Coffee and stories in the old cottage

A long hike brings out the pessimist or optimist in you. Either the weather is always wrong, or it could always be worse.

This afternoon I was walking a long uphill stretch of asphalt about half an hour short of Granavollen. The sun was beating down, which wasn’t making it any easier, but at least it wasn’t pelting with rain as it had off and on for the previous couple of days.

Suddenly, whatever solitary reverie I was wound up in was interrupted by a middle-aged lady running out of a gap in the hedge, waving a bottle of water and talking quickly at me in Norwegian. People here often seem to mistake me for one of their countrymen, and I gave her my usual sheepish line about how bad my Norwegian was. In English, she replied ‘I was asking if you wanted to come in and have a drink or some coffee or cake with us?’

As it happened, I’d been daydreaming since the previous afternoon about a big mug of that thick black coffee they’re so fond of in this part of the world, so I accepted graciously, and followed her up a narrow path to a tiny, two-room cottage, the interior of which was straight out of the 1930s. It was sparsely furnished, with a table and chairs, a single bed in the corner, some shelves with a few modest and antiquated odds and ends, and a spread of cake and open sandwiches on top of the cold iron stove.

Around the table were seated what looked like at least four generations of the lady’s family, nine of them in total, including two benign-looking old ladies who smiled at me sweetly when I introduced myself. I tried to sit a respectful distance away so the reek of my clothes wouldn’t put them off their strawberry cake.

‘This cottage is a very traditional type of place where farm workers or poor people used to live,’ explained my hostess as she poured me a tall mug of coffee. ‘We live in the big house over there, but we bought this place in the 1980s from the old lady who lived here, and we keep it just the way it used to be. It’s like a museum. Every summer I have my aunts here for lunch.’ She gestured towards the two old dears.

I sat there with them for half an hour and two cups of coffee, while they talked to me in English or among themselves in Norwegian. Occasionally one or other of the wizened old aunties would talk to me and the lady of the house would translate, while they told me about the family who’d lived in the house, or walking long distances to school during the bitterly cold winters of the early 1940s.

Eventually, albeit reluctantly, it was time for me to get on my way, and I wandered back out on to the road eating a handful of strawberries from the cottage garden and wondering what exactly had just occurred.

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