This story begins when mom asked me to write to the Hamilton family in Sweden. To my surprise I received a letter from Gunilla’s daughter, Gunilla II, announcing that she would be journeying to visit me the coming month.
As promised I received a telephone call from Gunilla setting up a time to meet at the Frankfurt am Main train station. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a stately young woman about my age who had just returned from South Africa where she had completed what they call in Sweden, her service, a two year volunteer period where one ministers to the needy and poor.
During that time she told me that she had learned several dialects of Swahili, along with her German, French, English, Danish, and Dutch. Of course Swedish her native tongue was a given. Prior to her compulsory service, as she called it, she had already graduated from Oxford, and by the time she filled me in with her recent achievements I was awed to no end. We spent a very pleasant social visit that day, and let us say that I was quite attracted to her charm.
With her past and what she had already achieved in her short life I would not have the least chance in being able to attract her to myself. She did opine that she was dating a Captain in the U.S. Air force, so that dashed any more of my personal hopes to befriend her. However, she said that her mother would like to invite me and a friend of my choosing for the coming Christmas holidays.
I was so excited that I failed to ask enough questions to be prepared for the journey. I needed a whole new wardrobe. But, in a few days I called her, and we made the final preparations for my visit. I had no idea what to expect. Mom had told me and my sister, Jeanne, about her visit to this mansion of a home which always became more grandiose every time the story was told. So, I had made up my mind that this was just one of mom’s many fairy tales which was part of her usual repertoire as we were growing up. Mom was an extraordinary storyteller, and no matter who she met there was always a story in the offing.
Now with less than a month before my Christmas leave was to begin I had decided to invite a clean cut friend who happened to be a dental technician that worked in the dispensary’s second floor of our building. His name was Dick Ainsley who was from Ames, Iowa. He had gone to the Army dental technology school, just like I had gone to X-Ray Technology School in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. However, the Army decided that I should also run the pharmacy as well.
By this time I had already mastered German, and decided I would prepare to pass the tests in German to enter Marburg University. Dick had no such plans but all in all we got along well. So we planned our train trip to Stockholm. Our trip was planned for two weeks, and neither of us had very many civilian clothes. So, I packed my German sport coat, and several shirts, and two pair of slacks, and plenty of underwear. For a soldier in Germany at that time, that was about the usual amount of “civvies,” as we called them then.
The big day for departure came and Dick and I boarded the world’s best and most efficient train system ever operated. The German Railroad System! When we boarded our new overnight compartment in Frankfurt we were surprised to find two pretty Danish girls who would share our space as far as Copenhagen. To say they were very friendly is an understatement; they were more like long lost “girl friends,” with two total strangers. No wonder the troops loved to go to Copenhagen so much! I guess it was just a way of life with these girls, and it was a surprise to be on the receiving end of such attention.
I forget how long it took us to get to Stockholm after leaving the girls in Denmark, but our train got into the Stockholm station around mid-night, and we were met by the Hamilton family chauffeur who spoke excellent English to our surprise. In what seemed like a jiffy, our driver announced that the Hamilton Estate begins here. It was pitch black and all we knew was that we were close to our destination. We drove, and drove and our driver remarked about the surrounding estate houses and of the servants who lived in the various houses. The vastness of the estate property was rather unimaginable, especially, in my guest Dick’s mind, because he remarked about it over and over that night.
When we pulled up to the front entrance we saw the over-reaching view of a gargantuan multi-storied stately manor. The front door opened and there were the two Gunilla’s with open arms and hugs to welcome us to their home. It was like we were long lost friends, and it made us feel wonderfully welcome. Mother, Gunilla, ushered us into the kitchen, which was larger than any kitchen I had ever seen, and we sat on some bar stools while they poured us some Aquavit, 165 proof white lightening, which loosened our tongues instantly.
We were treated to an amazing recitation of the daily household routine, the guests who would be visiting besides ourselves, but who were invited for the Christmas Party, and the New Year’s Eve Party. And lastly the fact that mother Gunilla wanted us to stay in their flat for a few days so we could tour Downtown Stockholm.
The daily routine was mind-blowing. The household rose for breakfast, including many servants, at 8:00 A.M. dressed casually, and after eating returned to their rooms to dress for whatever morning activity they chose to do. The options were: bird-hunting, sleigh riding, ice skating, horseback riding, or shopping and some other things that escape me at this time.
After the morning activity we returned home and changed clothes to prepare for lunch. After lunch everyone took an hour or so to write letters, read, and tend to personal things. Then we chose another activity for the afternoon, then returned to the house in time to dress up for cocktails, and socialize with the expected guests. After the cocktail party, we retired to our rooms and dressed for a formal dinner.
Grandma Hamilton who had just returned to Sweden after living in Boston the last thirty years insisted that all her guests join her for an hour or two in a bridge game. No excuses, she expected it. After bridge we were free to do whatever we pleased. That was the everyday routine except for the planned parties where Dick and I were expected to help with the preparation of the guest place cards, and some other social niceties.
We were then introduced to Grandma Hamilton, properly, and then retired for bed to ponder what we had just heard was expected of us for two weeks. Wow! When we got up to our rooms, and unpacked our few personal possessions, we both looked at each other, and Dick said, “What have you gotten me into?” I was a flabbergasted as he was, but for a country boy from Iowa, it must have been a worse shock to him than it was to me. We then tried to figure out how to proceed.
This two week Christmas sojourn with a Swedish blue-blood family was a real eye-opener and I never had the inclination or desire for any other contact with them. They were so far out of my league it wasn’t even funny!
Later, Mom said little about my report on what happened, and other than a vivid memory of a two week period of my past, this visit is memorialized by the photo I posted at the head of this article. When I finally returned to the U.S.A. a few years later there were so many things happening that the subject never came up again.
I wrote this piece at the request of my sister, Jeanne Marianne Courtois Osterman, born April 1942, and died of cancer in January 2012. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
After the Army Dick Ainsley and I lost contact.
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