Today, Along with my daughter and granddaughter we placed some of Birgitta’s ashes in the lake at a place she treasured. Just a rock with the word Hawaii painted on it. The origin of the name long forgotten but it is here that she first learned to swim. It is here that many wonderful childhood memories were formed. It is here that she spoke of so lovingly over the years of our marriage. Vallby, as she grew up was the center of her summer universe. She so often related to me: they moved out to the country the first day school was out and stayed until school started. One of two small wooden houses built by her father and a brother in 1935/6. A place she considered heaven. Without running water, it was carried from a well in the area; without electricity, Kerosene lamps provided the light. The toilet was a small house over a hole in the ground. All things later added to the place over time. But then, young impressionable, living among the stately pines and birches surrounded by birds and mosquitoes slowly, surely she developed into the self-confident child and later adult that all who knew her treasured. Vallby: The place she returned to every summer wherever we lived in the world. Not to do so was unthinkable. The love of a Far, Mor and Bror and Farbror with his family the same ages living next door made it all special.
Not soon after Birgitta was born the world erupted into war. Sweden had the good sense to stay neutral. Neutrality had its pitfalls one had to avoid displeasing the enemy of the world Germany who had surrounded little Sweden with captured countries. Unsavory accommodation was the rule of the day. Shortages of food and a great isolation set in among the population. The already stoic Swedes became more so. Self soon forgotten and the greater good the rule of the day. A forced neutrality that still exists today. They built a defense industry. Birgitta’s father worked in an arms factory which made weapons for the Swedish Army but it was an industry with a long association with German military. They had made “Mausers” for the Germans in the First World War. They had to go along to get along.
The industrialized countries of Sweden and Switzerland alone in Europe survived the war with no damage and the power to build industry as the war ended. What effect all this had on Birgitta was never really detailed. Her Far worked long hours and in those precious summer months biked back and forth to town after a 12 hour shift. It left little for family and the country home but somehow they survived and the place slowly got better over the years. Money was not plentiful. Birgitta’s clothes were made mostly by Mor who was a professional seamstress. But, she was always proud of the way she looked and took great pride in her appearance. School, Girls school, Business School. Languages English and German. Religion the first class every school day. Love thy neighbor the theme even if you hardly talked to them. The freedom and the beauty of this Vallby, this little town of Eskilstuna, flowers everywhere, mushrooms for the picking, green … green … wherever you looked except when it was covered with snow. The long winter nights used to develop personal skills. Sewing, embroidery, cooking, reading and if you were a true Swede playing unending card games of every description. Skills learned to be forever a part of life wherever you found yourself. And this fair maiden found herself in country after country where new skills, love, life, family, friends, surrounded by foreigners who had different skills and ideas and if you paid attention, and she did, soon became yours. All starting from this little home in the country, Vallby!!!!
Today another daughter and her husband arrive. Soon we will find another charming spot for them to place a small portion of ashes. It too will have a view across the lake which is the third largest in Sweden. So within the month she has found herself on the Glacier at the top of the third highest mountain in Switzerland and in the third largest lake which slowly works it’s way to Stockholm and onto the Swedish Archipelago, the Baltic and North Sea to continue her journey.
This fall as I pass close to the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific on my way to New Zealand I will place a small portion of ashes there and maybe she will drift to the lowest spot in the worlds seas. Which way is Everest?
We all like to play the game “what if”. Today I found myself in a strange version of this game. I asked myself “what if”. What if after we finish this journey and take all the places in running water we have placed Birgitta’s ashes and in five years go back and chart the flow of the water from each source where she was placed and map her progress over time, where would she be? In ten years? How long before her true ambition is realized? I know she wants to cover the globe. She told me so last night in a dream. She’s talking to you too. You just need to learn to listen and the silence here in her Vallby at 3am makes it easy.