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Her World

American in Sweden

January 18, 1987|JUDITH MORGAN | Morgan, of La Jolla, is a nationally known magazine and newspaper writer

It had been a long day's drive in a wide-windowed bus, a dazzling day of city sights and country roads.

At dusk we pulled up to a modern hotel in a small town in Sweden. I was handed the key to Room 638. Followed by my luggage-on-a-leash, I rode the elevator to the sixth floor, turned right and opened a door.

Straight ahead was a round garret window that glowed with the blush of sundown. On a table near the window were two pink rosebuds in a slim white vase. The walls were pale blue.

I slipped out of my shoes, wriggled my toes and realized, with a sleepy smile, that I had no idea where I was.

In group travel, this can happen. But it was not Tuesday, nor was it Belgium, nor was my itinerary rushed. I had simply allowed myself to relax, succumb to the scene, go over the edge and into the woods with a good driver and guide. I knew that I was east of Goteburg and west of Stockholm, and that someone else was in charge. A strange sensation, yes, but not a bad one.

After a deep hour's nap on a goose-down bed, I awakened refreshed. I saw by my schedule that I was in Vaxjo, which, to my ear, is pronounced something like Veck-sure.

Of my short stay in Vaxjo, I have three strong impressions:

A full moon turned my garret window to a shimmering silver coin at 3 a.m. and compelled me to turn from one dream to another.

At a disco called Barbarella I watched young Swedes dance with their elbows flapping like geese on the prowl. It called for fencing-style thrusts to foil the cheerful attack.

Most haunting were tender morning hours at the House of Emigrants in a woodland park above Lake Vaxjo. This institute, built of terra-cotta brick and glass, is dedicated to the massive wave of Swedish emigration to the United States between 1850 and 1930, a move that was launched by a population explosion, a lean economy, poor food supplies and land problems. The result was that 1 1/2 million Swedes--more than a fourth of the nation's people--crossed the Atlantic in search of a better life.

Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, who chronicled this epoch in his trilogy, "The Emigrants," came from a village near Vaxjo. His manuscripts and memorabilia are among the displays, which include diaries, letters, Bibles, photographs and stitchery done by Swedish-Americans as they settled into farming in Illinois, Minnesota and Kansas.

Paintings, life-size sculptures and models of boats and cottages add to the poignant portrayal. Archives draw thousands of Swedes and Americans each year in search of records of ancestors or of cousins who may live just down the road. Family reunions are a frequent bonus of a journey to Vaxjo.

By the time we returned to our bus, I knew where I was.

And where so many from this lovely region had gone.

And why.

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