After flunking out of a Potsdam, New York, music school in 1960, I worked as a typing clerk at the Thomaston cement plant long enough to buy a one-way ticket on a freighter to Sweden.

Rose-Marie, a Swedish cousin, lived with us in 1951 and spent several delightful months packing sardines and learning, there in Port Clyde, Maine, to speak perfect English. My trip to Sweden was not, therefore, a shot in the dark; I knew one person there.

After arriving, unannounced and wandering about in Borås unable to parlay the old vous, I finally located Sten Gunnar Skoglund, my cousin who was my father’s namesake, and was taken in and given a place to live by our widowed aunt Alva (father’s sister Alva, or “Faster Alva” in Swedish).

Her descendants read much of what I write, and they will not be surprised when I say that she was one of the kindest, gentlest and most generous people I have ever met.

Within a few months, I was getting a handle on the local patois and was permitted to wander about the west coast of Sweden and connect up with even more relatives and interesting places where my father had romped as a child.

One time – and this is the point of my story – I came back to Faster Alva from a trip to Uddevalla with a postcard of Gustavsberg. I eagerly showed the postcard to Faster Alva, pointing out the road on the postcard which was a view of the big rocks and the water. I said that I had seen this road while heading north toward Norway.


She very gently said in Swedish: “Oh, no, that’s a picture of the road facing south.”

Well, I was 24 years old and had recently spent two years steering and helping navigate a fairly large Coast Guard buoy tender around the rocky islands on the coast of Maine. So I had a reasonably good working knowledge of charts and which way was north. Being only 24, I explained why the road in the picture had to be heading north.

But Faster Alva simply smiled and said: “Jag har varit där många gånger, lille vän.” (“I have been there many times, little friend.”) My brother and I have repeated this phrase to each other on many occasions since.

I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t understand the clear, clean logic that was so obvious to me in the picture. It bothered me so much that I explained the situation to Faster Marta, another, older aunt who, at 17, had become a surrogate mother to all her younger siblings when their mother died.

Faster Marta simply said, in so many words: “Let it go.”

In recent years I’ve thought about this. Since Trump has invited them to join him, we have all discovered that we have friends and relatives who are incapable of finding north on a map. You may have recently realized, to your dismay, that a parent or a child has apparently become immune to reason. It’s as if part of their brain has been cut away.


They might think it’s OK to get vaccinated against a litany of diseases. But when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine, even an occasional MD will pop up and swear that it contains some evil chemical. Q, or someone at church, told them that the vaccination was bad, and you’d better believe it, “little friend.”

In this life you are going to encounter wonderful, generous, kind and friendly people who are immune to reason, science and logic.

In my old age, I’ve learned to do something that I wasn’t wise enough to do when I was 24.

Take Faster Marta’s advice and let it go.

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