Tag Archives: Decorah Nordic Fest

My name is Lars, and I’m a cheater

My great achievement this weekend was building a table, for my Viking setup. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a “Viking table,” because it doesn’t actually much resemble any known table from archeology, and is a cheat in any case. This is what I did, and why:

The table I’ve been using for book selling for the last several years was a random thrift store find—a table apparently designed for some kind of display, consisting of a circular pressed board top and three dowel legs which screwed into flanges. It wasn’t even close to authentic, but when I threw a sheepskin over it, it looked OK, because the round legs did look like known Viking table legs.

Vikings,mail,Decorah,Nordic Fest

That table had been working itself loose for a while, though, and it finally died in Minot last fall, when a heavy object (me) fell on it. So I needed a new table.

My plan was to try to do something like the actual replica table described in this article, but with longer legs. However, I couldn’t find the article while I was working, so I worked from memory, which was (as is so often the case) unreliable. The table I constructed looks like this:

Viking table Continue reading My name is Lars, and I’m a cheater

A side order of pictures

Photobucket works for me tonight, so I can share some photos from Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa.

Here’s an eager crowd learning all about Vikings from the Skjaldborg guys.

Decorah 1

Here’s the Vikings extracting much-needed sustenance from pork chops, the national cuisine of Iowa.

Decorah 2

And here’s my friend, under my own awning, showing off the mail shirt he’s making.

Decorah 3

The big thing that kept occupying my mind all weekend (and my friend got pretty sick of hearing about it too) was the fact that when I attended Luther College, which is also in Decorah, it was forty blankety-blank years ago. Forty years.

When I consider that fact, I’m not surprised by how much has changed. I’m amazed anything remains the same. The fact that some of the same buildings yet stand in Decorah, and that a few of them even serve the functions they did back in my time, seems somehow against nature. When I think that forty years have passed, I imagine that the very hills should have been brought low, and the river should have o’erflowed its banks and found a fresh course. Everybody should have flying cars, and we should all be taking our sustenance in tablet form.

Well, that last part did sort of come true. I do not lack for pills in my diet in this strange old world.

Sweet 56

It is my birthday today. I am 56 years old.

The temperature got up to 100° today.

These two facts are not unrelated. I’m a hot day’s child, born under the Dog Star. Like most summer babies (in my unscientific experience), I handle heat a lot better than cold. Weather like today’s is an irritant, but it doesn’t prostrate me. I put on a light-colored hat and go about my business.

They had a goodbye party for someone at work today, and in the course of it somebody said, “It’s your birthday, too, isn’t it?” I conceded the fact and they sang The Song for me.

My brother Moloch called me at work, because I’d been out of town over the weekend, when he usually calls. As the conversation wound down and he was jockeying to hang up, I asked, “Is this my birthday call?”

“Oh yeah. It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” he asked. So he wished me a happy one.

Moloch doesn’t believe in cards, so he usually calls for my birthday. Brother Baal sends a card, and generally calls too. My friend Chip, who was born about a week after me, usually sends a card, but he forgot last year and I haven’t seen anything this year. My hero this time around is my uncle Orv, who not only sent a card, but included a nice “housewarming gift” inside it. Public thanks to him (he reads this blog).

When I was a kid, contemplating the likelihood I recognized even then, that I’d never find a wife, one thing I didn’t anticipate about single life was that a day would come when my birthday would not show up very large on any living person’s radar screen.

Fortunately, when you get into your fifties you don’t care much about it anymore, yourself.

It was hot in Decorah, Iowa, too, over the weekend. It was the hottest, stickiest Nordic Fest anyone remembered, and the crowds were widely dispersed—most of them miles away in their own homes. Even a lot of the vendors didn’t show up. We Vikings sat panting in the shade. The first day we couldn’t even work up the energy to do any live steel combat.

We did do some (wisely without armor) on the second day, and felt much the better for it. If my subjective scorekeeping is accurate, I seem to be the Number Two swordsman in our group, which I still find bizarre beyond words.

When it was all over, I felt like I’d spent the weekend baling hay, rather than sitting around in the shade of my awning, laboring greatly only over setting up tents, tearing them down again, and engaging in a spot of healthy recreational mayhem.

I’ll be doing it again on Saturday (hopefully without the extreme heat). We’re doing a town anniversary celebration in Bode, Iowa, and the guy heading up the celebration was in Decorah to visit us. He made a point of coming to me three separate times to tell me that he’d shown an internet photo of me and my equipment to the town fathers, and they’d all said “We want that guy here.”

It’s nice to be wanted. One would prefer, for preference, to be wanted by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, but it’s nice to be wanted by anyone.

On top of that, I talked to the distant relative I’d contacted last week, and he gave me the genealogical information I needed for Cousin Trygve in Norway. He also extended an invitation to the family reunion, which is in Belmond, Iowa, just down the road from Bode, on Sunday. That seemed like a sign from God that He wanted me to attend both, and I’m not so sanctified in my personal walk that I can afford to refuse a divine clue-bat.

Especially when I’m this old.

Lars Walker, down the mean streets

I picked Cousin Trygve up at the airport on Friday afternoon. I took him home to Blithering Heights (“Is this Mrs. Hermanson?” he asked when he saw my car. Probably the only time that’ll ever happen). He gave me Sissel Kyrkjebø’s latest CD as a gift, and I played it while we got acquainted. We settled into a language system—he spoke English to me, and I spoke Norwegian to him. It seemed to work out best for both of us that way.

On Saturday morning, not too early, I drove him down to Kenyon, to show him the grave of Martha Swelland, my great-grandmother and the half-sister of his great-grandfather (I think I’ve got that right. I lose track). I also showed him the farm where the Swellands had lived, along with the farm where I grew up, which is just next door. I took him through Monkey Valley, the inspiration for Troll Valley in my novel Wolf Time, and the original, long-abandoned town site of Epsom (also prominent in Wolf Time).

Here’s the mystery he’s hunting: My great-great-grandmother, Mari Olsdatter, the mother of Martha Swelland, had a child out of wedlock before marrying Haldor Syverson, my g-g-grandfather. When they and their children emigrated to America in 1881, they brought that child along. He was a young man by then, and his name was Ole Nielsen.

This Ole Nielsen had fathered an out-of-wedlock child himself before emigrating. This child grew up and lived his life in Norway, and he was the ancestor of Cousin Trygve. Cousin Trygve made contact with me on the basis of the story of Lars Swelland, which I told on this blog a while back. I was the first relative on that side he’d ever been able to find in America.

His quest is to find out what happened to Ole Nielsen over here. Nobody in Norway ever heard what became of him. Nobody in my family seems to know either. So I wanted to do what I could to try to help him in that. But I wasn’t very hopeful. Asking questions, as I’ve said more than once, is not my strong suit.

On Sunday I took him down to Zumbrota, Minnesota to meet Cousin Dorothy. Cousin Dorothy is my dad’s first cousin, a Swelland by birth. She’d told me over the phone that she didn’t know much, but was happy to have us come down for lunch.

Dorothy and her husband gave us a lovely lunch in their pleasant house. In the manner of all Great Detectives, I did my best to draw her out, priming the pump with my own memories of my grandmother (her aunt) and others in the family.

Finally she said, “You know, you ought to go to the Severson Reunion. They hold a reunion down in Iowa every year! I think I’ve got the invitation around here somewhere.”

Bingo. The Seversons were precisely the family we were trying to make contact with. Dorothy couldn’t find the invitation, but she gave me the name and address of the man who sent it. Turns out he’s actively involved with the Vesterheim Norwegian Immigration Museum in Decorah, Iowa (where I’ll be traveling for the Nordic Fest this coming weekend).

A relative who organizes family reunions and is involved in the immigration museum. I think it’s just possible he may be able to help us.

Who says Avoidants can’t be great sleuths?

Unfortunately, our resource guy doesn’t seem to be at home right now. I’m awaiting his call-back. I drove Trygve up to Fergus Falls today and passed him off to some relatives on the other side of his family.

But I’m feeling pretty Sherlockian today. I’m debating whether to start smoking a pipe, or to adopt the more socially acceptable habit of mainlining cocaine.