During childhood, my grandmother’s house was quite literally ‘over the river and through the woods,’ in line with the classic nursery rhyme. I’ve had the privilege of traveling with a family from North Dakota twice on this trip in Norway as they venture across the country to reunite with lost relatives. For Donald Gudmundsen, the trip to the hometown of his grandparents wasn’t exactly over the river and through the woods, but across the fjords and through the mountains. We had dinner with the Norwegian ambassador to Bulgaria (a second cousin) and discovered a distant relative was once the Prime Minister of Norway.
He, joined by his wife, daughter and two grandsons, made the trek on Monday to Ulvik, Norway, a small city of 1,100 his grandparents once left, but where much family still remains. They were met at the dock by his second cousin Lars Vikør, who also brought his son. With a handshake, the destination had been reached. They loaded up in the family’s BMW and Subaru and drove them through the town, following narrow roads around the perimeter of the Hardangerjord at the foot of the city.
They brought the family to the remains of a home. It was where Don’s grandfather Hans Stein Vallevik was born. The relic sat next to a brand new, modern suspension bridge crossing the fjord, a juxtaposition of the old and new. A chef, Lars prepared dinner at his residence for the family after waiting for Aun Egil’s wife to return from work. Throughout the two course meal the family told stories of their life and experiences, what they remembered of their connections to each other’s home countries and cultures. From politics to education to their personal lives and careers—I witnessed first hand as these two families became one again in a beautiful reunion in the countryside of the Norwegian mountains. It’s an experience I ironically can’t put into words.
To get personal, since I was a teenager I’ve always been driven to trace back my lineage. My family also came from Norway two generations ago, and now that I’ve finally made it here I’m eager to reconnect the dots. I write as we’re on a train back to Oslo, where I will begin research and hopefully will uncover something unexpected along the way.