It was four years ago this Easter that I visited Sweden and met some of my relatives there. Sweden is a beautiful country, both the urban areas as well as the rural ones. The connections I made during this trip inspired me to write my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter. If you’ve read it you may even ‘recognise’ a few of these places 😉
We flew into Stockholm first, where we spent a couple of days before taking the train onto Värmland, a province to the west of Stockholm. We got off the train at Degerfors, where my cousin and his wife live. He is the grandson of my great, great grandmother’s youngest sister.
They were kind enough to show us the place where our grandmothers had lived, the old church in Åtorp which they would have attended, and the cemetery where our relatives are buried.
We also visited their farm, Daldenas, a working strawberry farm up until the last generation. He showed me how they kept meat cool in the days before refrigeration, where they chopped wood, and the old strawberry fields. He also described to me what it had been like here when he was a boy.
When they showed us the barn, there was a very large, very old photograph on the wall of a man with long-ish hair looking out at us. They said they didn’t know who it was, but thought it might be our grandmothers’ father. I recognised the photo immediately as it was the same one which had been discovered in my grandfather’s house in America, after he passed away. The date on the back was from the mid 1800’s. Somehow it had survived all these years in the back of a barn, just as my grandfather’s copy had survived several moves all over the United States.
We went to visit Högtorp, the croft our grandmothers grew up in. Here I am posing in front of it.
The croft— torp in Swedish, for those who lived there were called torpare meaning a small scale tenant farmer —was deep in the woods above the small village of Åtorp. The road was unpaved so we had to walk. It took us about half an hour to get up the hill walking at a good speed. The woods to either side were deeply thicketed. My grandmother would have had to take this road each day to school, and then later to church. She would have walked her younger siblings down the road to ensure their safety from wild animals. During that period of history wolves were rampant in Sweden.
Later I would read The Saga of Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlof—a Värmland writer—who tells in one scene of a young woman being dragged from her carriage by a pack of wolves as she rides through the woods at night.
When my grandmother lived here the forest would have been felled for farmland. There was a large yard which once would have been used to grow crops. The trees nearby were short, their height a marker of the time which has passed since this torp was occupied.
Across the yard, and visible from the front door of the house, was the wooden barn where the family would have kept livestock, although they were poor and so would not have had much. Certainly they would have had a cow for milk who would have remained in the barn, especially during the winter.
The church in Åtorp was beautiful. It was wooden, done in an old Norwegian style. It was quite a ways from where they lived. Although Sweden is no longer a practising religious country, it used to be controlled by the church, especially the rural areas. Ironically, it was because of the tests the church imposed and the catechism lessons that Sweden was one of the most literate countries in Europe in the 19th century.
On Easter Sunday we looked at old postcards which had been exchanged between our grandmothers many decades ago. Here’s one of the photos they had, which was sent from Minnesota. We think it might be my great, great grandmother sitting in the chair.
Have you ever taken a trip which has inspired you to write a story? What are the themes which recur in your own writing? I’d love to hear about them so please leave a comment below.