A few days from the winter solstice, at the arctic circle, the moon sets at noon. The sun, hugging the opposite horizon is also about to set, casting its red light on different generations of pine trees.
The ocean of trees part to make way for electric power to cross the northern regions of Sweden. The sun has momentarily peeked above the horizon and will soon drop below it again in the days before the winter solstice at this arctic circle location.
This is adapted from a tribute that my father made at the memorial of his father, Theodore Olson, after whom we are both named, who died in 2002 at the age of 97. I post it here for the online access of posterity, and to provide a portrayal of the scientific mindset of a family patriarch that influenced not only his students, but his entire family and several generations beyond. Here is my father’s rendition of our family history.
The start of this story goes back almost 150 years. In about 1860 in Norway, Hans Opjörden left home and went to Oslo. Hans had the misfortune to be the second son in his family, and that meant that his older brother would inherit the family farm. Hans left home and headed off to Oslo, where he went to work in a shipyard building boats. After a while he decided he really wanted to sail on the boats instead of just building them. At this time Norway was a province of Sweden. Shrewdly, Hans changed his name from Opjörden to Olson (with a Swedish spelling) and got Swedish sailing papers.
He went on several voyages and along the way befriended a shipmate named Peter Magnus Peterson. We can imagine a conversation between them based on what subsequently happened. Hans confided that he’d really wanted to be a farmer but had no prospects of getting land—and that being a sailor was not his “dream job”, but was good paying employment.
It is considered good practice to finish up the old projects before embarking on new ones, but that doesn’t seem to be my way. The new one gets started and the old one languishes in its nearly complete state, sometimes for years, until I grant amnesty, allowing it to fade into memory.
I had reached the point in the Swedish candelabra project where the challenges of woodworking had been solved, a working prototype had been made, a dozen pieces had been crafted, and all that was left were the trivial details of wiring the electric LED candles.
It turned out that, while not technically challenging, it was incredibly tedious, threading wires, stripping insulation, soldering the bulb contacts, splicing connections and gluing the simulated plastic candlesticks in place. The first one I assembled took hours.
With eleven more to go, I found lots of excuses to not do them. Eventually however, when the summer heat advisories provided reason to retreat to the cool workroom in my home, I would complete one, or maybe two, each day. Eventually I reached the last one, by which time I was proficient– only an hour of assembly!
I can now declare this project complete, and I look forward to displaying the candelabras in our windows when the season shifts once again to long cold nights. I hope they are seen by the passing neighbors as signs of hope, warmth, welcome, and good cheer, just like the ones we enjoyed in Sweden.
While in Sweden over the Christmas season, we noticed the popularity of candelabras placed in the windows of people’s homes. In these northern latitudes where the darkness of the winter night dominates the few hours of daylight, the distinctive chevron of lights provided a cheery greeting from the windows of the traditional-styled Swedish houses.
I thought it would be a nice accent to our own home with its not-so-traditional windows cut into a mansard roof. Surely Ikea would have such an item, with some suitable unpronounceable name, but I was disappointed. Perhaps I needed to shop the Ikea stores in Sweden rather than our Americanized versions of them.