|Getting to Know Lars|
Lisa Barry: This week on Gateway To Joy, we have the rare opportunity of hearing from Elisabeth Elliot's husband, Lars Gren. Our focus during this series has been on grandparents. Lars spent a good deal of his youth living with his. There's much background to tell, so I'm going to hand things over to Elisabeth to get us started.
Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, talking today with my beloved husband. His name is Lars. It rhymes with stars. Lars Gren. A very strange name. Glad you're here, Lars. I'd like you to tell my listeners a little bit about your life.
Lars Gren: Thank you. I hope they don't get me mixed up with your first two husbands. I suppose what you want to know a little bit about is how in the world I wound up in Norway and grew up there when my family was in America.
Elisabeth Elliot: Exactly.
Lars Gren: Well, the short version of it is, Mother came from Norway and immigrated to this country. Dad, he was Swedish, and also immigrated. They met out on Long Island. As with all Scandinavians, Mother worked in the house. Dad was a chauffeur. They married over here and had a restaurant business.
At that time, they were going back and forth to Norway during the summer months and had decided to sell out the restaurant business in the U.S. and move back to the old country. At that time, I had a sister a little bit older than I am, and she was with my folks in the States when the war broke. At that time, I was with my grandparents. So the possibilities were slim of going through the northern Atlantic to get to America, although that was a possibility on one of the last ships to leave Finland. I would have gone through Norway into Sweden, and then Finland and caught the ship going across.
Elisabeth Elliot: But at the age of?
Lars Gren: Well, at the age of five at that time. So I remained in Norway, which was a wonderful providence of God to bring about, because I lived with my grandparents then for, well, I virtually had ten years with my grandparents.
Elisabeth Elliot: And what was happening in Norway during those ten years? What were the major things?
Lars Gren: Well, the major conditions were that we were in occupied country. I mean, Germany did come into Norway and took over. It didn't take very long to take it over. Then once occupation occurs, you learn how to live under those circumstances and you know what you can do and what you can't do.
Elisabeth Elliot: Tell us what your grandfather did.
Lars Gren: Far, he was-and I call him "Far," which is grandfather-it's really, the name is really "Father" and "Dad," which is what I called him. If you wanted to say "grandfather," you'd have to say "Bestefar," but I always called him "Far."
He was not an educated man, a worker all his life. Loved horses. One of his jobs, he worked at a sawmill. He delivered lumber with horse and wagon, and oftentimes I went along with him on deliveries. Always loved to go over and see him down at the sawmill.
The unfortunate trip I took with him one time was to take one of the horses to the slaughterhouse. He told me not to look, but I did look and I watched the horse go down.
Then along with that, in the summertime we would go up country and he would work on a farm. Of course, back then you would cut hay with a scythe, not any kind of mechanized machinery. But his main job was what we called "vaktmester," which is the watchman, literally, or the caretaker, of the church that was situated right next to the house where we lived. The job of vaktmester gave him a house that was owned by the church.
He was the man who cleaned the church, and in wintertime stoked the fires and got the church warmed up at 3:00 in the morning, so that people coming in for services would be comfortable. And Mor, my grandmother, she would be also helping and cleaning. She was the one who was called upon anytime there was cocoa to be made. She was the only one in the whole congregation that everyone said had to make the cocoa, otherwise it wouldn't be right.
Elisabeth Elliot: Tell us about the conditions, or what it was like living in Norway, during the occupation. Your grandmother sending you to the store to get-
Lars Gren: Well, of course, rationing was in effect. Not only rationing, but there wasn't a whole variety of items to buy. What you're referring to is the daily ration of milk. I always get a kick out of the size of the bucket. I went down to the corner store to get it, because it was only a half of a cup of milk that they put in the bottom of the pail and you carried that home. We actually, because of my age and also my Far and Mor's age, they got a half of a cup. I think we got a cup per day, or something to that effect.
Mor, she made the bread and tried to put meals together, which, you know, you bake bread without the proper ingredients and they always fall apart. So you wind up with crumbs instead of a slice. But we had vegetables. I'd have to say that we never really went hungry, but it was simple food and not always enough. But we certainly were blessed by that.
Then of course, every now and then if you went up country, you could knock on a farm someplace and ask for an egg or so. So you'd collect a little food that way and bring it on back down to town.
Elisabeth Elliot: Now you mentioned that you were there under the German occupation. Did you get to know any of the soldiers that were occupiers?
Lars Gren: Yes, certainly. It happened that the school I went to was straight across the street from where we lived. It was a three-story building, and the first two stories were occupied by Germans. Then we had school on the third floor. In the wintertime, when there was plenty of snow on the ground, why, we'd have snowball fights with the Germans. Us kids, and they'd be up in the building. We'd pelt snowballs at them.
Elisabeth Elliot: There wasn't real animosity or anything between you kids and the German soldiers. Right?
Lars Gren: No. The only ones-the normal soldier, the everyday G.I., as we would say over here-was as eager to get back home as any American soldier. The generals may like war and some of the others. But in Norway, the one that you always were wary of would be the-what they called the S.S., the ones in black uniform. That was a whole different breed from the German soldier.
But the Germans would-I remember going for a ride in a-what you might call a German jeep and having a couple of soldiers come over to speak to Mor. I had picked up enough German so that I would be able to translate a little bit and understand them, which also reminds me of a story.
When they did come in one time, not the common soldier, but the officers in head of the area there, what they were looking for was to take over the church. And Far, he was at work, and so it was just Mor there. When they came, they wanted to look at the church. It so happened that we had just finished a kitchen, where you could cook and all, on one end. And on the other end, was a wood cellar.
Well, they didn't really go around the church thoroughly, but they asked at one point, "Was there a cellar to be looked at?" So I told Mor to take them to the wood cellar and show them that. We opened up the trap door at the back of the church and they went on down there and looked around a little bit at the wood. I guess they decided that didn't suit them. So when they came up, they left and never did requisition that church. It might have been different, I suppose, had they looked at the kitchen or something. I really don't know what they wanted with it. You can't make rooms very much in a church.
Elisabeth Elliot: I think you told about a business that you started with a buddy of yours.
Lars Gren: Well, it wasn't a buddy. It was my sweet cousin from the country. Her name is Bjόrg, and we're very close to each other. She would come down to town and visit me. We lived in a street called Tollbodgaten, which is the Toll Street. Behind us was Dronningsgaten, which is the Queen's Street. So we started a business on Queen's Street of walking up and down, looking for what we called "snipes"-the cast-off cigarette butts.
Tobacco was a high premium in those days. Anyone that did smoke was always looking to get a little tobacco. So we would see these little tobacco butts on the street. We'd drop a little something and discreetly pick up what we dropped, and the tobacco also. Then we'd go over to the house, where we would take off the paper and clip off the burnt ends and package loose tobacco into cans. Then we would go around and sell it to people who smoked pipes or rolled their own cigarettes. So we had a pretty fair business going and had regular customers. We didn't have to go hunting up new ones. Why, we got a half a dozen people and we kept them in tobacco, the best we could.
Elisabeth Elliot: And one day that nefarious job of yours was discovered.
Lars Gren: Well, what happened was I had let my best buddy from town, Bjarne, in on it. He knew I was in that business. I don't ever recall that he was a part of it. But he also found out one time that I had sampled the product that I was selling. So for some reason or another, we had a falling out. I didn't think much about it until the afternoon, when at about 3:30, which would be the time that Far would be coming home from the sawmill, I began hearing a voice from the sidewalk.
Now you have to understand that the street we lived in was directly on the sidewalk, as many in Europe are built. The houses being built that way-and of course not a lot of insulation and we didn't have double windows or anything-you could easily hear someone talking loudly on the sidewalk. Of course, what I heard was my buddy Bjarne saying, "Lars rόyker, Lars rόyker," which means, "Lars smokes."
Elisabeth Elliot: And we'll leave you hanging there with that, to find out what the consequences were of Lars smoking. I'm talking with my husband, Lars Gren, who is telling us about his childhood in Norway. So we'll hear more about that tomorrow.
Lisa Barry: That we will. And I want to remind you of the video Elisabeth has done called FORGET ME NOT: A GRANDMOTHER'S INFLUENCE. It's the best way I can think of for a grandmother to learn how to leave a legacy for her grandchildren.
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We'll hear more from Lars next time right here on Gateway To Joy.