Friday, October 10, 2014

Storyteller's Journey

Great-grandfather Peter Swanson
A Door to the Past

When I set out to write my children's book, The Scandinavian Santa, I was inspired by the stories I remembered hearing from my mother about Peter Swanson - her maternal grandfather, my great-grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Norway.

However, like many Americans, my family tree has branches that originate from a number of places. My mother is Norwegian and Welsh, while my father is French and Italian. I have always identified most with my French-Italian heritage - I suppose since my family name, Cardon, is French. Another reason is that although my Norwegian grandmother lived only a few miles away when I was growing up, most of my other Norwegian relatives lived hours away in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. I had lost contact with those family members in my early twenties. Consequently, when I began to write the first draft of my yuletide tale, I realized very quickly that even though I was one quarter Norwegian, my knowledge of the Scandinavian culture was limited. I needed to do major research to make my short story, set in the land of Northern Lights, rich with believable details.

After the release of The Scandinavian Santa on September 16th, I decided to take a day trip to Poulsbo, Washington - known as "Little Norway." The small community was the place that my great-grandfather had settled when he came to the States. I knew that I probably still had relatives in the area, but I had not been in touch with any of them in over thirty years! My mother informed me that my cousin Jill still lived there. That was great news, since Jill and I had birthdays just two months apart, and had once been close when we were very young girls. I also wanted to contact a wonderful independent bookstore in Poulsbo - Liberty Bay Books - since they feature a section of Scandinavian books in their shop.

So I nervously contacted Jill and we set up a luncheon date. We would meet after I had spoken to the owner of Liberty Bay Books. Little did I know that meeting with Jill would have such a dramatic effect upon me.

Victoria (L) and Jill (R)
When we met at J J's Fish House in Poulsbo, she was already seated in a booth waiting for me. I recognized Jill immediately, even though I had not seen her for decades. The last time I can recall actually visiting her, was when I was twelve years old.
(I did attend her wedding years later, but only to extend my congratulations.) Life had taken twists and turns for both of us, and strangely, our lives had taken similar paths. We'd both been married, divorced, and then married to the love of our lives. We both have children who we are extremely proud of, and we both love to travel.

The time went by much too quickly, but in the short time we had that afternoon, we laughed, and cried, and shared memories. I had not only reconnected to my Norwegian side of the family, I had reconnected to a very special cousin. I could lament the time I've lost not maintaining a relationship with Jill, but we both agreed: life has its own perfect timing.

Jill and I are now contemplating a pilgrimage to Froyo, Norway - the village that was once home to our great-grandfather, Peter Swanson.

As writers, we know that writing a story can often open a door to another world for our readers. However, I never ever would have imagined that writing a book would open a door to my very own past.

4 comments:

  1. What a rich history. Your great grandfather was very handsome:)

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  2. Lovely post, and what a lovely experience. I do think that writing unexpectedly opens many doors.

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