The Vikings - those grungy, gnarly guys who grunt and grimace as they gouge and grapple - have been much discussed at our house lately.
No, I don't mean the team from Minnesota. We're talking about the original Vikings, the manly men who were the Super Bowl champs of world dominance for nearly three centuries.
My wife has long been fascinated by Vikings. In her imagination, they are tall, blonde, rugged, fearless seafarers with startlingly blue eyes and a startling obsession with horned hats.
But she wound up with me instead. Through sheer force of will, I was able to inherit the correct eye and hair color but fell short regarding the height and the fearlessness. And as far as seafaring goes, I will only say that I don't know how to swim and leave it at that.
I have managed to acquire some Viking skills, such as the knack for bringing vast amounts grunge into the house and my freestyle table manners. However, these have done little to create a favorable impression.
One wonders what impelled my Nordic ancestors to quit the safe shores of Scandinavia and set sail on the vast, uncharted ocean. And what did they tell their wives as they left?
"Where you going?"
"When will you get there?"
"When will you be back?"
"Could you at least get some groceries on your way home? And pick up the dry cleaning?"
The Viking sighs deeply. "OK. Make a list."
My grandpa Hammer is as close as I will ever come to knowing an actual Viking. I once asked what prompted him to leave Norway as a young man, and he cited the dearth of farmland and the lack of economic opportunities. According to the History Channel, these are the same forces that gave rise to the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago. Some things never change.
The Vikings were extremely successful at viking, eventually forging an empire that stretched from North America to the Arabian Peninsula. The problem is, the Vikings' business methods were a bit, um, unrefined. Nowadays, this problem would be smoothed over by a skilled PR agency.
For instance, the Vikings didn't conduct raids; they would dynamically deploy asset reallocation professionals. They didn't pillage; they synergistically actualized integrative property transfer solutions. The Vikings didn't take over villages and farms; they interactively leveraged premier real estate growth strategies. And they didn't rule with iron-fisted brutality; they were proactive distributors of bleeding-edge leadership imperatives.
As a kid, I imagined that being a Viking would have been fun and often cursed my luck for being born in the wrong millennia. In my mind's eye I could see a fearsome longship cresting the waves, its dragon figurehead shooting bolts of terror through the heart a particular schoolyard bully.
But I was instead imprisoned on a long bus. It was noisy and smelly and crowded, but that's where the similarities to a longship ended.
My wife and I are a bit strange in that we enjoy going to museums. One memorable museum we once visited is the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.
The Hjemkomst is a full-size replica of a Viking ship built by junior high school counselor Robert Asp and his family. This is the sort of thing that can happen when a Norwegian doesn't have enough to do.
The Asp family built the ship in an old potato warehouse at Hawley. Before construction could begin, the warehouse had to be prepared. I can't imagine the amount lefse that might have been involved.
Another artifact we have perused is the Kensington Runestone, which is kept in a museum at Alexandria. The 200-pound slab of stone is covered with ancient-looking Runic writing that basically says "Kilroy was here."
Controversy has raged regarding the Kensington Runestone's authenticity ever since it was found by a local farmer in 1898. For example, it has been pointed out that the hunk of rock, which bears the date of 1362, has numerous Runic misspellings and grammatical errors.
Wrong again, skeptics! This only proves that the author didn't use the "spell check" feature on his word processor. We writers refer to this as "going commando."
Speaking of which, across the street from the Kensington Runestone Museum stands a 30-foot tall statue of a Viking. Known as Big Ole, the statue seems to have been modeled after a Scottish Viking as he is wearing a very short kilt.
We watched from across the street as tourists posed for pictures with Big Ole. They would invariably glance upward and we could tell what they were thinking: is he or isn't he?
The answer is yes: Ole is a Viking!