Looking for grandma
The next morning I went online to see if I could track down my paternal grandmother Arlette Johnsen. I was hopeful, but I was prepared to be disappointed. Just because Gerda hadn’t seen any obituaries in any of the local or national papers, didn’t necessarily mean she was alive. She could have died in another part of Norway, or even abroad.
The amazing thing about Norway is that all information about individuals is public. If you want to know somebody’s address of phone number, all you need to do is to make an internet search, or use a smartphone app, and voilà. I often wished it was like that in London the times I managed to misplace work contacts. But with social media, finding people had become easier all over the world. But the crazy thing about this public information thing is that you can even check how much money a person makes by going to the tax registers. It’s perhaps handy if you’re hunting for a millionaire spouse, but otherwise I’m not really a fan of that particular thing.
I found three Arlette Johnsens on 1881. The first one Arlette Frydenlund Johnsen was a photographer in Bergen. The second, Arlette Cathrine Johnsen a private insurance consultant in Oslo. The third one Arlette Johnsen Lund was not my grandmother either, but a school teacher in Bodø.
I did a more general google search and found two of the three Arlettes on Facebook. I added the word obituary to the search, but nothing came up.
I was a little bit at a loss of what to do now. I didn’t like giving up after just ten minutes of detective work, but I really wasn’t sure where to look now. I thought of the possibility that she could be in an old people’s home somewhere. Or even that her addresses and phone number was protected. That can happen if someone for some reason cannot be listed in the main register for several reasons. Celebrities or abuse victims for example had secret phone numbers. I got up and made a cup of tea while I was thinking. Of what to do next. I was stubborn, and I didn’t want to pull in help from Merete or Markus on something which should be that easy.
As the caffeine slowly entered my system, I decided that the best thing I could do after first doing a last search on people called Arlette, was to ring around every old people’s home in Grimstad, Lillesand and Kristiansand.
Not having any luck with the Arlettes, I started phoning twenty minutes later. At first it was awkward. But the more homes I spoke to, the easier it got. There was no Arlette Johnsens or Arlette anything else for that matter. By the time I got to the absolute last home on my list, my hope had gone. I replied a
“Please, could I talk to Arlette Johnsen?” in a flat, tired voice to the cheery “Hello” from the lady on the line.
“Arlette Johnsen. May I ask whose calling?”
“What? I mean, sure. My name is Sandra Martinsen. I am….” I swallowed, not believing that I was soon, perhaps, going to talk to my paternal grandmother. “I’m her granddaughter.”
The woman at the other end of the line was quiet for a couple of seconds.
“Is that so?” she asked finally.
“I didn’t know until recently,” I said. “I am the daughter of her son Frank who disappeared in 1986.”
I wasn’t sure if the nurse, I assumed she was a nurse, knew about that. But it was worth trying.
“I know about Frank,” she said. Arlette talks about him sometimes. On bad days she cries for him and wish he could come visit her.”
Her words made me feel very sad for the grandmother I had yet to meet. At the same time, I was thrilled that she was alive.
“Has, is she getting a lot of visitors?” I asked.
“Sadly no. Arlette is a lovely lady. It’s a mystery to me that such a gentle soul doesn’t have family and friends who care for her.”
“I would really love to see her.”
“I’m sure that’s possible. But let me talk to her first and tell her you called. I will call you back.”
“Sure. I understand. It’s not every day granddaughters pop up like that,” I said with a little laugh.
I gave her the number to Emma’s landline and was grateful that she still had it, though most people had gotten rid of theirs. I really needed to get a Norwegian sim card so I could call and use the internet when out too, I thought. Doing this kind of work without being mobile was slowing me down as it bound me to the house. Calling to and from my British number was just too expensive.
Astrid, the nurse at the home where Arlette lived, called half an hour later.
“I’ve got Arlette here with me. She would like to ask you a few questions.”
“Yes, of course,” I said and sat down on a kitchen chair.
The voice belonged to an elderly woman and the hello was more like a question than a statement.
“Hi. You must be Arlette Johnsen,” I said with the most reassuring voice I could master.
“I am,” she said. “And you are Sandra, my granddaughter.”
This came out as a statement rather than a question.
“I am,” I said. “I realize how very strange this situation is. I mean, here I call you after having been gone for nearly thirty years without ever contacting you or anything.”
“I understand.” Arlette’s voice was friendly. “I know that you couldn’t possibly have been in touch before. But I am very glad you called now. And I’m positively surprised that you found me. You’re like your father, Frank. He managed to dig up the most impossible things from the most impossible places. He was a journalist. I had a feeling you would find me one day.”
“Oh really?” I was stunned to hear this.
“Yes, absolutely. Where are you now?”
“I’ staying with my aunt Emma in Homborsund.”
“Emma. I remember her. Though I didnn’t really meet her that many times. She wouldn’t know if I’m dead or alive. Most people I know don’t know. Their either dead, or I have no wish to let them know. When can you come?”
Today! I wanted to shout. I looked at the time and realized I’d better come tomorrow instead. I was meeting Emma at her job in a couple of hours to help with the preparations for a summer party that was to be held this coming Friday. The party this year would be extra big as the company celebrated 40 years and the first ever CEO would be there. There would even be guests from abroad who had worked for or with the company in the past and the present. Funny how many round birthdays there had been in the past 8 days, I thought.
“How about tomorrow?” I said.
“Tomorrow would be absolutely delightful. I can’t wait to see you. But tell me one thing. I know my granddaughter Sandra has a tactile birthmark. Can you tell me where yours is?”
“On my neck. I have a tactile birthmark at the back of my neck.”
I almost asked how she knew about it, but realized she must remember it from when I was a baby. I hated that particular birthmark and had wanted to surgically remove it. But I’d been told it wasn’t serious, or damaging enough, so it was still there.
“You really are my granddaughter,” she said sounding relieved. “I’ll see you tomorrow then Sandra at 11:00. We have a lot to talk about.”
I got up to get ready for travelling in to Grimstad. As I looked out of the kitchen window to see the temperature and assess the weather, I could swear I saw someone retract very quickly from my line of vision. Probably the shadows playing a trick on me. Although it made me feel uneasy.
Looking for grandma