It is something I do to hear the voice of my grandfather. I find this video and wait for the german narrator to begin at minute 2:08 and end at 2:58. It is not my grandfather. My grandfather spoke in Norwegian. In fact, he hated everything german because of the war. But the timbre of the german man’s voice is like that of my grandfather. Since my grandfather had no answering machine, I make do.
And then I begin scavenging. I begin scavenging for people who looked like my grandfather. Marlon Brando is the closest I can find to a young Reverend A.D. Hartmark.
Then I look for hands that look like his hands: great, square hands that helped build bridges in Brooklyn before making it west to Minnesota to attend divinity school.
I find no hands like his hands. His bones seemed to be made of boulders, just as the Viking creation myths said all Norsemen were made. He had bones of stone, hair of wild red moss, and blood cold enough to swim icy fjords in winter.
I begin looking for the icy fjord named Hartmark. The mouth of Hartmark fjord has riptides that pull a swimmer out to sea. I find it. Here, my grandfather swam through ice floes toward riptides just to hear his family scream in fear. When he reached the sea, he went underwater and hid under waves before heading back. It was a good joke.
I look for a bedehus (prayer house) like the one he circled when he bumped into my grandmother turning the corner. He said that when he met her he had no idea who she was, but he felt instantly like a millionaire.
And I think, then, he began thinking of how he could become one.
Then I begin looking for ocean liners in service in 1929, the year The Reverend sunk his savings into passage to America, in hopes of striking it rich.
He told me he stood at the helm, saying he would watch out the whole way. An old woman laughed at him and said, “You have a long way until America, young man.”
I look for pictures of Norwegian girls who look like my grandmother but who are not my grandmother. I find this one:
I know very little about my grandmother who died long before I was born. The old Norwegians said only the same thing, again and again: “She was so very kind.” And then they grew silent.
I think about the period of time after she died, when the sanitariums and the prayers and the faith healing failed. The Reverend stayed in bed for days. When the ladies from the church threatened to take my 8 year old father away from the Widower Reverend Hartmark. When there was nothing in the cupboards for breakfast but one can of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-Os. When The Reverend married the church secretary after one date to find a step-mother for his son. To keep his son. The Reverend’s new wife brought dutiful efficiency to heartbreak the way an iron lung brings air to the heart. The way clean laundry whips in wind. The way hospital corners pull sheets tight across mattresses. I do not know if the Reverend’s new wife loved her stepson, my father. I know she kept a spotless house with plastic over all of the carpets and furniture. She kept my father on-time and always in clean sweaters. I think she left him no money when she died.
I can find no picture of something like this.
Then I begin looking for pictures of Lazarus. My grandfather wrote of the miracle of Lazarus in his diaries, pondering what could make it possible, for years.
And then I listen to this song, and think again of the moment they met, when he met her around the corner, and he felt like a sweepstakes winner.
Then I think of the Reverend snickering at my impishness. How I somehow always got a free pass from a stoic and stern patriarch who never really stopped mourning. I ripped up the plastic on the carpets running and screaming through his house.
“Laura is a writer,” he would laugh. “Someday she will write about Norway.”