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Share on FacebookShare on WhatsAppShare on TelegramShare on TwitterToday is the one year anniversary of my mother's death. Like so many others who lose their mother, there is no immediate realisation of what it means. It lingers. Maybe it comes much later [...]
Today is the one year anniversary of my mother's death. Like so many others who lose their mother, there is no immediate realisation of what it means.
It will take time.
Perhaps only much later will you realise how much you have been shaped and influenced by your parents - and in some cases - like mine ... realise the sacrifices they have made.
But what really hit me first was the realisation that something very big was about to go out of time - and that my mother's death was part of that process. Perhaps that greatness would soon remain only as texts in books about a past when the people and society depicted were incomprehensible to a subsequent reader.
The realisation begins to gnaw at my consciousness during the gathering for the funeral in Eskilstuna. We stand there, the children and families, very few of the friends she made here in life are present - most are dead. A silent, tired, sad group murmuring to each other. Outside there is the worst snowstorm of the year ... the doors open ... or rather are opened and a ghost enters.
I probably haven't seen him in 20 years. He looks around curiously, stomps the snow off him and as he moves towards us I can't help but get the first lines of "The Quaker's Waltz" in my head:
A quantum enters the room
to rejoice with the mountain its,
and all the wrinkles be happy in memory,
for more stunning quanting was seldom seen.
Yes, I know ... strange to hear that song inside you at your mother's funeral ... but he brings with him such obvious power.
Besides - it's not originally a revue and cabaret song - as it later became known and loved as. Lyrics and music written by the cartoonist, composer and poet Arthur Högstedt, a contributor to the anarchist magazine Brand. He himself performs Kväsarvalsen for the first time at a meeting of a social democratic youth club, accompanying himself on violin.
The strange thing is that the man who came in doesn't seem to have changed at all ... although he's approaching 80. He's still bigger, stronger and more traveled than me and when we shake hands he gives me a little extra hug and I almost expect him to say the same thing he used to do in my childhood: "But damn, you're like a stick. You need to come down to the wrestling club so we can put some muscle on that body."
He is one of my mother's and father's oldest Swedish friends and we discuss various old workplaces in the city, what has become of them ... most of it is gone ... the industries where knives, files, measuring sets, locks were made ... and we talk about Gense, the ironworks, the rifle factory, Stenmans and all the small workshops.
He expresses his longing for my mother's sandwiches - and reminds me that during her time as a waitress at the Hotel Smeden, she probably introduced the pepper to the Swedish walkway.
We talk about the decline of local football, missing the old bathhouse sauna with all the different departments and what he does now that he's retired.
He says that in the summers he is sometimes a lifeguard. There is a small bay near his home that is a popular summer bathing spot. But there is no lifeguard there anymore. Withdrawn by the municipality.
So I've built a little cure where I can sit and keep an eye on those who are in the water. Well, you don't want anyone to drown.
That's when I realize that we're about to completely lose something in this country.
Those who would object to a lifeguard being suspended today should organise petitions to the municipality and write letters to the editor - if they cared at all.
He builds his own lifeguard hut ... something is missing ... something is needed ... then you do it. Unpaid and unsubsidised ... "... you don't want anyone to drown."
It is a bearer of that spirit and virtue that I am here to say goodbye to as my mother is buried.
The conversation with my parents' old friend feels like a beautiful sermon about someone who has passed away after a lifetime of constant work and who took it for granted to always have something for his hands - not so much for his own sake as for the sake of his children and the generations to come.
My mother's and father's incorporation into Swedish society was possible because it was shaped and dominated by the morality of the working people; work ennobles. You are ultimately your own successful blacksmith. Help yourself - and of course you sometimes do so in association with others.
You become part of such a society if you show your willingness and ability to work. Otherwise you will be pushed away, or never even enter it.
But this country has turned into a place where most people think that everything will be fine as long as we pay more taxes so that the government can take care of us.
As we part after the funeral, he reminds me of the time he, my father and two of their colleagues were caught by the police.
As usual on Friday, the workshop manager had called together those who wanted to work extra for the weekend. He had a list of undeclared jobs to be carried out in various places in the town or district. That's how it worked in those days - everyone who needed some extra work done came to him - or other workshop managers and bazaars all over town and asked if he could arrange people. All outside of all forms of books and tax returns of course.
And no one objected - all strata of society made use of the opportunity in different ways - even the villas of the Social Democratic potentates were built with such labour - which everyone thought was natural.
You work 40 hours a week and give the emperor what belongs to the emperor and what you work with on top of that and how you get paid - the emperor shouldn't give a damn about that. This was believed whether you were a right-winger or a communist and it was part of the creation of the real welfare society. Don't think that the good society of the time was built by the state, it was built by people who worked an extra 20 hours a week - and who got to keep the money.
Anyway - back to the police thing. My father and the man I'm talking to and two others take one of the black jobs on offer - a roofing job just outside town. But they need a car to get there. No car is available.
Then the workshop manager discovers that the manufacturer's old car is parked in the workshop area - in a particularly run-down condition ... but ... maybe?
It turns out that it can be started, so they leave. After a few kilometres they are stopped by the police who do a few laps around the barely rolling wreckage and one of them declares, "But for fuck's sake guys, do you want to die!?"
My father's friend who drives the car calmly explains that they have to go away on a job this weekend and he tells them how much they will get for the work.
The policeman shakes his head, and says:
Yes, I understand, but you do it at your own risk. And if you get stuck somewhere along the way, why don't you go into a house and call and we'll try to pick you up.
On Monday, a rather angry manufacturer comes down to the shop floor and asks who the hell called the police on him. They've knocked on his door and told him that the next time his people go out to work, he can put them in a registered and roadworthy car. And he doesn't get it.
But the workshop manager quietly explains the situation and the manufacturer's only comment is that they could have contacted him and he could have lent them another car.
But as I said ... a different time ... and in every way a very different country.
I can imagine that some are now saying: "But you're talking about a time that can never come back."
My simple answer then is:
The likely comment - from most people - to that answer would be, "It just can't be done."
... and what else can I say: "In that case, blame yourselves."
PS. I can imagine that a possible objection from some people to my reasoning above would be that it is not possible to compare the integration of my father and mother and other immigrants of the past in Sweden with the situation of the last 20 years. The objection would be based on the fact that the people I am talking about came from a cultural circle from which people were easier to integrate ... and above all that the conditions in the countries today's refugees come from are so much worse than those from which, for example, my parents came.
Those who have arrived in the last 20 years are considered to have experienced such terrible things that they are indescribably traumatised and life has to be made into a perpetual publicly paid Friday night snack so that they can at some point - unclear how - become part of society.
My father and mother would have looked with great pride at anyone who claimed such a thing - possibly silently uttering a Balkan beef - and then, if they were in a good mood, declared that the people of Yugoslavia would have thanked their creator if they had been at war in the 1940s with IS or al-Qaeda instead of with such brutal war and murder machines as, among others:
1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler
2nd SS Panzer Division The Reich
11th SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland
16th SS Panzergrenadierdivision Reichsführer SS
18th SS Panzergrenadier Division Horst Wessel
24th SS Waffen Gebirgsjägerdivision Karstjäger.
Had the Yugoslav population instead been pitted against the huddled and genetically defective pack of murderers who unite in today's Islamist terrorist organisations, the fighting would have been over in a week ... then they could go back to farming, roasting piglets and drinking slivo.
To argue that today's refugees come from places that somehow make it impossible to make demands is not only historically ignorant but borders on pure cretinism.
My mother had indeed applied to come to Australia, but my father wanted to go to Sweden because he had heard how well organised it was and that there was work for everyone.
However, he managed to persuade those who administered the refugee quotas in the camp that it was really my mother who wanted to go to Sweden ... and since they were getting married anyway, the only rational thing to do was to change her application.
Which the administrators also did.
The story goes that at the time my mother was not informed of his attempts to change her Australia to Sweden ... nor of his intention to marry her.
But who could fail to fall for a man who gives you such proof of his passion ... and his ability to manoeuvre bureaucrats.
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