It’s been over 100 years since Lauritz Anton Kjønnerud (Kenrud is the Americanized surname) and Elise Marie Hagan left their homes in Larvik, Norway – the southern coastal region. (Home of Thor Heyerdahl, Kon-Tiki adventurer.) They left Norway (independently) in the early 1900s for better lives; times were tough in Norway and America promised a land of opportunities. Lauritz and Elise are my maternal great-grandpa and great-grandma. They were married in Couer d’Alene, Idaho on August 30, 1913 (exactly 90 years before my wedding anniversary on the same date!)
I am fortunate that my grandpa Andy (Lauritz’s son) and uncle Kern (Lauritz’s grandson) maintained contact with some of our family in Norway and that I’ve had the chance to get to know them throughout the past 10 years; especially with the ease of email and Facebook. The Sons of Norway in Seattle helped to reconnect my grandpa with his Norwegian relatives after Lauritz and Elise died, leaving him and his brother orphans. Kern has also passed on the letters between the families in Norwegian and old photos of their first homestead in Bellingham, Washington. Having the opportunity to see these has left a lasting impression on me and I’m honored to have this legacy to share with my children.
My husband and I visited my family in Larvik first in 2004 and then in 2011, some came to visit our family in Seattle and now we’ve just returned from our big family trip to Norway where we were able to spend quality time with most of the cousins and great uncles/aunts. It was an incredible experience for me and impactful for my children as well. Kiersten (5) is now smitten with her cousin Jakob and claims to want to marry him and Brendan (2) perpetually stuck by Jana’s side. They all played so well together despite the language barrier.
We had five days of spending time with all the family, rotating visits to everyone’s houses. Highlights were having late night conversations with our accommodating hosts Kristian (cousin) and Heike, as well as tasting various new liquors with them, having a fun cookout at the beach in Stavern with waffles, sausages and lefse, spending a day with Kjell (great uncle) and Inger eating and reviewing ancestry documents, meeting a new cousin from my great-grandma’s lineage, Heidi, and hearing all the creative things she’s involved with at her job, seeing and learning about Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Rat Virgin’ sculpture in Skien on the Telemark canal, meeting younger Kristian and Ingrid’s new baby girl, Line, and Kristian taking the kids on a tour of his police station in Skien. It was wonderful seeing Beate (cousin) and Espen’s home and tasting a traditional Norwegian soup with flatbread and lots of butter. We also had a great time seeing Håkon (cousin) and Reidun’s home and getting to know them more. We also got to meet another cousin of Kristian, Espen and his wife Pham and their two lovely daughters. They had lived in the U.S. before, so there was a lot to talk about. Of course, there never is enough time and I’m sad we didn’t get more time with everyone. I’m certain we will visit them again someday though.
Some of the things I loved about Larvik and Skien was the stunning, natural beauty, the crisp fresh air and the kind, authentic people. I enjoyed the traditional Norwegian meals with lots of bread, cheese, meat, fish and spreads on open-faced sandwiches and especially the meatballs and potatoes. I loved how everyone is active outside despite the cold weather; you can see bicyclers, runners, hikers and soccer players everywhere. There is a Norwegian saying we’ve learned, “There’s no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothing.” So true! I became adept at dressing in layers and was quite warm and comfortable. I really like the cold-weather, Nordic fashion with a blend of rugged function and beauty. I also love Norwegian design and decor in their homes; it’s so natural, rustic and quaint with a lot of personal touches.
Now that I’m back in the U.S., I reflect a lot on my ancestry and the people who came before me, their journey, as well as what aspects of me are distinctly Norwegian (stubbornness, determination, outdoorsy, down to earth.) I like to think I’m Norwegian even if just 75% of me is and I can’t speak the language well and I’m the 3rd generation in America (on both my parent’s sides).
I’m happy to report that to honor my Norwegian great-grandparents, my uncle Kern has arranged for Lauritz and Elise’s names, where they immigrated from and their dates of arrival to the U.S. are going to be added to the last available rune stone at the Leif Erikson sculpture, a tribute to Scandinavian immigrants, at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle. The final stone will be added to the 13 existing runic-like stones arranged around the statue in the ancient tradition of a Viking ship. The stones display authentic Viking designs, and each stone holds plaques with the names of Scandinavian immigrants to honor their history.
Leif Erikson International Foundation (LEIF) commissioned a new base for the existing statue and a display of some 850 immigrants’ names. (More names were added in July 2010, for a total of 1,767.) The statue base is a large granite stone approximately six feet high, in the middle of a plaza. It is encircled with upright, runic-like stones, featuring authentic Viking carvings and plaques with the names of immigrants, along with their home towns and years of immigration.
The base and tribute display were designed by internationally known artist Jay Haavik, grandson of the former pastor of Ballard First Lutheran Church, the Rev. O. L. Haavik.
The Norseman Leif Erikson symbolizes the courage to venture to a new land.- leiferikson.org