Last week the mother of an old friend died unexpectedly...at age 101. The funeral was Saturday morning. As I am the only one still in Albert Lea our house became a meeting place. The first overnight guest rolled in Friday afternoon. Because things happened rather fast, I was caught unaware, with only one bottle of Akavit in the freezer. As soon as I realised my social faux pas, I slipped two more in beside it. (There has to be a more Scandinavian "faux pas", but it escapes me.) By evening when more people arrived after the visitation, I was able to offer them the choice of Danish, Norwegian or Swedish versions of "The Water of Life". The stemmed shot glasses were fetched from the high cupboard; beer taken from the fridge.There was much sincere eye contact... toasting and drinking with men I have known for 50 or 60 years, my best and longest friends, their wives and their grown children. The "Skal" is not taking lightly here. It is not a formality mindlessly uttered before you take a drink. It is a liege, a pledge of life loyalty, a willingness to die, to fall in battle while sacking an innocent English village. There was more after the funeral and burial on Saturday. I hate to say it was a wonderful time, after all Clara died, but then again she never approved of most of us anyway.