For as long as I can remember, Norway has been near the very top of my “countries I want to visit” list. But unlike most other places on that list (and let’s face it, there are more countries on the list than off it), visiting Norway always had strings attached, or caveats.
My grandmother was born in Norway. As far as I know, she never distanced herself from her Nordic heritage once her family began life in America. (My grandpa would joke that back when they were dating, her family would invite him over for dinner and there would be fish on the table all. the. time.) I have a very vivid memory of playing with her in the basement of our house in Delaware. I said something in Chinese, and she said, “You’re a bright girl and already know two languages. Let’s teach you some Norwegian, too.” She taught me how to say jeg elsker deg, or “I love you.” I remember my tongue tripping over the words and her patiently and gently coaching me through each syllable, each intonation.
That afternoon, I stood on the steps of the basement. I peered between the railing and said jeg elsker deg, Grandma in Norwegian to her, and she beamed at me and blew me a kiss. I’ll never forget that. It’s one of the last memories I have of her as the grandma I adored and wanted to be like when I grew up, the grandma I knew so well. Not long after, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I never learned another word of Norwegian from her again.
My Norwegian heritage is not something I am particularly close with or connected to, unfortunately. I remember a book of Norwegian fairy tales I had when I was little, and I still regularly make pannekaken on the weekends just like my grandma did. But most everything else I know about Norway or Nordic culture I learned from books or school or TV. That just makes me want to go to Norway even more, honestly. I want to see the country of my grandma’s people, and become more in touch with that side of my heritage.
My brother and I have always wanted to go to my grandma’s ancestral home in Norway. (He and I are similar in that we’re very big on exploring and staying in touch with all sides of our heritage.) Apparently we have extended family there, although I’m not sure they’re even aware my brother and I exist. The last visit my grandparents made to Norway was before my parents even met, and there certainly weren’t any grandchildren in the picture yet. My brother and I have always talked about going, framing it as “one day” or “some day.” I know it will happen; we are the type to actually go places rather than just sit around and talk about going places. But it’s challenging figuring out when that will be when he and I are scattered in the world and he’s just only getting his foothold in the world of adulthood.
In the meantime, though, I’ll keep getting pants of wanderlust in my chest whenever I come across a picture of beautiful Norway, or an article about things to see/eat/do in the country. I’ll think back to learning how to say jeg elsker deg and wonder what other little Norwegian phrases I could pick up by spending time in the country. I’ll remember my grandma, and think of how she’d feel knowing that her two grandkids have always promised each other that one day, they’d go to Norway, and that they’d go together, because of their heritage through her.