Mousse Mors

Only the old Norwegian Swanhilde helped me see my grandmother.


Swanhilde was in the middle of a story, about the good old days when the Kolstaadts, and the Hvidbergskars, and the Hartmarks and the Kjaers fell in love with America and dreamed of going there to make something wonderful and worthy of wearing blue ribbons and red sashes. But the story did not make any sense to me, because Swanhilde stopped mid-sentence:

“Sometimes you look so much like her …that I think I am talking to your grandmother.”


I push Swanhilde further and ask: “what was my grandmother like?” and I lean in for a clue, but then the moment is gone.

It was never possible to ask an old Norwegian about my grandmother. It was easier to ask him to open a vein and let it bleed. So no-one ever brought up the subject of my grandmother. Mostly we just let it be.

Din, din Karin Sofie… wrote my grandfather’s hand on an old card in Norwegian I found:

“My dear, dear my Karin Sofie…”

My grandmother Karin Sofie was from the Brunvaatne village and people in Norway. The Brunvaatnes lived by the Brunvaatne stream in a quiet valley. The family was named for the quiet, sweet creek, Brunvaatne Creek. Brunvaatne Creek was named “brown water” because the stream was so sweet and slow and shallow that the water took on the copper brown look of the sand below. The lightweight babble of water had no weight of its own to boast an oceanic blue. Barely enough to tickle the sand, it whispered downstream as if to avoid bothering anybody.

I ask my own father, the dead woman’s son – although he was very young when she died: “What was your mother, my grandmother like?”

My own father, a man of brown and gold and quiet cinnamon and sugar, with copper hair like sands of the Brunvaatne creek says to me quietly, and with sweetness: “I remember my mother making Mousse Mors for me.”

Mousse Mors cannot be found, I do not think, in any Norwegian recipe site or cookbook.

Mousse Mors means only “mother’s mousse” and it was a very simple thing.

Mousse Mors is boiled milk. Milk boiled until it thickens. And then there is sugar and butter and cinnamon added. Perhaps it is like pudding. I do not know. But I know that milk, when boiled, thickens.

My grandmother had a round face like a cinnamon bun and green upturned eyes and long, long red hair copper as the sand at the bottom of Brunvaatne creek. Her lungs were weak. Everyone in the Brunvaatne line had weak lungs.

One day, in Norway, Swanhilde saw my grandmother, Karin Sofie returning on foot to Brunvaatne hamlet from working in the bakery in the nearby town of Mandal. “That was the day we knew the terrible news,” Swanhilde said. We knew she was sick again with T.B. It was the 1920s, when Tuberculosis was a death sentence waylaid only by fervent prayer. My grandmother at that time was not yet nineteen.

My grandmother was never supposed to leave Norway. She was sickly. She was needed in Brunvaatne hamlet, in the Brunvaatne home, to take care of the few and elderly Brunvaatnes, now coughing with consumption, now beginning to die off from T.B.

But my grandfather brought her to America anyway – due to hubris, or arrogance, or stupidity or passion or love…or maybe to try and protect her from the Brunvaatne curse of consumption, of T.B.

My grandfather married Karin Sofie Brunvaatne in the Cathedral at Kristiansand, Norway, and then stole her away from Norway at 19, to be his bride in America. He wouldn’t live without her. He couldn’t live without her.

Some people back in Norway wondered if coming to America killed Karin Sofie.

I don’t know. When ancestors never speak again of the hard times, the stories go untold. I know stand-alone statements or assertions, never how the story truly unfolds.

My grandfather told me I must write about Norway. I knew eventually that he meant I should write about love, about loss, about the things we lose along the way.

My grandmother’s cousin Swanhilde told me she could not forget what a terrible thing that man, my grandfather, did to my grandmother.

What terrible thing did Swanhilde mean?

I never knew my grandmother. How can I write about her?

How does anyone write a story that was never told?

“You must write about Norway. You must write about Karin Sofie” my grandfather said to me.

Writing the story of Karin Sofie Brunvaatne, as the widower my grieving grandfather charged me to do – is like sewing a flying carpet with only one broken needle, a cup of sand, and two fingerless hands.

All I know is that when the old Norwegian Swanhilde stared at me and stopped, saying: “When I am talking to you I think I am looking at her.”

At that moment I knew that I am the granddaughter of my grandmother.

And it was all I needed to know.

~ by lhdwriter on April 13, 2013.

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