A few years ago I bought a t-shirt at a little Finnish shop in Astoria, OR. The shirt said, “Miksi minä olen niin kaunis? [Why am I so beautiful?] Because I’m Finnish.” I’m 1/4 Finn thanks to my grandma; needless to say, she got a kick out of that shirt. My grandma was always kind enough to tell me I was beautiful and if being part Finnish had anything to do with it, she was fine taking credit for that.
This morning I was proofreading my grandmother’s obituary through hazy, tear-filled eyes. It was a draft she’d written herself and my father had polished for publication. The final line read, “In lieu of flowers, take a loved one to a movie or out to dinner” and I couldn’t help but smile.
One of the things I liked most about my grandma was how special she made me feel. She would bring me flowers when she came to see me in a play or send me the sweetest card with a generous check after I’d had a baby with explicit instructions that the money was to be used for a new outfit for me and NOT for anything else. When I was younger and had the privilege of visiting by myself, she’d take me out for a fancy lunch and tell everyone how lucky she was to be there with her oldest granddaughter. Back in her kitchen, she’d share her Laughing Cow Cheese with me and maybe give me some Finnish chocolate which were things she didn’t usually share when all the grandchildren were around.
She was a gracious hostess and loved putting together a party. There is much about etiquette and social propriety that I should have learned from her. She gave Noel and I a key to her house and told me I was welcome to come stay anytime and she meant it. If she and my grandfather were in town there would be chocolates on the pillows and a full breakfast in the morning. Even if she was gone, she’d have something set aside in the freezer for us to heat up.
She taught me silly Finnish songs, instructed me in the art of making “leaf hats,” and told stories about picking wild berries as a child. She told me that the reason why Santa Claus was skinny in Finland was because he’d just started his journey when he left presents there, but by the time he reached the US he’d eaten a lot of cookies and that was why we had a fat Santa. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado and we became email pen pals of sorts that I realized how hard her childhood must have been – her father dying when she was five and Finland being bombed for a significant part of her school-aged days. With me, she was always so cheerful that I couldn’t imagine anything terrible had ever happened to her.
As a person who’s never even had a passport, I always admired how fearless she was about traveling and loved the little souvenirs she’d bring back. I especially admired how brave she was to move to the US by herself in her early twenties, just a few years after joining the LDS church. Though she didn’t talk about it a lot, her faith will always be an inspiration to me.
Rakastan sinua,* Grandma.
~Audrey*I am 95% certain that this is how she taught me to say “I love you” in Finnish. Dad, if I’m wrong I’m sure you’ll correct me.