We are Family

Other than the family reunion which is the official photo from 1987 all other photos were taken by me on our 2005 visit to the farm, or in the case of the first photo of Oslo, our recent trip.

I’ve been quiet for a while. This is because we have just got back from a week in Norway. The purpose of our visit was to take Helga, my 94 year old mother-in-law to see her native land. Her previous visit was 6 years ago with her great granddaughter and she had thought it was her last one. Fortunately, however, her health is remarkable for her age and she still lives alone without help, going out regularly to the opera, theatre and cinema etc.  We felt she could definitely make the trip without difficulty, and happily were proved right. We stayed with a wonderfully hospitable cousin in Oslo and during the course of our visit met up with over 20 family members some of whom had travelled a considerable distance to meet with Helga. And that, as they say is only the tip of the iceberg; there are relatives distributed the length and breadth of Norway from Tromsø far up in the Arctic, home of the most northern university, brewery etc in the world, to Bergen in the west, Oslo in the south and Trondheim, where Helga was bought up, in the middle.

My sense is that family means something different in Norway, at any rate different to my experience in the U.K. Coming from a fairly small family that has managed over the years to lose touch with most of the extended family (my grandfather was the youngest of 16 but I don’t know where any of their children and grandchildren are now) the clannishness of the Norwegian family took me by surprise. But why is it so different?

One reason may be that many Norwegians are only a couple of generations away from living on the land and it is seen as prestigious to have a surname that is actually a place name rather than something like Olsen denoting the son of Ola. In our family my husband is only 2 generations away from the family farm in Nordfjord  and in 1987 we had the opportunity to go there to attend a family reunion.

Family reunions or ‘Slektsstemme’ are big in Norway. This one was for all the descendants of Brian’s great grandfather and around 100 people turned up. The celebrations comprised a formal meal in a local hotel complete with speeches and songs and what could be described as a fun day at the family farm with traditional food, games for the children and live music from some of the talented musicians in the family. Many people were wearing national costume at one or other of the events
We stayed on for a few days following the party to explore the area. This included a trip to the Sæter or summer farm where the cattle were pastured in summer. We met an elderly cousin (female) whose job in the summers before the war had been to stay overnight at the Sæter do the morning milking, walk down the mountain with the milk, do a day’s work on the farm and then back up the mountain for the evening milking and overnight stay. A tough life by any standards!

What really seems to stand out is the sense of connection between family members, of being part of a whole and also the great pride Norwegians take in their country which only became independent from Sweden in 1905. As our Norwegian relatives would say it’s something ‘very special’. In this I think the connection to land is very important, The fact that the family has a ‘place’ that has been theirs since at least 1480. Come to think of it we are probably related to virtually everyone in Norway by now and at times it certainly feels as if we are.

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