“And that’s the wonderful thing about family travel: it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind.”
My brother is a man of few words. I was reminded of this when he picked me up from the airport in Wichita, Kansas, last Friday night. Kansas seemed like an odd destination, especially after a semester in London, but I’d come to keep him company on his 23-hour drive home for Christmas break. He transferred out to a small town called McPherson this semester to play soccer for a small college, and I knew this was most likely my only chance to see this new alternate universe he inhabits.
After a greasy breakfast at Neighbor’s Cafe on Saturday morning (and a few moments of confusion whereby we were mistaken for a couple–“Mr and Mrs?” our waiter asked to Grant’s horror) we headed out to an even smaller town fifteen minutes away called Lindsborg–otherwise known as Little Sweden, USA. My parents had walked around it when they flew out for a visit in October and I expected it to be just the sort of place I love, the kind of towns I spent a month exploring around the North Island of New Zealand: tiny populations, quirky personalities, and outrageous claims-to-fame that only small town tourism boards can invent.
As a collection of at least twenty painted Swedish dalas placed outside shops had me running back and forth across the main street, Grant walked slowly along as I revelled in the whimsical touches of Scandinavia here in the heartland of Kansas and questioned patient proprietors of shops like the Wild Dala Winery about where exactly all this had come from.
“Alright, I think I’m ready,” I said finally, my camera’s memory card nearly groaning under the weight of a hundred photos and my capacity for dalas nearly reached. We made our way through a few back streets, around the campus of a local university, and then back, I thought, towards McPherson. But then Grant turned the car away from the highway.
“Where are we going?” I asked, but no sooner had the words been spoken then there appeared in the woods a one-lane bridge, the kind of bridge built from a structure of criss-crossing iron beams. They were painted green, had strings of Christmas lights wrapped around them, lit even in daylight, and the words God Jul–‘Merry Christmas’ in Swedish–painted across the top front beam. It was set back between leafless trees and a narrow creek ran swiftly beneath.
“How’d you know it was here?” I asked, surprised.
“I saw it,” he said simply, probably having little idea of how it touched me or how much it meant.
I hopped out of the car to get a few shots, struck by the beauty of the Christmas bridge, but thinking mostly of how we don’t always need words to know someone cares.