Meet Aase G. in this installment of Continuing My Life Story. Born in December 1937 on a small island in Denmark known for its colorful, painted houses and cobblestone streets, Aase G. came to the United States in 1960. It was then that she met her now-husband, Richard, on a blind date. The couple quickly grew close, playing tennis together and sharing meals including fresh fish from the Baltic Sea while visiting Denmark to meet Aase’s family. Aase and Richard married in a small church in Denmark where Aase’s parents, grandparents and great grandparents had married before her. Now celebrating 58 years of marriage, the couple began a new chapter together at Anthology Senior Living in 2020.
Aase reflects back on the moments that brought her where she is today: swimming in the cool waters of the Baltic Sea; learning to mend clothing and craft elegant embroidery in her native Ærø; raising her two boys who have become grown men; and becoming a grandmother to four grandchildren. During our interview, Aase was working on a stunning embroidery project, a scene of angels made from golden thread.
What’s the first thing people notice about you, Aase?
I was born in Denmark. The first question people usually ask me is how to pronounce my name. It’s pronounced “Osa.” We have three more letters in the Danish alphabet: an O with a slash through it; an A with a circle on top; and a combined AE. The letters look like this: Ø Å Æ
You were born on a small island in South Denmark called Ærø. Can you describe Ærø?
Ærø is a small island in Denmark, about 20 kilometers long and 8 kilometers wide. There were 8,000 people living on the island then; now it’s down to about 6,000. I think you could fit our island inside the Grand Canyon. My brother, sister and I, and most of my cousins were born in our homes. We all turned out OK, I guess. [laughs]
What was it like growing up in Ærø?
We lived in the country and the house I grew up in used to have a straw roof. My father had a truck business on the island; he owned the local fire truck and ambulance. We never wasted food in my house. You would buy a half a side of pork and cut it up at home. I learned how to cut meat. I learned to clean a chicken. You couldn’t throw things away, and during World War II you couldn’t buy new things. You had to repair them. When I needed a new coat, we’d turn my mother’s coat inside out.
Instead of watching screens, you grew up mending clothing?
We didn’t have all the fancy stuff you have now. We didn’t have TV in those days. I remember the first sock I darned was white with brown thread. They don’t teach that today! Back then you watched your mother do it and you learned.
You are a talented knitter. How did you discover knitting?
When I was in second grade, my teacher showed me a doll dress she had knitted -- that’s when it began for me. They taught it from such a young age. Aunts, mothers. Whenever they went for coffee my mother would always have knitting. I was 8 years old when I made myself my first sweater.
Growing up on an island surrounded by water, what was that like?
We sailed so much. The water was deep around the island. During the Ice Age when the glacier came down, it left deep water around Ærø. So, the first half hour when we sailed away from the island it was very deep. We would sail on ferry boats. If it was windy, the big waves would make the boat sway, and we’d get seasick. We used to swim in the Baltic Sea – it was cold – and sometimes you could see Germany in the distance.
Fish was sold and purchased in a unique manner. How?
Growing up on an island, we ate fish two or three times a week. A man used to drive around with live fish in his truck. You’d order in advance and he’d drop it off at the house.
You have a special recipe for Danish meatballs? Also, herring.
Danish meatballs are made a special way. You chop up the onions and fry them in butter until they’re golden brown. Then you put them in the dough. Salt, pepper, flour, breadcrumbs (I always use Ritz crackers instead of breadcrumbs). Then when you mix them together, you use half pork and half beef. You fry them in butter. We never had margarine in the house - it fries and browns differently. Then I put heavy cream in a bowl for the sauce. I add Gravy Master for color and taste.
I used to pickle herring – I’d use a cup of vinegar, a half a cup of sugar. I sliced the onions very thin. Once the sugar melted, I put the herring in. You can use wine instead of the water.
You moved to the U.S. when you were 22. What prompted the move?
I came to America in 1960, I landed in New York around March 3rd. My uncle, who was born in Denmark, had moved to Montana, and I came to visit him. His wife was also born of Danish parents. I wanted to visit him and I ended up staying. For several months I stayed in Montana, and then I moved to Chicago. When I first came to the U.S., I remember a child said to me, “You talk funny!”
Soon after moving to the U.S. you had a life-changing blind date?
My roommate and her boyfriend brought me along on a double date. The boyfriend’s roommate and I met. Well, we ended up marrying and the other couple didn’t. Richard was the only person I dated. He took me out for dinner, and we played tennis together. It’s a long time ago, 1960. Now we’re celebrating 58 years married! He puts up with me and he’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
You had quite a special wedding?
We returned to Denmark to get married. Everyone thought it was wonderful that he would come over to Denmark to marry me. A seamstress made my dress -- I wanted a very simple dress. We were married in a church dating back to the 1300s where my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, uncles and seven aunts were all married in that church.
You and Richard raised two sons.
Richard was a metallurgic engineer and I was a homemaker with the two boys. I used to go to school with my boys twice a week to keep an eye on what was going on. For a time, I also worked at daycares. We lived in eight different cities together, Richard and I, moving for different work opportunities. When we lived in New Jersey, I worked in a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
No matter where you’ve lived, you’ve always been surrounded by images of home?
We have paintings of places throughout Denmark on our walls. Everything we have on the wall -- it’s not just a painting we bought somewhere – it’s made by a friend or someone we know. One painting was created by my brother’s best friend in Denmark.
Twenty years ago, you received a life-changing diagnosis?
I remember playing tennis years ago, and someone said, “you’re in slow motion.” At the time, I might trip over a small gap in the sidewalk. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I’ve always been very active, despite my diagnosis. I still played tennis, and when I couldn’t, I played golf.
Why did you join the community at Anthology Senior Living?
We moved into Anthology Senior Living in September 2020. We were home in a small townhouse until then. But I couldn’t walk well anymore so we decided to move in here. I’m in a wheelchair, so I could no longer cook or clean. My husband can’t cook!
What do you enjoy most about being part of an Anthology community, especially during the pandemic?
Today we watched a travel movie about wildlife in the Amazon. Saturday, the community baked a cake (I watched). We baked cookies. Last week there was a virtual reality presentation. I like staying active!
What hobbies/interests was able to pick back up (or start for the first time) after moving to a community?
I do a lot of embroidering. I’ve made some knitted scarves while I’ve been here. I’ve been making “pocket” scarves, a Danish design where you can tuck each end of the scarf inside a little knit pocket. We used to wear them when I was in school. They’re easy to make so I thought I could make them and give them to others.
You’re quite the cook. Do you ever miss cooking now that you have access to an in-house chef, dining room, and bistro?
No, it’s wonderful. They do all the cooking! They make a great spaghetti dish. Also, fish. I like cod, salmon and tilapia.
Pickled and fried eels from the Baltic Sea are also delicious.
Even though pickled and fried eels aren’t on the menu yet at Anthology Senior Living, the Executive Chef loves preparing delicious meals tailored especially to you. Thank you, Aase, for sharing a slice of your Danish culture with us. Or, as they say in Denmark, tak skal du have!