This woman, someone I hope will be a good friend, has a sense of the Dakotas that I needed to understand. After we shared our lives she said something very interesting to me. I wish I could remember her exact words. I remember the essence. She said,
Joyce, there is nothing that you have told me about yourself that would make me think you'd ever fit in up here.Now that put a new spin on life in the Dakotas. She was not being harsh nor was I offended. It was like the lightbulb went on over my head. Suddenly, other things that people had said to me now made sense.
Many times I had been told that life is just different here. People aren't as welcoming. They take a long time to accept you. They want to know if you are going to stay. If you aren't related you don't fit.
I responded with a smile to her. I replied: I know one thing. I know one thing that might help me fit.
We laughed. She said: yes, that might do it. It hasn't.
As a child we had several Sons of Norway lodges within walking distance in Brooklyn. The biggest one on 8th Avenue (AKA Lapskaus Blvd). None of my family or any of our peer group were members. They had a bar and a dance floor. We along with the conservative Lutheran Brethren did not engage in such sinful activities. The Evangelical Free Norwegians didn't either. Several of us were always excused from the sinful activity of folk dance in gym class at PS 220.
In April of each year, I would jealously look at the pictures of the candidates for Miss Norway in our local Norwegian newspaper, Nordisk Tidende. The newspaper was always in our home by Friday afternoon. The chosen queen would ride in her bunad on the back of convertible waving to the crowds gathered for the Syttende Mai parade. I was too young to be a Miss Norway. However, I knew I would never be one since we were not worldly enough to be part of a lodge.
Here in SD the lodges are different. They don't seem to drink at meetings, have bars or even have their own buildings. I joined Sons of Norway for the first time. I thought it would be a good way to get to know people, find a place and make connections.
My Norwegian credentials are quite impressive. My father was born in Norway. I grew up as Norwegian as one can be outside of Norway. I went to a church where everyone other than the children had an accent. The Pastor never said Jesus, it was always Yesus... I was not Joyce but Yoyce.
Issues have prevented me from going to many lodge meetings here in Brookings. They seem like a nice group of people. Most are quite advanced in age. I have offered several times to do a program on Growing Up Norwegian in Brooklyn. So far, they haven't been interested. However, like everywhere I go here in SD, people look at me like - who is she and why is she here?
I'd like to tell them that I don't know why I am here. I do know who I am though. I am child of God, born into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. I have many gifts to offer if people would give me the chance. I am probably too energetic for many here. I am also Norwegian.
I am definitely too open for most. Often since coming to SD local folk have commented on my "openness." It shocks them. It shocks me that they say it. I think now I understand. I don't fit.
In the sense of changing who I am, I don't want to fit. I will continue to be me. The person who will candidly and willingly share her life, her struggles, her pain, her joys, her gifts and her concerns. I can do that in South Dakota. There is room for me in South Dakota even if I don't fit.