It was the summer of 1984 and I was with my dear high school friend Rolf and his mom Inga Maj in the little Swedish town of Dals-Ed. He had been an exchange student at Hawken and we met when I was a sophomore. He went back to Sweden the following year but we kept in touch, always planning to see one another again.
Now I’d graduated, and we were spending the summer together. After some weeks spent in St. Pete, Florida (my family’s summer hangout place), we’d left the US and traveled back to the little town where he lived with his mom. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country and so many things were new for me, “the city girl,” especially the rural setting of this beautiful place.
Rolf’s uncle Brör had a summer cabin out in the middle of nowhere – ingenstans, they might say. Uncle Brör’s cabin was the most picturesque thing I’d ever seen in my scant eighteen years. And it remains in a secret little corner of my heart, a place where time stood still and postcards could actually exist.
It was deep in the pine forest, which are abundant in that part of the world. A dark blue lake nearby for fishing, and a fire ring outside for socializing and wood fire cooking. There was no running water, no electricity. An outhouse, complete with the crescent moon cutout, stood out back, well away from the cabin. It was something I’d never seen before and didn’t really believe still existed anywhere.
In Sweden, in the height of summer, though the sun sets after 10pm and rises again before 4am, there is a light that always remains in the sky. But even the woods darken during the summer. And in this quaint little cabin, I clearly remember lighting candles on the kitchen table as the conversation went long into the evening.
The cat jumped out, and promptly ran like hellfire. And Inga Maj blustered to all of us, in her British-influenced Swedish accent, “The cat… He… He just… he just… brrrooohhhke!” Well! That was alarming!
On one of those long summer days, in that long ago time, we were invited to dinner at the cabin, including some friends of Inga Maj’s who were visiting from Germany. Rolf and I took a separate car, enjoying a leisurely summer drive through the countryside.
As a side note…This was the summer I learned that road trips to seemingly nowhere would be one of my great loves of life. There was always a treasure to be found along the way – a lake, an old bridge, a moose crossing the road! This remains a favorite past time of mine even today. Rolf taught me well. But that is a story for a later time.
The plan that summer day was that Inga Maj would join us later and she would be bringing the cat, Pissen. Rolf and I arrived hours before Inga Maj did. We spent time visiting, walking through the woods, exploring down to the lake. It was the height of summer and yet cool enough for a jacket in the evening. The tall and fragrant pine trees were everywhere, the lake water was crystal clear, and the smell of a wood cooking fire lured us back to the cabin.
Just as the fire was getting started, Inga Maj’s Saab came into the “driveway.” We heard the parking gear engage, and we all watched as she jumped swiftly from the car, looking distressed. She was a bit out of breath, and was making noises like something very bad – very bad indeed – had happened.
I remember sitting there on the log and becoming alarmed, it looked like she was bringing bad news. I was immediately concerned that she was alright, yet she looked just fine!
She came around the back of her little car and opened the rear passenger door. The cat jumped out, and promptly ran like hellfire. And Inga Maj blustered to all of us, in her British-influenced Swedish accent, “The cat… He… He just… he just… brrrooohhhke!”
Well! That was alarming!
My eighteen year old mind was grinding, trying to comprehend what a broken cat actually means to a native Swedish speaker speaking British English when she’s upset. Whatever it was, she was very fraught and was finding it difficult to calm down, despite the fact that the cat had jumped out of the car and run off looking perfectly healthy, albeit frazzled, but most importantly, in one piece!
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was not understanding her. Rolf looked equally confused and the poor German folk… they were quite lost if the looks on their faces were anything to judge.
So Inga Maj did as she always did when she wasn’t readily getting her point across: she began gesturing wildly with her hands and arms, and raising the volume of her words.
Fear is an illusion. It’s nothing more than an emotional reaction to unfamiliar events or circumstances, over which you feel you have no control, and therefore are vulnerable in some way.
“We were driving – I was driving – here, and all of a sudden, he just brrrrroke! Halfway here. All over the back seat of the car! I don’t know why. He just brrrrrroke!” And she began gesturing with her hands, illustrating something flying from her mouth and onto the ground.
Aha…. now we were getting somewhere! The cat was still in one piece and fine. He had vomited. Puked. Did the rainbow yawn. Tossed his cookies. You get the picture. This was a much less alarming conclusion than what I had originally been imagining.
Rolf jumped up to help her, they got things cleaned up, Pissen eventually came back to join us. It was a lovely rest of the evening. We all enjoyed a delicious dinner of moose steak, cooked over an open fire. We talked late into the night, then drove home through the forest to the little town of Ed.
But I never forgot that scene and being told the cat had just broke!
I was really frightened and alarmed in those initial moments. In this instance, it was a case of language barrier, but it shows my point.
Fear is an illusion.
It’s nothing more than an emotional reaction to unfamiliar events or circumstances, over which you feel you have no control, and therefore are vulnerable in some way. Oftentimes, the things that scare you at the moment are, in hindsight, not nearly as bad as you originally think.
In my story above, I really thought something had gone terribly wrong and that maybe someone had been hurt. As we learned more about the circumstances, we were assured that everything would be just fine. My fear was an illusion of my own making.
Watching someone else being upset or distressed is alarming. We want to help and make things better, fix things. It’s a natural and wonderful part of being human.
Next time you find yourself afraid, remember to pull back the curtain of fear’s illusion, educate yourself on the facts, and take control of yourself and whatever part of the situation you can.
The cat may be broke, but you don’t have to be.
The article above is a preview chapter from our upcoming book, Grandma was a Kitchen Healer and Grandpa Grew Roses – 48 Short Stories ~ Life: The Good, The Bad, and the Amusing. We’ve reached into our families’ history books and curated some of our most poignant, funny, and enlightening tales from days gone by. It’s a motley mob of characters – grandmothers, grandfathers, adopted family, and even our own selves. We entertain you, move you, and encourage you to look at life’s greatest challenges from perhaps a different perspective… one that will hopefully allow you to see good in the bad, strength in the weak, humor in the anger, and courage in the fear.
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