July 29, 2014

Tant Lund and the Flood

This week we have had thunderstorms (expected and welcome after the last month´s exceptional heatwave) and sudden and violent floodings (less expected and less welcome), particularly of the city centre in our neighbouring town of Piteå, where shops had to close to battle the waves and the rescue services were called out to everywhere at once to pump out water quickly before damages were too great and costly. At least it is getting people to talk about climate change, because this is what we Swedes used to call "continental" weather.

I experienced one great flood when I was little, perhaps ten years old. We were living right by a fair size lake, and we were lucky to have a slope of perhaps three meters between our house and the normal water level, but our neighbour´s house foundations were pretty much right on top of the water.

Grangärde Turisthotell (borrowed from here)
Her name was Dagmar Lund, we kids called her Tant Lund (tant being what you called all grown-up ladies when I was little, although the custom was actively counteracted in the progressive and feminist 70´s, and now no one want´s to be adressed Tant, because it takes their minds to someone like "Old Granny", which not even old grannies want to be these days. Anyway, Tant Lund was a grand kind of lady. She had run the local hotel before she had retired, and she had been married to a physician, and in old style introduced herself as "Doktorinnan" (= the Doctoress), and a lot of folks called her that. Out of respect, I imagine, but then I liked her very much.

My little sister and I (on skates) in front of Tant Lund´s house, with the promontory on the left. She had a boat tied to the front door during the flood. I think she was much entertained by that!

She was like an extra granny to me, unlike our other neighbour, Tant Ingrid (she was a first name-tant, which says something about the grandness of Tant Lund, who never would have thought of us calling her Tant Dagmar) who was nice but not as inviting. Tant Lund, on the other hand, almost always included my siblings and I in her projects. We each had a tomato plant in her green house, which we helped her tend (and she cleverly taught us all kinds of things about plants) and got all the produce from. She took us on mushroom hunting excursions and then taught us how to preserve them (her own secret methods), after which we made mushroom sandwiches au gratin for our parents. She made rhubarb pie with us. She made us help her guard the seagull nest on her small promontory. She sat angling with us on her lawn. She had a real, proper attic, the kind you only read about in books, full of old chests and furniture and treasure, and she would organize games with things we found there.

She had two daughters living far away, and grown-up grandchildren, one of which was a young man who had a large, very cool motorcycle. When he was visiting she would open her shed to show it to us every time we came over, which was pretty much every day in the summer. She loved that motorcycle, and now I suppose she saw her own adventurous self in her grandson. She had traveled much and had exotic souvenirs like a part of a sarcophagus on her wall. At 79, she started studying French.

She also had great style. She was the only old woman I knew who wore her hair long, but always elegantly up in a chignon (a bit like this). I once saw her hair out, when I came (early, I suppose) one day and she wasn´t dressed yet. She had a dressing gown that looked like a long smoking jacket and her hair was braided on her shoulder. As she got older, the chignon got darker and her hair whiter, so I guess it was a fake hair piece that she pinned on.

Grangärde village, and we lived just outside the photo, on the left. (from Wikipedia)
Anyway, I was going to tell you about the flood. The water came up at least half a metre, maybe more, over her ground floor, and a reporter from the local press came to make an article about the disaster. She stood on her balcon and told a dramatic story about how she had fled the waves crushing in on her in the middle of the night, having to take refuge upstairs. This bothered me, as she didn´t live downstairs at all! She had a row of guest rooms there, all furnished with different colours, the Green Room, the Yellow Room, and so on (her miniature hotel). But her own living quarters were upstair and had always been. (Her bachelor brother inhabited a bedroom behind her kitchen, but we didn´t see very much of him.)

Being childishly virtuous about truth-telling, this bothered me, and I complained to my father that she had told an un-truth to the reporter. He just laughed it off, saying that of course she had spiced up her story a bit, and there was nothing wrong with being entertaining. Commendable, even. (Like in "24 Hour Party People" when Steve Coogan/Tony Wilson says something like: If you have to choose between the truth and the legend, always choose the legend.)

Unfortunately I have no photograph of Tant Lund. And I wouldn´t even want to try drawing her from memory. She was too great to fit on a piece of paper, a true Legend. Greater than I understood, probably. Perhaps I would have been too shy of her to get to know her if I had been older. I think she fundamentally shaped my idea of what it is to have class, style, and live a good life.


  1. I loved reading this story. Stories like this keep the older generations alive.

    1. I am happy you think so. Isn´t it true, and sad, that so many great people will eventually be forgotten. I like to think that art, and literature in particular, keeps their memory alive - if not that single person, then the legacy of that generation.

    2. I'm always saddened by old photos in antique shops, thinking that nobody remembers them. I agree about art and literature. When I read books from a period, I think my great-grandparents or parents would have lived like that.

    3. I have seen a lot of artists actually picking up those old photoalbums from thriftshops and alike, and making art from them, no doubt moved by the same feelings you are. I think that kind of empathy compels them to "bring them back", in the only way it is possible, by holding them up as some kind of mirror for those of us who may not have access to our ancestor´s personal stories.

    4. I was in an antique shop once and overheard someone talking about a portrait. They said, "That looks just like grandma! We don't have any pictures of her, do we? Let's buy this one. It's as close as we'll ever get." I found it quite touching.

    5. Indeed. How lucky for them to find it!