, and I’m an amateur family historian myself (though I’ve surrendered to the hope that I’ll get to spend part of my time in heaven studying family history, because my life here on earth seems to be going by rather quickly and there hasn’t been much time yet for studying family history).  Bob has been to Norway twice and was all too happy to spread photos, documents, and maps of Norway out on my kitchen table for our intense two-day study of those who came before us.

Hans and Johannah were my dad’s grandparents, and he grew up near their home in Minnesota.  They were both full-blood Norwegian.  Dad is half Norwegian and half Swede (because his mother was a Swede… and if rumor has it correctly, Hans and Johannah were none too pleased about their son’s mixed-blood marriage — the marriage between my grandmother and grandfather).  So I’m a quarter Norwegian and a quarter Swede.

But it’s the Norwegian side of my roots that I’m most familiar with, because folks like Bob (who is a wonderful storyteller, yah sure) and pictures like this one have kind of immortalized Hans and Johannah in my mind.  (I especially love her crown, don’t you?  The story goes that wealthy Norwegian families usually had a crown or two, plunder remaining from the days of the vikings, and that daughters from these families were bedecked with crowns on wedding days.  Johannah is at the front of the boat wearing a crown, and her sister, probably a bridesmaid, is farther back in the boat and also wearing a crown.  That her family had two special-occasion crowns suggests they were fairly wealthy, and a chunk of land still in her maiden name back in Norway confirms it.  Rumor has it that generations down the line, a family drunkard took the crowns to town and sold them for drinking money.  The stinker.)

Do you think maybe I’m a princess in Norway and they’ve been looking for me all these years?

Bob says he doesn’t think so.

There are surely many stories worth telling about my great-grandfather Hans.  He immigrated to the United States not once but twice.  He and his first wife came from Norway and settled in the Northwest United States.  They had one son.  The family was crossing over water on a log bridge when the wife and baby fell to the water; Hans was able to rescue the baby but not his wife.  A young widower, he put the baby up for adoption and returned to Norway.

Back in Norway he set about courting my great-grandmother, Johannah.  The story goes that Hannah had two boyfriends, Hans being one of them, and couldn’t choose between the two.  Hans is remembered as a supremely confident individual, and so he took it upon himself to help Johannah choose.  One Sunday in church he stood before the congregation and announced that he and Johannah Okland were planning to be wed.

And by golly they were wed, and immigrated to the United States soon after.  They settled to stay in Minnesota.  He was a real mover and shaker:  a county commissioner, a state legislator, instrumental in bringing railroad and electricity to his expanding frontier.

He was handsome, too, as far as I can tell from the pictures.

Do you think I might be a little like him?

Cousin Charlie, who is older than me and actually remembers Hans, says that Hans could be a little… er… abrasive.  Over-confident.

But I don’t have that problem at all.

Anyhow, I like thinking about these people.  I like feeling connected to the past.  I like imaging from whence we came.  And I get along great with every single relative I know from black-and-white photos.

Also with my cousin Charlie and my second-cousin-once-removed, Bob.  Come back soon, fellas.  Uff-dah.

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