Sometimes life’s lessons are not immediately imprinted on your brain, but exist somewhere in your DNA. So it was with my lessons from Gram. I always thought she was pretty extraordinary, but wasn’t exactly sure why. To a scrawny, self-conscious, scaredy cat kid, she just seemed pretty awesome. She could read and write in two languages and daily scoured American and when available, Norwegian news papers.
Gram riding on the back of my cousin’s motorcycle, with her house dress flying and her hands in the air laughing and hooting, circa age 70, infused my cells with fearlessness and joyousness; I just didn’t know it at the time. We all thought she was pretty darn cool.
We had contests to see who could eat the most Norwegian pancakes, meanwhile Gram stood for hours filling all the plates. I saw selflessness, driven out of love for her family and guests; as well as for her passion, which was cooking and filling bottomless bellies. The whole process surrounding food was sacred; sowing, composting, harvesting, canning, cooking and serving were all done with love, boundless energy and endless work. Her compassion in sharing that bounty had no limits.
Echoes of her horror stories about the evils of white bread and sugar make me shudder to this day. Wonder bread was a blasphemy and had to be hid or you paid the consequences. I’m not sure what the consequences were, but you didn’t want to find out because it might involve a purge of some kind. To this day, I can’t even look at it in the store. Why couldn’t she just leave us alone, without forcing us to ingest cod liver oil, resulting in whining and burping into the following week?
Gram never learned to drive but that didn’t stop her. When she gave up the farm after Grandpa died she would stay with several of her children for months at a time. We couldn’t make a move to the door, without her appearing, pocketbook in hand and ready to go. This really made it hard to go on a date without her. She was ready for anything, at any time. We were not always on the same page.
She ruled her family kingdom with lots of love and good humor. I learned so many lessons about doing what you love, embracing life and community, with an open heart. It was a slow education and maturation, but the seeds were planted and that is what she did best, especially when she was in Fertile, Iowa….