Abroad & Below: Familiar History

July 3rd

My dad celebrated his first birthday on a ship en route to Sweden. His father, my farfar (grandpa), was the only one of his siblings that had decided to make his American dream a reality. He started opening and selling dry cleaning businesses while my farmor imported Swedish goods while also working as a maid. While they were eager to establish themselves as Americans, they also wanted my dad to have Swedish roots.

When my dad was just eight years old, my grandparents sent him to Sweden for the summer. He flew from Los Angeles to New York first. It was during this layover that he watched his ticket take off with the wind as it fell out of his hand. Because of this, he had to take a later flight. Meanwhile every aunt, uncle, and cousin was waiting for the arrival of the first plane in Stockholm. With a video camera in hand, they filmed each passenger step out. Just imagine their shock and worry when my dad did not arrive. Can you imagine an 8-year-old lost somewhere between California and Sweden? Luckily he came on the next plane and my grandparents could breathe again.

As my dad retells the story, he remembers how upset he was when he was told he was being sent to Sweden. He would have to give up baseball and English. But as the summer weeks passed, he spent time with the family playing cards, exploring the woods, and learning Swedish. By the time it was time to go back to America, he was just as upset as when he left. Back at school he couldn’t remember how to speak English and he would sit with his head down listening to other students talk until he began to remember.

Although it was risky and certainly no parents would, or are allowed to, send their children alone across the globe, my dad is so thankful for the experience that allowed for him to know and communicate with his family here in Sweden. It would be so difficult for us to keep in touch with all our relatives if he didn’t know Swedish and maybe he wouldn’t even feel as attached to them as he is now if he hadn’t spent quality time with each of them that summer.

Now as I sit in the living room of the Liljeholm family, stories are being told and translated while pictures and family trees are passed around the table with a fresh pot of coffee and some pepparkakor. Torsten, my farmor’s brother, has been tracing and tracking our family and has collected enough information to begin a book on our family story. You always hear about the American dream, but it truly takes on an even greater meaning when it explains why and how I am who I am. I will remember these stories for the rest of my life, especially since they are almost impossible and unbelievable to our present day.