Throughout my childhood and teenage years in New Zealand, I heard stories of Volrath, my Norwegian great-grandfather. Besides being amused by his outlandish and dramatic name, I was enthralled by his adventures. He’d left his homeland as a young man in the early 1900s to seek his fortune in the New World. Being born into a well-to-do and up-standing family he was not driven, like many emigrants, by poverty or necessity of any kind but went into the unknown purely by choice.
In hearing stories of his son, my grandfather Anton Vogt, I memorized his catch-phrase about his heritage: conceived in Argentina, born in Norway, educated in England, France and South Africa, a New Zealander by choice. Later on in middle age, after co-raising six New Zealand children, he traveled once more and lived and worked in Australia, Lebanon and Canada, finally retiring to the south of France. My uncles and aunts and parents all traveled too and many lived in other countries, so that by the time I was 14 I just assumed I would do the same: travel and live all around the world.
Lately, I have wondered about the women in the original story. Volrath’s mother, sister, wife, daughter. Were they stalwart supporters behind the scenes of their men? Were they co-creators, co-conspirators? Or perhaps even the drivers of changes? Or maybe unwilling participants with little say? Margot, Volrath’s wife, who accompanied him in most of his adventures; what was her story? How did she experience the adventures – with equal passion, gracious acceptance, or resentful bitterness (or a combination of all three)?! What did it take to choose a man living in a faraway land, to follow him from here to there?
And then it dawned on me, this story sounded familiar. It was eerily like my own. I too have lived in several countries; I too have followed a man to a distant land. How much of my decision was me being co-conspirator, how well have I balanced acceptance and resentment? I was born and made in New Zealand, have been resident since of England and Australia, and now USA. Is this simply a repetition of generations of behavior? A wanderlust in my genes? Is it a need to find home, or a recognition that home is in many places? Is it a sign of seeking something missing, or an acknowledgment that wholeness is found in the pieces of self found in a variety of places? Is it about places at all, or rather about the people who reside there? Is mine a story of a woman following her man or following her muse? Have I been self-determining? Was Margot?
Certainly two things are clear: the story starts with my great-grandparents Volrath and Margot leaving their home country of Norway; and now their descendants, the 4th and 5th generations: myself, my siblings, my cousins and their children, are spread around the world.