Thursday, March 6, 2014
Throwback Thursday: Julita, 2004
I’ve always had mixed feelings about this picture.
On the one hand, it’s an adorable photo of Lauren. She’s about a year and a half old here, and those big sad eyes were her trademark. And she’s there to look at the camera, which wasn’t necessarily guaranteed earlier that afternoon.
That’s the other hand. It’s a long story.
In 2004 we took the girls to Europe. Lauren, as noted, was a year and a half old. Tabitha was four. We had a lot of people question our sanity for stuffing two small children into an airplane for nine hours – not to mention the two hour drive to the airport, the three hour delay in boarding our flight, and the drives from the various airports on the other side – but we were going to visit friends in Sweden and England, friends who had kids roughly the same ages, so we figured we’d be all right. And we were, really. The trip went wonderfully. We saw all sorts of fascinating things. We hung out with our lovely friends. We had a grand and glorious time.
We even went back in 2012. The 2004 trip was between blogs so I never wrote about it, but the 2012 trip was thoroughly accounted for here in this space. Go to the archives for July and August of that year and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about how thorough I was. Sometimes you just have to write things down.
This photo was taken at Julita, which is not far from Stockholm.
Julita advertises itself as Sweden’s largest outdoor museum, and I have no reason to doubt their story. There is a manor house that started out as a monastery. There is the Museum of Agriculture, which has all sorts of plants and exhibits. There are interesting buildings to see and activities to do. And there is Pettson’s farm.
Sven Nordqvist’s Pettson and Findus series remains among my all time favorite children’s books even now. Pettson is a grumpy old Swedish bachelor farmer who adopts a mischievous cat, whom he names Findus after a brand of peas. They have adventures. The artwork is exuberant. The stories are clever. What is perhaps most compelling to me about the series, though, is that the stories have a deep melancholy streak that you would never find in any American children’s book. There are quiet bittersweet moments, reflective moments, moments where there is no call to smile. That, perhaps more than anything, was why I loved them so.
At Julita they have a full-sized replica of the farm where you can go inside the buildings and see them, just as they are in the books. How could we not go?
It was a bright sunny day. There were the four of us, our friends Mats and Sara and their two (at the time) children, and Mat’s brother Tomas and his wife and children, as well as his mother Moa. We walked around the grounds, and had a good time poking around in Pettson’s farm.
At lunchtime we stopped at the cafe and bought food. The cafe sat at one end of a large grassy field perhaps seventy-five yards across. After we ate the adults all sat at the tables, talking in the way that adults do, while the kids ran around in the grass.
We were still sitting there when Tomas’ oldest daughter Alexis, not that much older than Tabitha, came running up to us. “Lauren needs help!” she shouted.
Mats, Tomas, and I took off across the field toward the opposite corner, where Tabitha was standing and pointing down toward something we couldn’t see. Mats was in the lead. For some reason I paused momentarily to shove my camera into my pocket, where I usually kept it on that trip, before launching myself across the grass, so I ended up trailing Mats by a few steps. I have no idea why that seemed important at the time. Tomas, I later learned, slowed down after he realized that Mats and I were outdistancing him, and he arrived a few moments after we did.
I used to run track in high school. I was a sprinter. Let me tell you, muscle memory is a powerful thing. I hadn’t run that fast since tenth grade and I haven’t run that fast since.
I remember coming over a small rise, and when I was at the top of it I could finally look down and see what Tabitha had been pointing at. It was duck pond. Duck ponds, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, are filthy things – foul, brackish, opaque water covered with floating green things that Lauren must have taken for more grass. She had stepped out and splashed down, and the first thing I saw was her disappear below the surface.
A sight like that tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully.
I remember taking two large steps and then flying through the air.
I hit that pond ass first, settled onto the mucky bottom, grabbed Lauren by the front of her dress and held her over my head as if I were the Statue of Liberty and she were my torch.
Like most acts of this nature, it was probably unnecessary and quite possibly only made things worse. Mats had reached the pond a few steps before I had and had eased himself into the water. He was about six feet from Lauren and about to reach out for her when, in his words, “the pond … just … exploded...” What can I say? I never saw him. I never even saw Tabitha, whom I apparently came very close to running over. I was focused.
We sat there for a few moments, Lauren and I, and then Mats took her and brought her over to the shore. He called out, “She’s all right!” and I remember thinking, “Of course she’s all right. We got her,” as if there could be no other outcome.
You try not to think about other outcomes, really.
We all walked back across the field to the tables, where most of the adults where still sitting, triumphant in our rescue. Mats then went up to the gift shop to collect Kim, who had missed the whole thing, much to her relief when she found out about it all. Some things are best experienced in the past tense.
Fortunately for us Julita also has a youth hostel, and when we trudged up to the entrance they were nice enough to let us in to use the shower. Lauren and I sat there under the hot water, scrubbing away all the duck muck, for what seemed like an eternity.
Then we had to get dressed. Nothing we had been wearing when we went into that duck pond was even remotely wearable. Fortunately, we were at the stage of raising children where you never traveled without a spare outfit for them, so Lauren was fairly easy. Mats had some old clothes in the back of his car that he lent me, though he eventually had to buy a t-shirt from the gift shop for himself. He wore it when we visited in 2012, so it has served well. And then we went back to the tables.
Sara took this photo, with us clean and safe in the fields of Julita.
On the way home we decided to stop at McDonalds, which we had been trying to avoid on this trip. But it was familiar, it was something the girls wanted, and some comfort food seemed in order. It was pretty much what you would expect. McDonalds is McDonalds the world over, and their fortune is made on the fact that predictable mediocrity is a warm and welcoming thing. I do remember, toward the end of the meal, thinking, “I want a huge American-sized order of fries, an order of fries that I would need to carry home in a bucket, after all that.” I went up to the cashier – who spoke better English than I did – and we worked out how close I could come to that and much it would cost.
It was only later, when I figured the exchange rates, that I realized I’d paid nearly $4 for a large order of fries. It was worth every kroner.
We spent the rest of the day laying low, counting children and blessings, and generally trying not to move too much. I did take our clothes out to the driveway and hose them down enough to where we could put them in the washing machine and hope to get the duck muck out of them. Our shoes we threw away at Julita. My camera never recovered from being dunked in the pond in my pocket, but that was a fairly small cost, all things considered.
So it’s a picture fraught with all sorts of stress.
But, in the end, a record of a moment when things worked out okay.