The ladies from the church dropped me off at my hotel around 4:00 that afternoon, and I had the night to myself. I checked in to my room, put on some warm clothes, and grabbed my pipe. I only knew vaguely where the castle was in relation to my hotel, but I didn’t ask directions. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and took to the streets of Kalmar with nowhere to be but the library the next morning. The roads were, again, cobblestone. I sat for a while in the courtyard where the state church stands, then I meandered through the streets past cafés, clothing stores, and residences.
Then I came upon an imposing rock wall with a tunnel leading through it at an angle. Sconces lined the walls and lit the tunnel dimly. On the other side of the tunnel I read that it was the old gate to the city, and I made out the little iron-barred door that led up to the gatehouse. On the face of the gate, just above the tunnel arch, were holes where the portcullis once raised and lowered on chains.
I crossed a walking bridge over what must have once been a moat and now was a gathering place for lily pads and swans. I crossed a busy street that seemed to divide the old city from the very old city, and found myself in a lush park. The trail led me through trees exotic and enormous, past garden benches and bronze statues; one was of an old king and another was of two young lovers holding hands, the young lady looking away bashfully with her chin on her shoulder. Then I reached the gate to the castle. It was another tunnel, also lit weakly by sconces on the walls. Beside the gate sat a cozy gate house, and I marveled for a moment at the way the tree roots had overgrown and shifted the stone wall–the same stone wall where the man and woman in my old picture stood, I realized with a thrill.
The castle was different from my pictures only in that it had been partially restored. The roof of the central turret was more ornate, and the four corner towers were repaired. But other than that, this castle which was begun 800 years ago looks more or less like it did in its glory. I could hardly believe it, but there was no entrance fee. No guards. No crowds. No vandals. Just an old fortress whose time has come and gone, lovingly protected by the quiet regard of the town’s citizens. It was as timeless a place as I hoped it would be. I stood on the eastern rampart and watched the sun sink into the Baltic Sea, and it wasn’t hard to imagine that I had slipped backwards in time.
The next morning I spent three hours in the library archives with Evelina, the youth pastor from the church where I would play that night. She translated old documents on microfilm and scoured computer records for the names Ernst and Karl and Nils Petersson (the American spelling drops an s), names of my grandfathers told to me before the trip by the grandfather of my own children. We narrowed their roots down to a little village called Kindbacksmala, a word which I cannot say three times fast. I rented a car and drove about thirty minutes into the countryside to the village, which wasn’t really a village but a cluster of houses down a gravel road. We rang a few doorbells and were greeted warmly by the locals. They informed us that a certain farmhouse just down the road belonged to some Peterssons for a few generations, but the current residents were out of town. The kind neighbor hopped on her bike and led us down the road, through a cattle gate, and to a humble, beautiful little farmhouse painted the traditional Swedish rusty red with white frames around the windows and doors.
This was probably not the place. Not the real place. But it was in the same village, and had stood there for more than a century, so there’s a decent chance that my great-great-great grandfather walked there, saw the place, maybe even knew the residents. There’s even a chance that he stopped over one Sunday after church with a pan full of meatballs, or maybe a newly forged warhammer.
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.