December 23, 2006
True to plan, I do venture out to the little outdoor mall in Lidingo, the suburb of Stockholm where Tam and Malin live.
Stepping gingerly over the ice and trudging through the snow up to the bus stop, I feel like one of the natives, as we’re all wearing backpacks as we hunch over against the icy wind.
Once I arrive at the mall, my first stop is the ATM. Someone behind me senses my hesitation.
“Take out one hundred dollars in US money,” she says. “That ought to be enough.”
My second stop, to buy a cap, muffler, and gloves for my freezing head, neck, and hands. Prior to my trip, Tam had advised me not to go out of my way to spend money on a heavy coat. I took him at his word. Now, I’m so cold I’m shaking apart! As I pick up a red-black-and-white knit cap and muffler and red wool gloves, and white cowl-neck sweater, a red suede shoulder bag, the perfect accessory, hurls itself into my helpless arms.
Warm at last, I explore the other little boutiques. I start to feel brave, liberated, even, tossing “God Jul!” over my shoulders to the salespeople. After buying gift certificates for Tam and Malin and just one more little item for Harald, I’m ready to hop the bus, again, and head back to their house.
Downtown Stockholm has many of the same stores and restaurants as Dallas or any other cosmopolitan city: a McDonald’s, a Starbucks, and a T.G.I. Friday’s. As I accompany Tam, a tenor-for-hire, into Stockholm so he can practice for the Christmas morning mass, I explore more shops. Once he is free, we grab a bite at Friday’s before hopping the subway home to get ready for the Christmas Eve celebration.
True to Malin’s word, a marathon of Disney cartoons is playing on the television for the younger guests, including Harald, almost two years old, and four other children ranging from eleven to eighteen. As we wait for dinner to begin, May brings out glog, pronounced glerg,a Swedish drink made out of vodka, wine, and spices.
“Mom, you don’t have to drink the whole thing,” Tam cautions. “That stuff’s pretty strong.”
“I know, hon. I’ll just take one sip.”
One sip, my eye! Several more sips and a drained cup later, I’m ready to party! This is, after all, my very first trip overseas, and I’m over here to sample everything there is so I can fly back to tell my Texas compadres that I said it, did it, ate it, and saw it all.
At that point, May comes into the living room and takes our hands where she dances us throughout the living room, the kitchen, and, finally, to the dining table.
Outside her panoramic picture window, we can see the lights on ships on their way to Russia.
We’re halfway through the first course when one of her houseguests puts down his fork, picks up his schnaps, and breaks out in song. On cue, everyone else at the table picks up their glasses and sings along. I borrow Tam’s schnaps, which tastes like rubbing alcohol to me, and join them in song.
After the song, silence. Chewing. Clinking of silverware.
Then Malin’s sister, Anna, then picks up her schnaps and leads a song which she ends by gargling and saying, “Welcome to Sweden!”
Only in Sweden would I have the courage to try smoked eel, which, as with other strange delicacies, tastes a little like chicken. Pleased with my adventurous spirit, I decide to sample what looks like roast beef. But as I chew it, I notice a gaminess to it.
“So, how is the reindeer?” May asks me.
With the meal over, we gather around the Christmas tree, with coffee and chocolates for dessert, as we wait for the arrival of Tomten, the Swedish Santa, to deliver the gifts. It is a moment my mother, an impromptu poet, would have loved! As each of us gives our gifts, we make up a riddle about how the recipient is to use it.
Soon, my turn came to give one of my gifts, a set of Texas Bluebonnet drink coasters and kitchen towels, to May. As I approached her with my small offering, I made up a poem about how these coasters would hold her glass and mop up any wet spots if she spills her “drrrrick!”
Each of us receives something from almost everyone. I unwrap a box of chocolates and a peach-colored fringed shawl from May, a blouse and a picture of Harald from Tam and Malin, and a CD of Christmas carols, entitled God Jul, or Merry Christmas, that Emma’s choir had made.
“This is so you’ll know some songs for the next time you get to be with us,” Anna told me.
Soon, it was almost midnight. Tam had called a cab to take us back to their house.
The next days fly by. On my last day there before flying back home, Tam and I take in more sights in old Stockholm, including the Vasa Museum.
As I marvel at the gargantuan 14th century ship that sank, I can hear Daddy saying, “How’s the fishing off that crazy outfit?”
Just a few days short of New Year’s Eve, Tam takes me back to the airport. Although I have managed to catch a sloppy cold, I have had fun, but I must leave before I embarrass myself by spitting out “Happy New Year” in Swedish.
Way too many consonants. I want to buy a vowel.