Joanne Faries
Married seventy years, my grandparents never ventured far from their farm outside of Oslo. Thus it was a surprise to receive a letter asking to visit me in Reykjavik. I work admin at the local university and ask Professor Uln to translate the loopy Norwegian scrawl. My Icelandic allows me the gist, but it’s best to be certain. “We will arrive Tuesday January 12.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Tomorrow? Did they mail this letter mid-flight?” He removed his glasses and shrugged. “Well, I shall need some time off starting now – cleaning, shopping, preparing for two eighty-five year olds – it’s a challenge.”
Tomorrow arrived and a whirlwind of Norwegian wisdom with it. Married since forever, my grandparents were quite a pair – both short. He was whippet thin, wiry, and ruddy-faced from years of farming and cross country skiing. She was plumper and looked naked without her apron. Her kindly face crinkled as she nodded in approval at my neat kitchen. She lifted my crock pot lid and said, “Fish stew. Gut.”
I wasn’t sure how long they planned to stay – best guess awhile. They unpacked into guest room drawers. Grandfather bought a bottle of Icelandic vodka for his post dinner toasts to each day. A bottle signaled a time investment. They were endearing and enduring in their life pattern. He walked before breakfast. They walked together after lunch. She went to church daily before dinner. In between we stayed busy – a plunge into thermal waters, an occasional museum, and one show.
Communication was a pantomime show unto itself. Gestures and verbal inflections of Norwegian and Icelandic served us well. They entertained me with stories of their exchange of promises at age six to be faithful. “He kissed me on the cheek behind the barn. I didn’t wash my face for a week.”
They married at fifteen. “Prettiest girl in our town.”
They didn’t consummate their marriage until age eighteen. “I didn’t want to be like our farm animals.” As he talked, she blushed and shushed him. It was sweet.
After a consultation in rapid Norwegian, Grandmother bustled to their room and returned with an envelope. Solemn faced, she pulled out a photograph and handed it to me. Speaking slowly, Grandfather said, “That’s Gustav Larssen, a fine man graduated from agriculture university. He wishes to buy our farm and let us live in the guest house.”
“That’s perfect for you,” I said. “I’m pleased.”
Grandmother said, “We wish you to marry him.”
I gazed at the photo of an earnest young man – reddish blond hair, blue eyes, strong jaw, and a glint of an earring. I remember kissing him behind their barn at age ten.


First published: February 2016
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