Jan 5, 2014

The entertainer

-       Will you be going to the family fika tomorrow?
-       If I can get a ride I absolutely will.
-       Would you consider riding with me?
-       I most certainly would!

It is Bertil, calling me the other day. Bertil will be 93 in March and he is my mother’s cousin. He lives on the original family homestead down across the field from me, in a yellow house with a well-kept baker’s cottage and barn.

Every year during the Holidays the family on my mother’s side gets together for a major fika. It is saffron bread and Christmas cookies of many different kinds, and of course coffee, tea, Christmas candy and fruit. This year it was at my sister’s place, and that’s where I needed a ride.

The rain changed to snow just as Bertil was picking me up. I should of course have given him a ride, not the other way around, but things are what they are. The road is slushy, Bertil is an excellent driver though and his eyesight is still unrestricted.

Bertil is a widower since six years back. He was married to the beautiful Kristel who escaped the Nazis through the Berlin sewer system, fleeing her country with her two young daughters. One of the little girls didn’t make it, and Kristel arrived in Sweden with the great loss of a husband, a child and a country. That’s when she met Bertil.

Loosing Kristel has been very hard on Bertil. Yet, it is like he has entered a new phase in life.

I love Bertil, he is very dear to me. He is an intellectual, intelligent, sharp, witty, warm, caring, elegant and an extraordinary storyteller. Being with Bertil is a lot like meeting my father again. They are very similar although not related. I know my mother was very fond of and close to her cousin Bertil, and maybe she saw something in my dad reminding her about her dear cousin. And the funny thing is; my mother and Kristel had similarities too. They were both independent strong women with a lot of character.

In his old age Bertil has become an entertainer. His qualities as a storyteller is widely known, and quite often he is combining that talent with playing the piano, sometimes even singing. In his profession Bertil was an elementary school teacher and church organist, he is still practicing the piano every day. At passed 90 he has refined his teaching skills into his stories, and his fingers are flying the piano keyboard in the most elegant way still.

You could put Bertil into any radio or television broadcast. On stage he is taking everybody in the room in, seeing everyone, giving each and everyone a special word, a nod, a message. His stories are timed on the second and he never runs too long. He knows exactly what he is doing.

One day Bertil told me: ”Maria, I don’t know if I will ever get over the fact that Kristel is gone and won’t be coming back.” I said: “of course you won’t, how could you? She is the one you chose, and she chose you, you had a long and good life together which of course you miss incredibly. Why are you asking from yourself to get over her? That’s just too much to require from yourself, don’t do it!

Bertil is often sad, wondering by himself in his childhood home, most everyone from his early years and adult life gone. He keeps is brain and mind alert with following the news and debates in the world, he watches concerts and theater from Germany on his satellite TV and finds different versions of his favorite music on Youtube. I am sending him a rose by email on his birthday when I can’t walk across the snowy field to give him tulips in March.

And most every week he takes the seat in his white Mercedes which has 187 000 miles, running like it’s still new, and enters a stage where an attentive audience is all eyes and ears for him. He switches his charm on, his gaze young as a boy, his voice expressive and humorous. The entertainer.

Yesterday we were 19 people around the Christmas fika table at my sisters. Three generations, Bertil the oldest, my sons’ cousin Kasper the youngest, just over 20. Bertil isn’t aware of that he is the center for all of us; we are all in love with this wonderful man who can tell the stories of where we all come from.

There is a family tree, and at Christmas Eve the young cousins were gathered around it. Now Kasper started asking Bertil about how it all was connected, who was his father Oscar and how was he related to the young cousins great grandfather Carl? And how come the homestead was divided into two? And tell us the story about their sister Lina who immigrated to America?

The normal duration for a Christmas fika was well passed when we finally rose up from the table. Something very special happened around that table. Three generations together around the family story. No one playing with their phones for other reason than recording Bertil and what he had to tell us. Everyone focused on the same thing. On ourselves in a perspective that we all were very aware of will be gone when Bertil no longer can tell the stories.

To end the day we were all summoned for a summer event we cherish: Bertil’s waffle party in his barn, which he has made into an inn! I know his garden will be at it’s best, him driving the riding mower the day before, making the lawn look like a golf course. And he will play the organ he built in the barn and of course he will tell the stories we ask for. The entertainer.

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