Week 18: Social

May theme: Social

One of my most vivid memories of my first visit to Sweden (I was 15, and went with my grandparents) was the different social norms from what I was used to. To be honest, I don’t know if the norms were different, or my grandparents just had different expectations. But we traveled impulsively from homes of family to homes of friends to homes of strangers who lived in places where my grandparents once lived.

Fortunately, the fact that I didn’t understand Swedish likely saved me from the embarrassment of having my grandparents barge in unannounced time after time.

Grandparents and extended family dropping by Grandpa’s childhood home.

And yet. Every. Single. Time. We were met with coffee and sweet rolls and a warm welcome. I’ve always envied that spontaneous hospitality. To have homemade baked goods and a clean house at the ready – I’ve inherited neither of these Swedish talents.

My grandparents grew up poor, immigrated to the USA as teens, met and married here, and became – to their way of thinking – fabulously wealthy. They had healthy children, good jobs – Grandpa was a machinist, and Grandma was a maid – bought their own house with a nice big garden, a basement, and a garage. Their house had 2 bedrooms and an indoor bathroom! (Grandpa’s house in Sweden, pictured here, had a kitchen in the center, a small sitting room to the left, and a bedroom to the right. His parents had the bedroom, his aunt slept in the sitting room, and he and his siblings had the kitchen – the warmest room in house!) Grandma made her own soap. Did her laundry on one of those old-fashioned wringer things. They even had a car.

They worked hard. And they played hard. Their wealth didn’t extend to many vacations, movies, external events. I think when you don’t have a lot of *things* you value people more. I have stacks of photographs of people I don’t know drinking coffee from Grandma’s good china (that my sister has now) at various gatherings, card parties, holidays. They belonged to the Scandinavian Club (where they met, I think), the American Legion Auxiliary (all their sons were military), Church groups (Swedish Lutheran, of course), neighborhood clubs (Come-as-you-are breakfast, anyone?), Golden Agers (along with my other set of grands).

Grandma kept a scrapbook full of news clippings of all their various activities, and those of their friends and family. I am slowly scanning the scrapbook – it is falling apart, and I need to preserve the stories before it all disintegrates. Although most of the clippings are of friends, not relatives, one of my hopes is that some of these newspaper photos might help me identify some of the unknowns in the photographs Grandma took but didn’t label.

We lived nearby and visited often. I got to sit in on a Pinochle game when they came up short a person, or when they wanted to play five-handed. I actually hate playing games, but I felt so grown-up when I was allowed to participate. I was practically weaned on coffee. (The amount of cream in the cup slowly became less over the years but never quite disappeared.) Grandma’s cookie jar was never empty. Neither was her candy dish, which still sits on the same end table it did back then, but both are in my family room now, a reminder of days when folks who didn’t have a lot, gave it eagerly.

Christmas at the grands’. I’m the happiest one. 🙂
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