Sunday, August 30, 2015

The War years in Norway, continued.

More from Otto's autobiography.

A brief note. Otto often understates reality. He was the kind of man that would say, "Its only a scratch," although it would need more that a few stitches. The time he fell through the rafters, breaking seven ribs before landing on his back, was the only time I remember him showing that he really was in pain. I know from the stories I could squeeze out of him over the years that the war was really awful, not as nonchalant as he sometimes comes across. He could always make the best of a bad situation.

Soon after the German Occupation, I joined "Barden" a men's choir. The conductor was my old friend Evald Nord. My dear friend Arne Thorsen also sang bass. One of the tenors was Nick Jensen, who worked in a tobacco store in Strandgaten. He kept me well supplied with cigarettes and tobacco through the war years. Some of us from the choir Nick Jensen, Evald Nord, Frode Damm, Alf Hellebø and myself rented a little cabin at Hanevik on Askøy and spent a lot of weekends there. Later we were joined by Anton Andersen who was the laboratorian at the Elephant Apothecary in Bergen. He was our main source of "booze", getting 20 liters of pure alcohol each month for medicines, but most went to himself, his friends and the black market. Tobacco and booze were the two biggest problems, the third was the Germans.

My best friend in all these years was Brynjulv Totland. He also lived in Laksevaag. He was engaged to Randi Sterner. Her mother was a pianist  and voice instructor. So I took lessons from her in voice. Sang a lot of Grieg, Sinding, and a lot of German Lieder. I became quite attached to the family. I still keep up a good correspondence with Randi. Brynjulv died in 1979 or thereabouts in his early sixties.

Food and Fuel

In the early years of the war food was plentiful. The Government had bought a lot. Then the Germans came and I suppose sent a lot to Germany. Everything disappeared slowly and rationing became stricter. After a while if you could get what was on your cards and could get a meal a day, that amounted to 1200 calories a day.

 Fortunately my father working on the dock was able to get some coal or coke from the ships so we managed to keep fairly warm.

With respect to food that was a lot more difficult. My father and Audun managed to get a classification that entitled them to 1/2 lb. of meat per week. So on Sunday we had stew.

The 1941 harvest was a disaster and potatoes were gone by Christmastime. So through the spring we lived on carrots, rutabagas and turnips if you could get them.

About May-June my friend Andreassen who was a salesmen at Fleischer's told me that he had 50kg of potatoes for me. Later  he got another 100 kg. When I told my mother she just sat down and cried. We were the only ones in the neighborhood who had potatoes.

The black market flourished. You needed something to trade with or a lot of money. Since the store were empty most people had money. Fortunately at the lab we had many things we could make and trade with. It was all worth something, especially denatured alcohol. We learned to purify it and it was worth gold. Some of the dentists in town would send their stuff up to us, we would purify it and keep one half of it.

We were probably hungry sometimes, but we survived. Despite the lack of food health was remarkably good.

When somebody got hold of some food (meat mostly) they would invite all their friends and they would have a great feast. And we would sing, like this one. "Brothers and far away across the salty wasters, there raises America with its glorious beaches, Oh how it is wonderful, oh how it is beautiful. Such a shame America shall be so far away."

My Mother was not well, started ailing early 1940*. In 1942 we went to Dale in Sunnfjord for summer vacation. Stayed with old friends of mother's. They had nothing, not even potatoes. "Why didn't you tell us?" mother asked. " We didn't think you should bring anything". So we called Audun who was still in town and hesent us some potatoes. My Father and Kaare were also there with us. After we came back to town Mother went to the hospital and died very shortly thereafter. The date was about August 15th. Was buried at Nygaard Cemetary.

The Floating Dry Dock

In the summer of 1944, the cruiser "Konigsberg" which had been sunk in the Bergen harbour on April 10th, 1940 had been surfaced and was ready to be put in the dock. Bestefar (father) was on vacation, but some young engineer, Arne Martinus Arnesen, would dock her. That engineer was later killed during the bomb attack on the submarine base that fall. The ship was almost dry when she tipped over and there she lay, she and the dock at about a thirty degree angle. Bestefar came to town and got her out of there, but much damage had been done to the dock.

While they were repairing the dock, a call came to my father from the front guard house. "We have a couple of bags of firewood. If you want it come and get it". So Bestefar went and while he was away, the dock blew up. If he had been on the dock he would most probably have perished. About twenty persons went down with her.

I was at work. My friend Brynjulv who worked close by called me. "Are you aware of the situation? The floating dock just went down." I borrowed a bike and went out to the shipyard. Audun came a little later. We were looking for our father. They told us he had not been there. Soon after he came, all excited. The German Guard stopped him, but my father pushed him away.* " I am going down to my dock," he said, but by that time the dock was resting on the bottom of the fjord. 

*Note:  Mother (Klara) had tuberculosis. She had been doing pretty well, but the lack of food, stress from the war, etc. was more than she could take.

*Note: This kind of behavior often resulted in a severe beating, but Otto doesn't talk about that here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What's in a Name? by anchor baby

We all have read Shakespeare and some of us remember a few lines from this play or that, but nearly everyone remembers the gist of Romeo and Juliet. They lament of why their names are really the problem in their relationship, one having a name from the wrong side of the tracks.

  Jul.  O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.   
  Rom.  [Aside.]  Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
  Jul.  ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part      
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes        50
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Major bummer for those kids.

Since I was brought to this country in utero by my parents before they were naturalized I fall under the new term of "anchor baby". They were here legally and my mother was about three months along. Since the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 I became a citizen of the USA on my birthday in summer of 1951.


Enough of this B.S. for now.

My Icelandic born Grandfather came from a patronymic naming system, whereby the sons and daughters are given a first and often middle name and their last name is the name of their father with "son" or "dottir" added to the end of it. It doesn't always happen this way, but usually. Horses in Iceland are often given a name followed by where they are from, usually a farm name or region. For example,  Thor fra Fitjamyri or Jodis fra Fitjamyri (fra meaning from). When people left or were sent away from Iceland, at least in the old days, they were sometimes given the name of the area they were from. My grandfather was born in Palmholti on the shores of  Eyjafjörður in northern Iceland. Eyjafjörður doesn't translate well into Norwegian or English so the last name was simplified in Norway and Anglicized in the U.S. in order to fit into our American English naming system.

Immigrants from many countries have the same issues and spellings and pronunciations change with need or a desire to blend in. Or not. Some want to keep a strong national or ethnic name in order to remember where they came from, to keep alive their cultural roots, or to take on some kind of personal identity. Parents will do some funny things, too. Take Moon Unit Zappa for example. Or Hazel Nut, Doug Graves, Neil Down, Justin Case, Norman Knight, Rose Bush, Rhoda Rage, Penny Whistler, Judy Punch, Chrystal Glass, Brandy Bottle, just to name a few.

Then along came the internet, blogs, forums, you name it with writers and commenters. There are clever names, funny names, stupid names, and names I just don't get because I'm not always the sharpest quill on the porcupine. Here are some names of writers and commenters I have run across lately. Some of you may recognize some of them. I won't put links to them as I am just too lazy, but they really are out there, right Pickleope? Here we go!

Dan Onymous
Insult to Rocks
Da Rat Bastid
Demon Duck of Doom
Nota Reptile
Yossarian Lives
Churchy LaFemme
Your Mom
That one Guy
Anita Winecooler
Oxymoron's Razor
Philbert McAdamia
Doubting Thomas
David J. Stewarts Penis
Smart Alec
Your Very Concerned Mother
Dizzy Dripping
The Cunning Linguist
Spuki Kitty
Pink Jackboots
Saint Gnocchi
The Sauceror

These are so much more than "anonymous", aren't they? So if you are ever tempted to leave an anonymous comment somewhere just remember you can make someone's day by having a little creative fun. On those days when both brain cells are working I might have this ability, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Norway: Invasion and Evacuation, the Early War Years

From Otto's autobiography here is an excerpt from 1940.

On the evening of April 8, 1940, we were sitting listening to the radio. Bad weather outside. The news told about a German ship that had been sunk off the south coast with a number of young men and horses from the wreckage. The British had put out mines at several strategic places along the west coast it make it difficult for the German freighters to carry Swedish iron ore from Narvik to Germany. Of course the German invasion had been planned long before that. We really didn't know what was going on. Neither did the politicians and the military.

We awoke early on April 9th. Heard strange noises. As soon as it got light we saw German warships in the fjord. Soon after the airplanes were coming over. There was some shooting. Suddenly the cruiser Kønigsberg opened fire, shooting at both the forts in Bergen, Kvarven and Hellen. It was noisy, the ship laying right outside our house. The clock on the wall stopped. Soon we had Norwegian soldiers around the house, but in a few hours Bergen was taken over by the Germans and the Norwegian collaborators. I went to school. The family ended up in Fyllingen with a cousin of Mother's, not far from home. Everybody was leaving town, and rumors were flying.

The next day we found a car, got gasoline from a ship at the ship yard and they drove us to Garnes where we took the ferry to Haus and the bus to Lonevaag. Stayed with Magne Grønaas and Brita, Mother's aunt. My father stayed back in town. Two more families were at the Grønaas'. We were evacuated.

After a few weeks we went back. I went back to school and Audun took the entrance examination also to the Technical School. I graduated #2 in the chemistry class, out of nine. Audun would start in the Fall. He would go to the Civil Engineering class (Vei, vann og bro)*. Mother and Kaare stayed in Lonevaag. Kaare even started going to school there and became #1 in reading and writing. "Listen to him!", said Mr. Vassenden, the old schoolmaster.*

The War Years 1940-1945

I had just graduated from Technical school. Jobs were hard to get in the chemistry department. So I started working in the Ship Yard at Laksevaag. Worked in the Electrical department and did overtime on the floating dry dock on weekends.. Good money, working straight through from Friday evening to Monday morning just checking the transformers that they didn't get warm. I was also sometimes the interpreter between the Norwegians and the Germans on the dock. Those German sailors were mostly "good guys",  just caught up in a crazy war.

In April of 1941 I got a job at Fleisher's Kjemiske Fabrikker.. The name was changed just after I joined from Norsk Kjemisk & Fargefabrikk. It was mainly a paint factory and products connected with that. My good friend Arne Thorsen who had graduated a year earlier from the Technical School also worked there. We became the best of friends, and I always visited with him and his family after I went to the States. He died suddenly on Christmas day in 1987.

My starting salary was 200 kroner/month, and after 3 months I got a 50 kroner raise. About another 3 months I got another 100 kroner raise, a fairly good salary at that time  (note: about $43.00/ month).

I worked in a laboratory. The chief chemist was Dr. Paul Borinski. He was about 60. Had managed to get out of Germany with nothing. The Nazis had taken all their belongings. In the Fall, Odd Heggelund joined us. He was just out of the Institute in Trondheim.

Having lost the supply of linseed oil on which our plant functioned we got into the "Ersatz" or substitute business. Made a good living out of it, since there was nothing else. We made paint from sulfite waste from the paper mills and we used fish oil instead of linseed oil. The paint looked good, but almost never dried. However, we still had a quota of soybean oil which we used for cooking, some potato starch, and 100 liters of denatured alcohol every month. Most of that we distilled, purified and used it for trading on the black market.

We wanted to get Dr. Borinski to England, but he thought he was too old. Then in the Fall of 1942 he and all the Jews who hadn't managed to escape were sent to Germany and only a few survived.

The factory was making money and I got to work with Odd Waardal who joined us in 1943. I worked with him and we synthesized dyestuffs and textile chemicals wanting to get into that business after the war.

*(Road, water and bridge)
* Otto was born in 1920, Audun in 1922, and Kaare in 1929

More to follow at some point.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The world still turns on its axis

Taking a break from the killings, political blathering, wars, weather disasters, Hollywood's latest scandals, and the latest professional sports assaults and money problems (too much money is a problem), I have decided to give this one to my own little world.

A couple of weeks ago was my birthday so the ladies and I went up the Gunflint Trail to a wild edibles walk given by a friend of mine. Mostly berries and mushrooms on a very hot Sunday afternoon, but it was good to get out in the woods for a bit in some different terrain than what we have on the farm.

June berries, service berries, strawberries, and a few others were tasty even though the birds and bears had gotten a lot of them.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, some of the cats were getting restless. It's what they do when they are not sleeping, eating, or barfing what (or who) they have previously eaten.

The neighborhood squirrels were helping themselves to sunflower seeds from the "squirrel proof"  bird feeder. They practice their circus act sometimes just for our entertainment.

There are a lot of fledgling birds around us now. Some are more spoiled than others and still think their parents need to feed them. The young think they are postponing empty nest syndrome for their parents so I guess it's some kind of symbiosis.
From across the road I heard a funny noise and decided I would sneak up on it and see what it was. It did a pretty goo job of staying hidden considering it's four foot height, but old Hawkeye Jon and his camera caught a quick glimpse of it in the deep grasses.

Click on that one and look in the middle.

It was the last I saw of that Sandhill Crane until a day or two later when three decided to visit Odamae and Beezer in their pasture. They were okay with the birds sharing their space and the cranes were just passing through anyway.

So this week I let the world go to hell in a handbasket from the relative safety of my home in the northwoods and don't really give a shit what the politicians are going to do to make my life better.

And  a service announcement from me to you. I had a colonoscopy this morning. If you are fifty or older or have a family history of colon cancer you should get one. The preparation is a nuisance, but the procedure is not a real pain in the ass as you're unconscious. In ten years I will have another, the last most likely, but I have lost several friends and family to various forms of colorectal cancers. If you can't do it for me, then do it for yourself and your family.