At Warnemunde, the huge Danish ferry, Kong Frederick, swallowed our van like a whale would swallow a minnow.
All around were people speaking Danish. On the sun deck, as Danny and Andrew tempted sea gulls down from the streams of air behind the smokestack with bits of bread and the rest of the family slept in the sun, I watched a young Danish family sitting against the wall of the cabin eating sandwiches and playing games. The sound of their voices was bringing me home.As soon as the whale threw us up again on Falster, I could sense a change of atmosphere from the starkness of East Germany; not only the familiar windmills dotting the horizon, but new ones on tall, white columns 60 feet high with graceful, thin rotors that whipped the air. The highway was pure and neat. Ancient farm houses nestled against low, rolling hills.
I was excited to show the kids Denmark. Mark and Sally had been here before, but to the other four it was a new experience.
I should have known to be on guard. I should have remembered what I had been learning all along on this trip, and how it had worked all through Germany and Czechoslovakia. Just savor for yourself and let them pick up their own experience. Don't impose on them your obnoxious enthusiasm.
We were about 15 kilometers beyond the ferry, coming up on Nykobing, a small provincial city that I had visited many times in the past.
"Pull into Nykobing," I said, "and look for a bakery." It had become a ritual for me in the past, as soon as I entered the country, to buy a big, fat butter cake - the most wonderful pastry in the world - to celebrate entry into the country.
Well, we found a bakery; I bought a big, fat butter cake and a liter of milk, and we sat on a side street and ate it down to the last crumb.
But something was feeling uncomfortable. Somehow, I was going into the controlling mode again, attempting to make my experience my children's. I had forgotten that my experience could not be put on them like a shirt, that whatever Denmark was to be for them would have to be found on their own.
Dale was driving and not going where I thought would give the best impression, so I said, "Here, let me drive," and I started driving and got lost, and immediately realized everyone was getting irritated.
How do I get out of this, I thought, at the same time feeling hurt and angry. Nobody appreciates anything. All they can do is criticize, and all I wanted was to share something special.
I had to do something to get out of this, but I didn't know what. So just going with my feelings, I pulled off to the side of the road and turned off the key.
"Somebody else can drive," I said in a pouting tone as I climbed into the back seat and buried my head in a Danish newspaper.
It was a two-hour drive to Copenhagen. I sat in the back all the way, depressed, hurt and feeling sorry for myself. Here I make a major sacrifice to do something for somebody and what do I get? Kicked around like an old shoe. I thought of the foundry back home that we had purchased with the intent to help people, and the struggles of several months, and it seemed the same. You make decisions and people are hurt and you are to blame and all you ever wanted was to help.
Well, helpers aren't worth squat!
By the time we got to Copenhagen, I had thought it all through and realized that self-pity wasn't going to get me anywhere, and that, just like in Berlin, the thing I had to do was let go. It sounds so simple, but it is sometimes really hard because we think controlling things will make people happy. But it doesn't. For some reason, people always want to have their own experience.
That night at Ulla and Erik's, over a wonderful barbecue in their yard, I told everyone about the trip from the ferry, and how foolish I had been. It felt so good to admit it.
All of my kids began to grin. The relief was visible on their faces. Confused up to now by my pensive mood, they sighed a collective sigh and began feeling more comfortable savoring a Denmark of their own.
- Dennis Smith is an artist and writer living in Highland, Utah County.