Thursday, October 26, 2017

NORWAY: DREAMING OF THE OLD COUNTRY



NORWAY: DREAMING OF THE OLD COUNTRY

In many ways, it seems like a very long time ago and in many ways, it was.
I have an indelible mental image of my Grandpa, Christ, “C.C.” Grimsrud leaning back in his big gray stuffed easy chair after dinner with a far-off look in his eyes as he spoke of the “Old Country”.
The Old country?
My young interest was piqued and my curiosity was stirred as my mind searched for answers.
Where was this Old Country?
What was this Old Country?
Who lived in this Old Country?
Though the questions went unanswered, they remained alive, and my curiosity haunted my dreams.
 
By and by Grandpa passed away, but that seed of curiosity he planted continued to live on in my mind until one day when I was middle-aged I just had to find out about the Old Country.

How ironic it all is now looking back over those years. As I write these words, I realize that I am now at the age of seventy-seven. Grandpa Christ was in his sixties when he piqued my curiosity back in the early 1940s with his talk about the Old Country.

My first trip to the Old Country was in 1983. I had the time and money, and was only lacking contacts.
 
A second cousin named Dee Braverman Grimsrud had contacted me in her search for Grimsrud family information while researching the family tree. I was surprised how very little I knew about my family history. In corresponding with Dee she put me in contact with the Grimsrud family in the Old Country.
Next I sent off a letter to Kari Hoven, who I had met in 1948 when she visited in America and spent one year with her Grimsrud relatives in Superior, Wisconsin.
 
Kari turned out to be the very best person to correspond with because of her incredible aptitude to recall names, people, places, and dates, plus she had an unbelievably exuberant enthusiasm. I was amazed at the family resemblance that Kari had to my father…they could have been twins.
Kari remembered me, my parents, and every detail of her visit to America, the New Country. She still had a photo of my little brother and me from her 1948 visit.

My wife Jane and I spent six adventuresome weeks in Norway in 1983 and heard countless stories told by my relatives who Kari made sure we had the opportunity to meet. We were with different groups morning, noon, and night, every day. The quantity of coffee and open-faced Norwegian sandwiches we consumed was unfathomable. We took notes, kept a logbook, and took photos of nearly everyone we met and their homes.
 
The ocean and the distance that separated the Old Country and the New Country in those days after Grandpa Christ left were more than enormous. If you consider this, I was the very first of all of my grandfather’s direct descendants to make a trip back to the Old Country. Grandpa Christ left in 1896 and it wasn’t until 1983 that I set foot upon the rock bound coast of Norway, the Old Country.

Cousin Kari had our itinerary packed with fascinating activities and several surprises. Among the highlights was arrangements to visit the Grimsrud family farm. When I first set foot there I felt an immediate connection to my roots and the Grimsrud family. Grandpa Christ had been born there in 1879, one hundred and four years earlier. At age 16 he and his older brother Hans departed for America, the New Country, never to return. My haunted dream had come true. I was actually at the very spot Grandpa had spoken of when I was a child. The loop from my childhood dream to this moment was now complete and Grandpa’s inspiring stories were fulfilled.
 Photo: Grimsrud farm in 1983.

Svein Grimsrud and his wife Joren plus their two daughters, Wenche and Helle gave us a grand tour filled with fascinating stories not told by the family back in America. Helle presented us with an autographed traditional rosemalen bowl and serving spoon she had hand painted...we still have it.
The lovely afternoon at the Grimsrud farm was followed by a traditional dinner complete with aquavit. We heard more memorable stories bonding us to family roots. 
 
Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spiced liquor with regional variations including one made in Drammen. The nearby city of Drammen at the headwaters of the Drammen Fjord, a branch of the great Oslo Fjord, has a striking resemblance to my home town area of Duluth/Superior in America. The Drammen seaport town is home to Norway’s oldest brewery. No wonder my family landed there.

During our lovely dinner at the Grimsrud farm we were surprised at what happened next. My cousin Svein held up his shot glass of aquavit and announced skål. Everybody did the same and then tossed back the drink in one gulp. We did the same. My eyes watered, my breath had been snatched away, and I gasped. Several times that evening the toast was announced and repeated by different people at the most unexpected times with the word skål. My family had a strong tolerance for aquavit, and we would become acclimated to the ways of the Old Country. Svein made us feel at home...we were happy and contented. 
 
My cousin Kari had another interesting surprise in store for us. We were to walk from the Grimsrud farm through the neighboring farms and uphill to a church and there would be a man to meet us for a guided tour. From this old Skoger church at the hilltop we had a spectacular view of the Grimsrud family farm. Jane and I then viewed a graphic prospective of what past generations including my Grandpa had seen while coming and going to this old church built at the end of the Viking era. This church in the little town of Skoger contains historical relics centuries old. This was the family church of my ancestors Peder and Anne Grimsrud. The church had been built around the years 1200-1220. The stack stone walls are nearly five feet thick. The church is still in use. This intriguing historic place made me dream of more ancestral questions to be answered.
 Photo: Old Skoger Church circa 1200-1220

A note about the first churches in Norway: The stone church at Skoger was a rarity. More common were the stave wooden churches built during 1150-1350 by shipbuilding craftsmen. We were told they preserved the timber of the trees by removing the branches and bark at the same time adding pine pitch into a cupped out reservoir in the top while the tree was still standing. This process took nearly two years but made the wood impervious and those ornate wooden churches have become the oldest wooden structures on earth. We visited several of them. They emit the aroma of pine pitch to this day.
Photo: Stave church, Norway.
 
Norway began to be Catholic because of the influence of Danish Vikings.
Norway was the last place in Europe to accept Christianity and did it reluctantly. Christianity transformed the Vikings of Scandinavia into kingdoms and European assimilation. Norwegians and Swedes were not easily duped out their Viking faith. Transition to Christianity was primarily for political expedience because it was good business. Vikings naturally took to violence when required. Self-aggrandizement and wealth were their enticements. As Christians, their Viking past was behind them.

Lutheranism arrived in the mid-1500s, and like other European countries religion was used by the ruling class for dominance.

Among the artifacts accumulated over the past thousand years in the old Skoger church was a hand-powered pipe organ, the oldest in Norway, installed in 1825, and an ornate crucifix more than 800 years old that is identical to one found in Westminster Abbey in London, England. These strange and seemingly unrelated artifacts inspired me to ask more questions. In the coming years of travels and after reading numerous books, this Viking mystery would begin to fit together like a jig-saw puzzle. The following years would lead me to discover even more links to my Viking heritage.
Our four month long 1983 Europe trip was educational, inspiring, and motivating. We visited strange new countries, climbed mountains, and toured every historical point of interest possible.
I loved what my cousin Kari had to say about the Vikings; “They were terrible, but we loved them just the same.”

Continuing our adventuresome travels in 1987, more mysterious surprises would unfold. Heading for New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada with our new camper van in the fall, our travels took us through America’s wine producing states of Michigan, Ohio, and New York. What was the reason? Grapes were in season!

A great surprise awaited us in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. In Newfoundland, we visited the historic site of the first known Viking settlement in North America at L’Anse aux Meadows. This wind swept latitude at nearly 50° North has a striking resemblance to the Norse Viking home area at 60° North on the other side of the Atlantic. Sailing at these storm ravaged latitudes is not for the fainthearted. Abundant fresh sea food made the Norse Vikings happy, and they found it here.

In 1961 a Norwegian couple set out to cross the Atlantic in their trawler type vessel searching for the ancient Viking route of Leif Erickson to America as described in the Norse sagas. Helge Ingstad and his wife in their historic voyage delineated their journey identifying and describing distinctive landmarks they identified from the Norse sagas in search of the Leif Erickson’s settlement of Vinland. Their inspiring story was well documented in a film at the tourist information center. The Canadian Broadcasting company film crew, CBC, was there at the time of our visit, and when they discovered I was following my Viking heritage they interviewed me.

The story does not end here, the jig-saw puzzle pieces were forming an enticing picture.


The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver, an amazing book, and the best and most comprehensive I have ever read regarding the Vikings, was published just before the 2017 discovery up the Hudson River in New York State of the Vinland Norse settlement that was described in the Norse sagas.
In his book Neil Oliver wrote: Archaeologists doubt that Newfoundland was the ‘Vinland’ reported by Leif Erickson. Instead L’Anse aux Meadows is usually interpreted as a sort of way station, a staging post used by people in transit to and from a more fruitful settlement further south. It seems Vinland itself still awaits discovery.

In 2017, at Stony Point, New York, up the Hudson River at Minisceongo Creek between New York City and Poughkeepsie, the ruins of a Viking village dating from the 9th and 10th centuries was unearthed. The remains of six buildings containing an iron forage and carpenter shop were part of the village of up to one hundred habitats. This had to be the Vinland or wine land of Leif Erickson, described in the Norse sagas. New York, is definitely wine country and this thousand year old settlement has definitely been confirmed to be Viking.

My wife and I on the maiden voyage of our sailing vessel Dursmirg passed this very spot on our way to Florida in 1972. Our journey is described in our book Sailing Beyond Lake Superior: Travels of Dursmirg. Later in Florida we met Tex Downs who had sailed the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, New York, and found there a strange coin that was identified as being Phoenician and nearly a thousand years old.

In the book The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver, the author describes finding coins used by the Viking in America.The Scandinavian world had grown increasingly dependent upon Arab silver. From early on the Arab Durhams were identified as containing the purest, most desirable silver and during the decades and centuries to come millions of the coins were funneled west. Like a supply of oxygen, the flow of the silver helped energize the whole area, supplying the power to create nation states.”

At the time of the famous Norseman (Viking) Leif Erickson, the Vikings’ influence extended to Russia, Scotland, England, Spain, Greece, Italy, and France. Leif Erickson did indeed make it to America.

To conclude: When I was a child my grandpa Christ started me on this lifelong journey by planting the seeds of curiosity. The jig-saw puzzle that followed rewarded me and whet my appetite for more.

The book The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver did the most to bring this story together and the clincher was the discovery in 2017 of a settlement of Vinland up the Hudson River near Poughkeepsie in New York.

Additional reading:
Discovery of settlement in New York
https://m.thevintagenews.com/2017/01/05/new-ruins-of-viking-village-near-the-hudson-river-seriously-question-where-were-the-borders-of-the-legendary-vinland/

  John M. Grimsrud © 2017

1 comment:

Lennie Martin said...

That was a fascinating tale of your origins! Thanks for sharing it with us.