Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I'm a big fan of stories. All kinds. Written or spoken, fiction or non, epic or flash. Biology is my favorite science because it's so damn NARRATIVE (also, just plain cool).

I'm very lucky to have grown up in a family that valued stories. My mother taught me to read when I was three or four, writing me little stories about me and Rosie the cat, which I then illustrated. At the same age, I would spend Saturday and Sunday mornings in my father's lap, reading the funny papers with him.

As I grew up, I learned more stories, both about the larger world and the world that my own family had created. There's very little more fun, or better, or more surreal than learning what happened to make you who you are, the circumstances that set the world spinning in such a way that I should be here, right now, me, and no one else.

In January of 1955, a girl named Vivi arrived in Idlewild airport. She had just turned twenty two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve. She had been taking English lessons her whole life, but as anyone who has ever gone to a foreign country knows, you never know as much as you like to think you do.

From New York, she traveled to San Francisco, California, where an uncle lived. She lived in a boarding house full of other girls, which I'm sure had it's fun moments, but I know couldn't have been easy. On Sundays, she'd have dinner at her uncle's house-- a sure way to get at least one home-cooked meal.

She had always wanted to go to America, ever since she was a young girl. The youngest of seven, growing up during the Nazi occupation in Copenhagen, it's not easy to see the lure. Her older sister, Lis, had made her memorize a poem about the beauty and greatness of this country-- the streets were paved with gold, and when you arrived in New York, you'd be given a giant ranch house, and a stack of money and land.

Lis always did blame herself for her sister going away.

Once, when Vivi was going back to Denmark for a visit, she had to take a bus from California to New York, where she would then get on a boat to sail back. She was traveling with a friend, but the bus was so crowded that they had to sit in separate places, and Vivi got stuck next to a not very nice man. The driver intervened, though, and put an end to that.

They drove out into the desert, and the bus stopped for a reststop. Vivi and her friend went into the bathroom, and when they came out, the bus had driven away.

"What are we going to do?" cried Vivi.

"Don't worry," said her friend, "They'll be back."

And sure enough, a few minutes later, the bus pulled around the corner. What a good driver.

They boarded a steamer in New York and sailed back to Europe, though the boat had to make a stop in Sweden first. The girls got off there, and went to have a good time. Apparently, they had horrible time management skills, because by the time they got back, the gangplank had already been lifted and the ship was set to sail away again.

So the girls got hauled up over the side of the ship by a rope.

A year and a half after Vivi arrived in New York, in June of 1956, a young man named Poul arrived in New York, too, except he had sailed over on a boat. He was a member of the Danish navy, traveling with a group of sailors to San Francisco, where they would pick up a minesweeper to take back to Denmark.

Poul and Vivi met at a dance in San Francisco. They found out that they had grown up not ten minutes from one another in Copenhagen. He denies it, and she says its true, but when he saw her, he turned to his friend, pointed at her, and said, "That's the girl I'm going to marry."

And he did.

They had four children. And seven grandchildren (and one of them was me!). And two great-grandchildren.

Aren't stories great?

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