SERIES START Author Ida Linde: “It was the smell of the world and the price of petrol was 72 öre”

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This is a cultural article which is part of Then24’s opinion journalism.

Ida Linde's grandmother, grandfather, uncle and mother on a car holiday in Italy.
Ida Linde’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle and mother on a car holiday in Italy.

A driving holiday begins rarely when you get into the car. It can, for example, start the night before when you pack the tent and the storm kitchen and the bag with clothes. Or when you drive to the gas station to fill up the tank so that you can only go out on the highway early in the morning to avoid the queues. The car holiday that meant almost the most to my relationship with gasoline, I wasn’t even on it myself, and it starts with a few words about my grandfather:

He worked first at the foundry and then at the oil refinery. The mornings there began with him slowly lowering the cages into the oil drums, the cages where the rats with their brownish-grey furs had gathered during the night. He also played football in Ramlösa and it is said that he was offered to play in Italy but said no, he who could play with Gre-No-Li put the football boots with studs on the hat shelf and saved them there for fifty years.

For a while he also worked in the municipal fire brigade, that’s how they got the phone. There was a test call at ten o’clock every Sunday. Once there was a fire in a warehouse filled with butter in Helsingborg and my grandfather said: Now you’ve got the butter!

It was the hot summer of 1955 and the price of petrol was 60 öre.

While grandpa was working where he worked, grandma had her favorite job as a showgirl. It was just when deep-freezing became fashionable and she got to demonstrate the goods in the store. If there was any left over at the end of the day, she took it home, so she always thawed a little extra and then they ate raspberries and meatballs for dinner every night.

They saved all their money to be able to drive to Italy and maybe in that Grandfather’s longing to see the country he refused to be revealed. My mother says that grandfather cried when they got to the Mediterranean, he had never seen anything so beautiful and asked my mother who was a child at the time to get his trumpet that had been in the back door all the way through Europe. She played the only song she knew by heart at the time: I have heard of a city above the clouds.

Then the whole family was invited to Coca-Cola for the first time in their lives.

They pitched their tent in Ventimiglia and stayed there for ten days. They didn’t go to a restaurant and didn’t stay in a hotel, but on the way home grandma could afford to buy a small bottle of Chanel no 5 on the boat’s tax free. She never used it but when her seven sisters came to visit they used to smell the bottle together.

It was the smell of the world and the price of petrol was 72 öre.

My mother inherited the dream of the world. She became a socialist, politically active and began to hate the United States, a symbol of imperialism and a way of understanding the class society she grew up in. We thus did not drink Coca-Cola, which she loved so much that time at the Mediterranean, and we did not read Donald Duck. But there was an exception and that was when she got into the car in the summer. When she managed to collect her children from different marriages, she started Bruce Springsteen and tossed her hair and looked at us in the back seat and said: “We are on the road again”.

We were on our way to her favorite camping site to spend the summer holidays there and when I think of my mother during those years, it is the image I return to most of all, she looked the happiest and the price of gas was 6 kroner and 29 öre.

I am 39 years old when I’m for the first time in the US where my wife is from. As Adrienne Rich writes, in translation of Athena Farrokhzad and John Swedenmark: “When we are not young, the weeks must make up for the years of loss”.

We have rented a car and are driving from Chicago to Detroit. I once wrote a book that borrowed its narrative from Bruce Springsteen’s record Nebraska and we listen to it along the multi-lane highways. It’s such a big driving holiday that I don’t even dare to drive. And when we arrive, I also don’t understand that we have arrived, that we are already at the cemetery, that you can drive among the graves. I also expected stones to rise against the wind but there they all lie with their cheeks to the ground. We get out of the car and I follow my wife who wanders around a bit and says: “I was sure it was here, not far from this tree”.

The sun is shining and we stand among the dead who have the ability to tell us that we are alive

We don’t find the brother’s grave but after a while a man who works in the cemetery. My wife spells her brother’s name and then the man with the mustache spells the same letters into his walkie-talkie. He repeats the name. The sun is shining and we stand among the dead who have the ability to tell us that we are alive. The man continues to repeat the name as if the brother could hear for himself and call out to us where he is. Finally the man gets the coordinates and points with his hand while saying: “I’m sorry, there were two with the same name”.

We walk carefully so as not to stumble, so as not to step on anyone. In front, my wife touches the stone and says: “I had forgotten that they were so close together”. We stand there for a short while and then get back into the car. She says the brother had a special relationship with their mother, perhaps because he resembled his dead father so much. Everyone said it was the voice and gestures, even the way he smoked a cigarette. In the evening I ask why she didn’t want to stay longer at the cemetery. She says: “Then I would have laid down next to them and never got up”. Then she lights a cigarette and resembles her brother who resembles her father.

The petrol price is SEK 7 and we drive on.

When I am adult, my mother still lives at the campsite during the summer. I call her one evening and she tells me about some friends who have driven from the south to visit her on their way home. They have brought leftovers from a sour strömming party and mom loves sour strömming and she tells about an expensive cheese they brought and even the butter that was ruined by the smell they had brought from their summer house. “I’ll eat it tonight with a little dash of Jäger,” she says cheerfully.

The friends had thought the campsite was quaint, they had arrived in the middle of the laundry and wanted to come along to the communal laundry room and my mom was happy to show them around because she loves the smell of laundry detergent and taking the electric fluff out of the dryer and making it nice for the next camper . But as she talks, she realizes what she’s saying and she asks me: “Why was the laundry room so exciting for them? Why didn’t they invite me to the actual party? Who am I to get the leftovers from their feast?”.

She is thinking of driving home earlier from the campsite and the gas price is 11 kroner and 65 öre.

I thought of this when I was driving through Sweden yesterday, how much I love driving with my children, even though I understand that it is their future that I am destroying by doing so. The petrol prices mentioned in this text are not set in their economic context, they are rising but it is not possible to tell whether it was expensive or cheap at the time. They are awards that are stapled to memories and it is an award that people in my family have dreamed about, the dream of something further than the place where you started.

I turned into the grocery store and the gas price was 20 kroner and 58 öre.

Source: Then24

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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