“Mama, are you in love with Papa?” I asked my mother long ago in my childhood. We were at home on our farm in a little community on the west coast of Norway; it was a winter evening. The walls of the kitchen were blue, the overhead lamp was bright, but it was dark outside the window. Mother was clinking cups and plates, clearing the table after our evening meal. Through all the years her routine had been the same: by nine o’clock she would have finished the barn chores, milked the cows, and cared for the horse. Now she had come back indoors to bring the day to an end.
Grandfather and Grandmother were getting ready for bed in the old folks’ part of the house. Their murmurings could be heard through the walls. We kids—at this point there were five of us—had been given milk and slices of homemade bread with sweet brown cheese. My big sister was off somewhere; the younger siblings had been sent to bed. I was alone with my mother.
The things in the room at the moment I asked her that question come back to me now—the black wood-burning stove by the brick wall, the water ladle hanging on a hook by the faucet, the cheap illustration on the wall: Jesus knocking at the door. I see the radio, the dishes on the kitchen counter, the pots on the stovetop. The ceiling lamp was on, that I remember especially. So this must have happened after we got electricity and threw out the kerosene lamps. And it would have been before we gave up raising sheep, and before I started school, but after we had a radio that ran on electricity and not batteries like the old radio.
I was, maybe, six years old. If so, the year would have been 1955.
I had discovered there was something called “being in love”, and I was wondering what that might be. When I finally dared to ask Mother, I was anxious, because I was afraid she might get angry. But I wanted to know what such a strange expression meant, and I wanted to look at her face when I asked.
Excerpt from the novel: Mother's and Father's Story. Original title: Mors og fars historie (Oktober)
Photo: Finn Ståle Felberg