My turn came and I walked to the front of the class and faced the 25 kids staring at me, many of whom who had laughed at me the year before and probably would remember me for my shame the rest of their lives. But all fear and shyness fell away as I started to recite my poem with all the emotion in my young, tender heart – “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vale and hills, when all at once I saw a cloud, a host of golden daffodils. Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze...” I finished my poem to a hushed classroom. The other kids actually looked at me with awe and admiration. My teacher had tears in her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “yes, that is how it is done.” She sniffed a little then pulled herself together, showered me with more compliments and told me that I was to go around to the other classes and recite it for them.
I was a hit! And I was taking my show on the road! I was so elated basking in all this glory if I had known there was such a thing as an Oscar I would have started composing my acceptance speech then and there.
So how, exactly, had a little Norwegian girl ended up thousands of miles away from home, having to learn a new language and finding out a good review was worth all the abuse that came my way from classmates for talking and looking “weird?” Two years earlier, in the early 1950s, my father, Elisar Wessel Fredriksen, had dragged the whole family kicking and screaming to America. Actually, he went there a year ahead of us to find a job and a place for us to live in Seattle, Washington. My mother, Johanna, and my sister, Irene, were not overjoyed at leaving our beautiful house in Sauda, Norway, which was nestled in the foot of the mountains at the very end of Stavanger Fjord. My sister had many friends and didn’t want to leave them or her school and my mother hated the thought of leaving her sisters and brothers behind for a strange country where she didn’t know a single soul. But my father was the boss and I learned early on that the man makes the decisions, and since you can’t live without them, you do as they say. Why my father chose to leave behind his four brothers and one sister and start all over again from scratch, I have never found out. Maybe it had something to do with the war.
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