There was always great competition to please Grandma and Granddad. One of the regular things Granny would ask us kids to do was to bring them the newspaper. With three generations living in the same household we only had one newspaper. When the postman came it was always such a thrill to run and get it, so that Granddad could have it first.
I always remember Granddad being very old. He was born the 11th June 1894. He was very wrinkly and his hands and head were always shaking. His fingers were curled in a strange way and he could not straighten them. He had very little hair on the top of his head and what was left was grey. He had a short trimmed moustache and he still had some of his own teeth. When he went to bed, he laid in his bed reading his cowboy books, holding them up very close to his face, reading with a tiny light from the night lamp on the wall behind him. He had lost one of his eyes after an accident when a small stone was trapped in his eye. For years the trapped stone caused an infection that led the doctors to remove his eye. So every night he took out his glass eye and put it in a cup before he went to sleep.
Some times I would ask Granny if I could please sleep in her bed. I called her my stove, because she was always warm and I was like an ice cube and I felt she would defrost me. I loved to hear Granddad’s stories from the real old days. He told us about the wolves that came around the houses then, and how they had to be careful when they went to feed the animals to make sure they shut the barn door, because wolves would surround the barn in large packs and howl for the animals inside. He told me stories about how the bears attacked the cattle while they were in the mountains during the summer and how they would go out in big hunting teams to hunt the bears down. I was so fascinated with everything Granddad had seen and experienced, even surviving two world wars, and I always wanted to hear the stories again and again. Granddad was my brave hero and he had lived for so long I thought he would live forever!
Each morning that I woke up with Granny and Granddad, one of them would always bring coffee in bed. Granny was tired in the mornings, so it was more often Granddad brought the coffee to help wake her up. Sometimes Granddad could not find either the milk or the coffee, and then Granny would have to jump out of bed, with tiny half asleep eyes, run into the kitchen, and help Granddad find everything. He always put two biscuits on the saucer and made instant coffee with loads of milk. I loved the biscuits and enjoyed the coffee too.
Then Granddad brought in bread crumbs that he had crushed the day before to feed the little birds. He would call the birds, after he put the food on their tray, and soon the little birds came flying from everywhere to get their food. Granddad said he felt he had to look after the little birds, and he said, “Laila, you will always be my little bird.” So when Granddad talked to me, he often said, “You come here, my little bird!” When Granddad became sick with cancer, he asked me if I would continue to feed the birds when he was not able to. I promised him to do my best, and for years after his death I gave his birds the food.
I often sat in Granny’s kitchen; I liked to draw there. Granddad used to teach me how to draw. With his shaky hands, he would show me how to draw a horse. It took ages for him to get it right. It almost lulled me to sleep seeing his old hand trying to draw a horse whilst chewing his tobacco, the brown saliva running down the deep wrinkles on each side of his mouth, taking short breaks to spit in the sink as his mouth got too full. I so much loved drawing at my Granddad’s kitchen table, with him there to help me get my drawings right.
One day, Dad suddenly came storming through the door, drunk as a skunk, in raging anger. He screamed, “Where in the hell is my f***’n newspaper, where in the hell is the f****’n newspaper?” Granny was washing the dishes. She turned around when she saw her son run towards her husband. It all happened so quickly that there was no time for her to interfere. Granddad stood by the stove with the newspaper in his hand and Dad ran towards his father and hit him with full force across his head. The next thing I saw was Granddad on the floor, the newspaper flying out of his hands. I ran to try to rescue Granddad, but I was too late. Granny was shouting “Stop!”, but she was too late too. Dad grabbed the newspaper that had landed on the floor and stormed out of the room, just as quickly as he had arrived, slamming the door behind him, curse words ringing through the house. Granny managed to get Granddad back up on his feet and they rang Sara, their daughter. She came and took Granddad to the doctor. For a long time Granddad had to wear a neck brace; Dad had broken his collarbone!
Granny knew it was getting too dangerous to stay for long periods at the farm after this episode, especially during the times when Mum and Dad were drinking. She and Granddad decided to stay away for longer periods of time. But this was the house where my Granddad was born! He was homesick, so they came home just now and again. In 1973 their daughter Sara had moved into her new house 30 miles away, and Granny and Granddad started to stay there.
The absence of Granny and Granddad brought a lot more hardship for me. There was no one I could run to when Ted was after me, nowhere I felt safe at all. The only refuge I had left now was my dog Tally. I loved her from the moment she came to the farm. The first greeting Tally gave me was when she ran over and jumped up on me. I fell over and she licked me all over. She was one year old when we had her and I was just six. She became my best friend, in fact my only friend.
Tally had a mat under the kitchen table, she and the cat used to sleep there together. I used to be so cold all the time. I wore hand-me-down tights that were far too big; they were at least six inches too long. My feet were always a problem to me in that old, cold house. But I figured out a way to help myself when it got too cold. I used to crawl under the kitchen table and cuddle up to Tally and my cat. I remember snuggling up tightly to Tally’s belly and grabbing the cat to get heat from them. I often fell asleep with the two lovely warm animals. I started to daydream about one day getting married and leaving this place. My plan was to marry a tall man with big muscles that could box Ted in the stomach when he came after me, and also knock out my Dad’s teeth when he became cruel.
There were no words of comfort that Tally could give me: I often wished she could be my very own wolf who would put an end to Ted’s tyranny. But Tally would wag her tail at whoever came to the farm. With Tally’s wonderful happy nature and her warm body, I felt she was essential for my survival after Granny left. At least she was someone I could talk to and cry with and Tally was the one I felt really listened to me. When things got really bad, Tally was the only one I could run to and pour out my grief.
One day I said to Mum, “I want to go and visit Granny.” I was about six or seven years old and not old enough to start school yet. I wanted to go and visit her for a week. In Norway in the 70’s you had to be seven before you could start school so Mum said that I was not allowed to go. But I didn’t care, I had never been taught boundaries. I wanted to see Granny and that settled it for me. I found a shopping bag, packed a change of clothes and stood by the road waiting for a car. I had seen how Mary and Sally managed to stop the cars by holding out their right thumb. After a long time I got lucky and I was so happy to be on my way to see Granny. After one week it was time for me to go home, and Granny gave me enough money to take the bus. But there where no way I was going to spend the money on a bus! I wanted to save it. So I ran a shortcut down to another road and decided to return home the same way I had arrived!
When I came home, everything was normal; I was not told off or punished. I wasn’t asked any questions about where I had been or what I had been doing because I had told Mum that I wanted to see Granny. But I do guess that Granny may have called Mum to say that I had arrived. There were no boundaries given, though. If Mum said no to something, we just did it anyway, and there were never any consequences of just doing what we wanted.