My Father’s Day arrived a two weeks early this year while I was in Sweden visiting family and friends.
This was my first trip there in ten years and I wanted to return to some of the places where my great grandparents had lived before emigrating to the United States in 1868. Americans rarely know much, if anything, about their ancestors from the ‘old country’, let alone know exactly where the family resided before packing up and moving to America. I am one of the fortunate who do.
About 30 years ago, my family learned from my mother’s cousin (with help from Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt by marriage), that my maternal great grandmother who had left for the States as a child with her family had lived in Småland. The family dwelled in the Swedish province of Småland on a beautiful, but rocky, piece of land near a lake. They were contracted for 49 years to the farmer who owned property. It was, as the man who currently owns the farm explained: “a very bad contract.”
Like so many others at the time, the family fell on hard times when a famine hit the country. Nearly 100,000 Swedes emigrated to the U.S. between 1868 and 1873. My great- grandmother was among them. My great-grandmother, in a letter written when she was 70 to the family ‘back home’ wished she could return and see her old home once more. But as she was 70, she never made the trip. (Click here to read more about this in my blog post of May, 2015.)
Instead, my aunt, Hazel, and I made the trip for her, visiting the ‘homeland’ together in 1991. We went with Bo to the farm in Småland at a tiny spot known as Fagerdal. It was an emotional visit as we walked around what was left of the foundation of the farmhouse and explored the nearby root cellar. My aunt recalled stories her grandmother had told about being a little girl there. Then Bo beckoned us over to a juniper bush and upon parting the branches, revealed to us the stationary paper-sized copper sign attached to a post. The inscription, in Swedish, commemorated the fact that my great-grandmother’s family had lived there from 1853 to 1867. Tears welled in both our eyes as we read the words.
Two years later, my mother and father travelled to Sweden to visit the family, as my aunt and I had done. They too drove with Bo to Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother living there and went down to the pasture to see where the house had once stood and to view the sign in the juniper bush.
On this trip, I journeyed alone to Fagerdal with my husband. Bo was unable to join us but he had mapped out the route for me and written instructions as to how to find the place. I hoped to see once more that farmstead in the field and the sign that had so moved me 25 years previously.
We turned off the highway just outside Åtivdaberg and headed south on a two lane, well-paved country road. Although early evening, we had a few hours of daylight left as the summer season is one of very long days in Sweden. The countryside was lush and particularly verdant in the late day golden light. It was difficult to imagine that this area at one time had suffered such a famine that families had to leave in order to feed their children.
Our rental car had a GPS to help guide our way, but Fagerdal is such a small spot (if not just the name for the farms there), that it didn’t even appear on the electronic map. As we drew closer, I stopped at a ‘sommar stuga’, or summer cottage to ask if we were on the right track. We were. After asking for directions twice more, and pointing to the map that Bo had made, we arrived at a cluster of farm buildings sitting at the end of a drive at the top of a hill. An elderly woman shuffled in the yard apparently checking on her flower garden when I hopped out of the car with my map.
She spoke no English. I did my best to explain to her in Swedish why I had pulled unannounced into her drive. The woman had a sweet smile and kind eyes but she couldn’t understand my request. She called to “Stefan,” within the house and in moments her son, a man about my own age, appeared. He spoke some English so between my Swedish and his English he figured out my reason for the unexpected visit and offered to take us down to the field. I was ecstatic.
We followed him in the car along a rutted road down to the place where I had been so many years before. Together we walked up the little hill to the spot where the house had been and over to where the stone walls of the root cellar were still intact although now a tree was growing up from the center. Then I looked for the sign, the thing I had hoped to see once again. The farmer knew it, had seen it but search as we did, we could not find it. He was mystified and couldn’t understand why it was not in the bushes, now grown into small trees. We walked all around the area, looking in the tall grass in case it had fallen or been dragged off by the cattle who had grazed there. Perhaps, the farmer ventured, someone had taken it. Taken it? Why? How? Where? These were questions to which he, nor I, had any answers. As disappointed as I was, I was nonetheless thrilled to stand once more at the place where my great-grandmother had been as a child. Tears again came into my eyes. As much as I would have liked to have stayed longer, dusk was settling in and we had further to go that evening.
I had fulfilled one of my goals for the trip by visiting the farm once more. The farmer and his mother were warm and welcoming. She even asked us to stay for ‘kaffe’ afterwards, an invitation that I had to decline because we had to yet to drive to our hotel further south. But before we followed her son down to the farm field, he disappeared back into the house and re-emerged with a large, manila envelope from which he pulled a few papers.
Among the papers were photocopies of photos of my family’s farmstead, as it appeared in 1916, when relatives who came after, still lived there. I had never seen these photos before. I did my best to photograph the copies so I could show Bo and my family back in the States. I had just finished snapping the photos when the farmer picked up the other papers from the envelope that he had placed on the porch bench. A little slip of paper fell out.
I instantly recognized the handwriting. It was that of my own father’s. My Dad had torn a piece of paper from the little pocket calendar that he always carried with him and had written upon it his name, address and phone number. The date at the top read: September 1993. “Det är min far,” I exclaimed. “Det är min far!” (That is my father!) Tears welled in my eyes at the sight of it.
My father had written down his contact information when he and my mother had visited. He had left it with the farmer and his mother who had kept it all these years in the envelope with the photos and other information about Väster Lund, as that farm was called, perhaps just so that it would be there when I returned. Now, 23 years later it was as if my Dad was saying: “Remember, we were here too,” and sending me his love simply with this slip of paper. It was my Father’s Day in Fagerdal.