Things I learnt on a Journey to the Pacific West

Anne-Mette

We usually travel alone, but the week we were with my father’s cousin during the week we spent in Seattle this last summer. She had asked us to meet her there primarily to find people who knew her uncle, Valdemar. The last twenty years she has lived and worked in Greenland. She teaches Greenlandish schoolchildren how to create artworks of their national animals.

 

Before going to Greenland that she was living on a minimal income as an artist in Denmark. We are not spending extravagantly on restaurants, but we learnt from her that we could manage with far fewer expenses than usual.

She planned everything in great detail and with the most beautiful handwriting. A.M. wrote everything down on small notepads. In the evenings, she would rewrite the most essential info she had gathered during the day in a proper diary. When a year has passed, she will be able to recall every contact she made and what she had seen and discussed. For many years, we have got a detailed story of her past year, and now I know how she manages to remember.

Henry and I were inspired by the way she was able to influence people to help her. In a vast city, how do you find old people who knew our uncle who died in 1964?

Early on a Sunday morning, we took a bus from downtown Seattle to Christian Center of Federal Way. A.M. made sure we would be there an hour before the service. We were lucky to be met by a nice man at the door. A.M. would present herself like we heard her say so many other times with a clear voice and a Danish accent:

I am A.M. from Greenland…. and I am searching for people who knew my uncle Valdemar who helped establish this church in the 1940s

It worked every time. She got people’s attention, and as soon as she got a clue to work on, she would continue with more questions.

 

We stayed after the meeting to talk to some of those people who long ago had met our uncle. The pastor answered her humorously:

Only one question?

A.M’s research brought us to a nursing home at Burien, south of Seattle and to a meeting place in a shopping centre in the town Bothell north of Seattle. We were reminded of a time where people stuck together as friends for many years. The love and kindness from the elderly were overwhelming, and we enjoyed to hear them speak about our uncle who we had never met. He was lovingly called “Holmsy” and died peacefully in his armchair in the church in Downtown Seattle where he worked as a janitor. A typical thing for him to do was to turn off the lights in the church when he felt it was time for the congregation to leave. That kind of action is something I recognise from my father too.

Being able to leave very early

A.M. helped me overcome the fear of getting up very early to the place where we had to investigate things. I don’t like to rush in the mornings, and the thought of having to catch a train or a bus at six AM was a horrible thought for me. Trying it more than once made me a conqueror.

We repeated the lesson later on in Oregon when we travelled to Eugene and Junction City to find people who had known my husband’s ancestors.

Sigrid in Seattle

We met an inspiring Danish expat couple in Seattle. A.M. ‘s close friends had lived and worked in Seattle for ten years. They showed us great hospitality in their wooden 1920s house in the Scandinavian immigrant area of Ballard. S. bought most clothes and toys secondhand, and the neighbour children had a habit of borrowing each others’ toys for a few days. Buying groceries, S. would bring her own containers or wrap. Besides that, they cultivated fruit and vegetables in their garden. In the old days, these things were common among everybody.

Overcoming fear of powercut, earthquakes, break down of credit cards

Before leaving for a long journey, I have a tendency of worrying about powercut, airport strikes, earthquakes, or break down of our Visa Cards. None of these things happened, and once we are away, I feel at home in big cities and in the countryside alike. I treasure to be able to communicate everywhere in English speaking countries.

listening to conversations

The sight of Mount Rainier south east of Seattle

The sight of Mount Rainier south-east of Seattle seen from the air

 

Travelling hours by train and plane on different occasions, I couldn’t help listen to conversations. On an Alaska airline plane, I was impressed by two people who had never met and still got into an exciting conversation. They asked questions and took turns until they parted and they both spoke beautiful English. It’s seldom to observe, and the ability to tell our stories is an art that has to be practised from childhood at home.

Away from home. I am reminded of the differences in food habits. I wouldn’t know how to walk with a coffee mug in my hand.

New food that I like but hadn’t tried before: Crab Cakes, Ice Coffee, Egg Benedict and Oysters and Mochi ice (Japanese ice cream).

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