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The Sense of Belonging and Not Belonging 1

Freda Isaksen

I was raised amongst a large family. My siblings were three sisters and a brother. Besides, I had several cousins both male and female and those of my generation were all good friends, we spent our holidays together and actually our lives revolved around one another. We were an average conventional family, no one ever really strayed from the norm, nobody attained fame or fortune, there wasn’t even a black sheep in the family.

Then one day I surprised them all when I met a Norwegian man who was visiting in London and accepted his invitation to visit him in Norway. The story of how I eventually married him is another tale, for now I will only tell that our wedding took place in London and he came accompanied by some of his family and his best friend Manny who was to be his best man. After our wedding ceremony the guests were invited to a tea dance at the Cafe Royal in Regent Street and later in the evening the main wedding party were invited to my Uncle Barnett’s home for the evening.

Of course all of my cousins were invited to the reception at the hotel, amongst them were five sisters who sat at a table together. Manny was attracted to these girls so he approached them and sat down at the vacant chair by the table. One of the girls jumped up and exclaimed, “You just sat down on my hat!” Of course Manny quickly sprang up from the chair and apologised and asked, “May I be seated again?” He was especially attracted to Stella whom he had offended, and was the owner of the hat, and spent the rest of the evening becoming acquainted with her. Unfortunately he had to leave London the next day.

Soon after the wedding my new husband and I left for our home in Trondheim where Manny also lived, and very soon he confided that he was corresponding with Stella and had invited her to come to Norway. She followed in my footsteps and accepted the invitation. Upon arrival she stayed at my home until she and Manny married in Trondheim. Some of the family traveled to the wedding from England. A large wedding was planned, all of the guests had bought new clothing and sent beautiful presents. The excitement was intense as this was a small town and two girls coming from a big English city was an unusual event and we were special. In 1936 travel was not so prevalent. All the preparations for the wedding were completed, the dressmakers and the hairdressers and the caterers were all busy, the telephones were constantly tied up by gossipers. Stella confided to me that she would have prefered a smaller wedding but Manny came from a large family and had many friends and it was simply not acceptable to not include them in such a happy event. But Stella was not satisfied with all of the planned activities. Her objections were ignored by Manny’s family. However a couple of days before the wedding she became sick and everything was cancelled at the last minute. Stella and Manny were married the next week in a private civil ceremony, so Stella started off on the wrong foot in the community and was never forgiven by its members. She was not able to adjust to the limitations of small town life, whereas I was established and would probably have lived there for the rest of my life. There is always an active grapevine in a community where families are closely connected and rumors quickly spread, so if you are not one of the crowd it can be lonely. I definitely belonged.

The Second World War changed a lot of lives and no one can foresee what would have been the future for my cousin in Trondheim. As it turned out I emigrated to Sweden and then America when the Germans invaded our country while Stella managed to return to London because her husband was an officer in the Norwegian Army and they left with the military. After the war ended Stella and Manny returned to Norway but because she had been unhappy in Trondheim they settled in Oslo where Manny established a clinic for rheumatic diseases.

Because of the separation Stella and I did not meet again for many years after the war when we again visited each other in our new homes, but this occured very rarely because of the distance between the two countries. So the years elapsed until one day in autumn I received a phone call from Stella’s son in Oslo asking if I had heard from her. I was greatly surprised and explained that I had very little contact with her these days. He told me that his mother had disappeared and they thought that maybe she had contacted me as I had had such a close friendship with her in previous years. There was no way I could help. Some months went by and my inquiries always elicited the same reply. There was no news of Stella, she had mysteriously disappeared leaving no indication of her whereabouts. The winter went by with cold and snow as is normal in the northern country. I lived six thousand miles away so I must admit that I almost forgot about the fate of my cousin. It was like a far off event. Until one day in spring when the deep snows melted and some hikers in the Norwegian forest found Stella’s frozen body. She had gone for a hike on her own and suffered a fatal heart attack. A snow storm had obliterated her tracks.

Footnotes

  1. For the context of this story, see Freda’s Autobiography.


Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at math.wayne.edu.

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