Britt shook her head in disbelief. What was this man saying?
“I tell you, your grandmother, Kristianne, had two older brothers who went to Canada in September of 1905,” Håvard said it again.
“My grandmother didn’t have two older brothers. She was the oldest child.”
“This is not true,” Håvard reiterated, “Their names were Karl and Eberhard. And now Karl's grandchildren want to come to Norway to meet you.”
Britt struggled to absorb the idea that she had a family in Canada. The Ulafsen name had died two generations ago when Grandmother Kristianne had married. Kristianne’s younger siblings had either died young, never married, or never bore children. There was only Britt and her brother and sister left.
Over the next few days, Britt pondered the likelihood of Håvard’s unbelievable story. Wouldn’t Grandmother have told Britt of the two brothers who emigrated to Canada? Why would Kristianne have kept such a secret. But what if...?
Maybe there were answers in Kristianne’s house. Finding the keys, Britt drove to the ancient farmhouse, which remained as it had been when Kristianne died thirty years before.
Farmor, speak to me, she pleaded, as she walked through the tall grass to the front porch. She carefully stepped across the warped planks and unlocked the door. The sound of her breathing intruded on the silence of the tiny kitchen as she looked around. Dishes were stacked on the peeling cupboard, pots hung on nails, and a lone butter knife sat by the sink. Empty tobacco tins stood along a wooden shelf, and a faded tea towel was draped over a rusty hook.
In the living room, Britt wove her way to the leaning china cupboard, past the bedraggled sofa and dusty piles of newspapers. She opened the drawers, but they were empty, except for mouse droppings and an old receipt or two.
Maybe the bedroom. Taking the key from a nail by the door, Britt walked back outside and around the side of the house to the stairs to the sleeping quarters. Carefully, she tested each step, not sure how reliable the blackened wood would be after so many years. The door did not open readily, but Britt heaved against it with her shoulder. With a groan and a cloud of dust, it opened to the gloomy interior.
There was clutter on the floor: papers, old shoes, and a woolen coat. Britt ignored it all and headed straight for the old desk.
The top drawer revealed an old set of hand-woven drapes. They might have been red once, but were now a faded orange; the cream-coloured embroidery was filthy and graying.
The second drawer was full of glassware. A fancy saucer, a salt cellar, wine glasses, and underneath, a cotton nightgown, pin tucked and eyelet-trimmed.
Britt squatted down in the dust so she could pull out the bottom drawer. It was heavy and difficult to budge. And no wonder, it was stuffed full of papers and envelopes. Britt began to rummage through it, not sure what she was looking for. Her fingers touched a postcard, a sepia-toned picture of a grain elevator, although she didn’t know that’s what it was. Taking a deep breath, she turned the card over. Her heart began to pound as she read the faded postmark - Canada.
Eberhard and I arrived in Canada two months ago. We have a land grant from the Canadian government. Imagine! 640 acres each! The land is good. We will do well if we work hard. Give our love to Mother and Father and the young ones. Your brother, Karl
There were more postcards in the drawer. Dear Family, I am married. Dear Mother and Father, We have two children. There were letters from Karl’s wife, Tilly, written in English and beyond Britt’s understanding. Photos were tucked into each envelope, showing a farm, workhorses, even a set of newborn twins. Until the day faded, Britt learned about a struggling prairie family, HER family, building a new life with hope and hard work.
Why, Farmor? Why didn’t you tell us?
Why Kristianne chose not to tell is buried with her in the Vålor cemetery.
And when I looked into Britt’s eyes and asked her if she wanted to know me, after a century of silence, tears welled up and answered for her.
*Farmor = paternal grandmother
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