First Visit to Denmark

I was four years old the first time I visited Denmark. My parents and brother had immigrated to the United States because my mother’s oldest brother had settled here and would sponsor them. My mother had gone back once to visit and my Farmor(farmor means father’s mother) had come over once for the summer…all before I was born.
Back then, the plane(yes, a plane, not a jet) left from New York and had to refuel in Iceland. We actually got off the plane and I can remember we went into the nearby fields and picked flowers to give to my grandmothers! I vaguely remember the flowers being heather. Iceland is another place I’d like to get back to.
We landed in Copenhagen(back then, you landed on the runway and then walked down the steps into the runway. After the plane stopped, people were then allowed to go beyond the fenced area and greet you). I remember so vividly hearing family members call out all of our names and running to greet us. What a thrill that was!
Our family basically comes from a town approximately 30 miles from Copenhagen. My grandmothers, many aunts, uncles and cousins. What a comparison to the life we lived in the United States with very little family…we literally “adopted” people! I wonder now how difficult it must have been for my parents and brother. My brother had been surrounded by loving grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins and then to go so far away and not know the language. He was a cute little fellow then with round glasses and big eyes. I understand that when he started elementary school, it only took him 6 months before he had mastered English.
I asked my Dad once why they had left Denmark and he explained that after the war(WW2), there weren’t many opportunities for him. He’d been a supervisor at a wood plant and said that if he’d continued there with the chemicals that were used there, that he would die young. Coming to United States was a chance to do what he loved, the baking.
My mother, I think, would have been happier staying. It was hard work having the bakery and lonely too not having her mother, sister and friends around. My mother had original plans to attend dentistry school and had been accepted. She left that idea to marry my Dad. (They were so good together…it is interesting when you have parents who had such a fulfilling marriage…and you realize how rare an occurrence that really is).
Memories of my first visit to Denmark include Bicycles. I sat in a little seat on the back of my mother’s bicycle and I was amazed by the sheer number of bicycles. (I’m kind of reminded of the character in Peanuts I believe it was Linus’s younger brother? He was always sitting on the back of the mother’s bicycle).
Wooden Shoes…one of my fondest memories of my Farmor(father’s mother) was that she took me to get a pair of red wooden shoes(leather uppers, wooden bottoms…clogs). We then bought decals to put all over them.
Roedgroet med Floede…Cooked strawberry/raspberry pudding with cream. My Mormor(mother’s mother) had me for a day when my parents and brother had to go somewhere. I was quite distraught cause basically I usually went everywhere with my parents. My Mormor was being so sweet and in trying to console me, we made roedgroet. I remember I was fascinated by her dressing table in her bedroom which had her delicate bottles of perfume in fancy bottles. My mother had nothing like this…I lifted all the tops to smell them and inadvertently dropped one of them and the perfume went everywhere. My Mormor just dried my tears and mopped up the perfume and we went on into the kitchen to cook. (try this link for the recipe and how to make an aeblekage)
Aeblekage…this is Danish Apple Cake..usually unbaked but could be baked. It is really like a trifle of sorts..layers of homecooked applesauce, browned breadcrumbs(browned in a pan with butter and sugar). Sometimes there are crumbled almond macaroons and sometimes a layer of jam. Topped with whipped cream. Every family has their version and every one is different and good! One problem is if you are visiting two houses in one day, you may end up with aeblekage twice!
I’ve been back several times since then but that was the only time I had with both my grandmothers. One thing I regret is not having a close relationship with them. Quite a while since I was over last…so, it is time to brush up on the Danish and save up to go again.
til next time…Eva


Loss of Language…Loss of Identity

Danish was the first language of my parents and older brother. When they spoke to other people, they spoke English but when they were alone or with other Danes, they spoke Danish.

I can remember how complete strangers could come into the bakery and if they were Danes and spoke Danish, my mother would get my father out of the bakery to meet them and they became instant friends!

Since my brother was only 4 when they came over(1947), the one wish he had was that after High School, he would go back to Denmark for a year and go to the international school outside of Copenhagen to perfect his verbal and written language skills. We still had a lot of family members back then(grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins). He managed to fall in love while he was there and a few years later, she came over and they got married(they recently celebrated their 50th anniversary). My sister in law’s family was a large one and we were so grateful that they embraced us as part of the family…her parents were like grandparents to me and her sisters and families were just amazing. If all in law families could co exist like this…what a wonderful place this would be.

When I was quite young, I loved when my parents would converse with each other and talk about the good stuff…you know, about birthday presents, Christmas presents and the incidents I wasn’t supposed to know anything about! I didn’t realize til recently that I was the only one who knew about a “scandalous” event in the family…our cousins and my brother had been trying to determine what had really happened. Being quite young, I just absorbed what my parents were talking about. My brother commented that they couldn’t quite determine what had happened because all the key players were now deceased. I looked at him and said, “What do you mean you don’t know” “And I guess you do,” he replies…”you were only 6.” “But I do know” ..and proceeded to tell him the events… He looked at me in total amazement and said, “I wonder what else you know….”!!! (heh, heh, heh…)

I always thought in Danish. I could speak it somewhat fluently(I never spoke it at home cause my brother always had to correct everything I would say…) My writing and reading skills were basically self taught.

My parents are both gone now and I don’t see my brother and sister in law often…and when I do, its with the whole family and they aren’t speaking Danish. I always wrote Danish in the Christmas letters to our remaining family over there and as I sat to write a card to my cousins this past Christmas, I drew a complete blank and it dawned on me that my Danish language was gone…and that also meant that a huge chunk of my identity was gone as well.

I cannot allow that to die in me…so I’ve made a decision to find a language course online and hopefully bounce back better than ever.

Is there some part of your childhood/heritage that has slipped away? It’s not too late to get it back…

til next time…Eva