The Hands of a Nation

By: Elise Harwell
For a third generation Swedish American, I have always been more attached to my heritage than most other people whose grandparents, great grandparents, etc. had immigrated to the United States. Of course, I did grow up in Tucker, Georgia, a very international community in which the idea of an identity and loyalty to a culture or country outside of America was not - excuse the pun - a foreign concept.
Truly, though, I am Swedish not just because of my ancestors, but because my mother and my grandfather ensured that I knew my heritage. Herring on club crackers with Swedish cheese; vivid stories of lutefisk; saffron buns and Swedish folk songs; rolling Swedish meatballs while my mother scolded me for trying to steal a few; salmon poached the way my mormor would have made it; kanelbullar and strong Swedish fika. All of these things paint a vivid picture of my childhood and my grandfather’s homeland. Some of my favorite Christmas memories are of my family and I sitting around the dining table sharing julbord, Skol right before my first taste of akvavit and a communal var så god before the meal could begin.
If I did not have these memories, these pieces of me, would I be me? No, I think that I would not. I would still be Elise: an American college student from Georgia. However, an essential part of who I am would be missing. I think of my mother’s worn knuckles pounding dough to make Swedish bread that cannot be bought in America, the palms that molded Swedish meatballs as if she was born to do it: these are the hands of a nation. Those hands are what taught me about her homeland, about the culture that still runs through our veins. Her patience and aversion to grandeur taught me the importance of lagom: to be in balance and exist in moderation, never too much but never too little. The way my name rolled off her tongue: Elise Linnea, “a beautiful Swedish name for a beautiful Swedish girl.” This is how my mother gave me the keys to her country; how she reared another strong, Swedish woman.
These experiences have made me who I am. I am American but I am also Swedish. I eat hot dogs, hamburgers, barbeque and more, but I also eat pickled herring and more saffron buns than should be legal. I exist at the intersection of two countries, the one of my forefathers and the one of my ancestors. Sweden lives on in me as does the United States. My culture has created me, shaped me, and taught me the type of person I want to be. I am where those two paths meet, a product of the two. My only hope is that my own worn hands may one day give my daughter the country that was given to me.