Farvel

Some sad news came from Denmark the other week: Ejvind, my host brother during my long-ago college year there, let me know that his mother, Oda, was in very ill health and her journey would end soon.

I wept a little as I absorbed the news, and I wept more yesterday, after Ejvind told me that Oda’s journey had in fact come to an end about 5 a.m. Danish time (about 10 p.m. Central Time Wednesday).

Oda and her husband Kristen were my host parents for almost five months during my 1973-74 stay in Fredericia – I spent the final months of the year either on the road or living in the youth hostel St. Cloud State rented for the year – and they were, well, an essential part of my life. Being parents of college-age children themselves at the time – Ejvind was attending a university in the city of Århus, about sixty miles away, and his sister Birgit was taking what we now call a gap year in the U.S. – they were well equipped for the enthusiasms and occasional turbulence of living with a young man away from home for the first time.

Their advice, their caring, and their occasional firm direction were all major parts of that time for me, a time that was – as I’ve said here before – the single greatest formative experience of my life. Being part of that experience made Oda and Kristen among the most important people I’ve known in my life.

Kristen died during the 1990s, when I was pretty much out of touch with everyone, and thus I never had an opportunity to either grieve his passing or extend my condolences to Oda, Ejvind and Birgit (the last of whom I have never actually met, as she was in the U.S while I lived in Fredericia). I’ve been messaging some with Ejvind and Birgit in the past day, and they know how I feel about Oda’s passing.

As I grieve, I remember things. I recall the tradition of evening tea, when Oda would brew herself and me some Earl Grey and make a small cup of very strong coffee for Kristen. We’d sit in the living room, share some pastry – Oda worked downtown near a bakery and made sure we had fresh treats every evening – and talk about whatever came to mind. A lot of what I know about Danish culture and living came from those evening chats.

Oda offered motherly wisdom at several points during my months in their home as I struggled with both a first romance and homesickness. She and Kristen opened their home to my friends, helping me and my St. Cloud State girlfriend host a Thanksgiving dinner for them and several of our friends, and they regularly invited my friends in for other dinners and evening gatherings.

tableclothRecalling those gatherings yesterday reminded me of Oda’s tablecloth. When guests visited for the first time, they were invited to sign their names in pencil on the white tablecloth. Later, Oda would embroider their signatures into the cloth. In the picture here, you can see Oda – on the left – watching as my friends Dewey (center) and Matt sign their names on the tablecloth.

My signature is on that tablecloth, as are the signatures of maybe eight of my friends – including Dewey and Matt – who came visiting during the months I lived with Kristen and Oda. I sent the picture to Ejvind yesterday, and he told me that his daughter Marie has the tablecloth and that it’s still in use. (He, a year or two older than I, noted that some of the signatures on it predate his birth.)

The last time I saw Oda – or Kristen – was on my last evening in Fredericia in May 1974. I had dinner at their home, and they drove me back to the youth hostel at about 9 that evening. Before they left, Oda embraced me and said “Det er ikke farvel. Vi ses igen.”

“This is not goodbye. We will see each other again.”

Sadly, life did not allow that to come true. In another turn around the wheel, perhaps.

Until then, farvel.

Minor correcton made June 20, 2020.

2 Responses to “Farvel”

  1. Birgit Dengsø says:

    Thank you so much for sharing such wonderful words about our parents. I know they enjoyed having you live with them in Fredericia.

  2. jb says:

    I am quite late getting to this, but it’s lovely.

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