Thursday, October 21, 2021

A slow learner

 Stanley - Thursday

At 7:27 pm on December 30, 2011, I was sitting on the stoep of my home in Knysna, South Africa, gazing over the beautiful lagoon, when I received a most unexpected Facebook message: 

Hi Stan, are you the man who was on visit in Denmark many years ago together with a friend? I guess in 1971 as young students

Even though I didn't recognise the name (Mette Schnoor Nielsen), I knew immediately who the sender was, but for reasons I cannot remember, I did not reply right away. Perhaps it was because of upcoming New Year festivities; perhaps because I had friends staying with me.

View from my stoep in Knysna

Ten days later, on January 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm, I was on the same stoep enjoying a glass of wine with my friend Ron Staal from The Netherlands, when another message arrived.

Hi Stan, are you the man who visited Denmark in year 1971, my name at that time was Mette Willandsen.

 He urged me to reply. I did. And the rest is history.

Here is the backstory.

At the end of April, beginning of May, 1971, my friend Jeff Starfield and I were wandering around Europe using a three-month Eurailpass. One day we were on the train between Copnhagen and Helsingør (Elsinore) on a quest to find Ophelia, when a lovely young woman boarded the train at Hillerød and sat down opposite us. We chatted. Probably Jeff  and the young lady chatted. 

Anyway, by the time we reached Helsingør, Jeff and I had been invited to dinner. Records show that the three of us, plus another couple who had been invited to dinner, went out dancing until the wee hours of the morning. 

Kronborg Castle: Ophelia was somewhere inside.

Later that day, Jeff and I, bleary-eyed, searched Kronborg Castle but failed to find Ophelia, So we headed off north to Stockholm, then farther north to Narvik inside the Arctic circle. Many train, bus, and ferry rides later, down the west coast of Norway saw us in Oslo. Jeff and I visited the Fram museum, the Viking Ship museum, and the Vigeland Museum in Frogner Park.

Arctic explorer Fram

Viking Ship Museum

Sculpture at Vigeland Park

Then we had to decide where to go next.

'Helsingør' I said, remembering a lovely young lady who had invited us to dinner. So to Helsingør we returned. I was keen to impress.

And impress I didn't.

Jeff and I were both private pilots, so we took Mette flying. 

She was not impressed. We did this and that. Not impressed. 

The message was clear. Mette was not impressed.

I was depressed.

So we left.

A few months later, I arrived in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, to study at the University of Illinois. And study I did, but the lass from Helsingør remained in my mind. Eighteen months later, I wrote to her, inviting her to come to the States to play tennis. No reply. But she kept the letter!

Still she lingered in my head.

A year or two later, I visited Denmark and tried to find her. She was no longer at her apartment. (And to this day, I still remember the address!). I located her mother and was told Mette was married.

The final nail in the coffin.

Until December 2011, three years after her husband had suddenly and sadly passed away, when a memory clawed itself back into her consciousness. She was new on Facebook and wanted to see how it worked. Who should she search for? A name from the past. Obviously. A name she remembered forty-one years later.

As an educator, I would classify her as a slow learner. But still a learner. Thankfully.

Now, nearly fifty-one years later, we've changed a bit.


  1. Ah Stan, the fates were with you! There's a story for a novel in there somewhere..... Best regards to you and Mette. Are you Bristol bound in 2022?

  2. Stan, some stories need to be told. This is one. Do you plan on taking Mette flying anytime soon?
    Best to you both.

  3. I love it, love it, love it. As for Dave's suggestion, I'd say don't risk it. Quit while you're ahead. :)