At At At Home in Sweden
Hemma i Sverige
Home is where we start from
Hem är där vi utgår från
One hundred miles from Stockholm, Sweden, a turn off from the main highway leads my daughter Katie and me on to a rough country road, winding through dense, dark forests. The trees are so close together, the woods seem impenetrable. Most of Sweden is like this, which is why the Vikings had to create formidable ships to travel Swedish rivers.
We listen intently to the faint British accented GPS guide for the next clue to another turn. But there is another inner GPS sensor within my heart telling me that I am heading home: a primal family home I have only glimpsed in century old photographs. We are heading home toward the village of Lima, center point for the Karelius Clan.
For the next forty miles highway workmen have covered the country road with oil and gravel, which coats our rental car tires, rocks flying off all around us. Very glad we purchased the zero deductable insurance. Finally, we come to a major settlement, Malung and our hotel base for our visit to our family homeland in Dalarna.
For Swedes, the Dalarna region represents quintessential old Sweden: rustic, centuries old log cabins, majestic rivers and lakes, and thick, impenetrable forests. It is the birthplace of Sweden, where independence was declared in 1523. During Midsummer and other holidays, visitors flock to this remote cultural reserve of Swedish tradition.
This was a long day, driving 230 miles through unknown territory. Just as Katie and I begin to unwind in our room at Sankt Olof Hotell, there is a knock at the door. I greet a handsome, smiling lady who turns out to be my cousin Elvan Olsson. One of the mysteries of our week-long stay in the Dalarna region is somehow Elvan always knew when we were at our hotel. She invited us to her home across the street, where we enjoyed the best Swedish meatballs I have eaten.
Elvan surprised me by giving me a copy of a precious book: Lima: Bortom Mannaminne, by Sven Johansson. She wanted to find a copy for me of this out of print book and she made an appeal on the local radio station. And here is the book. As I turn the pages, I see photographs of the people of the village of Lima, going back over a hundred years. And here on page 37 is a full page photograph of my grandfather Albert at the age of 12, with his parents, and brothers and sisters: nine of them. I can see many photographs of lumberjacks, men cutting wood in the forests. This is how my grandfather would make his living. And in this photograph of the Karelius clan around 1900, I see the biological seeds of the huge family of cousins I would soon encounter. Elvan is the eleventh child of my grandfather’s brother Edvard. Elvan means “eleven.”
The next day Katie and I drove on a more pleasant country road thirty miles to Lima. More dense forests, some recently cut by lumber companies. We come to a little village, whose main offerings are cured animal skins hanging on walls and tables for sale to tourists: reindeer, wolf, moose and bear.
I know that we have finally come to Lima, as I recognize the white church tower from old photographs. We are looking for Karelius and Company, founded by my granduncle Edvard in 1928. There is a delivery truck emblazoned with the company logo. Katie parks the car and right away my cousin Mikael appears, with a hearty greeting. I meet my other cousin Sten and we take a tour of one of Sweden’s beloved sausage and meat producers. Wearing protective covering, we walk through the processing areas where over forty kinds of smoked meats and sausages are prepared: reindeer, wild boar, moose, beef, pork and bear. Mikael hunts the moose and bear himself. My favorite was the moist and tender Limakorv.
A pattern unfolds, as we are handed off again and again to other cousins. Cousin Erik Karelius brings us into the home where my grandfather was born. On the walls are photographs of the Karelius clan. Then we followed his truck on a dusty, rutted dirt road into the mountains above Lima.
“It is only a couple of miles. Not very far to go,” Erik said. I was going to learn that a “Swedish mile” is really about six kilometers. Again I was grateful we had the zero deductable car rental insurance. It was difficult keeping up with Erik’s truck on the bumpy, winding mountain road, but finally we arrived.
We We walk toward three ancient log buildings. Erik reveals that this is where the family raised cattle and horses during the summer months. Here was the old barn and there an ancient storehouse. He opens the door to the main house, which the family has used as summer home for two centuries. The weather-beaten wood siding, ancient, bleached-grey log walls outside mask what we would see within. Entering, we walked about the polished honey-hued wood floors. It was like walking into a Carl Larsson painting: colorful, hand crafted rugs and table runners. It was all in perfect condition, every candlestick and vase set carefully. It was difficult for me to figure out if this was preservation of past family history by Erik, who obviously has taken wonderful care of the place. Did family still actively use the house? I did not have a clear understanding.
No electricity or running water here: century old copper lanterns hung over tables and a stone culvert outside diverted fresh running mountain water toward the house.
As we bid goodbye, Erik opened the old barn to pull out a battered, green lawn mower. As he sat in the driver’s seat, he told us that the grass grows so fast here in spring and summer he has to mow it twice a week or the forest would quickly reclaim the farmstead.
I could not remember how the rustic mountain road brought us here, as there were so many twists and turns. We turned on the GPS and the guiding British voice, which did lead us back to Lima, but in another direction, over a more rutted and difficult country road.
Cousin Sten brought Katie and me to another Karelius home: Sven-Erik and Agnetha Stromgren, who visited us in California years ago. I recognized their home from a photograph: here was a cluster of four old farm buildings that had been beautifully restored and modernized by Sven-Erik’s construction company. Downstairs in one small building Agnetha showed us the century old beehive oven where she baked the world’s best knackebrod. She brought us to the main house with a huge, modern kitchen, appropriate for the Karelius family’s famous cook. Dinner was served and there was one of Sweden’s most famous dishes: Janssen’s Temptation, a casserole of fresh cream, potatoes, onions, and anchovies. Sweden’s National Dish.
Through the following days, more visits with cousins, and Sten’s summer home by a huge lake. In a brief boat tour of the lake, he pointed out other summer homes owned by more of the Karelius clan. The mountain and lake seemed to be dominated by the presence of my family. It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit, a soft fragrant breeze and brilliant sun. How could a day be more beautiful? I gazed at the shimmering blue lake, surrounded by family summer homes and I remember my Grandfather Albert. When he came to California, with his wife Anna and five children, he built a huge log cabin at Big Bear Lake. The red stained old cabins surrounding the lake looked exactly like the homes around this Swedish lake. Although Grandfather Albert never returned to his hometown of Lima, he could commune with his memory of Sweden during his days fishing and hiking at Big Bear Lake, California.
Our Our last day in Lima was especially powerful with the presence of family. There was a smorgasbord lunch at the main restaurant in the village. As I entered with Katie, dozens of Karelius cousins greeted us at long tables. My Cousin Charlotte Karelius, a pharmacist in Salen, was master of ceremonies. She shared a huge poster of her work to create our family tree. From the main trunk of my great-grandparents, many branches spread out of still growing family relations. One of my grandfather’s brothers has 150 decedents. I met Eli Esther from Tanzania, married to my cousin Tommy Gilleras. Some of the faces I recognized from Facebook. Cousin Charlotte set the context of our gathering: not only were Katie and I meeting for the first time our huge clan in Lima, but we were the first family from America to visit the village since our grandfather left. These wonderful, welcoming cousins were claiming us as their family in a powerful embrace of love.
After After lunch, Charlotte and other cousins brought us to the cemetery, outside of the Lima Church. Here are the graves of granduncle Edvard and by great grandfather Ole. For many years, Charlotte’s father was responsible for the management of the village cemetery. And over there was the grave of one of the most famous winter Olympic gold medal winners Sten Jernberg.
We completed our last day in the village of Lima with a Fika/coffee at a Karelius home, where even more cousins appeared: good coffee, sweets and several skoals/toasts with pear brandy.
As we said goodbye, the emotions from these intensive days of new family connections began to squeeze my heart and tears did flow. How grateful I am to be claimed by these good people as their own.
As is my custom, at the end of this day I prayed the Examan from the spirituality of Ignatius. I reviewed each event of the day, remembering the faces of family as best I could, and allowed the spirit of gratitude to flow through all of this. But the Spirit also opened my heart to those persons, on this very night, who must escape war ravaged homelands and other desperate immigrants who float on dark seas, without GPS, hoping for rescue, shelter and some kind of welcome, and a safe future for their families.
Lima: Bortom Mannaminne, by Sven Johansson.
Walking in Dalarna: the Heart of Sweden, by Paul van Bodengraven.
Modern Day Vikings: A Practical Guide for Interaction with Swedes, by Christine Rabinowitz.
A Taste of Dalarna: the Food, the Place and the People, by Bo Masser.