When They Circle the Wagons

My great grandfather died 99 years ago from the Spanish flu. That was the beginning of what there is of family history, as my grandmother told it. He died when she was 9. When she was 10 her mother sent her to work for – and live with – strangers. By 12 she’d been sent to a children’s home, and she said those were the best years of her life.

She liked the predictability. The rules. The gathering of children – some orphaned, some – like her -… not. What can I say that doesn’t sound judgmental? I know “times were hard”.

No. The truth is, I don’t know.

I do know that my grandmother stood apart.

The story has a ragged start, and it ravels from there. In my story family isn’t a tree, it’s a snapped string of glass beads scattered over a wooden floor. And wanting anything else is absurd. Bits glued together don’t create a whole.

But each bit is whole alone. Ground smooth – scoured by conflicts and time.
Nothing left to catch on anything, they shine brightly and slip out of sight.

I was always the “new girl”. Until I’d slip away. So immigrating wasn’t difficult. One can get so used to difficult. It’s a familiar shape the body adjusts to. There are people who sleep on the floor with a block of wood under their head. They aren’t martyrs. They are creatures of habit, like all of us.

Like all of us. Like us.

On September 11, 2001, I called friends from home to talk, and they all told me “what Americans are going through”.

Communities circle the wagons in times of crisis. Funny, how things like that can take you by surprise.

Yesterday I got an email from my writer’s union. Norwegian writers are invited to contribute to a project about living in Norway during these surreal times.

If you write in Norwegian.

I’ve lived here for 26 years. Reared my children in the culture. Taught in the public schools.

But there are shapes we cling to. Because – like it or not – it’s who you are. And who you aren’t.

No matter how hard you try.

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