The following stories are excerpts from the artist's memoirs, War and Other Life Stories, written as part of his family history.
A Kick-sled Story
This story was published in the March 10, 2011, issue of the Norwegian American weekly.
One fine winter day when there was a mixture of ice and snow on the ground, my friend Otto and I decided to go sledding on the “big hill”, that is, the main drag (or Kirkegaten) that ran from the top of the hill by the church all the way to the docks. As we climbed to the top of the hill and got on the kick-sled, we noticed a group of people standing in the middle of a big intersection about half way down. Otto, being a couple of years older, was steering, while I was on the passenger seat. As we got underway, we didn’t pay too much attention to the cluster of people blocking the intersection; we figured that, as usual, we would come down the hill screaming and shouting, and whoever happened to be in the street would hear and see us and summarily move to the side. As we got a little closer, moving at an incredible speed, it became clear that this was not a group ordinary Norwegian citizens standing around discussing the day’s events. This was a cadre of high-ranking German officers in full regalia. We screamed and yelled, to no avail. They were totally oblivious. It was too late and we were moving too fast to divert our course. We plowed into the circular group and came out at the other end. We hit several of them mid- calf, sending them into the air like bowling pins in a strike. We continued down the hill, heading towards the water at undiminished speed. We thought we would be pursued by somebody, but nothing happened.
As we hurtled towards the docks, however, it was becoming clear that the square (torvet), where we would normally turn and ultimately come to a stop, was occupied by a man selling fish. He had a long wooden bench in front of him. On the bench were several crates, each one filled with different kinds of fish, mostly huge cod. Immediately behind him was a live-fish tank in the water, right off the dock. Due to ice and snow, we were out of control. Stopping was not possible. We hit the man selling fish, just a glancing blow, knocking him off balance, but it didn’t stop us. We ended up in the ocean, just beyond the fish tank. I went to the bottom, still sitting on the seat of the kick-sled. Otto floated to the top and fished me out. As fast as we could, we ran home to my house via a very circuitous route and put the sled in the storage shed in the backyard.
After we changed into dry clothing, and got a stern talking-to by my mother, we went to look at the crash scene. Some Germans were still milling around, pointing and gesticulating. We assumed our most convincing innocent expression and asked what had happened. Some of the civilian onlookers were kind enough to explain to us what had occurred.
The Bacon Affair
My father was especially fond of bacon, but it was almost impossible to come by during the war. He hit upon the idea that if we could somehow get a pig, find a place to keep it, and feed it table scraps and fish, we should be able to generate our own bacon. We did not have a whole lot of table scraps; most every kind of food was cycled and recycled before anything was thrown away, but herring was readily available from my uncles, the commercial fishermen. He decided to speak to a friend of ours (Finn Strømsland) who lived down by the water, away from the main part of town, and who had a barn in the back where he kept his horse. Mr. Strømsland agreed that it would be possible to erect a pigsty in the barn, which he did, in return for a promise of some bacon when the day came. My father found the cutest little pig at a farmer’s place in the country and transported it to his home in the Srømsland’s barn. As time went on, the pig grew by leaps and bounds. We could practically taste the bacon. The pig was especially addicted to herring and consumed more fish than any other food, mostly because there wasn’t too much else around. When the day came for our first breakfast with bacon, we just couldn’t wait to start eating. But a problem soon surfaced. My mother, the cook, was the first one to taste the bacon, instantly wrinkled her nose, and said “Olaf, I told you not to feed this animal so much fish, but you wouldn’t listen, would you?” It was a very sad day. As bad as things were, we just could not eat the meat.
The Salmon Delicacy
Food was in short supply, especially the good stuff that we ordinarily would consume around holidays, like Christmas. Since my uncles at Sigersvold were fishermen, they would supply us with salmon that we would preserve in a salt solution and save for Christmas. In the middle of the war years, things were especially bad and we looked forward to feasting on the salmon we had stored in the attic. On Christmas Eve, my Dad and I went up to the attic to fetch the salmon. As I looked into the barrel, which was not covered, I saw something that was definitely not salmon. As I said to my Dad, “Dad, Dad, there is something strange in there.” He stuck a stick into the barrel and elevated the non-salmon enough to identify it as a dead rat. We were very upset to say the least. I remember saying “Do you think we can still eat it?." As a slight smile crept across his lips, he whispered, “I think it will be okay as long as Mom doesn’t know about this.” And she didn’t know until a long time after this incident. After all, there was a war going on, and we were not about to let a rat keep us from a good meal.
The Beef Acquisition
This story was previously published in Viking Magazine.
Not only beef, but meat in general was hard to come by during the war. But my father happened to know a farmer way up in the mountains who said he would be happy to sell him a side of beef, provided my father could find a way to transport it to town. Since my father was a member of the fire department, he had access to gasoline, which was strictly rationed. Almost none was to be had for civilian use, with the exception of fire trucks and ambulances. All other vehicles were powered by wood gas generators mounted at the rear of buses or behind the cab of trucks. Sacks of wood were carried on the roof to fuel the generators. Passenger cars and cabs normally had the generator mounted in the trunk, with the lid removed. In addition to running on wood gas, which was produced by burning small chunks of dry wood (about the size of the charcoal used in grills) in the generator, the vehicle could also run on gasoline by exchanging carburetors, which was easy to do. So my father decided to speak to his friend, Finn Strømsland, who owned and operated a cab. They agreed to split the meat if my father could get some gasoline. Mr. Strømsland would change the carburetor on his cab to run on gasoline and the two of them would drive into the country to the farmer’s house to pick up the meat. Since this was an illegal operation, the plan was to hide the meat in the wood-gas generator so it could not easily be detected should they be stopped by German guards for inspection. There was one weak spot in the plan, however, but there was little they could do to close the loophole: whenever the wood gas generator is in operation, there was a little plip-flop valve that that goes “click, click” at short intervals. Whenever you noticed the click/click sound, it was a sign that the generator was operating satisfactorily. Of course, the valve was not in operation when the car was running on gasoline. But they took a chance that whatever German guard they ran across would not be sufficiently schooled in wood-gas generator operation to notice the anomaly. So they decided to proceed. After all the preparations had been made, they set off across the bridge that separates the town from the mainland and proceeded into the mountain region towards the farmer’s house.
As they crossed the bridge, they noted with satisfaction that there was no guard stationed at the bridge. After about 45 minutes, they arrived at the farmer’s house. Based on the purchase agreement, he had the meat sectioned up in pieces and wrapped and ready for insertion into the generator. On the way back, they felt pretty confident that all was going well until they got to the bridge. Dozens of armed Wehrmacht soldiers were milling around, shouting and screaming. Some of them were down in the ravine below the bridge. Armored vehicles were blocking the road. Needless to say, they had to come to a complete stop. The guards shone their flashlights into the car and ordered them out. The car was inspected from one end to the other, but miraculously nobody thought to look in the wood gas generator. My father gleaned from the conversation that an allied plane had just been shot down, and they were now searching for members of the flight crew that had parachuted out of the burning plane.