Carl Westberg

CARL WESTBERG, 1903 - 80

This was a very special man who entered our lives in the Spring of 1976. I had commenced employment with Swed-Hus in August 1975. One of the owners, Rune Olofsson spoke to me during that Autumn, on several occasions, about an elderly, lonely man who lived in a small cottage close to his home. He explained that this man was a loner, smoked Camel cigarettes and had travelled the world. Rune also explained that had amongst other things he had worked in the Gold Rush in Alaska in the early 1920's. (He actually worked in a gold mine). I was informed too that he spoke American and that he had no friends in the villlage.....he was looked upon as being odd.

Carl, on his return to Vrigstad, Sweden in 1939 got a job working at a Saw Mill owned by Rune's father and then Rune himself, when he took over his father's company. I could detect that Rune held Carl in high regard and really wanted him to have friends. According to records he had returned to Skåne, Sweden, to foster parents in 1938, but moved to his biological mother in Vrigstad of Austrian descent, in 1939 (we always thought his mother was Czec). She worked in a shoe factory in the village. She had separated from Carl's father and had re married to Johansson 1921. He died 1928, long before Carl returned to Sweden.

In the early Spring of 1976, one day on my way home from work, I made my way to this small cottage and knocked the door. I was nervous not knowing if the door would be opened or if I would be welcomed!? This man was a stranger to me....the door opened! I explained, in Swedish, that I worked for Rune Olofsson and and that Rune suggested I visit him.  "Anyone who's a friend of Rune Olofsson is a friend of mine, come in!" I could immediately feel welcomed. He took me in, sat me down and "fixed" a cup of coffee and a biscuit. The taste of that coffee I will NEVER forget. It was strong so very strong. I stayed for about an hour, ended up speaking English. He had a strong American accent and spoke fluently. He told me that this was the first time for him to speak English since he returned to Sweden (1938/39)....my visit was 1976, a gap of 38 years! I visited him several times after that. We were building a friendly relationship and now felt it was time to invite him to our home. His first visit was towards the end of his time in the cottage, as he moved to Esplanaden, Vrigstad, in late spring to the same street we lived on. This is June 1976. A few days before his planned first visit I got a phone call from Cookstown to say that Granda Allen had died. I left for Ireland immediately. We didn't cancel Carl's visit. Liz looked after him and from that day onwards Carl Westberg became an integral part of our lives, until his death in 1980.

As stated above, he moved from the old cottage to the flat in the late spring of 1976. I can remember well my first visit to his "new" residence! I rang the door bell....I immediately heard the shuffle. Yes moon boots! He opened and I could hardly see him....so much cigarette smoke. It was as if I could have taken a knife and cut down the middle of this smokey curtain and step inside! I would be offered a coffee. I never refused until I discovered after a period of time that he made his coffee in the mornings and then reheated during the day!! If I would drop in on a Thursday afternoon I would get the "dregs", almost like tar! He would drop in regularly with us, on his way to/from the Coffee Shop in the village. He visited this Coffee shop every day where he would buy breakfast and read the papers. If something interesting or controversial appeared in this press we (mostly Liz, working in the home, I was working at Swed Hus) would hear all about it and sometimes he got very angry!

We could hear him coming as he always wore "moon boots" and trailed his steps. Our boys looked upon him as a "Grandfather figure". Steven was 4 and Mark 3 when they first met him. Carl became very close to newly born Samuel (Dec 1975) and this was easily observed in his interaction with the baby! The following years the boys got used to seeing Carl in our home. Mum and Dad also met Carl. He left a lasting impression on them! Carl would bake bread and the occasional rice pudding and give to us. His yeast bread was fantastic and the (mannagryn) puddings with strawberry jam were so very tasty. He then showed Liz how to bake with yeast and how to knead and form a Swedish limpa (loaf). This knowledge was now returning to him and we were the beneficiaries. Carl was a cook in his early days. 

He spent Christmas with us during those years we knew him. When we moved to the house in Södra Vägen he could no longer walk to us. He had an old bicycle from the 1950's (referred to later) and he rode it regularly to us. We were always frightened that he would fall over, especially as he tried to mount it by pushing with one leg and throwing his other leg over the seat. This activity he would have to attempt several times, it was this that caused us to be frightened of him falling. On occasions we could hardly hold back a giggle or two! He enjoyed sitting by the fireplace in our new sitting room, talking and solving the problems of the world!  He often talked about his journeys on the sailing ships....about a mad Captain, jumping ship in Australia, meeting a nun in a San Francisco hospital asking her to come to Sweden with him. He also cooked for the railroad workers in Alaska and spent a period of time working in a gold mine in Alaska. This was at the latter end of the Gold Rush period. He got involved in a fight with someone, who tried to steal his wages (in gold dust!).. He hid this gold in the root of a tree. Unfortunately he had to make a quick retreat from the area and was forced to leave this gold dust behind, hidden in that tree root. To day new highways are build around that area. He ended up in hospital in San Francisco, from where he returned to Sweden in 1939, penniless.....after a 20 year adventure. His return brought him to his mother in Vrigstad. She was of Austrian origin. Mother and father had already separated when he was a child.

In 1980 he was taken to Värnamo Hospital with stomach pains, where he had an operation. He had been complaining of this discomfort for about a year. He came home to us in Södra vägen to recover, staying a few weeks. However he had to return to the Hospital. Liz travelled in the taxi with him. He was a confused person at this stage, trying to open the taxi door etc. We visited him in hospital several times....on one occasion Liz travelled to Värnamo to visit him. Steven was about 8 years old and Liz had arranged with him that when he came home from school he would have to wait for about an hour on his own. She had left a "fika" for him at the back of the house, on the patio. When she did arrive home she was confronted by a neighbour who informed her that Steven had an accident ....banged his head with a claw hammer, the claw part opening a wound on his head. So Liz had to rush back to Värnamo hospital for repairs!!

Liz's last visit to Carl was emotional. He was now nearing life's end. As she left the ward on what turned out to be her last contact with him, she just said "God Bless you Carl" and he responded with the same "God Bless you too". We got a phone call shortly afterwards, from the hospital informed us of Carl's death. His sister was a Jehovah's Witness....she decided against Carl's wishes, that he should be interred in Malmö, her home town. His wishes, specifically spoken to us by Carl himself, were that he wanted to be buried beside his mother in the Vrigstad Cemetry.

Carl had already given me his old bicycle (1950's model) and had said to us and Rune Olofsson (SwedHus owner) about other things he wanted us to have. These were already claimed by the sister and nephew! We made the trip to Malmö for the funeral, some weeks later. As we entered the sister's home she explained to us that they didn't know exactly where Carl's remains were on the day....he was either cremated or to be cremated?? We were so very confused and full of emotion it was hard to deal with. We then followed a long Jehovah Witness funeral ritual. Carl's name was not mentioned once nor was any reference made to his life. We accepted an offer to be driven to the Cemetry where we could see his final resting place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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