"Coming home, to a place he'd never been before..."
I grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s in a community of immigrants from Sweden – my maternal grandparents having come over on the boat in 1924. My mom was born in the US just months after her folks arrived, and I spent my childhood surrounded by an extended family of “old Swedes” – distant relatives and family friends who had all come over from the Old Country in the 1910s and 20s.
My mom and grandmother spoke Swedish at home, which I found indecipherable and weird. I heard all about Sweden and the life that they had all left behind, and thought it must be a country of strange old ladies who played canasta and went to church a lot. The Swedes themselves made jokes about the “dumb Swedes” – a forerunner of the “Pollack” jokes that would become so prevalent in the 60s and 70s. All this to say that I grew up with a less than favorable impression of Sweden. I figured it couldn’t be all that cool if they all wanted to be here!
Throughout my life my family’s Swedish roots grew tentacle-like into me without me even knowing it. The sweet-rolls and meat-balls and hardtack and lingonberries were always staples on the table. It was just my mom and grandmother and me – I never really knew my father and my step-dad was out of my life by the time I left for college, so the only roots I really knew of were Swedish.
And then somewhere along the line Sweden became cool. Reports on the best quality of life and the happiest people on the planet started to single out the Swedes (and the Danes and Norwegians) over the last 15-20 years, and suddenly Scandinavia was the place to be. Kind of like Portland, Oregon – a former sleepy under-the-radar place that had become the new nexus of cool.
My grandmother passed 30 years ago, and it’s been almost 11 years since I lost my mom. Before they died both of them had requested that their ashes be scattered over my great-grand-parents’ graves in Sweden, which I swore I would do.
I finally made it to Sweden two weeks ago, and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I immediately felt connected and at home, in a place I’d never been before. The Swedish-ness of the place seemed to be something I just innately understood (though perhaps I don’t really understand it at all.) Seeing the places were my family grew up, the factory where every generation of my family worked going back to the 1850s, and meeting a flock of cousins for the first time – it was deeply moving. Especially so for someone like me who has felt rather “rootless” most of my life. I now know where I came from, where "my people” where.
The kindness, generosity, and hospitality of my family members who went way out of their way for us was off-the-charts warm and real. But nothing was more moving than visiting the gravesite in the small town of Sandviken, where I was at last able to fulfill my promises and bring my mom and grandmother back home after all these years. I wept like a baby.
Stockholm, it turns out, may just be the coolest place on the planet. Take the cool hip-ness of the pacific northwest, add a thousand years of history and culture, a stunning geography surrounded by water, and the best looking group of human beings on earth, and it all adds up to a place I’d like to be back to again and again. Wow, what a trip – in every sense of the word.
I’m very happy to back home in Portland, and excited to have a final slate of pre-arrival offers headed your way over the next few weeks as we get ready for all of the fall releases from Burgundy and Champagne. It’s going to be a great summer – stay tuned for all the action to come!