A Family History

December 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

That night, Otto and I continued to sip brandy for the next hour or so. I was supposed to avoid drinking too much alcohol due to my meds, but I found over the years that combining both was often a very good idea. Besides, the brandy proved alluring; my nose lingered in the cave-like opening of the snifter, letting the fumes penetrate inside my head, loosening my tongue.

I tried not to bore my companion with too much talk about business. I did recall to him my occasional contracts involving various Norwegian ventures, mostly involving farmed salmon. My father had always said that food would forever be a top trading commodity, and he was right. Otto said that years earlier he had invested in a salmon farm in Norway, among other things. He stopped there, but I could tell from the twinkle in his eyes that his “other things” had turned out very nicely.

I’d had enough talk about returns on investments, though. “Tell me about the royals. What was your connection to them?”

Otto set down his glass. “I come from a family of servers. And servants. My grandfather owned a small café in Oslo, by the docks. He expected the family to help out. My grandmother baked and swept. My uncle, the oldest, tended bar after school. My father had other ideas.” He smiled to himself. “After graduating from high school, he vanished for a couple of years. My grandparents fell apart with worry. One day he suddenly appeared before Farfar, my grandfather, and said that he’d been working on a merchant ship and had been all over the world. We Norwegians have a saying—“away is not to be at home”—and certainly for Pappa, that was true.

Oslo during the 1930s.

Oslo during the 1930s.

“Now he was ready to help out the family. Farfar grew angry, for he realized that the dockworkers, some of his steadiest customers, had lied to him during an earlier, frantic search. He had been serving them beer and sandwiches, accepting their krone, accepting their overtures of friendship, and all the while he’d been deceived. So he shut down the café and went north with Farmor, to open a homestead by a large birch forest. He turned his back on Oslo, and civilization, forever. For it was civilization, that is to say, civilized behavior, that broke apart his family.”

“My father and his uncle had to fend for themselves. Uncle Mats became a chemist, no doubt because of his boundless curiosity and exploration of alcohol’s spell that began in the café. Eventually he developed a formula for something you use everyday.”

I leaned forward, but Otto shook his head. “It’s not a brand name, but a chemical process that enables you and I to exist on this very polluted planet. The name is not important,” he said, waving his hand. “But the formula made Uncle Mats a very wealthy man, wealthier than the Norwegian king. It is also partly why I was able to escape a modest retirement in Norway, the fate of so many children of servants, and live a very comfortable life on the grounds in America where the Crown Princess once lived.” Otto paused, and I recalled the Rolls Royce lurking several floors beneath us, the one he bought brand new. Comfortable life indeed.

“Pappa followed a humbler path. Never one for studies, he got a job as a waiter at the Røde Mølle restaurant in the Tivoli district in Oslo. It was a glittering place where people gathered to dance. It featured American jazz. Papa did quite well there for a couple of years, and then he met Crown Prince Olav, who visited the restaurant a couple of times. He always served the prince and his lovely wife Märtha, whenever they came, and they noticed his attentiveness and wit. Papa received a call from the palace. It was an offer of employment.  He became a herskapstjener, a footman, and he served at all the big events. Until, one day, the Nazis invaded.”

Later, dear readers…I hope you don’t mind my drawing out this tale, but it’s proven difficult to sustain after a long day of contract negotiations.

Maxence

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