‘SOME ENCHANTED EVENING .. was how it all began……..’
Joan Lewis was eighteen years old in 1951. Convent educated, straight out of Finishing School in St Leonards, Sussex, followed by three months in Paris.
AFTER MASS IN NOTRE DAME, PARIS
Never worn trousers . Had only had a well behaved Catholic boyfriend, Terry Clarke.
Grown up during war years of heavy bombing and rationing in smoggy city of Manchester. Nightly air-raid sirens and Anderson shelters.
John Barbarelli kept the Halle Orchestra playing throughout.
Dancing greatest entertainment, mostly Sundays in Church hall after Benediction Sevice, but sometimes at the Students Union of Manchester University. And that was her ‘enchanted evening ‘…, where the blue eyes of a handsome Norwegian met the brown eyes of Joan Lewis. ‘and somehow they knew, they knew even then ………’
She sailed to Bergen, to meet his family and get engaged the following year, hitchhiking from Bergen across glaciers, fjords and mountains. Hence the need for her first pair of jeans.
Dizzy, not only from the high altitudes, but from the realisation that this handsome, intelligent man, fourteen years older and worldly wise, could possibly want to marry her. Dazzled by the slim, gold, engagement ring on her right hand which would be moved to the left hand in St Paul’s Kirke, the following year.
He had forgotten to mention that another women in Bergen was also wearing his engagement ring, whose father had paid his university fees in Manchester, to secure her future. And who would, eventually, sue.
EINAR BOE ABSALONSEN ECKHOFF and JOAN LEWIS
Bergen was not only the most beautiful, Hanseatic town and harbour, nestled at the foot of several mountains, but was a lively university and cultural centre. At the heart of this was the Catholic Church of St Paul, pastored by a Dutch Jesuit, Pastor Gorissen. He was constantly in demand to teach Hebrew and Greek and many of the university students became Catholics and joined his flock. There were a wide range of discussion groups including a Teillard de Chardin, prayer groups, outings to the mountains and parties on the numerous Feastdays.
It was into this church and community Einar and Joan celebrated their Nuptual Mass in 1953. She, still sewing her white, broderie anglaise (arrived from London hours before) wedding dress, at midnight the night before.
He, organising an ice cream van delivery for the day after the wedding in order to cover the costs of the wedding by selling ice creams. This was a different kind of honeymoon she had imagined !
Friend ,Bernadette Parr, came from England to be Bridesmaid, Best man, Anton. No family representatives from England who disapproved.
SUNNY DAY –LOTS ICE CREAM SOLD !
THE BRIDE TOOK THE ‘honeymoon’ PHOTO s
With the driver and sister in law’s children, Odd and Ytte
During the courtship in Manchester, Einar had tried to introduce his future bride to his mother tongue, Norwegian, by having her at his side on the frequent telephone calls to his mother’s home in Bergen .She had no idea of what was being discussed, but was aware of much love and warmth between him and his ‘mother’. He also showed her letters from her, with lots of kisses, signed ‘Bjorg’ which he explained meant ‘Bear’, which was his mother’s nickname.
So it was no surprise to be welcomed into his family apartment, in Konsul Bors Gate, by this warm, kind and lovable lady and her mother, Aldemor, and his Father and two sisters Asa and Ewa, the latter living in the apartment with her two children.
But it was a surprise to discover that there was no telephone in the apartment.
The first few months were enchanting and wonderful for the new bride, now pregnant and enjoying the warmth and kindness of the family in the beautiful apartment. She became used to being a silent presence at meals and whenever Einar was at work at the Bergen Line Shipping Company. She used a room in the cellar to do some creative sculpture, hoping to swell their limited income. It soon became apparent that Einar was the ‘ blue eyed boy ‘ in the family, every one eager to light his cigarette or hang up his coat, or make sure that he had the most comfortable chair for Bridge.
Bridge was an obsession in the family. Every evening the cards came out and moves were analysed for days. As Joan was not needed to make up a set, and did not have any interest nor competitive inclinations, she embroidered and enjoyed scrutinising the two old masters on the walls. They were by Jean-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) and his typical still life studies of fruit and fowl on table. She had seen his work in Paris and recognised it immediately. Einar told her that his father , a champion Bridge player, had won them, in lieu of money, in a game with a wealthy ship owner. No one else seemed aware of their value.
After a frantic race, by taxi, through a wild, November snow blizzard, up the distant mountain to the Kvinne Klinikan, Joan gave birth to a beautiful daughter. She was adored by the whole family, and community ,when riding in her English Silver Cross pram, specially sent from England for Princess Veronica.
It was another foolish mistake Joan made.
Elegant and beautiful but totally unsuitable for mountainous Bergen !
With the addition to Einar’s family the family apartment was becoming over crowded and it was time to move out.
After a series of bed -sits near the family, an apartment, in a newly built villa at the edge of the fjord, became home to the family of Joan, Einar and baby Veronica. It had been built by a Russian, Romani, who occupied the upper floor of the house. It was his first attempt at building and some of the more complicated aspects; heating, hot water and access from the road had been beyond him.
It was situated about ten miles from Bergen, in a sparsely populated area of Stromme, and bus took about thirty minutes for church and office work. Getting the pram up to the road was more difficult than rowing to the only general store about a mile away.
Joan became adept in the rowing boat, not only for shopping but also to rinse the nappies in the middle of the fjord, after boiling them in a bucket in the kitchen. It was all part of the adventure.
However the adventure was beginning to pale.
Einar spent more and more time with office friends in Bergen, sometimes not returning home for several nights, occasionally entertaining a girl friend at the villa, to Joan’s humiliation and anger. She was now heavily pregnant with her son, Tom.
Farmor and sisters were very kind and loving towards Joan and the children, while accepting that Einar had an ‘unusual personality’ which just had to be loved and accepted, after all , he had spent years in a German prison camp during the war and had narrowly escaped being transported to concentration camp in Germany as so many Norwegian men had been.
Joan was to learn more about the psychological condition, manifested in her beloved husband, years later when training to be a Counsellor. Worst of all, that the condition was hereditary.
The Shipping Line provided annual free travel passes for it’s employees,so the years were interspersed with visits to England, with, by now , another precious daughter,Margaret Mary. By now the family had forgiven Joan’s ‘foolish elopement’ and welcomed her children.
Eventually the family moved back nearer the town, Joan was able to rejoin the Parish community with it’s lively liturgy and support. By this time, Einar had left and started another family with Margaret, whom he had brought to the villa.They soon produced two sets of twins, before the pattern repeated itself and he deserted them. Also after having brought his next ‘ amore ‘ to visit Margaret and children in their home. To compound their distress, Einar’s family did not accept them, being devastated by his desertion of Joan and children and cutting ties with him.
As no provision was made financially, Joan had to work to earn money for food and rent for herself and children. With the help of friends in the Parish, and especially Pastor Gorissen who introduced her to kindly Tom Faye, for legal advice, she got a job at the University teaching English in the evenings. Divorce proceedings, initiated by Einar, and annulment applications were set in motion.
One of the kindest and most helpful parishioners was Hilda Krogh-Nilsen, an ex wren from Barrow who had also married an ‘ Einar’, and settled in Eikeviken, with their adopted and demanding son, Ragnar. She made it possible for Joan to work and keep appointments, by frequently looking after the children and providing meals and support.
Hilda and Joan shared a deep joy in their faith. Not only of the liturgy and warm community in the parish of St Paul’s, but in the strength and inner peace from the Sacramental nourishment in the church, especially from the holy Eucharist. It was this, and prayer, that prevented despair from destroying optimism and trust in the difficult times for Joan.
Later on she, Joan, worked a few hours a week, as Telephone Operator in Reception at the prodigious Bristol Hotel, in spite of not knowing where to start to unravel the maze of wires and plugs, the staff were helpful and exceedingly good humoured when Joan misconnected the wrong people to wrong people
Many interesting guests became friends, including Yehudi Menuhin, who, humbly, sought permission to practice his violin in his room, and insisted on giving Joan top tickets for his concerts at the annual Music Festival.
Another was Diva Josephine Baker, also in Bergen for the Festival and seeking ideas for presents for her ten adopted children from different races A range of Reindeer- fur slippers from smallest to largest filled the bill.
Apart from friends in the parish, other people became an important and colourful part of the family’s life. Especially the Anglo Norsk Dramatic Group. Joan had joined this group of, mostly ex pats, in the early years of living in Bergen with Einar. The founder and Producer was a Scot, Bill Baird, who not only selected a wide variety of One Act Plays, including a good peppering of Moliere, but also composed the annual Christmas Pantomime, aided by members of the group who became wittier with every glass of Bill’s homemade wine.
Homemade entertainment was very much the norm, during this decade of the fifties. No television, no oil drills or wealth, very few men returned from concentration camps, no spices or imported fruit.
But lots of fish ! Bergen had the liveliest fish market in the world. Concrete tanks full of live fish , straight off the trawlers for the discerning housewives, who would not dream of buying a dead fish. Joan eventually learned the ropes, although caused amusement at home when Farmor heard , from a neighbour, that she had walked a live. crab home on the end of a string’
Einar’s family were exceedingly kind and supportive throughout the years of challenges for Joan and children. As was the community at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. As the children reached school age, Pastor Gorissen and Dominican Sr Rita, offered Joan a teaching post in the excellent Parish school, which she relished and remained for several years, and would have remained for many years longer, if a new law had not been passed in the early sixties eliminating uncertificated teachers. After interviews at Bergen University to obtain the necessary qualifications, she decided to complete her training in Manchester where grants were available.
JOAN IN ST PAUL’S SCHOOL YARD AT PLAYTIME
Being part of a warm and loving parish community, with the support and fun of the Dominican Sisters was life saving for Joan and it was a hard decision to leave the country she had come to love and whose language she would never lose for the rest of her life.