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Celebrating Norwegian way of life

Royalton couple has immersed themselves in Norwegian culture

Patricia Fernelius at her home in Royalton. She honors Norwegian heritage in a variety of ways, including clothes, wall hangings and celebrations including Syttende Mai. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

Norwegian Constitution Day, Syttende Mai (17th of May) is commemorated many places in Minnesota, the Upper Midwest and around the United States. It is seldom celebrated with more enthusiasm than in the home of Roger and Patricia Fernelius, of Royalton, where their Norwegian heritage is honored in many ways throughout the year and especially on Syttende Mai.

“Getting together with friends, the fellowship and the special food is our favorite part of Syttende Mai,” said Patricia. “If I cook at home, we have Norwegian meatballs, baby red potatoes, creamed cabbage, kringla and rømmegrøt (cream pudding), served on our red, white and blue Norwegian-like dishes.”

Over the years, the Fernelius’ have attended Syttende Mai festivities in Padua, Sunberg, St. Cloud, Brainerd and the Twin Cities. Parades are often held and dinners served with traditional Norwegian foods. They were also members of the Sons of Norway for several years.

“I learned more about cooking traditional foods from a Norwegian native in the Sons of Norway,“ said Patricia.

She shared her memories while sitting at the kitchen table in a room with warm Norwegian red walls, surrounded by traditional Norwegian craft items and with Norwegian hymns playing softly in the background. Her rolling pins for lefse, flatbread and cookies have a prominent place on her counter with several more tucked away in a drawer.

Patricia’s Norwegian heritage is as much a part of her as breathing. She learned at the knees of her grandmother, Beret Hanson, who came to the United States from Norway in 1911, at age 19.

“My grandpa died when I was 3, and we went to live with grandma for five years,” said Patricia. “She gave me a ukulele when I was very small, and I still have it.”

In Kandiyohi County, where she grew up, Patricia and her family ate traditional Norwegian foods.

“We always had mashed potatoes at meals. Any little dab that was left over we would use to make up some lefse after the meal,” she said.

Norwegian heritage carried through in other activities as well, such as music.

“My parents bought me an accordion when I was about 12, and I took lessons,” Patricia said. “I played it a lot as a kid, learning Norwegian music.”

When the first few Fernelius children were young, Beret came to stay with the family for a couple of weeks at a time. She still used Norwegian sayings in her everyday speech.

“She taught me how to knit then and to cut wool squares to make blankets. Every Christmas she always knit wool mittens for every grandchild,” Patricia remembered. “She talked very little about life in Norway, because she had come to the United States to make a new life.”

While spending time with her grandmother, Patricia picked up more tips about daily household tasks. “It was just little things, like learning how she spiced meatballs or seeing how she saved old clothes by mending and then, at the last, using them for rugs when they couldn’t be worn anymore.”

Later, after a stroke, Beret could not converse with people but was still able to speak scripture along with her pastor when he visited her in the nursing home.

“She was a devout Christian lady,” Patricia said. “She kept a Norwegian Bible.”

Patricia played in a small band in the New London-Spicer area at nursing homes, senior centers and small churches. One of the Fernelius’ sons, Rustin, played the violin, and he and Patricia would play for the residents at St. Francis in Little Falls.

As the five Fernelius children grew up and Patricia had more time, she began learning other Norwegian handcrafts, such as hardanger embroidery and rosemaling.

“I started taking lessons in about the late 1990s,” she said. “I also took lessons in kolrosing.”

Rosemaling is a form of decorating wood items with specialized painting techniques. Kolrosing involves carving a design into wood, sanding the surface and rubbing ground coffee into the design before sealing the wood.

Using traditional cooking methods, Patricia is a top-notch lefse cook. She and Roger make an efficient team when doing the holiday baking.

“We sit across the table from each other working on lefse and krumkake,” Patricia said. “For kringla, I do the rolling, and Roger takes care of the baking.”

One of the lefse sticks they use was handmade by a cousin of Patricia’s father more than 50 years ago, and it is a treasured tool.

Roger and Patricia Fernelius, of Royalton, in their traditional Norwegian garb. Contributed photo

“I like our Norwegian heritage,” said Roger. “I like doing the baking; it brings back lots of good memories.”

Christmas 2016 just wasn’t the same, though. Patricia had recently undergone hip replacement surgery and was not ready for it. Roger and Patricia are now preparing to bake for another event coming up, their grandson’s graduation party.

“He wants rosettes, lefse, krumkake, kringla and maybe rømmegrøt,” Patricia said. “We’ll probably bake a midsommer cake – a white cake moistened with apple juice, frosted with whipped cream and topped with strawberries.”

Patricia and Roger were given a trip to Norway for their 40th wedding anniversary in 2002. “It was two weeks – the trip of a lifetime,” she said.

On that trip, Patricia looked for traditional craft kits and brought home a kit for a traditional Norwegian bunad, a woman’s dress worn with a blouse. It is finished with hardanger embroidery. She wears that several times a year on holidays and other special occasions. She also wears traditional Norwegian jewelry called solje, which includes pins, earrings and necklaces made of lacy filigree work in sterling silver.

In 2011, after the birth of his daughter, Rustin asked Patricia if she would make a special baptismal gown. She spent several weeks hard at work on a hardanger gown for little Alaina Fernelius. In addition to the gown, Patricia gave Alaina a solje pin that had belonged to her grandmother, Beret.

For the baptism celebration, Patricia baked a kransekake, a Norwegian cake traditionally used at weddings and baptisms.

More recently, Patricia found an antique cradle at a thrift store in Tennessee, brought it home, cleaned it up and rosemaled a design on it for Alaina.

Although most of Roger’s heritage is Norwegian, he is one quarter Swedish. So there are a few Swedish items scattered among the Norwegian things.

For the Fernelius family, their Norwegian heritage is just a part of the fabric life, but a part that has made life infinitely richer.

“We are trying to pass our Norwegian heritage on to our children and grandchildren,” Patricia said.

That’s not just a dream. Granddaughter Rachel took a rosemaling class with Patricia when she was just 9 years old, and 6-year-old Alaina has a violin just waiting for her to pick up and make more Norwegian music.

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