Chapter 74 - My mom's childhood

The cruise had been amazing in every way, and it felt quite sad to leave the cruise ship to head back home. We exchanged numbers with Clara and Jonathan so we could keep in touch. After going ashore in Florida again, me, Johan and Aunt Liz headed to the airport while Uncle Fred and Emely went for a hotel since their flight wasn't until the next day.
"Let's see each other soon again," Emely said to me as we hugged goodbye in front of the cruise terminal. "Maybe you wanna come and visit us again?"
"For sure" I replied.
"Or you can come to us" Johan flicked in. "You know you are always welcome. That's for all of you, of course."
After hugging each other one last time, we entered our taxis.

The vacation was over and things went back to normal as school and work started again. I remember feeling a bit emotional about the fact that this was going to be my last year with Mrs. Anderson and the class. Next year we would have to separate. We were the oldest ones in the school now.
During this time, I remember reading more than ever. My new favorite was the quite newly launched Harry Potter books. Johan read me the first one, but then I remember reading the second one all by myself.
Johan also signed me up for a reading group which I would go to every Wednesday after school. I liked it and enjoyed discussing books with others. I convinced Michael to join me for a while, but it wasn't really his cup of tea. Instead, I met new friends there at the group both boys and girls.

I made a visit to the Williams family over a weekend in September. It was a fun stay as far as I remember, we went to the cinema and overall had a great time. I also kept contact with Clara and Jonathan from the cruise. Their parents seemed nice as well, and they invited us to visit them in San Fransisco some time.
But one thing that made me extra happy occurred one late evening. I was already in bed when the phone suddenly rang. Johan answered and I saw the surprise on his face. After a while, he waved to me to come and take the phone.
"Grandpa Olav wants to speak to you" he said.
Grandpa Olav? I had thought about him quite a bit since we met him at Christmas.
"God aften, Amanda," the old man's voice said in the phone.
"Hello..." I carefully answered.
After some formal questions, he then suddenly said: "So, do you have any plans for next weekend?"
"I... I don't know" I said and looked at Johan.
"Because I want the two of you to come and visit me," Olav said.
"Really?" I said, feeling excited.
"Really. It's about time, isn't it?"
"I... I guess so. It would be fun" I replied.
"It's set then. Your brother knows where I live. See you on Saturday at 5 PM. You will stay over at my place. Good night."
Then he hung up the phone.
"What did he say?" Johan asked.
"We... we are visiting him on Saturday at five... and staying over there," I said.
"We are what?"
I shrugged. "That's what he said."
Johan laughed a little bit. "Well, I guess he doesn't give us much of a choice, then."

And so it was set. The next Saturday, we got on the bus to visit our grandma's brother. One could have thought it a bit weird that this old man, our grandma's brother, invited us just like that. After all, he didn't know us all that well. I had only met him once. But he wasn't the kind of person that thought in that way. For him, it was just natural to invite us like that. I don't think he had the same perspective on time as most people.
"Do... do you think he's happy to have us there?" I asked Johan on the bus.
"I guess so, otherwise why would he invite us?"
"I'm happy to go there anyway. Family is very important" I said.
"True," Johan said. "Unfortunately it's not always that easy."
I nodded, not really sure what he was referring to.

Olav lived in a big house quite off the big road. He had a big garden and it was surrounded by woods. It reminded me of a mansion.
"He used to own lots of the forest around here," Johan said. "I think that got hi quite a lot of money back in the days."
We went up on the veranda and knocked on the big entrance door. After a few minutes, no one had yet opened. Johan looked at his watch. "It's past five," he said. "Five was what he said, right?"
I nodded.
Johan sighed and sat down on an old chair standing there. "Well, I'm not surprised," he said. "Mom and I went to visit once. We had to wait for like two hours before he showed up."
"Really?" I said.
"Yup, you know, he's not the kind of person that puts much weight on timing."
"So we have to sit and wait until he comes?"
"Do you have any other suggestions?"
"I guess not," I said and sat down on the floor, leaning towards the old rack behind me. "Lucky it's not raining."

It was already dark outside when we finally heard the sound of a car driving up the driveway. It parked and Olav came out.
"Oh, already here," the old man said.
"For more than an hour" Johan answered, but he had a smile on his face.
"Really? Well, at least it's not raining" Olav said, coming up to us. "But you could have gone in, I always keep the door open."
"Do you? Isn't that a bit risky?" Johan said.
The old man chuckled. "I have few things of value for modern thieves. Nowadays they just want technology and stuff. There is nothing like that in this house, except of my old TV from the late '70s."
We entered and I was amazed at how big it was. The hallway was really like a mansion, with a big staircase leading up to the upper floor.
"How about your paintings?" Johan asked.
"Nah, no Rembrandt paintings here" Olav replied. "Just cheap copies. I gave everything of value to Carl and Lisa."

At first, I found it a bit hard talking to grandpa Olav. He really was an odd personality. And old, from a generation I rarely had had any contact with before. But after a while, the atmosphere got lighter and I found him being both funny and quite intellectual. Behind the grumpy surface, he seemed to be a genuinely kind old man.
I was happy to find that he was a reader just like me and he showed me his big library upstairs, which had a truly amazing collection of books in probably twenty bookshelves.
"Some of these were Mary's, of course," he told me. "She loved reading as well."
"Who..." I began, but then felt embarrassed.
"My wife. Your great aunt. Lisa's and Carl's mom. She died many, many years ago now."
"Oh... I'm sorry" I said.
"Don't be. That's life" Olav said.
Then he took out a book from the shelf. It was big and with a leather cover.
"Your mom and I used to read this one together," he said. "She used to visit in the summer holidays."
He handed me the book, which I carefully opened. It was clearly in Norwegian, but beautifully illustrated with what looked like mysterious creatures. It reminded me of the books Aunt Liz used to read.
"Even when Mary was alive, she wasn't home much. She worked on the sea, you know As a cook on big ships. She was only home for a month or two, then she left again. Leaving Carl and Lisa with me. But I wouldn't have had it any other way, I loved her and I loved raising those two kids as well."
I was surprised that Olav told me so much about himself just like that.
"It's a beautiful book," I said. "What is it about?"
"Den nordiske mytologien" Olav replied. "The Norse mythology."
"Aunt Liz likes that as well," I said.
"I used to read it with her, too. I'm glad she passed on the tradition to you."

"I'm really glad you invited us, Olav" Johan said as we sat in the big living room later that evening.
"When I met you at Christmas I realized it was about time" Olav replied. "Perhaps I should have invited you earlier. But I didn't know if you actually cared about an old man like me."
"Of course we do!" Johan said. "You are family. And you are the only connection we have to... you know, your generation."
"How about your father's parents?" Olav asked.
Johan got a hard look on his face. "Well, grandma is dead since way back."
"And grandpa?"
"We don't have any contact with him. He and dad didn't get along."
"You should try. Things change, you know" Olav said.
I remember saying the same thing to Johan years ago. But since then, I hadn't actually brought up the subject. I knew we had a grandpa, but honestly, my focus really had been on my mom's side of the family. This conversation between Johan and Olav, though, woke something in me. A longing to know more about our dad and his family as well.
As for the moment, though, I told myself should do what I could to get to know Olav as much as I could.

I got to sleep in a big bedroom. The furniture seemed like it was from the 50's, but the bed was comfortable.
Just as I was getting into my nightgown, Olav entered.
"Your mom used to sleep in this room" he told me. "She often came here to visit in the summer holidays."
"You told me" I said.
Olav nodded.
"Did she come alone?" I asked. "Wasn't Aunt Liz visiting, too? And Uncle Fred?"
"Sometimes. But it was mostly your mom. She would come and stay for weeks. Even when Lisa and Carl went to their scout camps, your mom would still stay here with me. We went fishing, camping in the woods and occasionally we even took a road trip."
I just looked at Olav. It was fascinating to hear all this information about mom.
"How..." I said, but then suddenly felt shy to ask.
But Olav smiled and said "Go on."
"How... how was she? I mean, kinda as... as a person?"
"Didn't Johan tell you all about her?" Olav asked.
"Not really. He doesn't usually talk about her."
"How about Liz and Fred?"
"Sometimes" I said.
"Well" Olav said and surprised me by sitting down on the bed. "Get into bed and I'll tell you about some of our adventures."

I crawled under the covers and looked up at the old man sitting there at my feet. I had never experienced anything like this before. Since I didn't have any experience with grandparents, this was the closest I had been having one.
"You know... you are really a copy of your mom, Amanda," Olav said. "Not only how you look, but your whole personality is very similar. Looking at you like this, I could swear it was her laying here."
I got tears in my eyes, but tried to hide them. Not having known my mom, I felt both grateful and special hearing that I was so much like her.
"She was a cute girl" Olav said. "Funny and smart. I got much closer to her than to her brother and sister. We connected. You know that her mom, my sister, didn't have much time for her kids. After moving here, she had to work long days. And vacation was just a dream back then for many people around the country, including your grandma. So I think your mom enjoyed the time here, one-on-one time with a grown-up. I would say we were closer than most Uncles and Nieces.
She did have a very strong will of her own, though. If I'm not wrong, I guess you are the same?"
I shrugged. "I guess so" I said.
Olav chuckled. "Your mom got into trouble quite a lot. I think I had to give her more spankings than I had to give Lisa and Carl together."
I blushed at this embarrassing fact, but at the same time, it fascinated me to know that Olav actually spanked my mom when she was a kid. In some strange way, it made even me feel closer to him.
"With that said, we had great times together. Great" Olav said.
And then he told me about some of the things he and mom had done together. About a camping trip when they had actually been really close to a bear. About fishing pikes in the great lake. About driving his car criss-cross around the state.
"I think she was just thirteen or fourteen when she was already an amazing car driver," Olav told me.
"Can you drive a car when you are thirteen?" I asked.
"Well, not now I guess, but back then people didn't care so much. I also had a tractor, your mom drove it even as a small kid."
I think Olav could have kept talking forever. I could never have imagined that this old man would be so talkative. But I loved it. I loved listening to him. And I was so thankful.
He only stopped when Johan came in and told it was way passed the time I was supposed to sleep.
"Wow, he was talkative today," Johan said as Olav left the room.
I nodded. Parts of me wanted to share everything with Johan, while parts of me wanted to keep it for myself.
"Maybe he doesn't actually talk so much to people," I said.
"I guess not," Johan said. "He's been kind of a lone wolf."
"He didn't use to be," I said. "He told me all about when mom used to stay with him."
Johan smiled. "Mom told those stories to me. They seemed to have great times together. I think she saw Olav as some kind of father figure since her own dad died when she was so little."
I nodded. "Almost like you are like my dad," I said.
Johan hugged me tightly. "And you are like my daughter," he said and kissed me twice on each cheek.
"Sweet dreams, honey," he said.
Then he left the room.