By Kjell Michelsen
For this my fourth column, I wanted again to write a little about my upbringing and life in my birth country, Norway. I have students and adults alike who from time to time ask me about Norway and Norwegian culture in general, and I am happy to answer.
I was born in 1965, so yeah I am by now the definition of middle age. Båtsfjord my hometown has for many years been regarded as “the fishing capital of Norway.” Although it was a small fishing town in 1965 with about 1,600 people living there, still today there’s only 2,300 living there, and I still have many childhood friends who still live there, working and raising families.
The main industry is fishing, there’s a handful of processing factories that service the fishing fleet and, in later years, the crab boats when they come back into the harbor with their catch. Many of these boats are rather small, often operated by one or two fishermen, while others are bigger ships with a crew of 10, sometimes even more than 20, so pretty much the whole town revolves around the fishing industry and its supporting businesses.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, especially during the winter months, the only contact we had with the outside world was with the coastal express, which is a combination of a passenger and cargo ship that comes twice a day or, if the weather was terrible, not at all. The road over the mountain was closed during the winter months, and it was not until 1973 when we got our own airport, which at first was just a dirt strip with a small building next to it, so this coastal express ship was pretty much your only ticket out of town. Luckily now they have, in addition to these ships, also a bigger more modern airport and a road that for the most part is kept open year round.
My dad was a master carpenter and had his own business, often servicing the fishing fleet for any repair needs they might have that required a hammer a saw and some carpentry skills. He would also make a specific wooden tool that the line fishermen would use as part of their fishing gear.
A big perk for me as a kid was every summer when the circus came to town. A week or so before they arrived, my dad would get an order to supply them with bags of sawdust which they used as a bedding for their animals and, in return, he got free tickets to the show which he handed out to my friends and me.
We had one church in town, which had and still has heated, cushioned pews, a nice touch on cold winter days. The church, like so many churches, also doubled as an activity center with various groups using it, from the boy scouts to Ten-Sing and other choirs and clubs.
In some ways, like I think many people do when one gets a little older, I sometimes miss those carefree and social media free days of years past. Granted life in many ways is more comfortable now, but it had a certain charm being able to play out in the streets, mothers coming outside calling their kids in for dinner and laying on the floor in front of the radio, intensely listening to a play or watching Gunsmoke on the one TV channel we had.
Until next time, be safe, be kind and if you can, be carefree.