No Poodle Skirt in My Past

May 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

About to set out for America

Coming from Norway to the United States as a child has made me an observer. In first grade I watched carefully to see what the other kids were doing and what was expected of me. I tried very hard not to do anything wrong so I would stand out. Tears filled my eyes if the teacher singled me out by even calling my name.

I observed that my clothes weren’t right. No gray and pink poodle skirts or twin sweater sets for me. My mother, an expert seamstress, sewed my clothes, occasionally reworking ladies’ dresses into less than fashionable wear. In the lunchroom I’d unwrap bread and cheese sandwiches from crinkly wax paper. Ashamed of the thick, healthy, homemade brown bread, I longed for the white bread and canned sandwich fillings that the other kids had.

Since being Norwegian, talking Norwegian and looking like a Norwegian made me different, I shut out that part of my life. When my parents spoke to me in Norwegian, I’d answer in English, determined to learn to be American … to fit in.

I learned to observe subtle social cues, and watch facial expressions and be aware of my surroundings, which is not a bad thing. But, as an adult, I’ve reclaimed my birthright, my native language and my history that has made me who I am. And who am I? A Norwegian-American, an individual, and a person who no longer tears up when her name is called.

copyright 2011

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