I missed an extended family tradition this year, and I don’t know if I’ll soon get over it. I even have a refrigerator magnet to remind me of the “1st Sunday in February...Lutefisk at Dell Lutheran Church.” For years, my mom, aunt and uncle (the three siblings) and sometimes their spouses, a couple cousins and I have made the journey to Frost, Minnesota, for a delectable dinner of Norwegian delicacies.
Yes...if you’re one of the many haters of lutefisk, you might not place it in the same category of “delicacy” as I do. The mere word makes my mouth water. I eat lutefisk like some people eat M&Ms. At some point, they know they should stop, but those darn peanut butter M&Ms just taste so good that pretty soon, the pound-size “family bag” is empty before the family ever gets to see it.
Yup, that’s my relationship with lutefisk. I hate to stop eating it. I’m usually still eating yet another helping when everyone else at my table is already demolishing the tray full of homemade Norwegian desserts.
Even more than I relish the actual lutefisk dinner itself, though, is the time spent with my relatives.
As I usually ride part of the way with someone else, the journey there is just as much a part of the experience as the food itself. I’ve learned a lot about my family from the back seat of my uncle’s van, listening to the conversations and adding in my two cents’ worth whenever someone stops talking to take a breath.
This is perhaps a memory I will hopefully share with my kids and grandkids...provided lutefisk is still being made and I can tempt my lutefisk non-lovers to tag along for the meatballs, potatoes and klub. (Yes, you read that right. Klub...or in my description, a big ball of dough around a little piece of ham. It’s tasty, but it is very filling and takes up precious lutefisk space in my stomach, so I proceed with caution.)
I love to hear stories about “the olden days,” and I get a kick out of how my mom, her sister, and her brother still tease each other...even in their old age! Some things never change. I look at the three siblings and can definitely tell the birth order and how it plays into their relationships.
My uncle is the baby of the family, and he is full of mischief...in a good way. My mom, the middle child, sometimes sides with her sister and sometimes with her mischievous brother. My aunt, the oldest child, usually tells the others how it’s going to be. (I’m saying this as I am also the oldest sibling in my family, and I can relate to this “role” that my aunt plays!)
Of course, talk usually revolves around food...and stories of “that terrible snow we had last year on our way to Frost!” Even if there is no snow in the forecast for the upper Midwest, somehow the white stuff knows that it’s lutefisk day and makes a surprise appearance.
Recently, I was telling a woman at my church about this meal and family tradition, and she asked just where Frost, Minnesota is. Sad but true, I couldn’t tell her. I am usually in the back seat of a car or van and in the midst of some really great stories, and poof! Out of the blue appears a tiny country church in the middle of nowhere with volunteer valet parking for the throngs of people who also have magically found their way to this off-the-beaten-path Norwegian extravaganza.
OK, I know I could look at a map and tell someone exactly where it is...but I love that one thing in my life still remains such a mystical place. Imagine a tiny country church at the end of a tree-lined road on the other side of a tiny country bridge. Add snow. It’s almost like entering an adorable snow globe. This is how I want the memory to remain in my mind.
As for this year’s missed lutefisk and family adventure, well...there is another tradition that we started a few years ago. My church has its own amazing lutefisk dinner in May! Fantastic food, great company and camaraderie.
The only thing missing is snow and the long ride there with my relatives. Oh, and klub.
But that means there’s more room for lutefisk!
Michelle Sprout Murray is a freelance writer who lives in Mason City with her family. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.