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Thursday, August 10, 2006
"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way"

I frequently forget that my mom had a fairly unorthodox childhood. When she was very young her parents split up and her father was awarded custody. Her mother lived in Los Angeles and spent most of her time as an alcoholic. Her father lived in Valley City, North Dakota.

Her parents are devout Jehovah's Witnesses, and she grew up in a very strict household. Her father re-married and had 4 more children. My mom is the eldest of the 5 by several years. This combined with the fact that she was the only child with a different biological mother probably made her a bit of an outsider.

One year, after staying with her mom in California for the summer she decided she wanted to stay in LA and go to school there. Her father denied her the permission and she in turn defied her father. Technically her mom "kidnapped" her and helped to prevent her from returning to North Dakota. Her father flew out to California to bring her home but was unsuccessful. Eventually she was tracked down by her aunt and uncle but when confronted she was told she could continue to live with her mother in LA.

As my mom grew into an adult she re-connected with her family, but she's always seemed pretty detached from them. I only remember seeing my mom's side of the family a handful of times...Maybe 3 or 4 times in all my 30 years.

This last weekend My mom and I got a chance to to spend time with the Berghs once more. Her dad - My grandfather - is pretty advanced in years and his memory is starting to fail him. I haven't seen him in about 15 years. It is more than likely that I will never see him alive again.

In 1996 the Cohen brothers gave us Fargo, which pretty much did to North Dakota what Bay Watch did to California...At least in the eyes of people who don't live in those respective states. Since my recent visit to this fly-over state took place in the summer, I can tell you that there is some beautiful weather in there. There's some nice scenery to go with it. It's a lot of green fields of soy beans, and big open skies. So in that respect the Cohen brothers' version of a Hoth-like wasteland perpetually blanketed in snow isn't the whole picture.

But the way people talk in that film is pretty much dead-on.

I was surrounded by people who use terms like "dog-gone" and "oh ya" "well fer goodness sake".

Valley City is a very slow place. On Saturday a group of us went for a walk around town. No one was out. Half the stores were closed. There really was nothing there except for a few gift shops selling nick-nacks, and maybe a bar.

Most of my trip was spent sitting on the porch, napping, sitting some more, playing the occasional card game, chatting, and more sitting. We did have some very unique accommodations. My uncle reserved the local universities guest house for all of us who were coming in from out of town. It was a very cool old building -- all wood floors, chandeliers, and a labyrinth like layout that connected the 5 or 6 rooms and 3 or 4 bathrooms.

This picture is compliments of some chick named Amy who I found on the internet...I don't know the people in the picture. I would have taken some video of the trip but I couldn't find my charger before leaving sooooo...Buttons.

It was also really great to see this part of my family again. It's a little strange to spend time with people who are part of your family and yet practically strangers. Frequently this can lead to a lot of "forced closeness", but everyone was genuinely warm and friendly. I really felt like everyone was especially glad that my mom made it out. She would later tell me that she felt a little like a celebrity.

Of course no family trip to No-Dak would be complete without a visit to the "Kingdom Hall" - that is...Church. "Kingdom Hall" always sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings to me. That or some sort of Norse mythology. I half expect to drive up to some immense structure built of rugged stone and lit by wood burning braziers. The sort of place that you find Thor locked in an arm-wrestling match with Beowulf.

Instead we found ourselves in a very modest building with about 30 other people listening to about 2 hours of sermons about Jehova. This side of my family (with the exception of my mom) are heavily devoted to their faith. Both sections of the service I attended were led by my uncles, and there were a lot of Berghs in the audience. In fact, the kingdom hall in Valley City is basically in my grandfather's front yard. It's pretty intense.

The first portion of the service was pretty standard stuff, "do good stuff live right, make sure god likes you." The second portion struck me as particularly strange. If you've ever come across a "Watchtower" pamphlet somewhere (I used to see them all the time in Laundry-mats), you have a good idea as to what it was like. This is because the second hour was spent reading through one of these pamphlets.

Basically one person reads and than asks the congregation questions about the reading. This particular reading seemed to essentially be about how the Jews are bunch of whining, ungrateful, complainers. If I was 100% cynical I would say that this lesson seemed to stress being complacent in all things. Really it was about the benefits of a patient and pleasant demeanor.

and about how terrible the Jews are. :p

You might think (being raised Jewish) that this was the part that made me the most uncomfortable. Actually it was the "question and answer section" that really made my jaw drop.

Basically my uncle would read a paragraph or so, and than turn to the audience with a question about those paragraphs. This seems like a good idea as it can obviously lead to some deeper understanding of the principles being discussed.

In reality it's just there to make sure people are awake. While sitting in the audience you would hear something like this:

leader: After the Israelites were delivered from bondage they began complaining to Moses. They asked him why he had led them into the desert to starve.

okay...So...After the Israelites were delivered from bondage...Who did they complain to?

If this weren't enough...Some people STILL couldn't answer the questions! I was in shock.

I was a little worried about being engaged in religious discussions over the weekend, but for the most part it was never brought up. I found myself in one pleasant discussion with my uncle about a few things, but I was never pressured about anything or asked about my own opinions. While I'm certainly not ashamed to be an atheist, I didn't feel like getting into it in that particular atmosphere.

So that was my weekend. I was glad to have made the trip although I could have done without staying all the way through Monday. Especially since most of my family left that morning which resulted in me spending most of my day in the Fargo mall.

The sad thing about the trip is that while it was certainly memorable for me, my grandfather's mind is not what it once was. He's likely to have already forgotten about our visit. He barely remembers my mom and I'm not sure he ever had any idea who I was. When I left his home on Monday I hugged him and said goodbye and he took me in his arms held me tight while saying, "who are you again?"

"I'm Eryn, your grandson"

"okay...And what can I do for you?"

"um...Well...Just take care of yourself I guess"

"I think I can do that" he said with a smile.


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