National Geographic : 1953 Nov
Native's Return to Norway 683 An Old World Town Takes Back to Its Heart an Emigrant Son, Home After a Quarter Century to Visit Family and Haunts of Youth BY ARNVID NYGAARD With Illustrations by Andrew H. Brown, National Geographic Staff IF MY family thought my disappearance strange just the day following my return to Mandal after 25 years away, they gave no sign. Perhaps they guessed I had climbed Uranienborg, the midtown hill that overlooks so many landmarks of my youth. My mother at least must have remembered how, as boys, my playmates and I often went there to search the sea that rippled invitingly out to the horizon. On Uranienborg's crest, dreams knew no restraint. My young friends and I shared a common yearning-to sail away over that horizon as soon as we grew up. Back to Boyhood Scenes Well, I was one who had fulfilled that hope. Now, from my home in America, I was back again, scanning the old familiar scene. The red-tiled roofs of Norway's southern most town huddled at my feet. As of old, small ships lay in the bend of Mandal River where it curves away to meet the sea. On a distant island the red-and-white finger of Ryvingen Lighthouse still spiked the sky. Two-and-a-half decades had wrought little visible change, it seemed to me at first. Nearing Mandal the day before, I wondered if I had perhaps stayed away too long. Would the sights, sounds, and feel of the place hold the same appeal a generation later? Would friends of long ago remember me? My mother and two sisters had driven to the port of Kristiansand to welcome me back to the land of my youth. When we met on the dock, there was an awkward instant of seeming almost strangers-but only an instant. Then my mother greeted me, saying, "I can scarcely believe you're home. Remember, you were 'surely coming' twice before." "Looks like you plan to stay," said Ellrid with a laugh, spotting my three suitcases and army foot locker. Nora failed of words, but her warm smile gave an affectionate "hello." Passing years and turbulent events had wrought changes in us all. Ellrid, on vaca tion from her position as dietician in a hos pital, had been 18 when I sailed away. Now bright eyes and fresh complexion belied her graying hair. Nora, only two when I left, had grown up to become a spare right hand for my mother, now nearly 75 (page 686). Since my going away, these and others of my family had lived through the depression era, a world war, and five years of German occupation. My father, a newspaper pub lisher and editor for more than 40 years, had died in 1943. The thought of never seeing him again hadn't even occurred to me when I left. When our car bounced off the old bridge over Mandal River and entered the town itself, I saw the same neat cluster of white houses I remembered. Windows were gay with geraniums and petunias. Store Elvegate (Big River Street) looked much as in my boyhood days-narrow, cobbled, and jammed with bicyclists darting among the crowds afoot. Our family home at the foot of Kirkeheia (Church Hill) was little altered. The annual dress parade of tulips brightened the garden. I missed the red currant bushes, an apple tree, and a pair of plum trees, all casualties of time. But spruces my father planted, pines and birches that were saplings when I left, now cast long pools of shade. Inside, our house had been remodeled and re-equipped. But it still held out to me the restfulness of the well-loved and familiar. Midnight came and went before the first gush of news and gossip had spent itself. Yet, at 58° N., 1,300 miles farther north than New York City, a dim, greenish light still suffused the sky. Brothers Meet After 25 Years Dozing, I recalled fleetingly the long jour ney from Washington, D. C., where my wife awaited my return.* For how many years had I dreamed of this homecoming! Next morning, in full sunlight at 4:30, mag pies chattered outside my window. Other mornings the crying of gulls awoke me. "My, how fat you are!" my brother Fridtjof greeted me, with a laugh, when I stepped into the office of the family newspaper, Lindesnes. I must be a big gun, he added. Demurring, I seized his right arm in both my hands. Across piles of newspapers in his crowded office, Viktor, my oldest brother, reached for my hand and shook it hard. A bridegroom when I had left Mandal, Viktor was now the father of five children. *Mr. Nygaard has served as the National Geo graphic Society's chief translator for 23 years.