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- 9 Ali Selim d Stay Here as Long as You Like O ne Sunday morning in the fall of 1990, I read a story in Picture Magazine, a supplement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I was drawn to the story because on the contributors’ page there was a photo with the caption “Minnesota Author Will Weaver.” He was bearded and windblown, clearly standing on the plains somewhere looking upward to the place where good, intelligent people gain answers or strength. Or so I thought then. Now, after years of photographing people , I know we have the subjects look up because it tightens portions of their skin, giving them a smooth, youthful elegance. Anyway, I knew I wanted to be a writer, to have people one day refer to me as a “Minnesota Author,” and this alone drew me to read Will’s story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat.” It was a fateful decision that would define my life for nearly the next two decades. I was deeply moved by the story. It is about a Norwegian immigrant farmer living in Minnesota named Olaf Torvik whose wife, Inge Altenberg , has recently died. The local sheriff arrives after the funeral to remind the family that, though traditional in these farming communities , home burials were no longer legal. The family would have to take Inge’s casket to town, to the cemetery. This causes Olaf to think back to the time Inge first came to Minnesota . His parents, who continued to live in Norway, were sending a German girl—who had survived the horrors of World War I by hiding in their village—to Minnesota as a mail-order bride for their bachelor son. In the United States, following the war, there were laws that forbade the migration of “enemies” and “undesirables” and, in fact, Germans. Inge remains in Minnesota. She and Olaf build a life, a family, and a vast farm together in spite of being ostracized from the commun­ ity. Now, in the present time, it doesn’t seem right to Olaf to bury his ali selim - 10 beloved Inge in town alongside the very people who rejected her some fifty years ago. His clear memories of the two of them and their life together on this land bring him to a decision: a surreptitious burial deep in the wheat field, far away from the sheriff’s curiosity. The story concludes with this paragraph: The furrows rolled up shining in the night light. Olaf knew this earth. It was heavy soil, had never failed him. He knew also that next year, and nearly forever after, there would be one spot in the middle of the field where the wheat grew greener, taller, and more golden than all the rest. It would be the gravestone made of wheat. I cried when I read that, not only because it is a specific and powerful moment in Olaf’s life, and a very fine and surprising ending to a lovely story, but also because those words made the emotional context of the story more immediate and personal for me. Those four words— “and nearly forever after”—were inclusive of me, and my generation. They took a story that was ostensibly about our great-grandparents and thrust it through subsequent generations, through our grandparents and parents down into me and beyond, to generations not yet conceived. In that story was the greatest history lesson I had ever experienced and the strongest connection I had ever felt to my heritage. What had been over there was suddenly transported right here. I read it again. And I cried again. I thought if those words moved me, they would surely move others. In those four words lay my decision to spend the next nineteen years of my life creating and distributing a film inspired by that short story. I procured the rights from the author, Will Weaver, for a stated period of time—three years, I believe. Somewhere along the way he realized that this process takes a lot longer than anyone could imagine, and he somehow—inexplicably, for I had not done anything yet to earn his faith—believed I would see it through. He sent me a supportive note in which he wrote, “you have rented an unused room in my house, re­ arranged the furniture to suit your needs, yet much to my liking. As long as you find the room useful, you can stay here as long as you like.” In Will’s poetic...


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