I listened to an interview with Eric Dregni, author of Vikings in the Attic, In Search of Nordic America. He started by saying, “I always thought that Scandinavians were normal” and I knew I was going to enjoy what he had to say.
Mom, a North Dakotan from the eastern part of the state, grew up speaking English though most things in her home were Norwegian. Her mom made fattigman, flatbrød, rosettes, swedish meatballs, lefse and many variations of jello. I learned to appreciate Norwegian food as well as the heritage but never thought it was normal. One reason may be it was so different from the German traditions we experienced when visiting dad’s family. In fairness, the Deutsch traditions didn’t seem normal either.
Some of these practices are missing from my household today. Though Grandma tried, we never developed a taste or appreciation for lutefisk. Who wants to eat whitefish that had been soaked in lye? Not me. So my parents served pickled herring every Christmas instead, touting it as a delicacy. Nice try but no sell, herring is also missing from my holiday table. The foods we continue to enjoy during the holidays are swedish meatballs, lefse and an updated version of jello with real strawberries and less sugar. During our Thanksgiving meal this year the jello was about all my granddaughter (a very picky eater) ate. Thank you Grandma. Our grandson while eating his lefse with a liberal dousing of sugar, stated “Yum, a cookie.”
Looking back I remember fondly the visits and meals at the Sons of Norway lodge, listening to my relatives no-nonsense attitude about life and a children’s rhyme we learned, “her kjem den lille mann opp over armen din til å kile nakke” which translates to “here comes the little man up over your arm to tickle your neck.” The little man lived in a small metal home that belonged to my great grandma. She used her fingers to pretend the little man came out of the house and walked up a child’s arm to tickle their neck. The kids laughed because they didn’t understand the translation. If they had understood a little man was creeping up their arm they may not have loved this rhyme so much.
Not having enough Scandinavian in my life I decided to fall in love with and marry a man with a rich Scandinavian heritage. He taught me more Norwegian words, “ole kjørte så langsom han dritt buksa.” I proudly said these words until I learned their translation “Ole drove so slow he pooped his pants.” So much for trust and as my relatives would say, Uff Da!
While my husband’s family has many of the same traditions as my grandma’s they have a few that are different and notable. Two include eating potato klub and blood klub (blood sausage). Each Christmas I was invited to partake. No thank you. Please pass the mashed potatoes and yes, I will have another helping of corn.
This year, the day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I went to the grocery store. As we were shopping he disappeared and was gone for a long time. If I’d had my cell phone I would have called him to find out where he was. Finally, as I was heading to the cashier with a full cart, he reappeared saying in a booming voice, “I found it!” He was clutching a package of lefse. I had forgotten to put lefse on our shopping list but my Viking husband did not. If it had not been for him ‘sugar potato cookies’ would have been missing from our Thanksgiving spread. Now that would have been a travesty.