Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Petra

     Usually the contestant who is eliminated gets a final interview and hug from Henrietta, is given a book with family contact information, and then is whisked away.  It happens pretty fast.  You are no longer part of the gang.  I got my book and, looking out over the fjord, I was ready to go home. I had a lovely time.  My only regret was that I did not get up to Nord-Trondelag to see the part of Norway where my grandmother, Petra, lived and I did not get a brown envelope with information about her. I had hoped to discover a bit more, but then, what is there to find out about a 26 year old?  When my aunt Rita had visited in 1980, the relatives she met could tell her nothing about Petra. I would have to accept that I would never know more about her.

     Then the producer told me they had a problem. I had been eliminated and they were planning on giving me an envelope next week.  Would I be up for receiving it now and they would show it earlier in the episode? I felt like I got the biggest door prize ever!  Of course I would want to see my envelope!  It was then that they told me that the information that they found was very "sensitive" and that, if I did not want it made public, they would not include it in the show.  I had come to really like and respect the producer, Thor, and Eli, the director, and they looked so serious, it was rather disconcerting.  Had my grandmother been a Nazi sympathizer?  No, the timing was off.  She left in 1917. What had they found out about my grandmother or was it some other person in my history? So, with a lot of excitement and a bit of apprehension, I waited as they set up for me to receive and read my envelope.

     I opened the envelope with a camera in front of me and Eli right behind asking me questions. There was a hand written letter to me written by an Alt for Norge staff member and Eli asked me to read it aloud. I have been a librarian and am good at reading ahead in my mind at the same time as I'm reading aloud, but when I got to the part about Petra being sentenced to jail, I just stopped. Wow! This was news. She had been sentenced to 15 years and pardoned after serving 5, all before she came to the USA.  I looked at the supporting information, but it was all in Norwegian.  The translation had not gotten into the envelope!  So I sat there thinking and wondering about what my grandmother might have done to get sent to jail, while someone ran back to the hotel to find the translation. Eli asked me questions as we waited. Did I have any idea of this?  NO.None.

     Finally, I was given the translation and we returned to shooting.  The page was a copy of the prison record with chaplain's notes. I read the crime - theft, arson and causing the death of her great aunt by suffocation with a counterpane. I was shocked. I think I said, "What the hell is a counterpane?"  I read that it happened in Trondheim; what was she doing in Trondheim?  Then there was a detail about a will and I was confused. What had been going on?  I had so many questions and few answers.  Then I read through the chaplain's notes, which were riveting.  Notes from visits over the 5 years Oline Petra (She changed her name!) was in prison. The chaplain noted how she cried and felt her life was "forfeit," of how she took solace in helping others, of how she came to embrace god.  It was almost too revealing of her inner torment.  That it was my grandmother made it both a gift and painful to read. I had wanted my grandmother to become more real and she had.  This is what I had come to Norway for, not games or contests or even scenery.  This was the true prize.

     Then I thought of my mother.  My mother who had lost her mother when she was just a child. My mother who had told me stories of her mother with such pride and love in her voice. My mother who had no idea that her mother had been convicted of killing someone and had spent time in jail when she was just 18.  I would have to go home and tell her, shattering her childhood image of her mother. That made me cry. I thought of my own son, almost 18, and wondered at this awful crime committed at such a young age.  I cried some more for Petra and her aunt.


      We wrapped up the camera shoot and they said they did not need an answer right away about whether they could use this scene.  I was glad of that as I wanted it to be OK with my mother. The shoot had taken so long that we would have dinner with the others, but they asked that I not share this story with the rest of the cast.  That was fine with me, I needed some time to digest this information.  But I did appreciate being able to say goodbye again. Hugs and photos and then, we were off. I wish them all well.

      Driving fast along the fjord to catch a ferry to Alesund, was the first time I missed driving. Wow!  I was going to be able to drive again soon. It was starting to sink in.  We stopped in Alesund and walked around. It was still light at midnight!  Overnight in a hotel, then a plane to Oslo where I had a day to explore on my own. I felt like a teen that has been set free by overbearing parents - sort of in shock.  I explored neighborhoods, shopped and found secondhand stores, bought lunch and ice cream and took pictures, reveling in being able to wander. Oslo seemed smaller than Portland and felt very comfortable.  I tried to enjoy this time and not to think, of being eliminated, of Petra, of going home. I would have time to figure it all out later.  It would take me more than 24 hours, but I was going home.


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