A Child’s Life at Sea Part 3

‘Did the soldiers really hide in here, daddy?’ ‘Sure did, honey. They used these tunnels to move unseen underground when there was an attack. If you follow the tunnel to the end you will find a lookout post with a canon pointed to the horizon.’ ‘Did they really shoot the bad guys, daddy.’ ‘They had to, honey, there was a war and if they didn’t protect our country, innocent people would die.’ I stare at my father. ‘Did you fight in the war, daddy?’ My father laughs. ‘No, sweetie, the war was long before I was born.’ I feel a little disappointed, I really wanted my dad to be a hero. ‘Come on!’ complains my brother, ‘let’s go inside!’

We are on a small island on the south coast, known to be one of the many military bases during the Second World War. Our boat is docked by the stone pier, and my father has taken me and my brother up to see the tunnels carved deep into the mountain. They go on for kilometers and have no natural, or any other form, of light. But my father has brought a flashlight. My brother is already on his way into the pitch black tunnel. I take my father’s hand and we follow him.

There is water dripping from the ceiling of the tunnel and it makes an eerie drip-drop sound that echoes far into the deep. My father switches on the flashlight, but all we can see is black wet slippery stone walls, uneven and bumpy. The ground is also wet. Our plip-plop footsteps bounce off the wall and disappear into the deep, only to return as a hollow mimic of themselves ten seconds later. The sound makes me think of ghosts dragging their skeleton feet on the ground. My brother seems to think the same because he whispers in my ear: ‘I bet it’s haunted! Soldiers must have died in here, you know.’ I shiver and all of a sudden I feel very cold. I grip my father’s hand tighter. We walk further and further in.

‘If the tunnel collapses now, we’ll be dead,’ whispers my brother. And even though I am sure my father can’t hear him, he just adds to the horror be saying out loud: ‘well kids, we have reached the point of no return. We are further from the entrance than we are from the exist.’ I swallow hard. The flashlight flashes a couple of times, and both my brother and I jump. ‘Hold on, let me just…’ My father lets go off my hand to adjust the batteries in the flashlight. Then all of a sudden it goes completely dark. I want to scream, but for some reason I seem to have lost my voice. My brother on the other hand has not. He lets out a roar, fit for a lion. ‘Daaaaaaaad, what’s going on?’ There is no answer. I desperately reach out for my father’s hand, but it is not there. He is gone. My father is gone, and with him: the flashlight.

To be continued…

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! 😀