Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gamla Mormor

On June 27, 2006, if my great grandmother had lived, she would have turned 100 years old. We called her "Mormor," which in Swedish means "mother's mother," because that was what my father called her, as she was his mother's mother. Technically, we should have called her "Gamla Mormor," which means "old mother's mother."

Her given name was Elvstrom. I thought sometimes about giving up my last name, my father's last name and his father's before him, and replacing it with "Elvstrom" as a way of symbolically connecting with my maternal roots. Ultimately, I decided against it. My last name now is my father's last name, a name shared by my mother, as well as everyone in my immediate family, and I like being identified as one of them. It would have been hard to reject that part of my father, even if he had not seen it has a rejection, and it would have been equally hard to choose one maternal root over another. How could I choose my great grandmother's name on my father's side instead of my grandmother's name on my father's side? Or, why not my mom's given last name, or my mom's mom last name, or my grandmother's mom's last name? You see the complications, but I digress.

I'm lucky enough to have many memories of my great grandma. Growing up in Sweden, and visiting during the summers, I remember picking wild mushrooms and blueberries with Mormor and Farmor in the same forests that they had picked mushrooms and berries in during World War I to support themselves. Before she moved into her apartment, she lived in the home that she had lived in for most of her life. It had a huge yard with a big tree and garden out back. I remember flowers and playing hide and seek with my brothers while my parents sat down for coffee and cakes. Everyone drinks coffee in Sweden 24-7, and guests are always greated with coffee and cakes. I like that custom.

When I studied in Lund, Sweden, I spent my weekends in Malmo with my grandparents and mormor. Mormor's eyesight was bad, so she had to squint at the crossword puzzles that she did in the morning papers. We would sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee, her with her crosswords, Farmor with a magazine or a cigarette (eventhough she was on O2 and not supposed to smoke) and me with a book or my journal, chatting in Swedish and me trying to soak in their collective wisdom. In the evenings, while we played cards, sometimes we had a glass of Madeira port.

I wish I had had more time to know her. Many of my memories are of her cooking with my grandma in the kitchen. I remember her peeling potatoes in my grandmother's sink like she could do it in her sleep, the skins falling away effortlessly in long coils. Both she and my grandma cooked with big chunks of butter, and made the most delicious cinnamon buns (kanel bullar) and cakes. They also made Swedish meatballs, pancakes, dill potatoes, cabbage rolls (which were actually awesome, despite the cabbage), tons of fish, and whip cream cakes for special occasions. At my urging, they one time made lutfisk - a fish soaked in ammonia for several days - which is a traditional Swedish dish served at Christmas time, all because I wanted to learn more about my heritage. Luckily, we also had tons of shrimp, herring, and potatoes a that meal.

My great grandmother was a strong, amazing woman. Until she passed away, Mormor lived on her own in an apartment that was covered with all of the beautiful embroidery that she had created over the course of her life. She ate a hard boiled egg each morning for breakfast, grew potatoes on her balcony, and told me that you have to accept things in life and go on because there is nothing else to do.

One time, when I was asking her about when she decided to get married, she told me that she had one summer which was wonderful and it was filled with dancing and fun. After that, she got married. When I inquired why she got married and how she felt about getting married, she said, "There was only one summer, and then I was pregnant, and that was the end of that." She was very matter of fact. That was just how things were, and there was nothing to be done about them.

Thinking about her today, I feel sad that she's gone, but grateful for the times I spent with her. I like to think that she and my grandmother, along with Farfar, my Uncle Thomas, and my Uncle Leif, are somewhere together and happy, in a place where my great grandma can see clearly, my grandmother can breath easily, and where Farfar is strong like he was before he fell off of the roof and hit his head.

One of the saddest thing about people you love dying, apart from them no longer being here to share this life, is that I always wonder if they knew how much they were loved. It seems so sad to me that they might have left not knowing what they meant to someone, or how much they are missed.

I like to think that I inherited some of my great grandmother's strength, and that maybe, just maybe, she looks down at me every now and then and approves of the woman I have become.


gravelly said...

Buttercup, you should be a writer, this post made my eyes well up. I am sure your relatives knew how much you loved them, you must have been a treasure to them.
For other people who love someone but don't tell them, tomorrow is promised but not a certainty, so no one should hold back, especially with their love.

Tracy said...

What a lovely tribute. Your love for her is real and beautiful. :)

Bean said...

Ah, I was going to write a little something about Gamla Mormor but you are too fast. Although, I did have a dream last night that I want to share with you. Daddy flew to Sweden and got Farfar and they flew back to the US to see me and Tex in some city (don't know where). I'm not sure why or for what, but it was good to see him. He looked just the same. I was mad though because we shared a hotel and it had cots lined up. Dad was between Farfar and me. But Dad didn't wake me in the morning and I slept through the day, and then Farfar left that next day and I only got to see him shortly and pretty much hug him and give him a kiss. I woke up 3 times but I made myself fall right back to sleep so I could see him again and I did. Anyhow, I woke up in a cold sweat, pants absolutely soaked. It was wierd, but I loved to see him. I miss Farfar.

gravelly said...

Bean and Buttercup, you touched my heart by your love for your grandparents and great grandma. They were lucky to have you both.