Arlene Babbitt of Vaughn enjoys her Swedish heritage and hoped to someday visit her grandparents’ homeland.
Gunnel, first cousin of Arlene’s mom, Violet Visell, visited the family here when Arlene was a young teen. Gunnel was daughter to Alfred, a brother of Arlene’s grandmother Berta Lindgren.
Gunnel’s son Lars came to visit in 1983, so the family kept in contact with some Swedish relatives.
Arlene’s sister Judy Bradshaw and husband Cliff took mom Violet to Sweden, but Arlene, in a new job, couldn’t go at that time.
“I cried,” she said, “because I was sure I’d never get to go.”
Arlene’s husband, Martin, suggested she contact his cousin Judy Hunt, who’d married a Swede and they went back to his country regularly.
“You go, meet your family, have fun,” he’d say, but he wasn’t interested in accompanying her.
One year prior to a Peninsula High School class reunion, Arlene and friends put together a memory booklet for their classmates who sent photos, updates and other information to share.
Arlene included in hers a lifetime dream to visit Sweden. She hoped classmate and friend (and cousin by then) Judy Hunt would read it and extend an invitation.
Judy didn’t attend that reunion and perhaps never received a copy of the booklet.
The dream continued to exist, but without real hope of it coming true.
Earlier this year, Arlene’s children told her she needed to have a special celebration for her 75th birthday.
“Like what?” she wondered.
“You should go to Sweden!”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t go to Sweden by myself,” she said.
“We’ll go with you!” her daughters told her.
Arlene thought that a wonderful plan, and in August she, daughters Laurie and Bonnie and son-in-law Roy flew to Copenhagen and took a train to Hjarup in southern Sweden where cousin Sofia picked them up.
Sofia is related through Arlene’s grandfather Helmer Lindgren.
Lars was a main contact for planning this trip.
Glasriket, a glass factory and clothes shopping were highlights of their southern stop, but visiting family was the top priority.
Arlene and Laurie took notes on Swedish spelling and pronunciation and rattle them off with familiarity. Arlene also kept a brief journal where she noted the food they were given, including Swedish meatballs that were so good “I went back for more and didn’t care if I didn’t eat anything else,” she said.
They met Lars’brother Nils and family and slept in a four-story 1880 windmill Lars is restoring in Loftahammar, near Vāstervik.
They drove to Stockholm and flew north to Umeå, a large city near where both Helmer and Berta were born and raised.
Arlene and family were met and taken to Peder Jonsson’s home for dinner. A marvelous smorgasbord buffet was shared with about 30 relatives, including Gunnel, now 92.
“This woman is so lovingly amazing,” says Arlene.
Many hours later they went to Gunnel’s summer stuga to sleep. This is a summer cottage on the Gulf of Bothnia.
At another cousin’s stuga, the hostess said, “Ven ve finish eating, ve can go across the road and take a bath.”
The Americans looked at each other and wondered about that, but learned bath was the word they used for a swim.
Laurie especially enjoyed meeting a cousin who could “speak American” and Laurie said, “I stuck with her so she could explain what everybody was saying.”
They visited the church in Bygdeå, built in 1539, where Berta was confirmed, Mjösjön,the farm where Berta was born and raised, the Selfors area and the Sjöstrom house where Berta’s mother was born and raised and also the Overklinten Mill.The Sjöstrom home is still owned by descendants.
They attended a small reunion of relatives on Grandpa Helmer Lindgren’s side.
In Umeåas in other cities, bicycles are common and streets were lined with them.
“These 80-year-old women on bikes, their skirts flying, going shopping,” says Arlene. She asked Gunnel if she did that at 80, and Gunnel inquired of her daughter when did she put her bicycle away. When she was 85.
Back to Stockholm for more visits with Lars and Nils.
“They gave us a tour of the little islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago, and took us to Gamla Stan, which means Old Town,” says Laurie, “the Royal Palace, several churches and a tour of Prince Eugene’s home and gardens.”
Arlene and her daughters felt immediately accepted and “we talked and laughed all the time, just like at home,” she said.
“It was an amazing trip and we enjoyed it so much,” says Laurie. “The most wonderful part was the complete abundance of family love received there,” she adds.
Home again, they love sharing the photos, the stories and the memories. Not only did Arlene get her trip of a lifetime, but she was able to share it with part of her family.