View From a Prairie Home

by Hege Hernfindahl, Columnist

Many people grow up and move away. When we are young, we have more courage for the new and unexplored. We settle in our new place, some of us get married and some of us have children. Then the children grow up and move away. And the circle that is life continues.

As those of you who read my columns (thank you!) already know, I moved at the age of 25 across the ocean. From the big city of Oslo to the prairies of west central Minnesota. It was a big change. Of moving from a big city to a farm. But also to move from a different country with different traditions and language. But more importantly, a very different way of interacting with people.

While my father was still alive, we would return sometimes twice a year. After he died, the source of money for travel dried up, so we would go every second year with my mother coming the years we didn’t go to Norway. Now we go whenever we can and because of COVID we hadn’t been there for four years.

This year, we went with our daughter and her two school-aged children in May, because Ingvild wanted to be there for the seventeenth of May, Norway’s national day. We stayed with my brother, Ove and his wife, Kjersti. They live in a suburb of Oslo and are teachers, so they are very busy at this time of the year, but they were welcoming and went out of their way to make us feel at home. And we did.

I had also contacted some friends and relatives, including my sister and even my last aunt who is 96, and we had many visits with them and were made to feel very much loved. They all knew about our tragedies. Most of them knew both Patrick and Erland and we talked and cried as we remembered the past. Ingvild is fluent in Norwegian, but my two grandchildren understand some and can’t say too many words. Ingvild later chuckled at how we seamlessly went from Norwegian to English when we remembered the grandchildren present. It was all very heartwarming.

And then, the day arrived. Syttende mai. With flags everywhere. Red, white and blue. With the sounds of brass bands playing. The newly high school graduates cheering. My brother and his wife left the house at seven. Dressed in their finest. Each elementary school walks in a parade during syttende mai with all the children dressed up, each carrying a flag that they wave and call “hipp, hipp, hipp hurra.” In most places, the schools combine to form a longer parade. There are also brass bands playing. My brother plays the trombone.

But the country’s largest parade is in Oslo. It lasts three hours. The children walk up Karl Johan, the main street of Oslo, to the palace where they wave their flags and say their hipp, hipp, hipp hurra for the king, who stands on a balcony with his family. We had gotten tickets (which are free but has to be pre-ordered) to stand next to the palace and watch. It was very moving. As the aging king Harald came out, the brass bands started playing “Kongesangen” and all the people sang the words. The king stood briefly and waved and then sat down. He had just gotten out of the hospital. He is a people’s king and vey beloved. As the parades reached the castle, the big flags and the school banners tipped and remained level as they passed the king. I felt my patriotism swell. And I felt blessed. I have two countries that I love. Loving one does not preclude loving another. A heart that loves swells.