GRAND FORKS – Cindy Dahl has her bags ready — her trunk, actually, the trunk her grandmother, Ronag, brought over from Norway early last century.
Dahl would love to take the trunk back to the Old Country, which she has never visited. But the first stop is Chicago.
Dahl, 49, an eligibility worker at Grand Forks County Social Services, responded last month to a “casting call” issued by producers of a Norwegian reality TV series. She sent in a video clip and an overview of her deep Scandinavian roots.
“The Great Norway Adventure” will blend elements of “Survivor” (think goat cheese and pickled herring) and “The Amazing Race” (ski the glacier?) in a competition aimed at “fun, outgoing Americans with Norwegian ancestry.”
They called back. (E-mailed, actually.) “Cindy, congratulations! You have officially been chosen by the producers to come to the Chicago finals, which also means you passed the background check.”
Background check? Did they find out about the Swedes?
Dahl’s maternal grandfather, Peder Lorenson, came as a boy with his parents from near Tromsø, Norway. Her maternal grandmother, Ronag, also came to America from Norway. “They both married Swedes,” Dahl said.
How’d that work out?
“They were married a long time.”
Snakker du norsk?
Since last fall — before she heard about the Norway adventure — Dahl has been on a whirlwind journey into her family’s Nordic past. She joined the local Sons of Norway lodge in October, and she is taking Norwegian language lessons and learning the distinctive Norwegian art of rosemaling.
“Before, other than eating lutefisk and head cheese, not so much,” she said. “But the heritage stuff has been stirring in me lately, so when I heard about this, I just had to be part of it.”
She got advice from her mother: “Be sure to take warm clothes.”
But the Great Norway Adventure runs through May and June, after contestants clear a final cut in Chicago in March. Dahl realizes she may not make the final list, but she’s approaching that with a “could be worse” Norwegian spirit. “At least I get a trip to Chicago,” she said.
There may be others from the area who sent in applications and will be in Chicago for the finals, according to a spokeswoman for the Chicago company promoting the competition. The company looked for applicants throughout the United States, but made a special push in North Dakota, Minnesota and other states with large Norwegian-American populations.
Dahl said it took her more than two weeks to work through an exhaustive questionnaire sent out by the competition promoters, with questions such as “Describe your perfect day,” and “What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?”
They also asked which famous person she most reminds herself of. “I said Kathy Bates — from ‘Fried Green Tomatoes,’ not ‘Misery’ — Rosie O’Donnell and Mimi from the Drew Carey Show — or maybe Drew Carey himself.”
Asked about skills, she told about growing up on a farm west of Thompson, N.D., and developing a voice with Kate Smith volume. “I can call the cats from three hundred yards and they’ll come running,” she said.
Her back story
She is assembling photos of the grandparents who came through Iowa and Minnesota to settle in North Dakota (including the Swedes) and collecting as much of their story as she can.
The eventual winner of the competition will receive $50,000. But Dahl hasn’t spent much time thinking how she might spend that. Like the Apollo astronauts who went to the moon, she wants to come home with a rock. “My cousin went to Norway, and she brought home a rock from our grandfather’s farm,” she said. “I want a rock of my own.
“It would be an adventure like no other adventure I’ve ever had. I hear it’s so beautiful there. “And to stand on ground where my great-grandfather stood, to see the waters where he fished — it would be so wonderful.”
By: Chuck Haga - Grand Forks Heraldby