The problem with being an Ex-pat I suppose is coming home. She must have known it could not last, when she set off for the far away Japanese shores, protected though not smothered, by her diplomatic immunity. The Ambassador’s family travelled home via South America, Honolulu, and Grand Canyon. No wonder both my parents would smile in years to come at the mention of Carmen Miranda. They had both been to Rio but not together.
Märtha must have missed Bishwa on that trip home. Who has not suffered with romantic separation? As their child, I cannot be privy to what they might have said to each other at their parting. But I can imagine. Was it conversations about the practicalities of how to stay in touch? Were there whispered words of love and endearment reaching through the years before they might meet again? Can love last through time and distance, death and danger?
Were there tears?
I can picture the scene of Märtha’s arrival home on that dark winter’s morning in 1939. Standing on the platform of Höganäs station with her suitcases around her, alone, but knowing she was loved, both here at home and somewhere else. Snowflakes descended as she checked her purse. There must be a taxi somewhere. And through it all, a deep sense of infatuation and nagging questioning in her mind; where might her lover be? Then the taxi ride home at six a.m...
My grandmother's name was Märtha too, though I always knew her as ‘Mormor’ the Swedish name for Grandma; two Märthas huddled on the steps of the house off the main street. Cuddles from your mother in the snow. Homecoming. Worth gold even if your heart is breaking.
Yet none of that became the chief concern. Märtha described to me how she felt, tripping over numerous refugees in the darkened lounge of her parent’s home. She swore, as she almost toppled and the refugee, propped up on an elbow looked askance at her.
‘Who are you?’ a Danish voice enquired.
Martha looked at the man. ‘I live here.’
‘Oh well, I’m sorry then,’ was all he said. He turned and resumed his traumatised and shattered sleep.
It was a cold winter when Märtha came home. Winter all around her - as it was winter in her heart.
‘Where is my trunk, Mamma?’
‘What trunk?’ Mormor said.
‘The one with all my winter clothes? It isn’t in the cellar.’
‘Oh that. I had to give these poor people something to keep them warm.’
‘Well they can give them back.’
‘Not these. These are Danish Jews. The other lot. They were Jewish too but they needed help Märtha.’
‘But I have nothing to wear.’
‘We will make do,’ Mormor said.
And they did. They made do.
People talk about how the Swedes did too little to resist the Nazi’s in the war. It was not true except on the higher political front. They took in Danish and European Jews; they gave a haven of safety to many. I know this from my own family history; you should know it now too.
And me? I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye!
More to come…