Chapter 9 Excerpt
17 July 1996
We then hit the streets of the neighborhood. I showed Mark the Narvessen (a little more than a newsstand) with the numerous newspaper choices. We walked down Thomas Heftyes Gate toward Frognerveien. As I walked around, and for most of the day, I felt strange. This was a different country, with a different language. There has been much talk about Norway being a second home to me. Everything was so familiar and not foreign. I knew this neighborhood so well that the familiarity didn’t make it seem foreign at all.
I remembered looking at the addresses of the boys from my class at Majorstua in 1969-70 (I still have the address book, having found it at the bottom of a desk drawer after thinking it had been long lost) and seeing two of them lived at Thomas Heftyes Gate 60 and 62. I looked now and waited anxiously just to see 60 and 62 knowing that they certainly didn’t live there now...I asked Mark if he wanted to see the house I lived in before we went to the Park. He said if it was on the way.
“It’s certainly on the way,” I said.
We turned down Frognerveien. “I want to walk down Frognerveien at some point,” I said. “I haven’t done that since 1970.”
“I thought you’ve done everything,” Mark said.
Turning around, I said, “And up that way, I want to find where I skated.”
We came to Tidemands
Gate. I pointed out to Mark, “At this corner was a
bakery where we bought bread.” The bakery was no more.
Like an assured tour guide, I took us to the left across Frognerveien, up Tidemands Gate.
“There were embassies on this street,” I said. “Turkey and Brazil. We used to smell the coffee every morning.”
Soon that wouldn’t be the only smells of history I would experience.
Now, we found the Belgium, Thai and Bulgarian Embassies.
Finally, we came to the brown house with the 20 on the iron gate. I somewhat confidently pushed the gate open. “We were on the first floor. And here was the yard,” I told Mark.
I forged ahead to the back and the entrance. “We played in the back here too.”
I opened up the door. The door of the apartment a few steps up still had the Magnusen nameplate. I walked up. “There was a Mrs. Vogt upstairs,” I said, peering up the stairs. “Notice the winding steps (a habit in Norway).”
I had been past the house on my previous trips; a couple of times, I had opened the entrance door, but stopped short of going up the steps, or lacking the courage to knock on the door. Before leaving on this trip, I had told myself, maybe this time I would knock; maybe I would get inside.
Now, I stood at the top of the stairs, Mark a few steps down. I took some breaths. “Should I ring the bell?”
I was nervous. “What should I do?” I asked.
“You’ve got nothing to lose,” Mark said.
Taking a breath, I gave the bell a short ring. We thought we heard some movement, but weren’t sure. An elderly woman’s voice came through the door. I explained in Norwegian that I had lived here with my American family in 1969-70.
“So you would like to see?” she said in Norwegian. “Can you come to the front on the other side?”
We went to the front of the house and up the stairs to the porch. I tapped a couple of times on the living room doors. But a door on the side opened. A white-haired woman with a metal cane stood there. Again, I tried to explain in Norwegian who I was. “Do you speak English?” she asked.
So, in English, I explained again. “Are you Magnusen?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “We lived in the Netherlands for seven years and rented the apartment.”
She asked, “Was your father a professor?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you the two boys?” she asked.
“No, this is a friend,” I said.
“Come in,” she said.
And, suddenly we were in the dining room. There was a long table with a white tablecloth and the place was well kept with very nice things around.
Mrs. Magnusen had trouble walking and I wondered if I was imposing. She led us into the living room. “Sit down.”
Mark and I each took a chair. She dropped herself onto the couch -- the same blue one that had been there in 1969-70. I couldn’t help but think, that she let us in. An elderly woman, who could hardly walk, let in two foreigners. Unheard of in the United States.I looked around the room. There were many more things in the room than when we lived here. Gone was the old television with one channel that sat in the corner where I was now sitting. It had a radio on top and my father and I used to pin our ears to the radio to catch the baseball and football broadcasts on armed forces radio. A newer TV was in the other corner. There was a piano with family pictures.The floor revealed only part of the hard wood floors, where my brother and I played hockey, sliding on our slippers and using plastic golf clubs as sticks. I looked toward the room on my left, with the table and phone, and the stairs that led to the basement, which served as one of the hockey goals.
“I played here,” I said.
“There were two boys. Was there also a girl?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, impressed that she remembered...
“I remember your son,” I said.
“That’s his picture on the piano when he was younger, and his wife,” she said. “They have two children, and my daughter has two children, 16 and 19 already. I wish it was 1969.”
For a moment, I half agreed.
“How are your parents?” she asked.
“They’re retired from work now, but find many things to keep them busy,” I replied....
Finally, she mentioned her husband. “He should be home around 3 p.m. He runs a limo company from the airport.”
“Can I see the rest of the apartment? I asked.
“Sure, but we can’t see the bedroom. It’s not in order.”
She struggled to get up.
“May we help?” I asked.
We went out of the room and to the left down the hallway. On the right appeared the bathroom. There at the end of the hallway was the bedroom my brother and I shared. The room was smaller than I remembered. There seemed to be just one bed. “How did we squeeze in here?” I thought.
“This is a nice room,” she said. “You two boys would’ve been in here.”
“We shared this room,” I said.
“We walked down the other end of the hallway, past the wc (water closet, toilet) and what was my sister’s room. “This was a small room, but serviceable,” Mrs. Magnusen said...
It was time to leave. I said “tusen takk (many thanks).” We walked back through the dining room. “We had a seder here,” I recalled to myself.
She told us she suffered from gout and showed us her hands, which had endured much surgery. Then we were outside again, back in 1996.
“You went back in time,” Mark said.
“You got an experience no one else who has come with me had,” I said. “You saw the inside of where I lived.”
I kept thinking, she let us in. I was glad I did it. I saw something of my past in Norway that I had not seen before. The irony was that the Magnusens still lived there. I completed or closed the door on a part of my experience.
We moved on down two blocks and turned left onto Munthes Gate. I pointed out where Dad worked. We continued down the block and across Kirkeveien to the Frogner Park and the Vigeland statues once again, which show the cycles of life. I had just been back and forth between my own.
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