My Adventures at Sea – Memories of a Norwegian Childhood Part two

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I always tell people I grew up on the sea. This is only partially true; I grew up by the seaside on a hill, eating breakfast every morning to the sight and sound of the roaring ocean outside the broad red-curtained window. But I became a true sailor at age six when my parents decided to build a 35 feet long wooden sailing boat on a raft on the South-side of the country. My uncle, who was already an experienced sailor, agreed to pilot the new sailing boat, with us on board, safely home across the open sea the summer I turned six. And that was the start of my maritime adventure.

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My family’s wooden Sailing both next to my Uncles’ boats.

Both of my mother’s sisters and their husbands and kids had boats of their own, not a homemade sailing boat like ours, but mass-produced fiber boats with powerful cruising engines and double back propellers. My father had baptized our sailing boat Linus, and from the day of the naming ceremony she was my best friend. I loved her fiercely and fed her bread crumbs from the prow where I usually ate my meals. I was never seasick; the waves had a calming soothing effect on me, lulling me into a dreamless sleep as though I was being rocked in a cradle. And we did meet with rather tough seas at times, so much so that my father had to provide me with a bucket to pee in because it was too dangerous to leave the cabin where I slept. I would lie, shaking with excitement in bed, squealing every time the tiny porthole next to my berth went underwater.

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Here I am sitting in the bow of Linus, singing songs from a songbook.

We had a favorite island of course. It was called Sheep Island and had a perfect little sandy beach, a tall cliff, a forest and a huge green slanting meadow. It was a popular spot for the local sea scouts and we would tense with anticipation every time we rounded the cape of the island to see if the little stone pier was occupied or not. My brother learned to shoot on this island, with a too big rifle and empty tin cans as targets, and I found a perfectly tall flat rock to function as a puppet theater where I could hide while using my dolls to peak over the edge of the rock and enact intricate tales and dramas I made up on the spot. Oddly shaped rocks became rides in an amusement park, and smaller rounded smooth rocks were made to build rock trolls, coming to life with moss hair and store-bough craft eyes. In the evenings, my father and uncles would light a bonfire on the stones that made up the pier, and we would make stick-bread wrapped around birch branches and chocolate bananas secured in tin foil and left to burn on the logs. One time my father climbed a tall tree, made an insertion in the bark and attached an empty bottle to the wound, the tree bled into the bottle through the night and the next day we all tasted beautifully sweet sap.

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My little cousins, my big brother and I on Sheep Island.

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My father hoisting me up in a tree on Sheep Island (oh yes, very much at my own request!) In the background you can see the Theater Rock.

Sandy Cove was another much loved mooring spot. It too had a huge green meadow stretching all the way down to the make-shift pier, but with a dangerous scattering of goat droppings hiding underneath the tall grass. My mother arranged sharp stones for us to scrape our shoes on before boarding the boat, but alas, children will be children. The reason why we, the younger sailors that is, loved Sandy Cove so much was because it had a ghost house. A big yellow abandoned house perched on the top of a hill, surrounded by various fruit trees that never bore any fruit. My uncle and I made up a story about the old lady Olga Sandy Cove who had died in that house and who now haunted it. We convinced my younger cousins of this story, and I practically forced them to join me in exploring the underground basement of the house. The basement was a storybook image of a creepy haunted cellar. It had a damp muddy floor, racks of empty glass bottles, tin boxes with outdated faded labels, rusted garden tools and rotting discarded furniture. And it had a black cat. Of course we only found out later, after running screaming out of the cellar, desperately trying to get away from the black shadow lurking behind the shelf. I had never had so much fun in my life.

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My Uncle, Aunty, Cousin, father, big brother and I having lunch on Sandy Cove by the pier.

Easter was when we peeled of the winter coat tucked around our hibernating sailing boat and set sail once again on our yearly virgin voyage to the islands. Sometimes there was still a thin layer of ice around the prow of my beloved Linus, and I would sit there, wrapped in woolen blankets listening to the ice cracking around the nose of my nautical friend, as my father captained her towards the deep blue horizon. My uncle was the most playful and fun-loving of the adults, and of course a favorite with us children, he would charge us varying amounts of candy to watch the morning telecast of BBC’s “Chronicles of Narnia” on his tiny black-and-white television, and roar with laughter when his tiny son developed the habit of emptying the little leftovers in the cast-away beer bottles into his small mouth. It was my uncle who invented all the games, like the Easter Egg Hunt. He hid a huge Easter egg filled to the brim with candy somewhere on the island, and then left clues for us to find that would eventually lead us to the treasure. We pretended to be pirates as we prowled around in my father’s rubber dinghy, named Rubber-Linus, looking for bottles with messages in them and crab traps bated with clues. When we eventually found the X marking the spot, we hoisted the Pirate Flag and hollered dirty songs, to the utter embarrassment of our poor mothers.

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My two youngest cousins and I in Rubber-Linus.

Whale Island is where I learned to swim, after being tormented and teased for years for not being able to master the craft. I had been splashing around like a maniac, terrified of sinking to the bottom of the sea, until my smiling calm aunt took over the training wheels, and encouraged me to relax and breathe. Under her gentle guidance I learned the dreaded task in a matter of hours, even though I never grew accustomed to being under water, and kept my head always above the dark dangerous deep. Both my uncle and father were certified divers, and we children would get in the dinghy and follow the bubbles as they went into that mysterious underworld that I was always so afraid of.

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The summer I learned to swim on Whale Island.

Long Island was our Bad-Weather-haunt, a small city island only an hour away from the urban coast. This island had a proper pier standing on wooden stilts, and under that pier was the “Death Chamber”. My brother and I would go exploring this dark haunting place in Rubber-Linus, listening to the echo of the many-voiced sea crashing against the echo of our own mysteriously dark hollow voices. When the sun shone its dim light into the openings between sea and pier it blanketed the surface in phosphorescent ghostly green making the orange corals, the pink starfish and the spiky sea urchins glow like some otherworldly creatures.

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Going on an adventure!

In the summers we were granted four blessed weeks on the sea, and we could sail a little further, exploring stranger tides and foreign shores. One year we sailed all the way to Denmark where we bought ten feet of licorice and smuggled boxes of Danish beer back to Norway. Another year we went north, discovering traces of UFO’s and conch shells singing tales of the sea. But it was the South Coast we loved the best. Every year we went island hopping along this beautiful coast of blue-doored white houses, little seaside gardens, red-topped lighthouses and tiny wooden towns selling seasonal ice cream and homemade cinnamon buns fresh from the oven. In the mornings we were greeted by boys in motor boats calling out offers of newspapers and breakfast rolls, and sometimes vanilla Danish or something called “School Breads”, a yeasty pastry with cream, coconut and powdered sugar. The summer my father bought a video camera was the summer I turned movie director/actress/screenplay writer. I wrote, directed and acted in my own films, filmed and produced by my brother. We made documentaries, animated movies and motion pictures. Later on, I casted my cousins in various roles in these movies, and these projects became elaborate productions featuring trolls, detectives, murder mysteries and dance numbers.

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My brother and I in one of the red-topped Lighthouses.

The year I became a teenager was the beginning of the end of my adventures at sea. Boys and parties and friends replaced pirates and sails and treasures. My last summer at sea, and the last summer of Linus, I compromised with my parents and was allowed to take a friend on board. But the sea didn’t agree with her, and she fell seasick on the very first crossing, vomiting into a bucket while holding on for dear life while Linus gave her all in the fight against towering waves splashing on to the deck. We spent a few days in a little sea port, boyspotting from the mast and making up secret knocking codes to indicate the attractiveness of the boys. My friend soon grew tired of the nautical life, and we were shipped home on a train by my parents who, I’m sure, longed back to the days when I would play quietly with Barbies on the deck. Not long after that summer, Linus was sold and replaced by a much bigger sailing boat equipped to sail around the world, a long-time dream my parents fulfilled when I was a student in college. But I will always treasure my childhood at sea, and the sea, with its moodiness and mysteries, will always hold a very special place in my heart, calling out to me to it like an open-armed mother every time I miss home.

Granny’s House – Memories of a Norwegian Childhood

Mormor hus

My grandfather and great grandfather built a house for my grandmother as a wedding gift. The house had, as per my grandmother’s request, a big garden with apple – and plum trees, a strawberry bed, a patch of potatoes, and, my granny’s favorite, a lush Lilac tree filled with soft lavender blossoms.

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Granny’s Garden at the peak of Summer.

The house was fenced in by shrubs and hedge, so that my granny could tan in her shorts and bra, like she was used to do on the secluded island she grew up on. The underground basement had a laundry room, a carpentry workshop, and a small toilet in which my great grandfather decorated the walls with calendar hangings from national romantic artists depicting scenes from the island life my granny came from. The basement later became the place of ghosts in our, the grandchildren’s, imagination. The attic, with its slanted roof attic window, housed the girls’ bedrooms, the girls being my mother and her two sisters. This attic later became the grandchildren’s’ haunt, a lair for spy headquarters and secret meetings. But the best part of the house was the hidden tunnels, snaking around the interior of the house. They were so narrow that even as children we had to crawl to get through them, and so deep (around 10-15 meters) that no grown-up had the will or the elasticity to crawl into the very end. My grandfather made them for storage purpose, and they were filled with delightful olden-days treasures, like antique toys, sleds, clothes, books and postcards dating back to wartime. We grandchildren built ghost lookout posts in every single one of the tunnels, without our grandfather’s permission of course, but with granny’s blessings in the form of a wink and crossed fingers behind her back.

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One of the many toys found in the “tunnels”. This particular doll is over 100 years old!

The house, my mother’s childhood home, never changed. It remained the same from my mother’s girlhood up to the arrival of the six grandchildren and beyond. It became a place for the girls to drop off their children when they needed a much deserved break. And the girls needed lots of breaks because my cousins and I spent almost every other weekend in granny’s house, and two weeks of summer holiday. In bad weather my grandfather rented a VCR player and let us grandchildren choose one movie on video cassette each (these were the glorious 90s!). There was no restriction on which films we could rent, and we watched Jaws and James Bond, Gremlins and Police Academy, and other highly inappropriate movies, while munching store-bought pastel-colored candy and drinking liters of mixed soda into the wee pre-dawn hours.

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All us grandchildren eating sweets and watching a movie at Granny’s House.

When the sun was out we loved playing horse. Well, it was mostly us three girls who enjoyed this game; the three boys did not participate. All us girls had inherited the original three girls’ love for horses and horse riding, but it was only Annie, the oldest, who were big enough to actually take riding lessons, so Cecily and I, pretended to be horses while Annie instructed us to run and run and run around grandfather’s meticulously mowed lawn. Well, let us just say, there was not much lawn left after a three days visit, but granny just winked and crossed her fingers behind her back, and we took no heed of grandfather’s angry warnings.

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My grandfather desperately trying to arrange us to pose for a photo. The only one who is really listening is my brother, here about 14 years old.

Ghosts and Witches were welcome inhabitants of granny’s house. One weekend, after watching the movie “Witches” based on the book by Roald Dahl with the same title, we went looking for hidden witches inside grandfather’s old paintings of traditional Norwegian farm life. Of course, we discovered that every painted milk maiden was a witch in disguise, and if we tapped her with our fingers she moved! Cecily, the youngest of us girls, were not a bit fond of these frightening games, and today’s date she will narrate nightmarish childhood memories of being forced to enter a haunted basement to listen to a ghost playing the piano, or look for witches in wardrobes with old smelly fur coats.

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Cecily as an adult dressed up in one of Granny’s favorite dresses from the 80s. For some reason my granny loved the 80s and never modernized her wardrobe after that beloved era.

Of course, after reading Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five we had to establish our own Spy Club. My brother, the oldest and most adored of the grandchildren, became the boss, or the Chief as we called him, I was the planner, Annie was the accountant and secretary and Cecily was the assistant. The two youngest boys were too small to be appointed any specific role, so we decided that they could be door guards (standing outside the door while we held meetings, making sure no adults were allowed to enter). The Spy Club’s main concern was environmental issues, such as car engines being left on while the designated driver was grocery shopping. We made our own tickets to put on the wind shields, warning the driver of a fine if he did not improve on his environmental protection awareness. We even made our own monthly newspaper with crossword puzzles and short stories, mostly edited by myself and printed in my mother’s office. I proudly distributed these newspapers to all my classmates in school, and even convinced some of them to sign up for subscriptions.

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Here I am at school 😀 Perhaps 11 years old.

My grandmother was a lover of all animals and wildlife. This was an issue of constant annoyance for my grandfather who hated flies in particular. My grandmother would hide his Fly smacker, and try in her sweetest voice to coax the flies to fly out the open window. Spiders were much loved by granny, she would name every single one she saw inside the house, and referred to them fondly as spinning ladies. But it was cats that she loved the most. There must have been around 10-15 homeless (both by choice and not) cats living in granny’s garden at the most. Of course they all had babies, and soon my grandfather had to put his foot down and set out to find the cats’ owners, while my granny secretly let them sleep on her sofa and eat biscuits from a silver plate. We grandchildren loved the wildlife in granny’s garden of course. Cecily and I had a particular fondness for the hedgehogs, and one night we hid under a huge blanket spying on the nocturnal animals drinking milk from a rosy saucer.

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One of the many cats who roam Granny’s Garden.

My grandfather was a huge book worm, he read every book he could find, including our pony books, fairy tale books and school ABCs, but his favorite was 1001 Arabian nights. He had a beautiful hardback copy of the book given to him by his grandfather when he was little, and from that book he read us stories of Aladdin and Alibaba and enchanted caves and robbers being chopped into pieces. This all went over our heads, and I cannot remember feeling any particular fear or dread from these fantastical but grotesque stories. Fairy tales, by H.C Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and the Norwegian folktales, were popular, but our favorite was a book about children growing up in the olden days in Norway called “The Kids on the Block”.

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My brother making a funny face to get me to smile. My grandfather at the end of the table, and my grandmother in between us.

I was particularly enchanted by the olden-days, and I would beg granny to tell me stories about her childhood on the island, and she never disappointed. I listened, completely enthralled, to wartime stories about German soldiers trying to eat paper Christmas apples, or looking for the secret radio my great grandfather hid under the floor boards, or other stories about a vindictive Sunday school God sending little girls to hell for stealing carrots or for dipping their chewing gum in the neighbor’s sugar sack.

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This is the house my granny grew up in. Built by her father.

Summers at granny’s were magical. We would run free the whole day (and night) without anyone telling us what to do (well, my grandfather tried to, but he was overruled by my granny. It ended with him going to bed at 10 pm and leaving us up to fend for ourselves). My favorite summer game was to play Christmas. Playing Christmas meant taking down all of granny’s stored-away Christmas decorations and adorning the whole house with santas and angels. Granny would play Christmas CD’s, and let us make Christmas cakes by sandwiching jam and nutella between marigold biscuits. There was something so magical about seeing all those forbidden decorations in July. When summer ended, we children had often prepared songs and plays we would perform for our parents when they came to collect us. These were most of the time authored by yours truly and was of varying quality, but all of them typed neatly on grandfather’s typewriter, to be taken out and laughed over at later teenage years.

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My brother and I enjoying a juice box on the way home from Granny.

After the summer was over and we drove away, passengered in three cars behind three sets of parents, granny would always stand in the kitchen window and wave goodbye with a sweet smile on her face, while my grandfather was nowhere to be seen. And we waved eagerly back, reassuring our parents that of course we had been good and listened to grandfather and gone to bed when told so, while we crossed our fingers behind our backs and winked happily to each other.

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Granny in her garden, relaxing after a weekend of grandchildren bonanza! 😀

The Changeling

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I watched the lake from my window
And saw the raven plunging like a dart,
A feathered beast with golden beak,
(Or a black-sailed ship with a raven’s heart?)
His eyes were set upon his quest,
All beady-nights and glowing,
He drew his wings to his chest,
And stretched his claws like pointy oars
And I saw, to my utter astonishment,
That his treacherous body was growing!
With spear in hand, he landed swift
On human feet on the faring shore

“Stay your wings, enemy ship!”

He uttered from his raven lips.
I stared and stared into the mist,
But could not spot a single ship
But white-winged gulls and sitting ducks.
Then the Raven-boy looked up at me
And I could see that his mouth was still a beak,
He lifted his cape, black as thorns,
And raised his feathers, like arrow-reeds,
And became the lantern-eyed raven once more,
Ripping through clouds, silver-lined by the star-sheen

“Bear my away!”

I shouted, for no reason at all, and he turned his sails,
And away I was borne.

* This poem is dedicated to my friend Cynthia Morgan, whom I know
would love to be spirited away by a changeling Fairy Prince.
If you want to read some of Morgan’s poems, please click here:
https://booknvolume.com/

The Weaver and the Underlings

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She weaves the flying tones of Linden-trees
Strong and true, through spindle-woods.
Earthlings, doomed to roam the undergrounds,
Grasp, by light of hollow-stars, at the spring of
The Faerie-sound.
Up and up and up they flee, by twigs of leaves
On dancing feet, up through birch and evergreen
Where hill-top grass lay glistening,
And the shadowed moon has laid her fate,
For them to dance through Elven-gates.

Pan’s Flute

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Enchantments coiled around my wrists
And over the field I hastened,
Through thistle-spun trees and lily-woods
But, alas, my feet began a’dancin’.
Through umbrella-leaves and parsley-blooms
I twirled in fields of goldenrod,
To pipes unseen and larks unheard.
And Pan himself must have laughed,
For he had caught me in his Faerie-trance.

The Fairy Prince and I

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I couldn’t believe the singing was real
But I followed it into the murky trees.
My shoes became heavy with reindeer-moss
And I abandoned them in the woolly blooms.
The ravens chased my heart and I
Traced their wings by shadow-moons.
But the path was laid with heather and I
Walked steadfast forth until I heard a brooding tone:

“You are dark and I am light, so keep away
From the night!”

He spun his words around my wrists
And challenged me to sing along
Fading the world until it grew old and thick.
It was then that I saw the ring,
A wreath of grass around my feet
And I made to leave, but he
Said that I was forever his.