Column - Deep connection to NorwayIt was the final week of my senior year, but more than 4,000 miles separated me from Jefferson High School. Leaving my studies behind, I found myself atop a frosty mountain swathed in pine, walking in the footsteps of my ancestors. In flimsy flip-flops.
By: By Marit Aaseng, Intern Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
It was the final week of my senior year, but more than 4,000 miles separated me from Jefferson High School. Leaving my studies behind, I found myself atop a frosty mountain swathed in pine, walking in the footsteps of my ancestors. In flimsy flip-flops.
This was my first step in experiencing my “homeland” of Norway, in a very chilly and literal way. As I meandered down the same mossy paths that my great-great-grandfather had once traversed daily on the way to his mill, I felt more closely connected to my heritage than ever before. Appropriately, this surreal opportunity for discovery came about in a surreal way.
What landed my family and me in the land of lefse, lutefisk and fjords was a winning combination of 100 percent Norwegian lineage and reality television. I blame my very Norwegian parents for the former. The guilt of the latter falls on my shoulders.
When I submitted my dad’s application to be a contestant on the show Alt for Norge, I never expected him to be selected. However, his ancestry, profession, personality and wardrobe of Scandinavian sweaters made him a model candidate for Norwegian television. (Details of Grant’s adventure can be seen in the June 11 story ‘Unreal Reality.’)
After a valiant month-long effort abroad, he did not win the show’s grand prize of a reunion with Norwegian relatives. Despite the loss, my mother, brother and I warmly welcomed him back into the true reality of Alexandria, and settled in for a long stretch of normalcy.
That normalcy lasted one year. We had underestimated my mild-mannered minister father’s star power.
In May, when the show began broadcasting over Norwegian airwaves, my parents received an astonishing e-mail from the Norwegian Genealogical Society. It seemed to believe that my dad’s performance on the small screen warranted a family reunion in Norway, in just two weeks time.
Against all odds, suspicions and constraints of time and money, my parents snatched up the invitation, and opted to bring my brother and me along for the ride.
After cramming for finals, and stuffing suitcases, I bid farewell to America, and said “hei” to Norway.
Exiting the plane in Oslo, we had our first glimpse into the celebrity lifestyle. The genealogists welcomed us in true paparazzi fashion, their flash bulbs blinding my jet-lagged eyes. Without pause, my family was whisked away into the countryside.
The panoramic beauty of the Norwegian landscape was stunning – quaint towns nestled on lush hills beside forested lakes. Well acquainted with the area, genealogists shepherded a hands-on exploration of our ancestry. Through weeks of research, they had amassed a detailed genealogy of both sides of my family, going back as far as eight generations.
As we trekked between ancient farms, I realized the inadequacy of the footwear I had packed. Casting off my flip-flops, I walked barefoot, practically feeling history beneath my toes. This place didn’t feel like some foreign land; it felt like home.
The next week offered similarly powerful experiences, including countless visits to churches, stavekirkes, museums and fjords. Memorable meals and a stay in the Dale-Gudbrand Inn (where St. Olaf, the namesake of my college to be, brought Christianity to the king of Norway) added a special touch.
Perhaps the most remarkable event of all was the “grand prize” – being reunited with my dad’s long lost relatives.
The drive past Heidal to the gathering place was filled with beauty and curiosity about what was in store for us.
We came to a stop before a cozy farmhouse. Soon, an absurd number of people began to stream forth from the tiny building. Each person was wearing a traditional bunad costume, was grinning broadly and looked vaguely familiar. They received us just like family, which I suppose we were. Although a language barrier came between us, a bond was tangible.
The bond that I felt with the land, the people and the culture of Norway grew stronger each day of the trip. It’s a connection that has lasted long after returning to the U.S., finishing high school and graduating.
No longer is Norway simply the place from which my ancestors emigrated, the origin of my name and the source of my family’s traditions, it resonates deep within me, right down to the tips of my toes.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.