I remember first asking Grandma about Grandpa after he had died. Nobody seemed to know his birth name, or where in Denmark he had been born. Maybe his father’s name was Neil or Niels. Very little was known about his mother.
I’ve been told that Grandpa Jensen would bounce one of his grandchildren on his knee while singing a popular Scandinavian song ride ride ranke (pron. “reeda reeda ranka”), but I was too young to remember. When I was about fourteen months old, our family moved to South Carolina, leaving the grandparents in California. Grandpa had his stroke soon afterward, and I can only remember what the stroke and diabetes had left of him. Now he was not only blind, but also mute and crippled.
He’d spent the last seven years of his life in a bed in the back of a mobile home. He had been born fatherless, and an orphan of sorts. He knew his mother, but she being a house servant, he couldn’t live with her. It seemed that he lived with whoever would have him.
Rasmus Marius Jensen was born and raised in Hvilsager, Jutland, Denmark. His mother, Jensine Rasmussen, had also been born and raised in Hvilsager. His father, Niels Johan Jensen, was a son of day laborer, and had moved from town to town as his father moved from job to job.
Niels and Jensine (Sine) were never married, but appear to have been servants in the same household, the home of Niels’ aunt (and deceased grandparents) when Rasmus was conceived. Niels appears to have emigrated to America when Grandpa was an infant.
Hvilsager is a rather nondescript village in Eastern Jutland, though it is near the well-known Rosenholm palace. Jutland has been Danish for maybe 1400 years, since before the Viking Era.
In recent years, Hvilsager has captured a special place in the study of Scandinavian culture, since an Indian anthropologist based his book Danes Are Like That! on Hvilsager. The book is somewhat controversial in Scandinavia, as it depicts Scandinavians as rather colorless, regimented, and solitary people. Part of the anthropologist’s impression of Hvilsager was probably affected by the fact that the town has become a suburban bedroom community.
A Danish filmmaker recently made a movie based on Danes Are Like That! titled “A Letter to India”.
Rasmus left for America at age 24, took the name “John”, and settled in New York.