When I was a child, the ferris wheel seemed silly and scary at the same time. Who needs to go around in a vertical circle that ends up right where it started over and over again and also presupposes the likelihood of being at a standstill in a swinging metal seat, exposed and unsupervised, a hundred feet in the air and without a net. There’s a metaphor in there and it seems to parallel adulthood.
However, I’ve grown an appreciation for ending up where I started over the years and also for taking an occasional dare into high-flying. Which is what I was doing when I purchased the earrings I’m wearing now and have been wearing all year, small braided silver circles designed by a Swedish woman whose jewelry was on display in a tiny shop on the pedestrian outer island of Sandhamn in the Stockholm archipelago in the Baltic Sea. How I ended up on Sandhamn one glorious August day near the end of the summer of 2021 is part of a circular story that redefined my place in the world, literally.
That I took all the chances it required to get there is part of it. That the landscape infused me with a settledness I had never felt before is another. I felt home in the land where my DNA had circled into what I now was, a Californian of Swedish descent who revered the country that had given her a history, for Sverige provided sustenance for many that had come before me — in winters bleak and summers from heaven.
Seeing the Nordic land of my ancestors spiraled me into a history that had been fed to me only by the teaspoon full since I was a girl. I learned from my paternal grandmother (which I would learn many decades later is named farmor aka father’s mother in Svenska aka Swedish) that tack sa mycket means thank you so much. From her I learned to love potatiskorv aka potato sausage and rotmos aka root mash. I learned about the lucky girls who were chosen to represent the candle-crowned Santa Lucia at Christmas (not given top billing, however, on the holiday when Jesus was clearly the star. I never learned of the saint’s martyrdom from my regimented Baptist clan.)
No one told me about all of the water, the islands, the emerald fields and hills, the modest red houses and small family farms. No one told me about the immaculate cities and diverse population, the practical culture who cared for each other through a social contract. No one had encouraged me to visit there, not when socialistic tendencies and sexual freedom were the main headlines out of Sweden. When I was a girl, Sweden had become an embarrassment to the Baptists, apparently.
I was curious. And curiosity led to the most serendipitous thing that has ever happened to me. In February of 2020, I was selected to join the cast of Season 10 of Allt for Sverige, a popular Swedish genealogy/culture/travel reality show. Then COVID hit and I waited a long eighteen months for the prize of traveling to my homeland for the delayed filming as the oldest of ten cast members. (I tracked the experience in a series of Medium posts after the show aired in the spring of 2022.)
Each member of the cast experienced a geographical/genealogical trip back into a family story line. Mine included a brush with nobility, a tragic fire, and a visit to the church cemetery where my great-great grandparents are buried, the parents of the son who left for America, killed in a Minnesota quarry at the age of 38, leaving behind his wife (who died shortly after) and three children (my farmor included).
In a ferris wheel moment that had me back where I started and that also took me to heights unimagined, I placed a bouquet of wild lilies at my great-great grandparents grave in a country churchyard near where my family had lived for generations. I sang a song I had learned in the church of my youth and revised the words a bit to fit the occasion. I sang for my farmor, Grandma Sig, who never saw the land of her parent’s birth. . . . and they’ll know we are family by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are family by our love.
I’m told there’s an upcoming Zoom call for the cast members of Allt for Sverige over the years. I’ll be the white-haired one with the silver circle earrings and a big smile on her face. Jag alskar du, Sverige!
I wrote this story as a result of the Day Three writing prompt in Ann Randolph’s current Unmute Yourself writing sessions. As a participant in Unmute Yourself since 2021, I can highly recommend Ann’s program, her top notch writing instruction, and the strength of the writing community she shepherds!