Herring Festival Fun In Eidsfjorden

Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories of how the book came to be written are not a rehash of the book about Rønnaug Petterssen and the dolls she created. If you want to read the whole background story the first entry started back on July 29, 2014.

With Adrian Korsmo at the talk

With Adrian Korsmo at the talk

The main reason for my traveling to Sortland was as told to participate in the Herring Festival  which is held on the fishing dock in Sildpollen usually in the latter part of May each years. Each Festival has a topic or focus if you will  and the one in 2011 was on emigration from Norway. Since I for all intents and purposes I had emigrated it was certainly appropriate. Still  in past times of immigration from Norway to the US (between 1825 and 1925) large numbers of Norwegians left Norway, many from the area around Eidsfjorden, to seek better economic opportunities in America. This was also the case with our family. Of my maternal grandmother’s brothers and sisters, 5 out of 9 (one died in infancy) emigrated first to Minnesota then on to Seattle, Washington. There are now hundreds of descendants of the original 5 living in the US. They were the true emigrants. I merely left because I married an American.

Studying the charts

Studying the charts

My talk at the Festival went off without a hitch, I met so many interesting people and it was fun to experience how many came specifically to hear the story about my mother and the dolls. Exhibits of art by local artists are always part of the Festival, but this years Adrian Korsmo had also arranged to borrow dolls from the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad in southern Norway. The Museum graciously lent  a nice collection of large dolls and among them a Kautokeino boy with proper leather britches, a doll that Petterssen made only 3 or 4 of during the whole of her production.  Some dolls at the exhibit had also been lent by two ladies who have doll museums, one in Lofoten, the other in Vesterålen .

Dagmar Gylset’s family owns a wonderful Rorbu by, fisherman’s village, in Reine, Lofoten   Here she also operates a Doll Museum,   and owns many wonderful Rønnaug Petterssen dolls. They also recently opened a restaurant. I can still taste sauteed Sei that we had for lunch in a dockside restaurant in Gjestehuset, Nyksund.

Nyksund

Nyksund

It was caught that morning, sprell levende (meaning it still practically flaps its tail) (there is nothing in the world as delicious in my mind). I had been to Reine some 40 years earlier, before the whole idea of Fishing village vacations had really taken hold. In 1972 my little family and I were spending some time in Svolvær with my mother in her Rorbu, located on Svinøya, Svolvær in Lofoten and the focus of this particular daylong excursion to Reine was to visit a wonderful master blacksmith who made the most enchanting small sculptures out of forged iron especially the northern loon. Another woman who lent dolls to the exhibit and who also came to my talk was Svanhild Reinholdtsen.  She lives in Myre  just north of Sortland. Svanhild owns and operates a very special doll museum, Dukkehuset i Myre south of Nyksund and she as well has a significant collection of my mother’s dolls. Both of these attractions are well worth the visit if you travel to Lofoten and Vesterålen, which you should.

Weathering the Storm

Weathering the Storm

But of course many other people came as well to hear about my mother. Many already knew about my uncle Sverre Petterssen, brother of Rønnaug Petterssen. He was the world renowned meteorologist  and had been a significant contributor to the weather forecasting for the Allied Forces helping predict the most advantageous day to invade Normandy, a day when the weather would pose the least threat and would give them the greatest possibility of surprise and success. He had published a book in the early 1979 –  Med Stiv Kuling fra Nord which was later translated in the US as, Weathering the Storm.

It was with great sadness I had to return home, from an area of the world I consider my true home, but not before promising to write an article for the Sortland Historic Society. This I eventually did and it was published in the spring of 2014.

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Trip to Sortland 2011

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

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.

1947 Grandfather and I

Hildor with Bodil in 1947

House in BjørndalenI 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 easterAuthor with familyin Gullvikan 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 meleney_artist&herDolls LIGHT_300dpi

 

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A trip to Eidsfjorden To See Where My Mother Was Born

Great news to share with you. The first reviews are coming in.

A Febøring at the dock in Sildpollen

A Febøring at the dock in Sildpollen

The story continues. Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories are not a rehash of the book, but rather about how the book came to be. Over the next year I continued writing and editing the manuscript over and over again. Along with this came the sorting of the photographs my father had taken before WWII and a few photographs my mother had gotten taken by one of the best known photographers in Oslo, as well a few snapshots I had. These photographs had to be scanned, properly edited and cropped. There was also undressing dolls to verify construction from what I remembered and also assessing when they were made.  The came setting up to photograph the dolls I had, as well as I could borrow. This was no small task. I wanted the quality and feel of the photographs to be similar to the ones my mother and father had worked on, to reflect how they wanted these dolls to be presented. I needed appropriate lighting and proper background paper or cloth. I was able to borrow on extended load professional lighting equipment from a photographer friend. There were interminable trips to the fabric stores to find cloth of appropriate color, shade and texture. I had given up on paper, since it became too expensive for my use since I needed more than one color. The cost per roll was prohibitive. Then came photographing, re-photographing and sometimes re-photographing more times than I care to remember. Long evenings; one after the other. I learned a lot more than I will ever need to know again. By the time I was done with the first round and had placed photographs within the text and had a copy printed out, I realized the photographs were too dark and needed to be redone. Long evenings stretched interminably into weeks. By then my photo lighting equipment became unavailable and I decided to buy my own. These came with daylight, energy saving bulbs, which gave wholly different lighting and I had to learn anew how to use the set up. In the end though they proved to give better lit photographs. In early 2009 an email came from Adrian Skogmo in Sortland, Vesterålen, a hop skip and a jump from where my mother was born. Each year they had a Herring Festival in Sildpollen across Eidfjorden from Selnes where she was born and he was the organizer for the event. Would I consider come to speak about my mother at the festival.  It sounded intriguing, but funds were not available for such a trip at that time and my back was getting worse. Such was the situation for most of 2009 and well into 2010. By summer 2010 my back had worsened so significantly that in early fall surgery was scheduled. It went off without any problems and I was recovering when the second invitation to come to Vesterålen  was issued and I made the decision to go to Norway the following summer. This I decided was to be my consolation, my carrot to make the most of my recovery, a reward for being a such a good sport. The arrangement to go was made and in early 2011 I bought the tickets. I was very excited to visit my mother’s birth place. What an exciting trip it proved to be, but that is for the next installment.

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How The Book Came To Be; The Continuing Story

Three girls from Hardanger

Three girls from Hardanger

The story continues. Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories are not a rehash of the book, but rather about how the book came to be.

The summer of 2006 in Norway was beautiful, with warm days and long summer evenings. One evening I had dinner with a cousin I hadn’t seen for years. He had recently turned 94. We had been invited to another cousins who had an apartment around the corner from where I grew up and it was wonderful to catch up after all that time. I had long wanted to pick his brain about our family’s history and now I had to make the most of it. Because of failing eyesight he could no longer write, email or …, What a treasure it was to sit there with him and watch him remember as he told me about my parents from the years before the war; the first years of getting the new business going. He could even tell me how many people they already had working for them. A treasure trove of information on the whole family history way back to his uncles and aunts growing up in the north. I remember feeling so very lucky. He also had many amusing stories to tell from my father’s learning to speak Norwegian, something my father mastered extremely well in a relatively short period of time. When we left I had to chuckle as I worked to keep up with him. My cousin skipped down the stairs from the fourth floor and lightly danced up the street on the way to the tram with me trailing behind.

With the changes in the streets scape in my old neighborhood, I also went to Oslo’s City Museum and the staff were helpful in digging up old photos of the buildings on our block and information on the history of the street. Along with the development of the neighborhood had also been the tearing down of the old Rosenborg Movie theater, which had had two long murals depicting our street with some houses dating back to the mid 1700. What a pity it was to have such a bit of history lost.

Once home, I had a great deal of information to add and now the real work began to write it all down in a coherent story. Having never written anything like this before, I enlisted the help of my daughter, Karen Green, who was a wonderful writer as well as sculptor. For a while we worked together and I was so grateful for her insights and critiques, myself being far to close to the subject to be able to have enough perspective. Eventually, the demands of her own work of building her and her husband’s business as weathervane makers had to take precedence, but I was enough on the way to be able to see the story as a story with more objectivity.

In the fall of 2008 the economic crisis hit and it became necessary to focus on my work as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. While the book project was never shelved, it got less focus. Also an old back injury resurfaced with vengeance and over the next two-three years this is where most of my energy went. However I worked on the book whenever I had time. I had become increasingly interested in my mother’s family’s background. I fortunately had quite a bit of genealogical information from an uncle, Anslem. One Sunday I was idly searching the internet and came across a website of a historian in the Vesterålen area. I emailed him, not sure if the website was still active, but three hours later on a beautiful sunny summer Sunday I got a reply from Johan Borgos which read; “I know who you are, you are the daughter of Rønnaug”. He knew my whole family and some hours later sent me my grandmother’s genealogy back to the 1600s. Wow, I was completely blown away. An idle question begetting so much information. So now some of my focus began centering on tracing my family, I wanted to know who they were, where they lived, what they did, what kind of lives they lived, what kind of people they were. I set my findings up on Ancestry.com and eventually also traced my grandfather’s family as far as I could and that of my own father as well. I felt it was important to know as much as I could about our background, to create a perspective on who we were, what kind of stock we came from.

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