In Honor of the Torsk
Stavanger Aftenblad Saturday May 6th, 2006 [Translated by P. Berntzen...see the original ]
If you ever find yourself in Chicago
In Honor of the Torsk
CHICAGO: “Gentlemen! Come to order!” Robert Alsaker raps the gavel hard in the podium. He looks out over a gathering of well over a hundred formally dressed gentlemen and straightens the cod shaped medallion he wears around his neck.
It is the second Saturday of the month and regular meeting time for Chicago Torske Klub. This month’s program is a father-son/daughter event.
The Boss, as his title is, gives both regulars and visitors a warm welcome. He signals the Master of Ceremonies that it is time for the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone rises; “I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The Master of Ceremonies has a bright voice, and we soon realize why he also leads the singing of the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner".
THE AQUAVIT may now be served, orders Alsaker once everyone is seated. In come Mexican servers with ice-cold Linie Aquavit. As first course they serve pea soup and Lefse. We butter our Lefse with Prairie-Butter and strike up a conversation with an American seated next to us.
The Norwegian-Americans here in Chicago are proud of their Norwegian heritage and are happy to tell us where in Norway they have their roots. During cocktail-hour, we were introduced to a number of first, second, and third generation Norwegians. But it is only those who are born in Norway who speak Norwegian, and they frequently switch to English in order to be understood.
“Where are you from”, I ask. “I was born in Randøy. Do you know anyone from there?” Then I get to meet Sverre Overland from Hana. He tells about lean times during the years preceding the Second World War. He did not see a future there, and emigrated to Chicago, where he established himself and was able to prosper.
“Are you ever homesick for Norway?”
“No, my family is here in the US, but I stay in touch with my relatives back home, and I regularly make the trip across the Atlantic.”
One gentleman stands out by the way he is dressed. He wears a large, eye-catching, red, white, and blue tie decorated with a Norwegian flag. I say hello. Lowell Olberg’s smile is as wide as his tie, and he talks about his relatives from Sola. He enquires in detail about Ølberg harbor, and about the crab and lobster fishing there. Then he shows me the stuffed cod mounted in a glass display box at the podium.
THE MENU is always the same at every gathering of the Torske Klub. It is time for the main course. In come platters of steaming cod. Beautiful white pieces with sliced carrots. The obligatory serving of Norwegian potatoes comes with it. A slice of lemon floats in melted butter. This is just like mom’s cod dinner, perhaps with the exception of the Aquavit.
I wonder how they are able to obtain such great cod here in the Midwest. It turns out it was flown in from Iceland yesterday. Iceland, explains the gentleman next to me, was once a Norwegian colony and was settled by Norwegians. Icelandic cod is therefore as good as Norwegian.
The gentleman next to me is a second generation Norwegian from Moss in Østfold, but a lot of the members seem to have roots in Rogaland. Everyone wears a Torske Klub nametag, and the nametags tell me something about their origins: Borsheim, Eik, Solberg, Braaten, Fjell, Haug, Roland, and Ranvik.
The Boss introduces Ronald Bentsen, who is the Raffle Chairman. It takes a while before I realize that it is now time for the monthly raffle drawing. Crisis, I have not purchased raffle tickets! But, luckily, most of the other Norwegian visitors have. In a corner of the room stands a table withy all the prices. There are a number of liquor bottles in beautiful boxes, and Linie Aquavit is naturally among them.
THE DRAWING gets underway, with tickets being pulled from an old helmet from the Second World War. I get to help with the first drawing. And, sure enough, one of my travel-companions ends up winning. The winner grins and proudly shows off his prize: a moose key-rack carved in wood. The painted raffle-helmet with the Sons of Norway logo is passed around. The prizes are quickly united with their new owners. The program moves along rapidly. A Torske meeting lasts only three short afternoon hours.
Next, the desert is wheeled in. Shiny desert-bowls containing ice cream, decorated with American sized dabs of cream.
It is three o’clock. The monthly dinner has come to an end. Several members stay behind and refuse to let us leave. Norwegian greetings are exchanged with Midwestern accents. A Mexican server has piled on to many plates and trips on his way to the kitchen. Everything falls to floor with a big bang.
Outside the Des Plaines Elks Club sits a lonely yellow school bus. In the quiet parking lot nearby, a few huge American cars still remain. One of them has a medallion with a Norwegian flag mounted on the grill. I fell at home, somehow. “Here in Des Plaines”, announces the bus driver, and points, “is where the first McDonald’s fast-food restaurant was opened.” With Icelandic cod in my belly, a cheeseburger doesn’t sound tempting at all.
Cod Dinner: Just like at mom’s place. Almost
Cod Speech: Robert Alsaker behind the stuffed cos. Erling Dagsland from Bryne (seen in the mirror) gives a speech.
THE COD CLUB: The official name is “Chicago Sons of Norway Torske Klub” and it was founded in 1960. People often ask if the word “Klub” is not misspelled, but it is not. Klub is an abbreviation of the Norwegian word “Klubb”. www.torskeklub.org