Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson
I first met Elsa at church, although I no longer remember the moment. She was a sweet, round, woman who was down on her luck and had just landed a job as a nanny. As we became friends she told me the stories that made up her amazing life.
She had been born in Helsinki a few years before the outbreak of World War II to a Finnish father and Swedish mother. Her little girl memories consisted of enemy planes flying overhead, going to school and coming home to find that their house no longer existed, and of having to move into the Swedish consulate and accidentally walking in on Swedish ambassador in his private chambers. Eventually many children in Finland were evacuated to neutral Sweden.
During the transport, because she was able to speak both languages, she was selected to be a sort of “spokeschild” for the transport. Upon arrival in Stockholm it would be her duty to greet the king on behalf of all the children.
The children were assembled to be assigned to families who had volunteered to take them in. Elsa stood waiting for the king to arrive, imagining what it would be like. Trumpets, a red carpet rolled out, and a grand man in a gold crown and robes striding in. She was drawn from her daydreams by a man in a gray suit. The man asked her to come and sit with him so that they could talk. She politely declined with an explanation that she was to wait for the king. The man laughed and explained that he was the king. She looked at him skeptically until someone else addressed him as “your majesty.”
Elsa would laugh over the memory. During the war she lived with two different families. When the war was over she returned to her own family. Eventually, Elsa emigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life. For those first few frightening years she had worked as a nanny. Then she fell in love, married, and had a daughter, but the marriage was made in hell. Her husband was an unkind, egotistical man who would beat her. When she was pregnant with their second child, a son, he beat her so severely that the boy had died. By the time that they had moved to Colorado it was clear to her that she had to leave before he killed her.
Once she had made sure that she had once again escaped the threat of death in her life, she struggled to pick up the pieces. She returned to taking care of other people’s children. She very carefully constructed new dreams. She longed for quiet solace, a place truly her own, a cabin in the mountains. She longed to just be herself. Not someone’s daughter, wife, mother or nanny. She had once wanted to be an artist, but her husband had killed that dream just as certainly as he had killed their son.
Several years after our first meeting she managed to buy a small, rundown cabin at the top of Boulder Canyon. Slowly but surely she renovated the place into something livable, comfortable and all her own. I often drove up the canyon to join her there for a cup of tea and another story from her amazing life. I would invariably encourage her to write her stories to share with the world.
When we would meet for lunch in the city and it was time to go home, she would say. “Well, I’ve got to boogie up the canyon!” If we were at her place and I told her about something new in town she would remark, “I’m going to have to boogie down the canyon and check that out!” She was the only person I knew who made the word boogie part of her regular vocabulary, especially since disco was dead. I always had to laugh over the image in my head of this plump little Scandinavian woman shaking her chubby booty up and down the canyon. Of course, I always saw it without her car.
One day my mother called to tell me that she had heard that Elsa had been boogying down the canyon and had missed one of the many sharp curves. For a moment I thought that my own heart had stopped. Elsa was gone from this world? How could that be? It wasn’t fair that her life was cut short just as she was beginning to find herself and some peace.
That canyon is haunted by many souls who have come to grief on those dangerous curves. One of them is now a plump blond dancing and shaking her booty as she boogies up and down the canyon, free at last.