They Say We Do Not Have Them

Julius Holm’s "Tornado Over St. Paul" painting.

Image courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Julius Holm’s “Tornado Over St. Paul” from 1893. This story by Stephanie Wilbur Ash was commissioned to accompany this painting for the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s “Art Inspires” series.

fiction by Stephanie Wilbur Ash

They say we do not have them in Norway, but them over the sea, and once I saw one skip across the lane like a silly little girl. The colors are different in Norway—more gray and green over the water, more blurry white on land—but they exist. Those who say they do not are homesick fools who prefer to remember Norway as better than she was. In Norway, I could not be a painter. I was the son of somebody old and slow, a doer of the old thing, which was a slow and heavy thing, and there was no food for me to eat while doing it. Here, I am a painter. I paint mostly houses, so? Others call me “painter” and I have paints and people who need things painted and so many different things to paint, some of which are houses and some of which are not. I paint and eat and walk the streets where shops overflow with photographs and sweets and brushes and paints. I carry nothing with me but the paints, not even a wife. I forgo the wife to carry more paints! I do not care what the others say. They are blind and mewling kittens that have strayed too far from mother but have no sense to open their eyes. They cannot see that it is just like Norway here only better.

And if, sometimes, a finger comes down from the sky to sweep away the unlucky few, this is God’s will. This was true for us in Norway and it is true here. It is a darker sky here, yes, a larger finger, yes, perhaps it is His whole hand. Perhaps it is a bit more of God’s will here than it was in Norway. But wasn’t our need to be closer to God one of the reasons we left there? You do not get to choose which parts of your God to be close to.

Do not forget that his finger will come for you one day. It will wipe you away like an ant. I knew this in Norway, and I know it now. Those who have forgotten this, who remain suckered to Norway’s breast as if she would save them, are less of her now than they were when they left, and I remain the true Norwegian.

Stephanie Wilbur Ash is the author of The Annie Year (Unnamed Press), the grownup coming-of-age story of a small-town CPA and her extramarital affair with the new vocational agriculture teacher. She works for Gustavus Adolphus College, which was founded by Lutheran Swedes, and splits her time between Minneapolis and Mankato, Minnesota.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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