I have two grandchildren who are seen as black but are Colombian and black. You met them in my books Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round and in fiction form in Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse.
When the kids came into my life, I was terrified. I explain my fears in this video I made at the request of my minister. She asked for my reflections, as a white grandfather of two grandchildren seen as black, on protests stemming from George Floyd’s killing. I gladly agreed to do the video because it helped me think and feel and not just fear. The video served as the intro to a song I sang for the service that streamed online last Sunday. The song is “Hold On”, a song about holding onto faith. I won’t take you into the service and the singing of the song, but please watch this two-minute video.
The takeaway is that my fears turned out to be the foundation of a blessing, one of the biggest blessings of my life. I learn about race daily because of the make-up of my family—and I got two great grandkids as part of the deal!
I write and speak and teach about lefse, primarily, with a little bit of lutefisk on the side. I do it because I want to preserve and pass on lefse and lutefisk traditions to my family and others. Some have asked that with such diversity in my family, am I concerned that the lefse-lutefisk tradition will die off in my family when I die? Sure, but I would worry the same if my family were all white. Passing on traditions is a concern, period, for all parents.
I go back to what I said in the video: Love wins. The love between my grandchildren and me has overridden my fears and has led to their love of lefse and the lefse-making tradition. My 12-year-old granddaughter Amaya rolls lefse and has helped with my lefse classes. My grandson, Zo? Let me tell you a lefse story about Zo.
A Lefse-Rolling Lesson
Last holiday season at the local farmers market where I do a lefse-making demo and sell my books and related products, Zo asked if he could roll a round. He and Amaya help with setting up and tearing down our table, and with selling. I pay them handsomely.
Ten-year-old Zo is a natural in the market, checking out other exhibits and chatting up and charming vendors—who reward him with free samples. When he asked to roll a round of lefse, he understood that all eyes are on lefse makers as they roll; it’s just too cool to ignore. But he was undaunted because he wanted to do this cool thing.
I have coached him, but mostly he learns by watching me and then trusting his own style. He started to roll just as two white customers came to the table and asked me lefse questions. As I answered, I realized they were not listening to me but were intent on watching Zo roll.
I feared they may say something about race, something about a black little boy making a Norwegian food. It is the same fear I have had since I put up my Black Lives Matter sign in my yard many years ago. Would it scare away those who take my lefse classes? No one has ever said anything about the sign. I imagine a few have had issues with it, but I also believe in the good in people. I believe most have come to support this movement toward justice and away from racism. I see more and more of these signs in my white neighborhood, so I do believe people want justice for blacks — and that black lives do matter, just as they do for me.
My other fear regarding Zo in the market that day was that he was rolling a rag of a lefse round and that the customers were in horror as this lefse-making train wreck was unfolding. I followed their eyes to the pastry board … where Zo was rolling a perfectly round lefse round!
I smiled and turned back to the customers, who were aghast. One of them finally said, “I can’t do that!!”
The customers smiled at Zo and congratulated him repeatedly on his lefse round.
After the customers moved on, Zo the charmer started working on his grandfather. “Papa,” he said, “you know what I’m doing here for you, right?” Meaning, Zo was drawing paying customers to the table, not only because he’s so dang cute but also because he rolls a pretty dang good lefse round. He was angling for a tip.
“I’m way ahead of you, Zo,” I replied. I knew where he was going the minute he shrugged his shoulders in an “oh, by the way” fashion and said, “Papa …”
At the end of the day, I paid him handsomely … and gave him a handsome tip.