Once upon a time, long long ago, peaceful Sweden was not a single, unified country but a ragged patchwork of bickering fiefdoms ruled by barons or “Jarls”. One of these was my great(X) grandfather, Ragnar, son of Sten. His “fief” was a rather small farm carved out of the oak forest. It had sheep, goats, and a few hardy cattle. There were fields for flax and winter wheat and a lumber mill that served a region as broad as a man on a good horse could cover in a day.
Ragnar’s farm had been in his family for generations, as was the case with most of his neighbors. But times were changing. Bjorn, son of Einar, had amassed enough power to declare himself a king and was hungry for more land. He invited all of the Jarls in the region to visit him at his “court” on a certain day and to bring with them a deed to their farm. He made it clear that refusing his invitation could well be fatal.
Being neither suicidal nor a fool, Ragnar showed up on the appointed day. It was a bitter and unruly gathering. His neighbors were angry and quarrelsome, furious about the loss of their land and prevented from violence only by the highly visible presence of the King’s guards.
Ragnar stood at the rear of the hall and watched as, one by one, they resentfully and often argumentatively surrendered their deeds to the King.
Ragnar made sure to be at the end of the line, and when it was his turn, he strode to the throne, bowed politely, and said “I salute you, King Bjorn! You are building a powerful kingdom, worthy of the respect of all. Bards throughout the land will sing of your greatness. It is an honor to present you with the deed to my farm and to become one of your vassals. But I do have one small request!”
Flattered, King Bjorn gestured to him to proceed.
“My family has run our farm and lumber mill for generations. More than I can count. All of my ancestors are buried on our land. I would like to plant and harvest one more crop to honor them. Then I will gladly give you my deed.”
Seeing an opportunity to demonstrate that he was generous as well as powerful, King Bjorn agreed and proclaimed before all that he had given Ragnar, son of Sten, permission to plant and harvest one last crop before surrendering the deed to his land.
The next day, Ragnar rode home, his deed still in his saddlebag.
A year later, King Bjorn, still powerful but having had to put down frequent rebellions among his unwilling vassals, again called everyone to his court to pledge their loyalty. As he looked over the surly but obedient crowd, he noticed that Jarl Ragnar was not there.
“Where” he asked his advisors, “is Ragnar? He should be here to affirm my power by surrendering the deed to his land! His absence weakens me with the other Jarls. Tomorrow we shall ride to his farm and demand it!”
The next day King Bjorn, his first Advisor, and a squad of soldiers set out for Ragnar’s farm. Arriving late in the day, they found Ragnar supervising the sheep shearing and the work in the lumber mill. Angrily, the King commanded that he turn over the deed.
“But your Highness” Ragnar responded respectfully, “It isn’t yet time for me to give you the deed. You gave me permission—in front of your court and all the Jarls—to plant and harvest one more crop. Is this not true?”
“Yes, it’s true” snapped King Bjorn. “But a year has come and gone. Surely your crop has been harvested!”
“No, your Highness”, said Ragnar, “it has not.”
“It has not?” spluttered the King. “It has not? What crop did you plant?”
“Acorns”, your Highness” Ragnar replied, casually glancing over at the lumber mill. “Acorns.”
This isn’t an original story. It is a retelling of a tale my father told me many years ago when I was home from college, and he was more than a little drunk. I’ve always thought it deserved a wider audience.
After retiring from a long career as a Librarian, Al Carlson happily discovered OLLI. So far, he’s taken courses in geopolitics, religious fundamentalism, Greek mythology, genomics, and bio-inspired design. Plus a handful of technology courses.
This is his second time around as an editor, although the first time was so long ago that an IBM Selectric typewriter was considered cutting edge technology.
Now that he has begun sharing editing duties, Al is finding the time and inspiration to give voice to his personal stories and reminiscences. But OLLI Connects isn’t about sharing the stories of just a few writers. We’d like to share the stories of more of OLLI-USF’s members. In other words, we’d like to share one of your stories. You’ve led an interesting life. You’ve been places. You’ve done things. You have stories to tell. And where will you find a better audience than here? The people you’ve taken face-to-face classes with and now see in Zoom sessions. A few minutes at your word processor. An email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And Al will be reading your story.