(by Bella Duve)
For a period of time, my family and I left our house in Denmark to live in an old mobile home, travelling the roads of Europe. The year was 1989. I was five; my sister was two.
The reason we lived this way was that my father was a journalist and had the possibility of working “from home.” He eventually wrote articles from the different places we visited and made a photo archive—this was before the Internet made it easy to get photographs from many different sources. My mother usually worked during the summer season “turning herrings” at a factory in Hirtshals, a town in Northern Denmark where most of the income is from exporting fish. Her job consisted of placing the herrings correctly so that they could be wrapped using a machine. It was mostly done at night, as the boats came into the quay in the late afternoon or evening. There were dayshifts too, but the salary was better at night. I recall very well the strong smell of fish on my mother’s clothing during the seasonal work.
(My mother, with her beloved Nikon camera in the bag,
my sister with her Teddy, and me in front of our mobile home)
My father has always been sort of a hippie—even more so now at the age of 83, although he worked at Thule Air Base in the 1960s. Both my parents loved to travel, and I think they realized that if we were to do a family trip, it had to be at that time, before my sister and I had to attend school. My father built the interior of the mobile home himself; my mother sewed the curtains. The kitchen cabinets were painted in a honey orange-yellow color. There was no refrigerator. We had a blue and white cooler bag with elements that were to be stored in a freezer at night at the campsite. My sister and I were allowed to bring only one toy each, a teddy and a doll. There was no GPS, no cellphones.
I remember the long driving hours, the excitement of seeing new places, the grocery stores with interesting foods in Spain and Portugal, the warm asphalt under my bare feet at the playground near our mobile home, where we made new friends. That is the wonderful thing about children: You don’t need to speak the same language in order to play and have fun together.
My sister and I were scared any time there was a rainstorm with thunder and lightning, so my mother began a practice of making pancakes to cheer us up, and instead of fearing that kind of weather, we began to hope for it. We would sit inside the mobile home with candles, listening to the distant sounds of thunder getting nearer, seeing the lightning on the horizon, while my mother poured the pancake batter into a frying pan, and a wonderful, sweet smell filled the air.
Needless to say, my mother didn’t need to tell us to finish our plates. After eating our delicious meal, we went to bed. But I would pull the curtain aside quietly, trying not to wake my sister or parents, watching the lightning and hoping for another day of pancakes.
When we returned to Denmark, pancakes in a storm became a family tradition. Everyone looked forward to thunder and lightning and especially my mother’s pancakes. But the best ones were those we had in that mobile home.
Now that I am a mother myself, I have kept the pancake tradition and am passing it on to my three daughters and three sons. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t get to meet the youngest two because of cancer. But she always believed in happy endings.
5 oz. flour
2 T. butter, melted
10 oz. whole milk
pinch of salt
1 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
additional butter for frying
Beat eggs and flour together.
Mix in melted butter, milk, salt, sugar, and vanilla.
Melt additional butter on a large frying pan or griddle, and cook pancakes until light brown, flipping once.
Makes 8 – 12, depending on size.
Serve with jam, softened vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.