On this day (April 9) seventeen years ago, the most nurturing and positively influential woman, to me, took her last breath and left this life.
It was Mum who called me early in the morning whit the sad news. I was on my way from Liverpool Street Station to my office in Shoreditch. I lived in the fast lane then, but at that moment, as Mum’s words sank in, “Mormor died this morning,” everything slowed down and as my eyes filled with tear and my heart broke, I noticed, all of London was dressed in black.
Today a huge event was taking place at Westminster Abbey, for The Queen Mother’s funeral. England was in mourning and suddenly, so was I.
Mormor (Grandma) could not have chosen a better day to take her final curtain call, she loved The Queen mother to a degree of affinity. To my grandmother, the Queen became a beacon of hope and decency during the war years.
Listening to reports on the wireless about the Queen walking the streets of London’s East End, hit by German bombs, impeccably dressed, refusing – against all advice – to leave her King and country.
“Being out there, on the bombed-out streets,” Mormor mesmerized during one of her many storytelling sessions, “she was the Queen and yet she was an ordinary person in a way, and with such compassion for everyone.”
Mormor, like the Queen Mother, was always impeccably dressed leaving the house. Over the years Morfar gifted her some beautiful jewellery, and although she never wore makeup, going out, she always wore her best: “What good is it hanging in the wardrobe? Better to dress as for Sunday every day.” She laughed at herself and remembered a time when her friends and sisters would call her fine-skrinet, hinting to her always wanting to better herself. It upsets her, even though they were right. She believed in a better life, out of the poverty she came from.
Born in June 1908, the eldest of eight children, Mormor was but a child when she discovered the virtues and hardship of honest work. Minding her younger siblings, alongside her mother whom she adored, was not just a chore but a source of joy. Mormor and her sister, Kikki, alternated their days going to school because they only had one pair of shoes between them.
In 1932 her and Morfar (Grandad) married and one month later uncle Lorentz was born. Contraception in Norway was still decades away, in fact, the pill didn’t arrive in Norway until the year I was born. It was Mormor who told me about the intricate system of knowing one’s own womanly body, using the ‘safe times’ in our cycle to prevent pregnancy. Never explicit, she didn’t mind talking about sex, in fact, there wasn’t much we didn’t talk about.
She was my soul-spring – she nurtured me, and it was on her lap, on a warm spring day, my very first childhood memory was formed.
For all the joy and laughter we shared, Mormor was also melancholy, and I know why. In August 1939 Mum was born, she was the little girl Mormor wished for and she spoiled her with love. Thought to spoil children, in Mormor’s view, is not possible. “If you want kind children,” she said, “all you need to do is be kind to them.” By now, she had her ‘perfect’ family of four. By choice, Mormor and Morfar, would not have more children.
“There is only one way out of poverty,” Mormor often said, “and that is by having fewer children.”
I imagining them elated by joy and love, looking into a bright future.
But life, sometimes, throws us curveballs and theirs where the Second World War. Less than a year after Mum arrived Nazi Germany invaded Norway, on April 9th, 1940, seventy-nine years ago, today. Plans for the future was halted by rationing stamps and air raid siren.
Though worse, much worse than the war was the horrific accident that happened in 1941. Mormor’s Mum, Lovise, worked at Møre Preservering, a canned food factory, where her job was to make the brown sauce for the meat. Firing up the two massive coal ovens one morning, she wasn’t happy with the heat in one of the ovens and went to move the embers from the hot oven to help increase the heat in the other. Some of the embers must have fallen to the floor. Her dress, most likely drenched in fat, caught fire and the flames took hold instantly. The fire took too long to extinguish and Lovise suffered burn injuries all over her body. Her face and long hair, which she’d twisted into a bun on top of her head, miraculously escaped the flames. After three days, in excruciating pain, she died. The horrific accident left Mormor in a state of grief she never quite recovered from.
We never talked about the accident in our family, but of her Mum, Mormor spoke often and Lovise, whom both my Mum and Ruby are named after, was a big presence in our life, though not even Mum remembers her.
Mormor’s laughing now, when I call her a bit of a philosopher, she would never have thought of her self so wise. Books were not something she read, but she never missed the six o’clock news. She told stories and thought me lessons and instilled beliefs in ways that echo through my life today. To be kind, to be generous with our love, to laugh when times are hard and to make the best of ourselves. There was never anywhere more safe, in my childhood than with Mormor. When I made a mess, broke a glass or spilled the milk, she was there, lovingly teaching me to put it right and be grateful for the lesson of learning from my own mistakes.
She drew and knitted, sang and told stories. Her skin was soft and the whitest of white. She screwed up her face when there was something she didn’t like and when I fell and got hurt, when I got sick or upset, it was a perfect time for her to scoop me onto her lap and hug me to the rhythm of a humming a melody, I couldn’t quite work out. I can still feel her caress today.
After Mormor’s funeral, Mum, Christian, my three cousins and I went to Morfar’s grave, where Mormor’s ashes would be put down next to his and her name added to their family stone.
Suddenly, the sheer loss of Mormor hit me, after the week that had been so serene.
They left me there, Mum and Christian and uncle Lorentz’s daughters, to shed tears into the soft soil, as the world came to a halt.
A whisper, in her voice, made me look up, over the gravestone, and there, just outside the wooden fence surrounding the graveyard, Mormor and Morfar stood smiling and waving, with another woman I’d never seen before.
“Go be with the living.” Mormor’s kind voice, clear as day, took my breath away.
All I could say was “But who’s the other woman?”
The vision faded and the world started moving again, and my breath came back in sharp intakes as my heart filled with love and I knew, that she, nor I would ever feel alone again.
Thank you Mormor – I love you always.
Much Love and Light
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