They were dreamers and believers, my parents. And so it was that one fateful day in what must have been April or May in the year of 2006, the eight of us, cramped together in an older-than-life Volkswagen, drove across the north east of Nebraska in search of a town where some distant relatives had once lived and died. No one knew we were coming, and no one knew why we were there. Not even us.
Whenever I think about my time on the Great Plains, my mind paints a picture of a setting sun over a vast, sloping hill. There is no warm, moose-in-the-sunset color scheme, but a bleak pink-grey sun disappearing behind a slowly darkening eternity of mud. Soon it will be dark, and a pale light will be visible on the western horizon. As we move closer, a small town will come into sight. It is a sleeping one. A dark, drowsy, and slightly forgotten one.
My mother may have pictured us sitting in a covered wagon, like those land starved Scandinavian emigrants with muddy hems and sweaty bonnets, traveling for months to find that their new paradise was nothing but a vast and lonely wasteland. In retrospect, I believe she thanked God we didn’t have to reside in a sod house, boiling the mud out of our garments every evening, watching the winds catch our hopes and blow them farther away than civilization. My mother may have been drawn to the past, but luckily, the past is a closed casket.
Within days, everyone in town knew about the new Norwegian family, as articles with pictures of us were handed out to everyone. But befriending the owner of the local newspaper came with disadvantages as well. I might have dreamt of fame as a child, but having to represent this peculiar, foreign, poor, but not actually poor, immigrant, but not actually immigrant family of eight, from the snowy mountains of Norway, was never what I had in mind.
Yet, peculiarity is in the eye of the beholder. From my view in the back of our rusted mid-century van, I studied and sketched out in my travel journal high school prairie dogs drinking Mountain Dew from Styrofoam cups while howling old Def Leppard choruses at the moon. I carefully illustrated the bulleted pages with stories, so peculiar and dark and light and foreign and familiar, yet kept my distance so as to not blend into the black ink of it all, and forget that I was only there temporarily, because my parents were dreamers and believers.