Arland O. Fiske: Discovering Numedal, Norway
For many years, Numedal was a place in Norway that I could not visualize; though I knew it must be there.
It was important to me as the birthplace of Grandpa Hellik (1859-1931), who was born “Thoreson,” but was given the Scottish name “Thompson” in America when he received his naturalization papers by a judge in America. My dream of visiting Numedal came true in September 1985. It was a beautiful morning as my wife, Gerda, and I drove from Oslo past Drammen on our way to Kongsberg where Jorun (pronounce YOR-un) Teksle, the daughter of a third cousin, met us at the railway station. We followed her through the mountain valleys past the village of Lyngdal until we came to a cozy farm nestled above a valley. Though they had never seen Gerda and myself before, we were greeted as though we had always been the dearest of friends. And as you might guess, we didn’t get away from the farm until we had eaten more tasty food than was good for our diets. Besides meeting our long lost family, the most interesting part of the visit was to see a locally produced movie on the immigration to America. People of the community had reenacted the 1870s and 1880s. It fit right into the time that Grandpa Hellik immigrated to Kasson, Minn. in 1877. The movies showed how groups of immigrants formed their wagon trains, stopping by each farm along the way, as they traveled south to Kongsberg. There they regrouped and got ready for the trip to Drammen to board a ship for the long journey to the New World. It was a late harvest in Scandinavia when we visited Numedal. Cousin Kjetal Teksle was busy combining. It was slow going because there had been so much rain and some of the heavy stand had lodged. I was impressed with the well-kept farms. One of the interesting buildings was the stabbur. It’s a house built of logs set up on rocks (to keep rodents from entering) where food and clothing are stored. The top floor was used for summer living quarters. Some of the stabburs are up to 500 or more years old. It is a strange and fulfilling feeling to trace one’s roots. One looks at the faces and recognized the profiles and likeness of family in America. The moment we saw Jorun, we knew she was kin. For a moment I almost thought I was looking at my sister Florence when she was in her 20s. The church is important to these country folks. Every visitor is taken to see the church and to walk through the cemetery. Gravestones are pointed out. One begins to feel close to people one has never seen before whose names are carved in rock. Then you know that you are “home.” If you make such a trip, you should be so fortunate as to meet the local historian. On our way out to the farm, we stopped to see Sigurd Vinger in Flesberg. His well-organized notes were being prepared for publication of a Bygdebog, a regional history. He asked me to find out more about my family who were missing because they had gone to America. I asked him how far back he could trace my roots. He said, “to about 1400.” That is an awful lot of history to absorb. It’s scary too; you never know what you will find. But if the ancestors in Numedal were anything like the cousins we discovered on this trip, I’d like to meet all of them. Next Week: Trolls and Mountain Roads
— ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.