Aug 21, 2016

Sweden

 

 A few weeks ago, while waiting to board a plane, I happened to see some movement out of the corner of my eye, and was surprised to discover a small sparrow sitting a couple of seats down from me. Who knows how the little guy ended up inside the airport terminal, but there he was; sitting as if he were waiting for the same flight as my wife and me. It was at that moment I felt a real affinity with that little bird. As he flitted around the waiting area, I realized I was feeling just as out of place as he seemed.

  It wasn’t the plane trip that was making me feel out of place. I’ve been on countless planes, and it wasn’t because we were going out of the country either. This would be my fourth trip overseas. No, I was feeling out of place because we were boarding a flight to Sweden for a reunion with my wife’s extended family. Her Dad reconnected several years ago with his relatives in Sweden, and they have stayed connected via Facebook, emails and occasional visits. This trip was my wife’s second visit. It was my first. Originally, I hadn’t planned on going. Truth be told, the only reason I was going now was so my wife wouldn’t have to travel alone. After all, this is her family. I have no connection beyond being married to her. So there I ended up; seated at the departure gate, having an empathetic moment with a wayward bird.

  I suppose my awkward feelings may have stemmed from the memory of a family reunion years ago when my wife’s family visited relatives in Kansas. It was an uncomfortable situation for an in-law like me. When forced to introduce myself to people, I had to point out my wife from across the room and explain how she was Pearl’s granddaughter, who was somehow related to whoever it was that invited us. I discovered that it’s very difficult to explain such connections to a member of a family to which your only link is through marriage. It would have felt less uncomfortable for me if I had said I really wasn’t family, and I had only crashed their little get together in order to get some free food. I spent most of my time there following around the one relative I knew and trying to avoid eye contact with everyone else.

  I was planning to use this same strategy when I arrived in Sweden. I intended to fade into the background and not say much. I decided that if I simply followed my wife around as if we were a set of Siamese twins I could fit in a little better. I did try to learn a few phrases in Swedish, even though most Swedes speak English fluently. I didn’t do so well, because every word or phrase I attempted to learn was so similar to the little bit of German that I learned years ago, I found myself speaking German instead. I thought of the little bird again, and wondered if I would end up just as conspicuous, even if I did keep my mouth shut and act like my wife and I were joined at the hip.

  It turned out that all my concerns were totally unfounded. We were greeted at the airport by three men who knew us on sight, and vice-versa. After the hugs and handshakes we headed to the home of the relatives who invited us, and for the next week we were treated to family gatherings, lots of food, sightseeing, more food, still more family visits, and still more food. We visited my wife’s grandfather’s old home, her great grandmother’s home and the church and cemetery where many relatives were buried. All the while, I never felt excluded. In fact, I felt I was part of it all. I had become the new addition to the genealogy charts that were on display. There was even a connection in appearance that everyone noticed at the first family gathering. Many of the men my age were of similar build, bald, and had beards.  Someone jokingly asked my wife, “So, which one is your husband?”

Each day, this family did its best to cross many items off the “bucket list” I never knew I had. We stayed in a guest house that sat literally along the Baltic Sea. We went shopping in Stockholm, travelling there by boat instead of car. I drove a large cabin cruiser boat through the Stockholm Archipelago. We took a dinner cruise.  I fished for herring.  All the while, I felt as much like family as I would with my family here at home.

  I can now say that this Kentucky boy of obscure heritage is now considered a part of a family with deep Swedish roots, even if it is only due to being married to my lovely wife. Our children share this heritage, and so do our grandchildren. That, at least, is my small contribution for posterity.   


  Coming home, we had a stopover at JFK Airport in New York. To my surprise, as we stepped on the moving sidewalk after passing through customs, I spotted not one, but two little sparrows darting around the ceiling above us. For some reason, the sight didn’t look as peculiar as it did just a week before in Louisville. Perhaps it was because they looked so content in their predicament; they didn’t seem out of place at all. Well, at least it seemed that way to me.

Midnight moon over the Baltic

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