Every day during our annual summer vacation, Grandpa and I would fill a bucket with feed and throw it by the handful to the chickens in the wire enclosed pen in the back yard . I'm not sure why he had chickens. He didn't live on a farm and I don't remember us ever collecting eggs. Nor do I remember having fried chicken or any other chicken related entrees for dinner. I remember Grandma's Norwegian pancakes with jam, and I remember the Norwegian fruitcake that she sent every Christmas.
I even remember sitting at their dining room table in seats that weren't assigned, but were always filled with the same people. I was across from Dad and next to Grandpa. The conversations were mixed with the lilt of accents that turned my named from "Jeanne" to "Yeanne."
My grandmother came from Norway by herself, while still in her teens. She made her way to Chicago, married poorly, had my dad, and raised him mainly by herself after her husband fell down a flight of stairs. Too much aquavit, I think, although that part of the story was always hazy. I wonder if it was ever told in letters sent back to the old country, but think not. America was the land of dreams, and that might not have fit.
Grandpa didn't come into the timeline until after Dad was grown. He came from Sweden, was previously married and had a grown son. I don't know the circumstances of his arriving here. I know only that he had a skill; that he was good with his hands; and that it provided him a livelihood.
I don't know how my grandparents met either, but to hear them bicker over the table about the relative advantages of Sweden versus Norway, it wasn't exactly a shared love of country. Unless that country was America, which I suppose it was. They married, moved to Tennessee, and Grandpa raised chickens among the hills and mountains that must have reminded them of Scandinavia.
My grandmother died when I was in fifth grade. Dad was there in the weeks before and toook a long letter with him that he made me write before he left. He told me she asked him to read it over and over.
Grandpa's son came and got him and took him to live in a room in an old folks' home in Chicago. I'm not sure what happened to Grandma's things. Or Grandpa's. Or the chickens. Other than one ornate vase that Grandma was given by the wealthy Chicago family that she kept house for before she met Grandpa, we don't have anything. The vase sits in my sister's dining room. We've often wondered if it has any monetary value, but have never checked. It has value to us.
We visited Grandpa in Chicago the next summer. What I remember most about that visit is that all the cards and letters my sister and I had sent him were lined up on the top of the dressers in his room. There were no chickens, but there were intricate pieces of dollhouse furniture that he was building. I secretly believed they were being made for me, even though, at eleven, I was a little old for dolls, and even though his son told us they were being sold at a store.
He died the next year before we could visit again. We were out of town at the time and didn't find out until we came home. He had already been buried by then. I don't know what happened to his things. My cards and letters were probably thrown away. The dollhouse furniture was probably sold.
He's buried next to my grandmother in a cemetery in a small town where he never lived, but where his two granddaughters grew up. They both feel very much like they carry his bloodline.
One of them wishes she had a few pieces of dollhouse furniture that she still believes was being made for her.