Were you to hug the eastern coastline as you sail north from the southern tip of Sweden, about half-way up the country (well into our northern lands by now) you’ll come upon one of those clearings in the forest we call towns.
This particular clearing prides itself with a bold name that translates to “The Bay of the Eagle’s Shield,” and it was in this clearing, during a 1948 October snowstorm, that I spied the light of night—making landfall about a quarter to nine in the evening my mother Lisbet told me years later.
And it was she that also, the same years later, briefed me about the weather conditions surrounding the event.
As for me, I remember neither night nor storm.
But I took her word for these two tidbits, and to this day, each October 28, I keep one eye on the clock to acknowledge the event, these days allowing for the nine intervening-time-zone hours between California and Sweden.
So, that was arrival: 8:45 P.M., October 28, 1948.
I’ve never managed to establish (as in remember) where I arrived from, but arrive I did, endowed with the customary number of fingers and toes, et cetera: run-of-the-mill male human being.
Some trolls (one troll in particular) knew of this arrival, and celebrated it by lighting extra fires in their cave and dancing about, long hair and tails tossing to strange rhythms.
My parents, Kjell and Lisbet, did not live in this forest clearing called Örnsköldsvik (The Bay of the Eagle’s Shield), that just happened to be the nearest (some thirty odd kilometers to the east) hospital to the inland and even smaller forest clearing called Mellansel, which is where they brought me once the storm had settled and the roads had been cleared of much unwelcome snow.
I don’t remember that either.
Well bundled against the cold they carried me into their house at the edge of the forest, a little bundle followed by large, brown eyes a few wide steps in among the fir trees. Two eyes in particular.
The truth is that I was raised by trolls, and I was raised by my mother, father, maternal grandmother (Olga), and to some extent my paternal grandmother (Irene). Was I aware of this dual (or multiple, rather) upbringing at the time, or was it that Minta (my troll mother) brought me up to speed later? I’m not sure. My memory, never the sharpest tool in my box to begin with, shrugs its shoulders and/or pleads the fifth.
But I do remember some things from those cold and early days.
I clearly remember attempting to lick the sparkling frost (the sun was shining) from a frozen iron post one winter (perhaps I was a year and a half) and having my tongue seized by Mr. Frost himself, and frozen to the post. This was not enjoyable. I cried out for help and apparently loudly enough for they soon came running out of the house, Mom and whoever else. I was pried loose (hopefully with the help of some warm water), one lesson richer.
Winter is very clear in this picture. Our house has a balcony overlooking a small valley surrounded by forest, all covered in snow: knee-deep, chest-deep, head-deep snow sparkling in the sun. And so very cold. That iron post sparkles too, beautifully and invitingly. Got to try this. The tongue cemented immediately, and painfully. I knew I was in trouble.
Looking back, I find that encouraging: at that age, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I could not work myself loose. I knew I could do with a hand. And the hand came. I don’t remember warm water, but I think they must have brought it since I my tongue, to this day, is perfectly complete—no scars.
My tongue twitches at this memory.
My eyes squint at the sun bouncing off a sea of snow below and in the valley.
My heart is very grateful.
Much later, Minta (troll mother) told me that she saw this happen. She says they came out, two of them, Lisbet and someone else not my dad. The someone else said something to me, then to Lisbet, who then went inside to fetch warm water. That’s what Minta told me.
Why didn’t you help me? I asked her.
Oh, that would have been a pretty sight, she said.