When I think of Gram, I remember that she was always doing for other people. My first memory of this was the vast Halloween party she had at the Sheldahl park shelter. The place was packed with people, decorations, activities and fun. I don’t remember what Dave was wearing, but my mother in law to be was a witch with a very long nose. Nearly made me rethink my love choice!
Another example was Christmas. The kitchen counters were piled high with Tupperware full of goodies from kringla, lefse and krumkakke and Christmas chip wafers. Early on, I was given Dave’s favorite recipes so her baby would not suffer too much.
Speaking of babies….Nobody loves babies like Gram. When I had Beth, the first grandchild, I finally was marked as a “keeper”, except we didn’t have her sooner! Every grandchild and great grand was lavished with Gram hugs….and most had pictures to prove it.
And now for my funniest memory–It was a holiday a long time ago. The porch had not even been built yet. We were sitting at the big dining room table by the picture window enjoying the meal when I looked over to the window….and saw…. A mouse sitting on the curtain hardware. Now I was a newbie to this crowd. What do I do? Do I say anything? Do I not? Gram must have seen the flummoxed look on my face, followed my gaze and nearly had apoplexy! Could I ever see anything else when I sat there? Not bloody likely! And a year later, I hid a little craft made mouse in the same place to commemorate the joke. We laughed about it for years.
She gave good hugs. She loved music. And she made good lefse.
Gram was a great cook, and carried on her Norwegian farm cooking traditions learned from her mother and her grandmother. As a young child, I remember that there was always plenty to eat….loads of meat. potatoes, fruit and vegetables, with much of that food raised and grown on the farm. We always had beef cattle, pigs, chickens and sometimes ducks as well as a huge garden.
As you may know, the Norwegians are not known for using a huge variety of spices in their cuisine. My mom used what I call the Norwegian trio…salt, pepper and cinnamon (not nutmeg, she hated nutmeg)…in the meals she prepared for her family. As kids, we didn’t know there were other spices. However, there was a new item being advertised on the Saturday morning cartoons – Chef Boyardee’s Pizza Kit. We begged and begged and finally mom bought this new fangled pizza kit at the grocery store. We never had pizza before and the commercials made it sound so exotic!
We rarely traveled further than Des Moines when we were young, with the exception of summer trips to visit our paternal grandparents in rural South Central Wisconsin. On rare occasions, we would dine out at a restaurant like the Fjord in Huxley or when we were on the trip to our Wisconsin grandparents home if Gram had not packed a picnic basket of Norwegian fare for us to eat from while on the road. I remember that those Wisconsin grandparents certainly had different tasting food when we visited them. They cooked in German farmhouse style there, with many different foods and spices in addition to the Norwegian trio. Sausages, roasted duck and goose, fresh caught, pan fried fish, venison, creamed veal cutlets, schnitzels and other German farmhouse standards were treats when we visited Wisconsin.
So Gram went outside of her comfort zone and made the pizza kit for dinner at home. She followed the instructions on the box, baked the pizza in the oven and its aroma wafted throughout the house. It was finally dinner time, and the pizza was ready in all its glory. We all dug in, not knowing exactly what to expect. I can’t say I remember exactly how it tasted, but I know we surely felt like cosmopolitan world travelers after that foreign tasting meal!
By the way, my sisters and brother did learn about spices other than the Norwegian trio…after we grew up and flew the nest.
Gram and Mom came to visit me around Easter of 2002, while I was in my junior year studying abroad in England. Gram and her two new knees were ready for adventure and excited to visit Norway. We arrived in Stavanger, the small city from where Gram’s family departed to immigrate to America. Unfortunately, Gram’s luggage decided it would rather travel to Moscow so we had to do some shopping upon our arrival. Not many stores were open, since most of Norway shuts down to go skiing around Easter, and Gram was rather picky about what clothing she would wear. I cannot tell you how many stores we visited just looking for socks without a seam across the toes, and comfortable clothes that were the right colors. In the end, we managed to find a few acceptable items that would make do until her luggage could be reunited with us in Stavanger.
After all the shopping, phone calls with the airline, and Mom working whatever magic she needed to in order to get Gram’s prescriptions refilled, we were exhausted by dinner time. We got a few groceries and returned to the cozy converted barn where we were staying. Everyone was rather loopy and we spent an evening collapsing into fits of laughter trying to translate the labels on the food with our limited ability to read Norwegian. “Cheese with a hint of goat” was enough to make us double over laughing for the rest of the trip.
Traveling to the picturesque cities and unbelievably gorgeous landscapes during our time in Norway with Mom, Gram and Neil was one of the absolute highlights of my year abroad. It was almost like being with a different person, who she was so far away from her life in central Iowa. She was awestruck on a daily basis by the natural beauty and history of the places we visited, and I am thankful that I was able to be with her while she traveled to her homeland, soaking in all she could during that week.
While I was too young to remember any part of my cancer diagnosis or my treatment, Gram never stopped telling me how much she loved me and how happy she was that I was still here throughout my entire childhood and early adulthood. Gram would tell me how much she worried and prayed for me during those times and how thankful she was that I made it through my treatments. Gram had many opportunities to remind me since we shared a driveway for the first 18 years of my life. So anytime I was leaving Gram’s house (even if I just stopped in quick after hopping off the school bus to get my sugar fix from the snack drawer), Gram would make sure to give me a tight hug, kiss me on the cheek, look me in the eyes, and say how much she loved me and how happy she was that she was able to spend time with me. While I may have been embarrassed as a young boy getting kissed by my Grandma and would wipe those kisses off my cheek as fast as I could, Gram never stopped making sure that I knew that she loved and cared for me.
Gram also supported her grandkids in any way she could by showing up to every single piano recital, play, musical, choir or band concert, and would even brave the elements for the occasional game of soccer, football, baseball, or whatever other sport we signed up for. Always letting us know how wonderful we did. Gram clearly loved seeing us do the things we enjoyed most and made sure to let us know that she supported us in any musical, athletic, or creative endeavors we pursued.
As has been mentioned before, Gram was an excellent cook. One of my favorite things she would make at the holidays was a fruit salad that had coconut in it. My brother, Matthew, was sensitive to textures with food when he was younger. One particular Christmas, Matt took a bite of this fruit salad, gagged, and exclaimed “Dog hair!” referring to the coconut. From this point on, Gram called this salad “Dog hair salad.” Since she loved her grandchildren so, every Christmas she would make “dog hair salad” for us and “hairless dog hair salad” for Matt.
I will never forget the first time that I introduced my son, Eli, to Gram. She basically snatched him out of my hands and didn’t let him go. Even as her memory started to go whenever we visited, it was like he was a familiar friend to her. I am so fortunate that Eli will have memories of visiting and being hugged by his Great Gram.
Gram and I spent a lot of time in my childhood. We would go play dominos at Aunt Timmy’s house, visit her mother and other friends at the nursing home together, and go run errands with special treat stops on the way home.
What I remember most about her though is how she showed her love through food. Any time I would come over to her house without fail, she would be prepared with my favorites. She also was open to my creative requests like ice cream for breakfast.
Gram cooking for our family get-togethers with all 4 of her children, their spouses, and 11 grandchildren was an impressive feat of skill. She was always somehow able to coordinate enough food for feeding all of us with plenty leftovers out of her kitchen that could only fit 2-3 people in it optimistically at a time. It was always a labor of love from her albeit quite stressful at times. I remember one time watching through the big windows from the porch into the kitchen when the fruit soup accidentally got knocked off the table, hitting the floor, and exploding the fruit soup across the whole kitchen. Outside of that one particular fiasco, she always seemed to be able to get things all pulled together and on the tables for everyone each year.
I will miss her warm hugs and sweetly calling me her Laney boo. I will always remember the delight she had when I brought my kids around to see her. It reminded me of how much she loved seeing me as a kid too.
Why is it that most of our memories include food?!
Lefse, Kringla, then all of the Norwegian dishes that we always heard about and would never try.
Not one particular story sticks out, but snippets of all of my time I spent with her. The week long summer stays where I learned how to drive the tractor, spent hours at the blazing hot kitchen table snapping beans while watching Wheel of Fortune, of course snatching the marshmallows from the drawer that forever was permeated with the same smell.
The van that we pretended had Flintstone’s wheel power of just our feet.
If you know, you know…
And the Christmases that were flooded with what seemed to be a million children sleeping on the floors of each and every room. All of the Santa bags that had to be opened in age appropriate order.
Gram will forever be remembered for her warm hugs, butterfly pins, her love of her family and the color blue.