Grandma and the jogger
My grandmother did not have an easy life, as, I suspect, was the case for most of her contemporaries. Her husband of one year died of cancer a short time before my father was born. At the time of his death they owned one of the largest farms in the community. The following year she sold the farm to a man named Fredrik Langøy. She built a small house in 1927 on a five-acre parcel she retained and took in boarders and farmed to make ends meet. In her garden she grew red currants, gooseberries, and rhubarb. She also planted potatoes and other assorted vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, turnips, and rutabagas. As for livestock, I am told she had a cow before I was born but the only animals I can remember were pigs, sheep, and chickens. Each year she would slaughter a pig and I remember the wonderful bloodcakes and blood pudding she would make.
My grandmother’s sister had many children, one of whom was raised by my grandmother from infancy. After my father and mother were married they also lived in the house until we immigrated to America. At one point (counting seven boarders) there were thirteen people living in that small house. Grandma was paid by the State to board a crazy woman they called Frøken (unmarried lady) who screamed all the time. Even as I was growing up, there was no electricity or running water. We had a “one holer” in the barn and a well about 100 feet from the house. Every morning my mother would fetch a bucket from the well (until I was old enough to take over) and set it on the kitchen counter with a ladle in it, from which we all drank.
The story I am about to relate happened, as best I can recollect, in 1949. My grandmother never laughed much, partly because there wasn’t much to laugh at but mostly because to her, being very religious, anything funny was most likely sinful, so she tended to avoid things of a humorous nature. That all changed in the spring of 1949 when Mr. Lien arrived. He was a schoolteacher and rented a room in a house next to ours.
Mr. Lien brought two great innovations to our island. He started a children’s choir (of which I was a member) and he was the first jogger anyone had ever seen. He would come home in the afternoon, change into running clothes, and jog right past our house. To my grandmother, this was the funniest thing she had ever seen. Here was a man who was not being chased by anyone, nor was he running to get someplace; he was just running. My grandmother must have searched her soul and found nothing sinful in his odd behavior. As a result, she allowed herself to laugh with abandon. Every day she would wait for Mr. Lien to come running by and, hiding behind the curtains, she would howl with delight. I remember watching her by the window doubled up with laughter, tears streaming down her face. This was the highlight of her day. There were even times she would change her dress for the occasion, and changing her dress was not something my grandmother did on a regular basis.
I expected her fascination with Mr. Lien’s jogging to wane and her laughter to subside, but it never did. Each day was just as funny as the day before. Her laughter had a discernible pattern to it. She would watch him as he left his house and walk a few steps. Walking was not funny and she would not laugh at all until he started running. The laughter would build slowly as he picked up speed. By the time he ran past her window, she would be in full roar. A short distance past our house spruce trees blocked the view of the road and she would not see him for about 30 minutes until he was on the return leg. She would explode with laughter the minute he emerged and then gradually subside as he slowed down to a walk before entering his house.
For two years, every day but Sunday, Mr. Lien would jog by our house and grandma would stand in the window and laugh. Unfortunately for all of us and especially my grandmother, at the end of the school year in 1951, Mr. Lien was transferred to another school district and a great chunk of joy left my grandmother’s life. For a while she would glance out the window in the late afternoon, hoping Mr. Lien would make an appearance. He never did.
This article is part of the column Long Ago & Far Away by John Lind.
Norway has come a long way in a few decades. When Jon Lind was a child they still dug peat for fuel, carried water from a well, and lit their houses with kerosene. Lind was 11 when his family moved from Austrheim to Oregon, and considers America his home. Yet in memory the Norway of his childhood seems idyllic. In this column he shares some of those memories. Share your memories with him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 29, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.