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A Universal Language

It’d be easy to miss the mist in Sam Simonsen’s eyes because you’d be so charmed by his smile. Or by the apple-red Norwegian sweater he doffs each morning during North Dakota’s Norsk Hostfest, a five-day art, food and cultural frenzy in Minot that bills itself as the largest Scandinavian festival in North America. It’s all in good fun. A pin on his sweater reads, “Some people are Norwegian and still go on to lead normal lives.” 

This year marks Sam’s first back at Hostfest after several away. For more than a dozen years, the spoon jewelry maker sold his wares at this juried show with his wife. They stopped coming when she got sick. He thought once she passed away, his years of watching the kids in the Norwegian sweater parade, of eating lutefisk, and of bantering in Norwegian with folks from the Old Country were over. 

But his daughters convinced him otherwise. Earlier this month, they fought to hold back tears as old Hostfest friends stopped by his booth and even a local TV station welcomed him back. A group of 11-year-old girls hustle over and eagerly ask him how he turns spoons into rings. He’s happy to show them. “The Minot schools are making sure the heritage part isn’t just for old folks,” Sam says with approval. “The idea of making a spoon ring isn’t important, but to give them an idea that there is a wide variety of things to do out there—that you can have a career and you can have a hobby. That’s what’s important.”

He looks around the room, at the friends who are woodcarvers and rosemalers and tatters. The mist returns to Sam’s eyes. His emotions feel universal. And you don't have to speak Norwegian to understand them. 

Comments (1)

lmcclintick wrote:
Great story! I love the heritage crafts like rosemaling and the feeling you get at these gatherings. My grandma was raised mostly in an orphanage near the Minnesota-North Dakota border. She clung to her Norwegian heritage fiercely and that sort of filled in for a lack of family stories and history that gets passed between generations. And as grandchildren, we try to keep that going.