On a recent hot-and-humid weekend our family welcomed back two “cool Scandinavians.”
Asa and pal Helena originally hailed from Sweden. Asa lived with us in Massachusetts in the 1970s; Helena, in our neighborhood. The eighteen-year-olds were eager to visit the U.S. for a year.
My then-husband and I hadn’t planned on hosting. Even at my “mature” age of 28 — with two kids — the responsibility seemed daunting. Hey, not just adding to our household, but also Representing Our Whole Country?! Moi? And all I knew about Sweden was The Muppets’ Swedish chef.
But, dang, another family had cancelled Asa at the last minute, so….
Our small kindness was so rewarded! Our toddlers loved happy Asa, who said they had “Swedish names” (Erik and Karolina). (“Asa’s” initial “A” has an umlaut, a little “o” above it.) She baked fine saffron and cardamom buns (some of which still adorn my hips), and added Swedish touches to our holidays: her mighty, homemade gingerbread house (later ceremonially smashed on Sweden’s National Gingerbread House-smashing Day), “Glogg” (red-wine punch), tree-ornaments (walnuts that she and the kids painted to look like strawberries), more breads….
In turn, we showed her that Halloween was huge in the States.
She and Helena were startled by sniffing their first neighborhood skunk, and alarmed by bold, trashcan-prying raccoons.
But they thrilled to discover that ice cream was sold year-round here — not just as a summer treat. They enjoyed pecan pie and peanut-butter, too.
Though young, they seemed “ahead” of us in some ways — say, in being healthy. Our orange-y powdered drink could go to the moon, but not to Sweden, she said. And no-nonsense DUI laws encouraged Swedish partiers not to drive after gulping that Christmas Glogg.
Her fitness reminds me of how Bob and I struggled to drag one 40-pound bag to the sandbox. Then Asa sailed past, toting TWO.
And some Salem friends might remember her 1982 visit here, when the tall blonde exercised in our Pennsylvania Ave. yard.
Thirty years (yikes!) after that visit, Asa is still the very picture of Nordic health — and as delightful as ever. Now a food-businesswoman in Norway, she’s also a competitive athlete and has a grown son. (We’ve enjoyed extra visits with Helena, a Virginia art teacher who has attended conferences here.)
Remembering Asa’s later stint as a real (not Muppet) chef for the Swedish Consulate in Chicago, I was nervous cooking for her. But trusty — if not fancy — southwest Virginia recipes were well received. (For a fail-safe hit, I relied on Salem’s Farmers’ Market “Pie Lady’s” peach pie. Hey, with Greek yogurt, it looked like breakfast to me.)
We also toured a bit of Salem by foot (man, she walks fast!) and by car. Then “the girls” were off to big cities.
Again this Christmas I’ll set out Asa’s sweet-faced pottery elves, hang her traditional Swedish straw-weavings and, yes, dangle those painted “strawberries” on the tree. My Glogg-guzzlin’ days are past, but I’ll toast her with something.
I’ll remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” long ago: Asa sobbed; I hugged. Because no matter how kind your host family tries to be, “there’s no place like home” — be it Kansas, Uppsala or Salem.
But Asa will always have a place in this family’s heart.