When I married Amanda we received many beautiful and functional gifts from our friends and family. Many of these gifts will hopefully last for years and potentially generations. I in particular was given a wonderful gift, one that was slightly less tangible: front row seats to the circus that is Amanda’s family, the Green/Soderbergs. This gift allows me to enjoy almost limitless and constant entertainment from their biological knowledge (or lack thereof), facility with dubious statistics, and trash talking despite actual results. To add the icing to the cake I also received a fellow spectator and comedian in the form of Bjorn Soderberg, Amanda’s Swedish stepdad.
Over the years I have experienced some excellent and ridiculous discussions. Now these comic displays are what I have come to expect from any family gathering, and they rarely disappoint. During any normal day with the Green/Soderberg family, many discussion-arguments break out where some point is loudly defended or attacked, usually with a key piece of information being omitted or with a key “fact” having no basis in reality. One such example is a heated argument between Amanda and her brother Nick about removing road kill from the road. The argument hinged on the need to prevent squirrels from feeding on the carrion being hit by cars – squirrels are not normally known as carrion eaters but this fact did not hinder them.
Biology in general seems hard to grasp for the Green/Soderberg clan and the examples are so numerous as to escape counting. Some personal favorites are this gem from a trivia game: “The penguin, puffin, and pelican are all birds but they are all also what?” Nick’s confident and immediate response was “mammals!” The correct answer is publishing companies. I remember some discussion from Amanda’s other brother Erik regarding chickens and that they qualified as mammals as well on the basis that they lay eggs.
More recently, Amanda’s dad misread a sign in a museum on Sami culture. He amazedly exclaimed, “Did you know the Sami people used to milk wolves, varg?!” Though an interesting idea, the sign actually said that they milked female reindeer, vaja. Admittedly, the two words in Swedish contain some of the same letters. The vegetable kingdom also presents itself as a bit of mystery, Nick again sharing the amazing new fact that pickles come from cucumbers. This occurred despite the fact that Amanda’s mom and Bjorn make pickles (from cucumbers) nearly every year.
Following the biology line we also encounter problems with grammar. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Nick was telling a story about eating at a restaurant only to have “two mouse run across the floor.” Erik scoffed and with a grin asked, “Don’t you mean two mice?” Nick’s totally original and bizarre answer was: “No. They weren’t touching,” delivered with an indignant matter-of-factness that effectively created a new grammatical structure in English. Though he left us all slightly stunned, he also gave us material for years: “Look two person! Oh wait, now they are holding hands: two people.”
Amanda’s mom, Ann, seems to have had more rigorous academic upbringing as her basic biology and grammar skills are quite good, despite being born in Sweden (I guess Carl Von Linnaeus was alright). However, she still contributes heavily on the humor side of things with an unwillingness to learn actual names and instead create her own. Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort becomes Mount Meadows, Government Camp becomes Camp Government or Federal Camp, Bi-Mart became Bi-more, Bi-rite, and Shop-mart. My favorite happened on our trip up to the Swedish mountains where the menu said we would be dining on “Arctic ptarmigan” soup. Later when someone asked what we would be eating for dinner, Ann replied “the first course is that curmudgeon soup stuff.”
My father’s side of the family places a lot of emphasis on speaking correctly, perhaps it is a Jewish thing. Being able to wield words and weave sentences are required basic skills, and the incorrect word or poorly crafted story does not go unnoticed. The contrast between an evening with Amanda’s family and my own is significant and humorous. Though some members of my side of the family surely spew forth some dubious facts and assertions, the atmosphere at a Green/Soderberg gathering is more akin to a firing range containing those 100 monkeys that are pounding away on typewriters trying to write Shakespeare. It is a hectic scene and sometimes between Bjorn and I we still can’t keep track of a particular argument or even who is arguing what point. Thankfully, those in the Green/Soderberg clan do not hold grudges, so topics change quickly and disagreements are easily forgotten.
(I’m hoping that they also won’t hold a grudge (particularly Nick) after they’ve read through this post!)
Addendum: I realize that Amanda seems to have escaped a good deal of mocking, perhaps owing more to her proximity (slapping range) than a lack of material. Amanda often encounters difficulties with containing liquids. Recently she brought a thermos of coffee along on a day hike only to have it mysteriously spill everywhere. The problem was she had neglected to close the thermos using the screw-on cap, and had assumed instead that the small cup that sits on top of thermos would be sufficient to contain the wily coffee. Last week I wasn’t feeling well and Amanda served us some reindeer soup I had prepared. She did fine with her serving but mine was in a plate instead of bowl. She hadn’t even noticed.
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