After my grandmother died, I received her handwritten cookbook, one that she started in 1926. When I held it in my hands for the first time after her death, I started to cry. I don’t have a memory of her in the kitchen where she did not have this book in her hands – or at least nearby. It was always in a loose cloth cover, a cover I never washed so it remains spotted with flour from her cooking.
Many years ago Judith MacKenzie – a nationally and perhaps internationally known spinner and weaver – was a guest in my house. I showed her the book and asked her about the cloth. She took it in her hands, turned it around, examined it closely and told me it was handwoven. My grandmother knew how to weave – I think all farm women from her generation learned it at some point – but I never saw her weave. I’m guessing the cloth dates to 1926 as well.
In any event, not only did I now have all my grandmother’s tried and tested recipes, but there were a few other treasures inside. The first one that fell out was a postcard – addressed to me! It read (verbatim):
“Lovely Karen. I see you mowing lawn the, and painting. You work so hard and I see you every day across from the valle where I work on the big machinen. Your tante [aunt] tell me your lovely name and my heart swells with love for you. If you wave to me I will come to visit with us. I wait for your signel. Love, Karl.”
It was undated, but I knew what Norwegian summer that was. I was single and had noticed a young man working on a tractor, cutting hay, etc. He was too far away to tell what he looked like clearly, but I remember he was tall, blonde and seemed pretty strong. Of course I saw him every day, because every day I was out chopping trees, painting the house – something that involved a lot of sweat and grime.
I knew everyone who lived in the valley below my grandmother’s house was somehow related to me (distant cousins). I knew the man on the tractor was not, because I had asked my grandmother who he was. My grandmother said he was from the “country” (like we were living in a city?) and he was a paid laborer. (Laborer, schnaborer – he was cute!)
One day my grandmother called me in from the fields and told me to get cleaned up because we were going down the hill for afternoon coffee with my great aunts. So I changed my shirt, washed my face, brushed all the organic matter out of my hair, and got ready to make my way down the steep hill with my grandmother and my daughter to the great aunts’ farm house. My grandmother looked at me and said, “You’re going like that? Go put on something nicer.” She ended up sending me back to the house 3 or 4 times until I was wearing something she approved of. I felt like a ninny tromping down the hill in heels, pantyhose, a straight black skirt, a high-necked lace blouse and makeup, but that’s what she wanted.
When I walked in the back door of my aunts’ house I saw lots of tasty Norwegian baked goodies were ready. So I started bringing dishes into the dining room where I discovered that what seemed like every piece of old family china and silver had been set out. I wondered who was coming and thought – ahh, the cute man from the tractor!
The coffee was – like I thought – designed to introduce me to a man … but it wasn’t young Karl. It was a much older gentleman – newly widowed – who was closer to my grandmother’s age than mine. He was very tall, very sweet, very attentive, and very old. (Looking back, he was probably about 55.) After that coffee, he apparently had permission from my grandmother and aunts to “call on me” and did so in a very courtly fashion. He was extremely polite and respectful, always brought little gifts for me (handkerchiefs, boxes of chocolates and such), and took my daughter and me “walking” in the evenings. (Yeah, like after chopping, cutting, sawing and hammering all day I wanted to go walking.)
Now had my grandmother given me Karl’s sweet postcard at the time, I would have been on the rocks at the top of the mountain signaling him by way of canon, red flags, fireworks – anything that would give him a clear signal that he could come up and visit me. And that’s probably what my grandmother feared.
My grandmother and aunts had other ideas: Karl didn’t own the town and summer properties the older gentleman did. They didn’t know Karl or his family. If they could get me to accept the attentions of the older gentleman, my daughter and I would be set for life and safely settled in Norway. All I’d have to do is give him a son; he and his first wife weren’t able to have children, and there I was – a woman of proven fertility.
Given the longevity of the farming Norwegians, I have a hunch that had I married the old gentleman, he’d be hale and hardy to this day. 🙂 I hope my grandmother or aunts eventually told Karl that they intercepted his postcard. I would get it – but many years later.
Now, a quick return to Mormors Kokebok. Many friends have suggested I translate it for my daughter and her family. Why haven’t I! Take a peek for her handwritten recipe for mayonnaise on a folded piece of paper I found tucked into her book. Keep in mind this recipe post-dates 1926!
From time to time I sit down, Haugen’s dictionary in hand, and begin to translate. Between misspellings, old words no longer in the use, dialect variations, ink blots, food stains, etc. … after 2 hours I’ve got a blinding headache! Maybe it can be the masters or doctoral thesis of one of the grandchildren one day!