Memories of lefse and lutefisk
We were all patiently standing waiting in line for a taste of history, a taste of culture, and a taste of memories of years gone by. Some folks were here because families shamed them into it, others because of a tradition that they can't let go of quite yet. I was there to cure my homesickness a bit and mostly because I was a poor college kid that was given a ticket to a free meal. Luckily, a friend of mine had connected me with an older couple, Auggie and Pearl, which they knew that would also be attending. Little did I know that in the next two hours I would learn more about Finns, Swedes, and those crafty Norsky folks than I learned in my 20 years of growing up with a family of mixed Scandinavians.
Auggie and Pearl were true Swedes in every sense of the word and were dang proud of it, even more so on such a celebration as the dinner that night. Auggie decided that it was his obligation, no his duty, to educate me on the foods and fanfare that night. His first line when we walked into the hall, was "We will sit on the right side of the hall. At these events, Norskies usually sit on the left and Swedes on the right, because Swedes are always right." And then he belly laughed louder than the Duluth foghorn while Pearl just rolled her eyes.
There was a serving line full of a wide variety of Scandinavian dishes, many that I knew from growing up and many that I had no idea what exactly they were. Being raised a Lutheran, I was hesitant to try anything new and too exciting but at the same time they all looked so good. Pearl was my guide through the line nodding her head in approval as I selected much of the same things that she had on her plate. At the end of the line was the lutefisk and you could select white pepper gravy or melted butter to go over your fish. When the guy serving asked Auggie, "How do you take your lutefisk?" His reply was, "Serious, very serious," followed by another big belly laugh and Pearl rolling her eyes. Auggie, being the good Swede, took gravy while he reserved the butter for the Norksies I later learned. I went with gravy just to be on the safe side too.
We then sat down to one of the best meals I have ever had in my life.The food was amazing and the conversations were even better. These were hardy folks, first or second generation immigrants whose families had worked hard to carve out a niche in northern Minnesota. Many worked in the iron ore mines or worked in the harbor before starting a family and maybe a small farm. They raised their kids to respect hard work and to respect diversity and the contributions that we all can make to help each other out. They toughed it through miserable winters relying on themselves, neighbors and the community in good times and in bad times.
As the holidays have come and gone over the years and I have visited a few local lutefisk dinners, I am always reminded of that night in Duluth. Auggie and Pearl, sadly, have passed away, but the memory and education I received will stay with me. After all, how do I take my lutefisk to this day? Serious, very serious and always with gravy.