Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories are not a rehash of the book, but rather a story about how I came to write the story about my mother Rønnaug Petterssen and the dolls she created.
Foundation of the house Petterssen was born in, in 1901
I set off for Norway in May 2011 and arrived to light rain at Framnes, Narvik’s airport, but by the time the bus pulled into the Blue City as Sortland is also called, it had pretty much cleared up. I had barely registered at the hotel when Adrian Skogmo, the organizer of the Herring Festival came and took me away for an interview with the localpaper – SortlandsAvisa. The following day, there came a call for me at the hotel and a voice explained: “I am a cousin of yours. I have three other cousins right here with me and we are very eager to meet you”. I had some faint idea I had cousins up north, but no specific knowledge of who they might be or if they were still there. Four people showed up shortly and I knew immediately this was family. Three of them were third cousins; two brothers and a sister descendants of one of my maternal grandmother’s sisters. The fourth a fifth cousin of a slightly more distant fore-mother was married to the sister. Later I was to meet several more third cousins, all descendants from my great-grandfather’s second marriage. Without much ado I was moved to a cousin’s home where I stayed for the rest of my time in Sortland and what a time it was. Here were people who had the same sense of humor and ability to observe. We told story after story and laughed a great deal. An uncle of mine had put together a family genealogy, which included a map with locations where the various members of the past generations had lived up here, all within a few miles of each other. I was taken to see many of these places and got a good sense of who my ancestors had been; the hardships of their lives as fisherman/farmers (see definition on Johan Borgos website) in a beautiful part of the world, but one that was rough on those who made their living off the ocean, fishing for cod in the dead of winter. Our great grandfather had been a well-known captain in that area about whom many daring stories were told and it was quite amazing when his name came up, strangers would invariably answer “Oh, him. Yes I know about Petter Hansa, I have heard many stories about him”. He has been dead for over a hundred years.
Hildor with Bodil in 1947
I was taken to see the house my maternal grandfather came to from Gildeskaal south of Bodø, when he was seven, after losing first his father, then his uncle in storms on the ocean. This house would have been impossible to locate, had it not been for the extensive work of historian Johan Borgos. My grandfather had arrived in 1877 to live with a cousin in a small well-kept house in the innermost part of Eidsfjorden, the part called Bjørndalen. Even today there is the same kind of boat tied up at the beach below the house, that would have been there back then. One of my cousins who is very outgoing knocked on the door and we were welcomed in to see the interior of this small house, the rooms laid out exactly as they had been back then. We drove on to see the field where my grandparents first home had stood. The hole, still there in the ground, the foundation stones scattered around, even after a hundred years. We went on to see where they then moved, across the fjord by Sildpollen. The house was gone and it was hard to determine exactly where it might have stood, but then a man came walking by and by miracle he knew exactly where it had been. We drove on to see where the family had moved next, in 1906,further down the coast. Our spirited cousin again knocked on the door and we were let in, this time by a young family who looked amazed at meeting people who knew the people who had lived there so long ago. Their young, 9 year old daughter remarked it was like reading a history book.
On we drove up the eastern side of Eidsfjorden, when I suddenly remembered the story of how my grandmother had single-handedly sailed a northland’s boat with her family, livestock and belongings on board, several miles on their way to their new house we had just visited. My grandfather had been away. My mother would have been five years old. We stopped near a church and tried to figure out where Petronelle would have sought shelter when it brewed to a storm the first night. Out of the parish house came a man who inquired what we were looking for and when he heard, he said “Oh, I have heard that story many times” and proceeded to point to a particular place across the fjord telling us that was where my grandmother had anchored up, to bide the weather. It was heartwarming to realize that my family’s footprint still lingered here. They were not truly forgotten.
Rønnaug Petterssen The Artist and Her Dolls