Crow’s Fire

(This is one of the earliest memories this life)

It is a pristine winter’s day. February would be my guess, probably around ten in the morning. The surrounding landscape is draped in feet of snow, glistering in the sunlight.

At this time, I’m staying with my father’s mother (farmor) Irene, in her little house in the miniscule village of Mattarbodum (four, perhaps five houses scattered around a small lake—the, yes you guessed it, Mattarbodum Lake). She lived alone upstairs (her husband, and my grandfather, was long gone by this time—I never met him, or he me) and Bruno, a nephew of hers, I believe, lived below. Bruno also took care of the land, and some farm animals, a horse among them.

She has bundled me up but good, because it is freezingly cold outside. In fact, looking back I feel so bundled up that, like Charlie Brown in that strip, should I fall down, stuffed like something balloon-like, I would probably not be able to get back on my feet—at least not without help.

But here I am, still upright, three-and-something years old, marching down the snow-covered and recently plowed road that ran outside, and a stone’s throw north of, her house. Each step crunches the snow with a thousand little explosions. There is not a cloud in the sky. Not a breath of wind. The sun shimmers in the everywhere-you-look-snow: yes, it is the purest of pure landscapes. And no other sounds than my crunch, crunch, crunch on the frozen snow.

I see two other houses from where I stand—one a little farther down the road and one the far side of the frozen lake. Three houses then, counting Grandma’s. Three chimneys. Three fires. The smoke from each rose stick-straight up into the frozen air like, like, well, like smoke rising stick-straight up into the frozen air.

A popular song at the time asked the question: Why did we not light fires to keep the crows warm? Strange subject matter for a popular song, but I think it carried an admonition as well (this was, after all, early 1952 and the hardship and shortages of the Second World War still fresh in everyone’s memories—Sweden, too, although neutral, suffered shortages during the war): Do not waste fuel, but insulate your homes well so that the heat will stay inside rather than warming the crows.

The artist was one Britta Borg, who was to move on to almost legendary fame in Sweden, and it was a song that was played a lot on the radio, I take it. The reason I take it is that I knew the song, and sang it to myself as I marched down the frozen road, probably spying and frozen crow or two—perhaps feeling sorry for them.

And that’s all this memory serves up: winter, glittering snow, stick-straight smoke, well-padded boy, and the song he sings.

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