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This is a story set in history, a story of one country, one war and one family who lived on a farm. I heard this story from a woman who is a member of this family.
The country in this story is Norway, land of the fjords, where the mountains run into the sea. Mountains running into the sea leave very little flat land for farms. Norway, land of the midnight sun, where incredibly long summer days quickly shrink into short winter days. In Norway, the frost stays long in the soil, making for a short growing season. Itís never easy to farm, but itís especially difficult in Norway.
The time in this story is the 20th century. It was only at the beginning of that century that Norway became a free and independent country, after 600 years of being ruled, first by Denmark, and then Sweden. So modern Norway was only 35 years old when, on an April morning in 1940, German invasion forces landed simultaneously in all of Norwayís major ports. A former Norwegian defense minister named Quisling and his men aided this invasion. Quisling had assured Hitler that the Norwegians would welcome the Germans with open arms, and some did. But some didnít -- it took 2 months for the Germans to conquer Norway. And in those 2 months, many avoided the regular German troops and the Gestapo and smuggled the royal family 300 miles over the mountains to the North Sea, and then to England. And many others also avoided those troops and smuggled all the gold from the Bank of Norway, 55 tons of gold bullion, 300 miles over the mountains to the North Sea, and then to England.
On the farm in our story, Edvard, the head of the farm and the mayor of the village, did welcome the Germans and even invited them to parties on the first floor of the farmhouse where he lived. But his grown son Rikard lived on the second floor of that farmhouse with his wife Nina and their four sons. Rikard worked with the Resistance, hiding weapons in the barn, and British paratroopers/saboteurs in his bedroom closet, British saboteurs who worked with the Norwegian resistance groups.
Thatís what the nights were like on this farm.
The days were like this.
Rikard would say, "Father, letís try something new on the farm. Letís try "
"Rikard, Iíve told you before," Edvard would break in. "I run the farm, you work on it."
The family says that the two men knew what each other was doing during the nights. After all, who would believe that Edvard did not hear the strange footsteps on the stairs at odd hours? Who would believe that Edvard did not notice things rearranged in the barn? But neither man turned the other in.
This went on for 4 years, Edvard, and sometimes Germans on the first floor, Rikard, Nina and their sons, and sometimes British saboteurs on the second floor. The Germans often searched the neighborhood for the British whose parachutes had been spotted, but why search the home of their friend, Edvard?
But during the last winter of the war, they did come to search. And British saboteurs were hiding in Rikardís and Ninaís bedroom closet.
"Edvard, open up! We have to search your house tonight! The lieutenant is leading this search and he says we must look everywhere!"
"Come in, Corporal and do what you must."
The Germans searched the first floor and found nothing. After they trooped the stairs, they found Rikard, blocking his bedroom door.
"Corporal, you canít come in here."
"Rikard, didnít you hear what I said? The lieutenant is running this search-- I have to look everywhere!"
"Corporal, you canít come in here -- my wife is giving birth."
"Nina, giving birth? I havenít seen her in a while, maybe she -- No! I have to report to the lieutenant that I looked everywhere. Men, just get him out of my way."
When the doorway was clear, the corporal opened the door. He was instantly hit with the smell of sweat, the sweat of childbirth. And he saw Nina, legs wide apart, wet hair plastered to her head, panting.
The midwife hissed, "Get out of here! It isnít decent for you to be here! Itís alright, Nina, itís alright, youíre doing fine."
The corporalĎs eyes dropped toward his boots. He mumbled "Sorry, sorry, Nina," and stumbled through the doorway, then carefully closed the door.
"Men, look in all the other rooms, but quietly. Rikard, Iím sorry."
Minutes later, Ninaís and Rikardís daughter was born.
Six months later, in the middle of the next growing season, the war ended in this land of fjords.
Quisling and 24 of his men were tried and executed.
Edvard was jailed for some years. But the family says, if he hadnít been the mayor, things would have been worse for the village.
Rikard finally got to run the farm.
Rikard and Ninaís oldest son came over to America as one of the first high school exchange students. He returned to Norway after that year, but then worked his way back to America. And his next two brothers also came and settled in America. Only the youngest son stayed on the farm with Rikard and Nina. As soon as the youngest son married, Rikard turned the farm over to him.
"But Father, Iím so young to run the farm. You were much older when you started to run the farm."
"I know, but this farm should be run by a young man, with a young manís ideas."
Nina, unfortunately, never regained her full-strength after the war. But she told her story, this story, to her daughter-in-law, the one who lived with her at the farm and cared for her. And Ninaís daughter-in-law told this story to her daughter-in-law, who told it to me.
But the baby daughter, whose name did not make it down to me, she also did not make it. She died shortly after she was born. But the family says that she accomplished what she was born to do. She saved the lives of her father and her grandfather.
Pimpernel Gold, Saint Martin's Press, New York, NY, USA, 1978.
Norway, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, NY, USA, ca. 1989.
Copyright 1999 Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.