A week with my family in Småland

Posted on April 28th, 2013 by

Over spring break, some of us took the opportunity to reconnect with home again, through a trip back home or spending the week with family and friends.  I chose to spend my spring break with my cousins here.  My cousin Ingela and her husband Lars live on a farm near the small town Ljungby in Småland.  I had met them once before at a family reunion, and my mom had come to stay with Ingela twice before.  When I got accepted to the Semester in Sweden program, we wrote to them asking if I could stay with them for the week.  They would only be able to have me for Easter weekend, but after that, I would stay with Ingela’s brother Jan, and his wife and daughter Barbro and Emma, who live in nearby Durjap.

For the first two days, I hung out with Elizabeth’s family in Stockholm.  My family would not be able to pick me up until Saturday, so they were gracious enough to let me spend that Friday with them.

On Thursday, we went to Skansen, a large open air museum on the same island where the Vasa museum is.  They had all sorts of exhibits representing the various regions and time periods of Sweden.  It was very relaxing to walk around on a beautiful day, sampling food at the market stalls, surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of the past.  In the afternoon, we went to a Maundy Thursday service there.  At Communion, they were welcoming of all denominations, which I had noticed when I attended the Palm Sunday service at the Storakyrkan.

Friday Morning, we went to a Good Friday service at the Storakyrkan.  Being in a cathedral with the soft morning light shining through the beautiful stained glass windows added an element of the hope and promise of God’s love to the solemn service.  We visited the Alfred Nobel museum to learn of the history of the founder and Nobel Prize laureates.  In one exhibit, you could walk on a stepping stone path surrounded by fake moss and sit in a comfy armchair, next to it, a copy of the poet and 2011 Nobel Literature Prize winner Thomas Tranströmer’s Into the Center of Reality Itself.  Elizabeth and I bought two of his other books.

That evening, I took the train by myself for the first time to Alvesta, a little town in Småland where my cousin Ingela would pick me up the next day.  Even when I knew I had come to the right platform, I still felt nervous, but after the conductor checked my ticket, I let out a sigh of relief, knowing I had been successful and was ready to start my spring break relaxing and watching the world go by from my window seat.

That morning at the train station, I heard a cry of “Annelise!” At first, I did not recognize the woman who was calling my name.  At a closer glance, I saw that it was Ingela, and we embraced with an awkward start, but then we gave each other a big hug.  As we drove to their house, I observed some strong differences between the American and Swedish countryside.  Here, the roads are narrow and curved, stone walls lining the sides where the farmers place them after collecting them from their fields in the spring, and behind them, not copses but forests of trees.  Properties are much smaller and uneven and neighbors live much closer together, sometimes a block  away or even right across the street, a drastic change from the hustle and bustle of Stockholm.  Not only was the landscape different, but my cousins also spoke with the Småland dialect, so it was very difficult to communicate in Swedish.  Even English was a challenge, because it is less spoken here than it is in big cities with heavy tourism and large immigrant populations.  Before sitting down at the table, guests wait for the host to say “Varsagod.”

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I had thought fika in a home would be more casual where everyone would just sit down to a cup of coffee for a couple of minutes, so I was surprised to find that the setup was very similar to what it was when we had stayed in schools.  Ingela would announce that it was time for fika and Lars and I would come sit at the table and we would talk for at least ten minutes.  The coffee and tea was always accompanied by at least a cookie, sometimes multiple kinds of deserts per person.  Even foods that an American culture would consider more appropriate for a snack or small meal than a coffee break such as bread, cold cuts, and cheese, and one that Lars introduced me to: a hard boiled egg and caviar sandwich, which to my surprise, I liked.  Ingela showed me some pictures from the times my mom had come to visit and a letter from her.

We went to an Easter Sunday service in Ljungby that morning.  The first thing we see when we walk in (surprise!) is some of the choir, congregation, and pastor sitting down to have fika.  The service included several familiar Easter hymns and concluded with the children’s choir passing out Påsklilla or daffodils.

My cousin Ingela and her husband Lars

My cousin Ingela and her husband Lars

On Monday I had to say goodbye to Lars and Ingela.  We said we would always remember this time together.  Lars and Ingela told me they thought of me as their lilla hjarta (little heart).  At Barbro, Jan and Emma’s, I was greeted with fika with waffles and lingonberry sauce, a treat I had eaten surprisingly few times on this trip.  My cousin Emma is about my age and had graduated from gymnasium (high school) last year.

For the rest of the week, I woke up for breakfast with Emma, with Barbro’s puppy Ellie sitting at our feet begging for food.  Spring weather was coming fast and we spent many afternoons walking the property and down to the lake where their home overlooks, or explored Ljungby.  It was a very nice change of pace to relax in the countryside and get to know my family.

On Friday, Emma and I went into town and met two of her friends, Elin and Amelia for pizza.  They introduced me to a new flavor, which they were very surprised we don’t have in America: kabob and french fry.  After dinner and conversation that evening, even though we had just met, we knew we would miss each other and wished we could have spent more of the week together.  We hugged each other and promised to keep in touch.

On my last day, we saw two baby hares nestled under a tree.  Emma and I quietly crept up to admire them, while Barbro tried to keep Ellie from barking.  We managed to get just a few feet away from them before backing away, because the poor little things were shaking like crazy.

Two Baby Hares

That evening, Emma showed me her scrapbook from her prom and graduation and Barbro and Jan also showed me pictures of the family like Lars and Ingela had.  They also nicknamed me lilla hjarta and said they felt as though I were another daughter to them. I choked up, not knowing what to say, knowing I might never see all the people I met again, but I knew I would always remember them and keep in touch and remember this wonderful week forever.

(left to right) Jan, Emma, and Barbro

(left to right) Jan, Emma, and Barbro

 

 

 

 

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