Všlkommen to the land of lakes and forests in Sweden

... 80th birthday draws us back to home of ancestors

by Judith Palm

A little red stuga or house with birch trees across Lake Unnen

(The Palms are a well-known Melrose family. The following story was written by the wife of Ken Palm after several family members recently trekked to Sweden for a special celebration).

They say you can't go home again. Maybe you can't, but you can visit a place that seems like home because of the warmth and welcoming of the people there. My mother-in-law, Signe Palm kept a needlepoint wall hanging in her kitchen for many, many years. It was a picture of a small red house surrounded by birches and said in Swedish:
              How red is the little house behind the birches.
              Do you remember your childhood home?

Row boats waiting on Lake Unnen for someone to take them fishing

In the early 1920's Ture Palm and Signe Svensson became two of the many Swedes to immigrate to this country to find a better life. Ture left behind a family of seven brothers. He was the oldest. Signe left a mother and younger brother. They both settled in the Boston area where they met. They were married in 1932 and soon after moved to Melrose. Here they raised a family of three children, two daughters, Aina and Astrid and a son. The son is my husband Ken Palm who writes for Rye Reflections.

Ture and Signe both loved their native land and stayed in touch with Ture's family and Signe's mom through cards and letters and occasional phone calls. Finally, in 1972 they returned for a visit and saw the brothers and their families. They instilled in their children a sense of family with these uncles whom they had never met, and the children felt as though they had family even if they were separated by 3500 miles.

It was to visit these far away uncles, three of whom are still living and still in Unnaryd, the village Ture grew up in, that we went to Sweden a few weeks ago. The uncles names are Harald, Kjell (pronounced Shell) and Torsten. We were accompanied by Ken's sister Aina Holden, her husband Tom, our two daughters Kristin and Katy, their husbands and two little granddaughters. Astrid won't fly, nor will our son Erik, but they were with us in spirit.

Unnaryd is a small Swedish town of about 800 people on Lake Unnen and everyone knows his neighbors. This is where Ture grew up, planting trees and fishing in the lake. He even skated down the lake in the winter when it was covered with ice to school. The brothers remaining there still plant and fish. The village is in Smaland, the mid-southern area of Sweden in what is called the land of forests. It has the little red houses, called stugas, and many birch trees. They are what give the Swedish autumn its color. Unnaryd has one Cafe, a small grocery store, a pizza restaurant, a church and graveyard where lie buried many Palms of generations past and one of the best Inns we have ever been to.

We stayed at the Alebo for a week. Sleeping in their beds is like sleeping on a cloud, and their Swedish breakfasts make the plane trip worth while. Every morning we awoke to the smell of the Swedish coffee and bacon. Also on the breakfast smorgasbord were many kinds of warm, homemade breads, boiled and scrambled eggs, several sliced meats, meatballs, several kinds of cheese, many types of jam, butter, pates, cold cereal, yogurt and fruit.

The reason for the visit at this time was the youngest uncle, Torsten's, 80th birthday. Torsten is the unofficial mayor of Unnaryd and loved the gossip value of having relatives come from  America to celebrate his birthday.

Ken and Aina giving Torsten his gift, a family genealogy.

Torsten and his wife Lilian at the Alebo.

The birthday was on a Saturday, and they held it in the town Sport center. A small room with a kitchen served to handle the party of 29. The guests included we 10 from America, Torsten's son and daughter and their families Harald and his two sons and daughter and families and Uncle Kjell. Torsten's family had set up tables and decorated them with clothes and Swedish flags. Lilian, Torsten's wife, his son Mattias, Mattias' partner Martina, daughter Anneli and her partner Jan handled all of the cooking. Lilian made more than 200 meatballs. They had both a steamed and a smoked salmon, potato salad, three kinds of herring and many other items. Everything was homemade and delicious. The cakes were also homemade and wonderful.

Saturday's Birthday dinner, all homemade and delicious

The party went on for many hours. The Swedes don't rush meals. There were many toasts and much singing, both in Swedish and English.

What do you think? Viking graveyard or not?
All the time we were there the gymnasium was open for our use and the children, there were four of them, could run around and play.It was wonderful. These little ones, ages 7, 5, 2 1/2 and 1 (2 Swedish and 2 American) couldn't communicate, but they played all day. The adults played Ping Pong. We American adults also couldn't communicate with the uncles, who speak no English. One of the cousins made sure they were always with each of us especially when we were speaking to the uncles. They translated for seven days and were exhausted by the end, I'm sure.

One of the first evenings we were there we all went for a walk from Harald's house into the forest which had been planted by the uncles, including Ture when he was young. From there we walked through Harald's yard to Lake Unnen and by a Viking graveyard in the woods. At least they tell us it's a Viking graveyard and who are we to argue? After the walk we went to Harald's home for a dinner prepared by his son Lennart, Lennart's wife Birgit and their children Kristina and Helena. Delicious!

All of the cousins have left Unnaryd to find jobs in other towns, but they return to Unnaryd and the forest as often as possible. The uncles own many acres of forest, and they cut the timber for income. They grew up working in the woods, although they all had other jobs.

The fifteen who made the rainy walk into the forest before dinner at Harald's on Friday night. From left they are: Wendy, Tony, Meghan, Katy. Lennart, Kristina, Birgit, Ken, Aina, Helena, Kyle, Kristin, Jorgen and Tom.

In 2005 a storm named Gudrun cut a swath of destruction that extended from Ireland, northern U.K., the Scandinavian countries and across the Baltic to Estonia. They don't know what to call it, hurricane, tornado or what, but it devastated the forests in this area of Sweden. You can see whole hillsides where the trees are gone. Along the sides of the roads are piles of stumps which have been cleared out to make room for new growth. This storm took away the livelihood of some, but it took away the lifeblood of all. The forests are something these Swedes have grown up living and working in. It was like a part of them was destroyed. Many people committed suicide after the storm.

A section of forest devastated by Gudrun.

Tree stumps lining the road, having been pulled out to make way for new growth.

It is traditional to bring flowers to a home the first time you visit it, and my daughters did so. They also brought each uncle something from Boston, a Boston snow globe with the city shown in it and Red Sox jackets. Baseball is not a big sport in Sweden. In fact, I don't think it exists there, but right now there are three men walking around Unnaryd wearing Red Sox jackets who are  proud to be members of Red Sox Nation.

Proud new members of Red Sox nation.

Jorgen and his moose.

When we first began to plan this trip and emailed some cousins in Unnaryd they very excitedly informed us that we would be there on the opening of moose hunting season. This is a big day for those who hunt. Jorgen, who works for Ericsson, takes time off. He belongs to a team of hunters who share the cost of the license and share any meat of moose they may shoot. We were warned not to walk in the woods on the day the season began and that we may hear the shots. We assured Jorgen that we were used to the sounds of the rifles as we can hear them very clearly at home during duck-hunting season. Jorgen's team did shoot its quota of moose on the first day. We were able to see them hung in a barn and ready to be sent and cut up. The families will use the meat. They do not hunt solely for sport, but use what they can from each animal. We had moose burgers one night, and they weren't bad. Jorgen thought they were delicious.

Have I talked about food yet? Not enough. The meals were all delicious, and many are served smorgasbord or buffet style. Any meal we ate at a relatives' home was completely homemade, including the bread and desserts. My intention was to include two recipes, one for a cake and the other for herring. The herring is extremely popular in Sweden and served at every meal. It is a typical Scandinavian dish, and, although fatty, it's full of omega three and really good for you. I have discovered that fresh herring is impossible to buy in our area except maybe as a special order at Christmas. You'll have to wait until then for the marinated Herring recipe. Many of their fish dishes are healthy if you can get past the fish eyes staring at you from the dish.

Typical fish section in the deli. Here's looking at you, kid.

I did describe breakfast earlier so on to lunch. Lunch may be an open sandwich or salad with lots of choices of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, hard-boiled eggs, sliced peppers and caviar spreads.

Open-faced sandwich.

Dinner is almost always boiled potatoes and a meat or fish with a savory sauce. We had a huge delicious meat loaf one night and a platter of sliced meats another. The Swedes do a lot with sauces and gravies. They like vegetables and usually have two at a meal. Bread is always served and is always home baked and warm. One of their favorite breads is very hard and crisp, called Knackerbrod. We have the Wasa brand in the USA. They use it with jams. Lingonberry jam is popular, or butter or various spreads, like the caviar spread.

Fresh breads at Friday night's dinner

Friday night dinner

Coffee is served at every meal and is strong enough to hold up a spoon. Many of the older people put a lump of sugar in the mouth and drink the coffee through the sugar. Dentists must do a good business there. As well as coffee each dinner included Schnapps, beer and wine. The schnapps is either vodka, scotch or aquavavit. The beer comes in several potencies, and they are careful not to drink and drive. One of the beers is weak enough that you can drive after drinking, the others you cannot. We always made sure whoever was driving didn't drink. The laws regarding drunk driving are very strict and carry heavy fines. Of course the nearest police station is probably 20 miles away, but you can't be too careful.

We spent one day driving to the Crystal Center of Sweden. Located around Vaxjo we visited the Kosta Boda and Orrefors glass-blowing factories. It was fascinating to watch the artisans actually making the glasses or candle holders. We watched from right beside the workers who had to pass the pieces they were working on around us. This would never have happened in America. OSHA would be all over them, and the workers wouldn't want us so close. Because they allowed us so close we could see very well how the glass is shaped and blown. We each bought a small something to bring home, but even at the factory it isn't cheap. It is beautiful though, especially the Orrefors.

Blowing glass in the Kosta Boda factory.

Another step in the process.

After seven days in Unnaryd; Aina, Tom, Ken and I headed to Goteborg for our flight home. The daughters and their families had left several days earlier. We spent two days in Goteborg, which is the second largest city in Sweden and the busiest port. It's the home to Volvo. Goteborg is a wonderful city and we enjoyed our time there, but our hearts were in Unnaryd. Who knows if we will ever return to visit these uncles who have been part of the Palm lives for many years.

We do have one incentive to return. The cousins and our children made some good connections and friendships and seven of them (3 Americans and 4 Swedes) have vowed to meet again in Stockholm and run the 2010 marathon. We have a picture of the group making this vow. Of course, if you look closely, this was the end of the birthday party and after many skoals and schnapps. We'll see who actually shows up.

Those who made the promise to meet again in Stockholm and run the 2010 Marathon. They are Harald's son Lennart, his daughter Kristina, Anneli's partner Jan, Lennart's brother Jorgen, our son-in-law Tony, daughter Kristin and Kristin's husband Kyle. We'll see who shows up.

Until then, Skoal!

A sense of Christmas

by Kristina Palm

(Kristina Palm is Ken's cousin's daughter. She is 25 and a graduate of Lund University with a major in the Swedish language. She writes and hopes to become an editor and writer. We asked her if she would mind writing her thoughts about our visit. Here is her story.)

Itís a dull afternoon in October. Itís falling a soft rain. But inside the house of my grandfather the excitement is rising. I and my sister, Helena, have laid the tables. Mum and dad have washed up the dishes from our lunch. Grandfather is just prepared and calm, it seems. Jorgen, dadís six year younger brother, is answering questions about the china, which glasses we shall use and where they are and so on. Heís the son that comes home often to his father who lives in a landscape in Sweden called Smaland, near a small village called Unnaryd.

From grandfatherís house there are at least fifty meters to the nearest neighbor house. The house is built in tile and wood, itís painted in red and has got white corners. From the house you can see the lake down the hill. The wood surrounds the garden and in front of the house and veranda grows a huge and magnificent oak tree.

ďThey are in time, exactly in timeĒ, dad suddenly yells from the dining room. Itís four a clock in the afternoon and three cars approach on the driveway to grandfatherís house. When I step out to the veranda with grandfather the guests have already jumped out the cars and dad is welcoming them. The guests are relatives to my family from the United States of America.

Ken and Aina and dad and Jorgen are cousins because the father of Ken and Aina, Ture, and my grandfather, Harald, were brothers. Ture emigrated to the United States of America a long time ago, and thatís why Ken and Aina were born there and not in Sweden.

Our guests are, except these cousins, Kenís wife Judy and Ainaís husband Tom. This time Ken and Judy also have brought their two daughters, Kristin and Katy, with them. Katy has even got her whole own family with her while Kristin just is companied by her husband Kyle. Katy and Tony (her husband) have got two beautiful girls, two year old Meghan and one year old Wendy.
Grandfather canít speak English, he was born in a time when most people just spoke their mother tongue. But he smiles with eyes and mouth when he gets sight of the two little girls.

ďWhat a cute little boy, he says to Meghan, in Swedish. (He has almost lost his sight.) And then dad says in English: ďOh, Harald thinks itís a boy!Ē

An unnecessary comment to express in English, which I tell him, in Swedish.

You can see that our guests are well prepared for a walk in soft rain, they have raincoats and proper shoes. We have told our guests that we first will take a walk in the wood, the wood that grandfather has owned and taken care of for so long. Now the wood is owned by his two sons. Dad looks at his guests and then up into the dull and rainy sky. So I explain to him: ďYou can see that they want to take a walk, now we just have to be ready.Ē

We all go for a walk, except grandfather. Wendy rides on her dadís back, but Meghan walks with her hiking stick and tells us that this is an adventure.

During the walk we get to know each other and the rain stops actually, the sunbeams break through the cloudy sky. It has been years since I have been at grandfatherís place when the leaves havenít fallen from the trees yet and are colored in yellow, orange and red. I think our guests enjoy the surroundings as much as I do and thatís one of the reasons I like these people from a country far far from mine a lot.

When we get back from our walk it is time for dinner. This evening it is served exotic fruits, roast beef, ham, chicken drumsticks, smoked and cured loin of pork, potato salad, pasta salad and mumís home-made white bread in the kitchen of grandfatherís house. We drink red and white wine, beer, water and the children drink milk.

I happen to sit next to Kyle and Kristin and I find myself talking a lot, asking them questions and answering theirs. And we laugh a lot, the whole table. Together. I have a wonderful time.

Earlier this day, at breakfast at home, Helena said: ďIt smells and feels like Christmas.Ē

For me itís Christmas at this moment, when I sit at the table having delicious food on my plate, red wine in my glass and when I see both my own family and my relatives from far far away so at home and relaxed, listening to their chat and laughter.

Britta Palm's Cake

Britta is Uncle Harald's wife who died in 1999. Lilian, Torsten's wife, made this cake for Torsten's birthday and gave me the recipe when I requested it. She also gave me some measuring cups which have a deciliter size. A deciliter is 1/10 of a liter, and you may have measuring devices which include a liter so go from there.

4 eggs
3 deciliters sugar
2 deciliters flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 deciliter water (luke warm)
Whip the eggs and the sugar until fluffy.
Mix flour and baking powder and add it to sugar mixture with the water.

Place batter in two 8" or 9" round cake pans
Bake in oven 30 to 40 minutes.

The recipe doesn't say what temperature, but I set it at 350 degrees. The cake is then filled and frosted with a whipped type filling mixed with whatever fruit is in season. I simply whipped up whipping cream and used bananas and kiwi. At the party Lilian used bananas. Cool Whip would also work.

Good luck.

More Pictures

Party goers

New Friends Maja and Meghan

Maja, Lucas and Meghan

Tina with her son Lucas

Aina, Mattias, Lucas, Maja, Torsten, Anneli, Harald

(Ken and Judy Palm live in Hampton, N.H., and are editors and writers for Rye Reflections, modeled after the Melrose Mirror. Their contributions appear monthly, as did this article, at

December 5, 2008

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