October opened with my admiring this giant old tree with its intricate, beautiful root system at the ocean.
October closed with a grand celebration of my mother’s 100th birthday.
Her root system is just as complex and intricate. It has produced a beautiful life. Swedish, yes–100%, as was my father. In later life she re-learned the Swedish language she had heard daily in her childhood home. She said it came back easily. Family was important. But beyond tribe, she had a fierce concern and love for the “other.”
Swedes aren’t known for being introspective, but it was a skill she learned over the years. When my son and his partner visited her in August, she welcomed them, and then said, “Here, sit down, I have something to tell you.”
She proceeded to tell them the very painful story of how they had lost Dad’s business and the home they had built beside a river in Montana. A bankruptcy in a bad economy took everything. They packed a few possessions and moved to Seattle.
“And the thing was, we didn’t ever talk about it! That was wrong. We needed to talk about it. Bad things are going to happen in your lives–you need to talk about those things.” (She told me years later that she still had nightmares about that event).
“And then, the other part of this is that good often comes out of the bad.”
She recounted how my two younger sisters found excellent public schools in Seattle. She found an editing job two blocks down the street. Dad found work in his field. And within a mile of their old brick rental house ($100/month) with a view over-looking Elliott Bay, was the site of the Seattle World’s Fair that had just closed.
Only then did she turn to them, “And how are you two? What’s happening in your lives?”
She was going back and finding her roots, untwisting, re-examining, and trying to pass on as much truth as she could in the time she had left.
As the celebration approached, my sister asked her if she wanted to write down any thoughts about passing that century mark. Well, of course she did–a page and a half. Since she can see very little, her writing is almost illegible, but my sister managed to make out, “Eat your green vegetables. Don’t smoke. Get outside a little every day.”
The celebration was grand–loving cousins arrived from Minneapolis, Montana, and Southern California. We gathered the night before the party and talked and remembered and laughed.
The next afternoon, with more friends and family, we drank champagne and nibbled on cake and a beautiful big round loaf of bread that Tsedal had brought. Mother had sponsored Tsedal’s husband as a refugee from an Eritrean/Ethiopian conflict many years ago.
The shenanigans continued into the evening after most of us had left. Unable to sneak fireworks into or around Mother’s assisted living home, a little group of mostly Swedes gathered on Mt. Vernon’s waterfront and lit a magical flower that opened and played a reportedly “pathetic” rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
They look, in this photo that my sister Heidi shared, for all the world like a band of Vikings around the ceremonial bonfire. Quiet at last at the end of a long day, they’re reflecting on their last voyage and thinking about the next one.