Friday, November 26, 2010

family history



I left the comfort and warmth of Sue's beautiful farmhouse to bump and sway down the rail road tracks to Esbjerg, my grandad's hometown. There I met Steen, a kind and generous archaeologist who offered his sofa to a cold and sleepy artist who still hadn't drawn much. Steen was my second Couchsurfing experience— Sue being my first, though we had previously met in Istanbul. Couchsurfing is a wonderful way to see the world and meet people, based fundamentally on trust and the goodness of strangers. You visit the website, search for someone with a couch or a bed to sleep on in the city you are travelling to, et voilà: somewhere to lay your wandering head and possibly, a new friend.

I asked Steen, knower of many, many things, if he had heard of my grandad's dad, John Tranum. With a tilt of his head he said he knew of a road with such a name, and almost simultaneously we both added, "by the airport." Since my great grandad was a famous parachutist, stuntman and daredevil, it was only fitting that the road to the airport be named John Tranum's Way. We spent the dark afternoon and evening discussing my adventurous relative, the history of Esbjerg, and what it's like to dig in the mud for ancient homes.

In the morning I met my grandad's cousin Maria, whom I had never met but felt an instant connection to. Maria took me to the place where John Tranum now rests, as he has ever since his final record-breaking jump attempt in 1935, which sadly, he never got to perform. His oxygen tank failed, and he never made it out of the plane.



Before Maria and I ran off to catch a ferry to the island of Fanø, just across the Esbjerg harbour, she showed me a veritable treasure-trove of old photos— pictures of my grinning grandad, of beautiful Maria as a Fanø calendar girl in traditional costume, of Chieftan, her legendary Alsatian, of our ancestors The Captain and his wife Anna, who had seven daughters named after the seven seas. Among these books of faded photos, a calendar of Esbjerg history contained one photo that captivated me and my child-like sense of wonder:

4 comments:

Petra :-) said...

what a breathtaking and lovely story about your grandfather and your family history, I am sure that he is watching you exploring his footsteps and *smiling* :-) I wish one day that I can visit all the places in the middle east where my grandfather worked & visited in the 50s of the last century...grandfathers & granddaughters might me sometimes closer to each other than we believe...

szaza said...

Thank you so much, Petra :)
I hope you get to explore all those places your grandfather set foot upon as well— the Middle East in the 50s must have been incredible!

omar said...

wow! amazing story!

szaza said...

Thank you, Omar!