On my solo trip on Barney in 2004, my goal for coming north was just to see where Helmer had come from – I wasn’t expecting much in the way of meeting people, especially since I then had absolutely no idea about the size of the family and only had those two email addresses – I thought I’d be there a few days, see the house, meet the family at the other email address and be on my way. I was thus completely blown away by the hospitality I received on that trip and the wonderfully nice people that I was related to – I ended up being there almost two weeks and meeting many wonderful people I happen to be related to some generations back.
So the folks who came to meet us at the train station close to midnight were well known to me, even if not yet to the others: Birgit – who I’d stayed with on my previous trip and who came to pick up my mother and aunt, who were staying with her now, and Hans – who I’d also hung out with several times in 2004 and who was giving my family a ride in his old Mercedes limousine, one of his 37 older vehicles.
Hans drove us to Malin’s, where we were staying, in the not really ever dark of the Northern Swedish summer night. For reference, Umeå’s latitude is between that of Yellowknife and Iqaluit, but it’s warmer because of the Gulf Stream. It doesn’t really ever get dark in the summer, which means day-night rhythms get kinda flexible. After a quick chat, we bedded down in the caravan, our home for the next few nights .
The next morning, K and I went a hay ride with Malin and her kids and yet another cousin, who is very interested in keeping old ways alive – including by teaching Swedish folk dancing and by taking in the hay the old fashioned way.
And when we got back, the vehicle we could use for our stay had arrived, thanks to Hans – a different Mercedes limousine (a 1979). We quickly headed off for a delicious lunch with Monika, another relative. We all then piled into the limousine to see the local church and chapel – the chapel is especially lovely with the view of the lake behind the lectern.
After the tour, Monika had organized a huge family fika, just with the family that lives in one of the several little communities around the lake. There’s a tendency for people to build new houses near their parents and siblings, so many of the people there were actually cousins of some degree.
Another version of this family photo actually made the regional newspaper.
The next day we had a lovely lunch with my fellow planner Mårten and his wife.
We then took the limousine up roads it wasn’t meant for to go for a hike with Birgit and her family to a lovely lookout over a lake. We were introduced to Swedish blueberries that grow everywhere in the forest and are quite tasty.
In the evening we had another big party, this time organized by Hans – or more properly, conceived of by Hans and organized by his super wife Anna. Lots more relatives came out for a hamburger dinner by another lake, complete with boxes of old photographs and catching up between many of these groups as well. It’s quite amazing to see just how many cousins there are! I was too busy talking to people – both those I’d met in 2004 and those new to me – to take many pictures.
Wednesday, Ivo and I headed into Umeå to take care of something – and let me just say that parking a limousine in a normal parking spot is a bit of a challenge – then came back out for a fika with Mårten – his sister lives in the States and was meant to join us for lunch the previous day but her flight had been delayed. We had a nice time meeting her and hearing about the plans for building and publicizing a 22 km ice skating path around the lake in the winter – they’re hoping for Dutch tourists who haven’t been able to skate on our canals for any distance for a while! They’re also going to be renting a lovely apartment out on AirBnB for those tourists – if anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll connect you!
In the evening the six of our family went into Umeå and had dinner at Max Burger, intrigued by the promise of not just one veggie burger, but a whole veggie burger menu, with five different options. It worked out that we tried all of them in our group, and they were all good. I was most partial to the veggie BBQ sandwich, which was just plain good and I’m still craving another one. In fact, the cashier who helped us (she had the best English), said she wasn’t even vegetarian and still had one every night. That’s what we need to see with veggie food – food so good not only vegetarians want it. We’re now planning another trip to Sweden just so we can go there again.
We then wandered around central Umeå for a bit and ran into Hans and his family as well! They’d already spotted the parked limousine so knew vaguely where we were.
Sunset goes on for a long time in the North – now it’s almost 10 pm.
Thursday was Mum’s last day before heading back to Stockholm in the evening to catch her cruise on Friday. We hung out in the lake during the day with Malin and her family.
Then while I took my Mum to the airport (with my aunt), K got to try one of her life-long dreams, thanks to the incredible kindness of Anna – she got to ride a horse! Apparently she’s a natural, so this is something we may have to look into later. L also tried, but wasn’t so impressed.
Then another delicious dinner with Mikael and his family at their incredible house (that Mikael also built). Their daughter was a big hit with our kids, as were her dogs!
In these evenings I also started hearing about other stories of people who had gone to America but had come back, for one reason or another – the one who came back on a visit and got someone in a family way and so couldn’t go back to Canada and a possible love waiting there, or the sad story of a husband who died in the logging camps in Washington and the widow who came back to Sweden, leaving one of the young daughters behind by herself. We think of emigration as a one way street – in North America we think of it as the last step in reaching for a better life, reaching the American (Canadian?) dream – but we don’t think about the idea that not everyone stays or that not everyone finds their dream there.
On Friday, our last day, we headed out to the coast to see Jens and his family and to have lunch at the golf club before heading down to the beach. The water was bath temperature and we took advantage to go for a swim while catching up with Jens’ daughters, who I’d met in Stockholm 12 years ago, and who were now of course married with their own kids. A lot changes in 12 years, but both of the girls are still as I remember them.
After that, some ice cream with Birgit and family and a visit with the sheep.
Finally, a lovely cookout dinner by the lake with Malin and her family, including roasting marshmallows and trying to see a beaver. Well, L and the older girls had seen it and we tried to go back later, but no luck, except a lovely view.
Saturday morning we were driven to the ferry by Hans in our favourite limousine, and we boarded for the next phase of our adventure, replete with the wonderful food, hospitality and friendship we’d enjoyed during our stay.