out-of-the-blue with no machinations on my part.
Growing up in Solvang, California was a surreal experience. The people who lived there in the 50s and early 60s were first and second generation Danes who had moved from the Midwest. Some of them were from Denmark, too, so I grew up speaking and understanding a little Danish and really loving the food, as well as the oom-pa music, polkas especially. These things weren't that far removed from my own Austrian culture anyway, so none of it felt out of the ordinary at the time. But growing up surrounded by dirndls, knee breeches and wooden shoes --and not even noticing them-- seems to me, now, to be kind of cool and different.
There weren't very many people there in those days who weren't Danish. There were a few Dutch, some Chumash on the reservation who were my only real friends, one Jewish family, and a family in our church who was an interracial couple whose kids were treated detestably by the Danish-American kids. It was a small town and most of the citizens had at least a little Danish in them, and if you didn't, your life was a living hell at school. I have the emotional scars to prove it. Thankfully, the physical ones healed.
Because of this odd mix of Fairytale and Fight Club, I've never had a very good opinion of the Danes. I've considered them to be at least 50% of the reason why I grew up with the issues that I did, and although I softened up on that as I came to understand that racial prejudice for any reason is wrong, I've always harbored a tiny seed of dislike in my heart. That's not right, and since I seem to be entering into a new phase in my life when I'm trying to right my wrongs, mend my fences and offer olive branches, I'm making a formal apology to the Danish people, especially those who never left Denmark to live in a bizarre little Disney-like village in California. You never did anything to harm me and from what I can tell you're a warm, congenial people who I hope to meet in your beautiful country one day, and learn a culture of which I've only experienced a watered-down impersonation.
Looking back, I think that the people who were nicest to me in Solvang were those who were actually born in Denmark. It didn't matter to them that I had red hair instead of blond and green eyes instead of blue. They gave me free samples in their chocolate shops, they let me pet the bunnies, and even gave me a free duckling for Easter one year. They welcomed me and my duck, which I walked on a leash, into their shops and they told me the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Happy, happy memories, those. But the nicest Dane I ever met was then Princess Margrethe II of Denmark.
Fried Green Tomatoes and you'll understand the kind of kid I was, except that I wasn't a "fight back" type), but it was a good enough reason to kick around town instead of going straight home after school, and it was a bit of excitement. A bunch of the kids joined the crowd, but I held back -- these kids were no friends of mine and I wasn't about to get in their way when they wanted to meet their princess.
Her final stop was Atterdag College, which had been turned into Solvang Lutheran Home for the elderly Danish emigrants, where she was to meet her expatriated subjects vis-à-vis. I hadn't seen much of her all afternoon because she was surrounded by what to me looked like a sea of human bodies. I was a kid, and a petite one at that, and all I really could see was a bunch of butts and elbows, both dangerous in their way when you're less than four feet tall.
As she greeted the elderly patients in the recreation room I grew tired and sat on a planter in the shade to rest before making the mile-long walk home. I don't know how long it was, but before long a pretty woman came and sat beside me and began asking me my name and age, if I was Danish, how long I'd lived there, etc. It didn't take me long to realize that this 20 year-old girl was the princess herself, having stolen a moment from her duties and the crowd. We spoke only a few minutes before the officials, the press, and fans found her, and she stood and held my hand in her gloved one and said goodbye with a beatific smile on her face, looking me square in the eye.
She was so, so nice -- the nicest Dane that I'd ever met. I still wasn't impressed that she was a princess; I had no way of knowing that she would be the Queen of Denmark in seven short years. In fact, I'd even forgotten about it, really, until I was an adult.
I've often thought of writing to her to thank her for her kindness that afternoon, for her place in my memory as one truly nice person who came into my life, albeit briefly, when other people were so abusive.