Coming off a Thanksgiving-family-high has me thinking about the gifts we receive from relatives, especially heritage, traditions, and language. In my family, Grandpa Johnson taught us girls a secret language that he called, “Counting in Swedish” He’d hold up his index finger and say, “Timmyteetta,” hold up his middle finger, “Lyckasleet,” and so on. We sisters mimicked him and memorized the sacred family counting words. We recited them for each other, for friends, and best of all, for Grandpa Johnson. One of my nieces even stood on stage before thousands of onlookers and recited the ditty at a talent show when she was three-years-old.
Years later I spoke the counting words to Norwegian friends at a dinner party. Like Vince Vaughn in the movie “Old School,” the parents rushed to their children to administer the earmuffs. “That!” the dad sort of stuttered in shock,”That, is gibberish!” If it was gibberish, why did he earmuff his Scandinavian-speaking kids?
Grandpa Johnson died before I finally took Swedish language classes. In his memory I painstakingly checked my Swedish Dictionary for the counting words in all their possible alliterations. The words were actually phrases and I quickly understood the truth: Grandpa’s Swedish counting words were a dirty limerick about a peeping Tom, or in this case, a peeping Timmy. In death as in life, Grandpa Johnson got the last laugh.
We are heading quickly into the holidays, and in many homes that means it is cookie time. My sister Susan has always been a cookie queen, and at our Thanksgiving get-together she was kind enough to gift me with a new cookie recipe (Almond Cherry Tea Cakes) and two dozen eggs from her chickens (named for our beloved aunties, including several of Grandpa Johnson’s sisters). I wrote about Susan and her cookies at Called to the Table this week.
And in herring news, check out the Star Tribune today not only for their awesome Annual Holiday Cookie Contest winners, but for a little blurb I wrote on Smörgåsbord and the herring table. Grandpa Johnson’s love of smörgåsbord joints like the Jolly Troll is yet another gift bestowed upon me, and this one I can actually speak about in public without fear of the earmuffs.