My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Norway,
and my father claims that they are descendants of reindeer herders far to the
north in the arctic lands that lap the Barents Sea. It is a land of midnight summer
sun and a darkness in the heart of winter made bearable by swarms of stars and
the cryptic dance of solar winds; a mountain-crowded landscape of deep snow and quick crops, glacial
fjords and ice-sculpted valleys where nomads live in close communion with the swing of the seasons and can hear the call of the wild from
out of the mists of myth.
These are my antecedents, I carry them in my bones and even
though it hasn’t been proven, if you climbed further up in my family tree I
think you would find that I am related to the Merry Old Elf himself!
If you have seen Miracle on 34th Street, you know what happens to kindly old men who claim
to be Santa Claus, so you might think I am daft to claim kinship to that jolly
saint of Christmastide, but there are indicators impossible to ignore:
grandmother’s name was Elfrieda
favorite color is green
in the heat and thrive in cooler climes
express my love and affection for others by giving them gifts
favorite holiday is Christmas
often prefer the company of children to that of adults
spend far too much time wrapping my Christmas gifts
either of my brothers put on a red suit, most children would think they
were looking at the real thing
with all of my siblings, I have an insatiable sweet tooth
don’t look like an elf, but I am told I have hobbit feet
heart soars at the first snowfall of the year
any exertion my cheeks bloom with roses, my face is naturally broad and as
the years go by, I can’t seem to shed that bowl full of jelly…
Do you see what I mean? Impossible to ignore. Ho Ho Ho…
My mother would have been 85 years old today, but she passed
away at the beginning of November. Long ago, she bequeathed to me her love of
books and storytelling and encouraged my need to write. My dear mom also possessed a
child-like appreciation of the world around her and a quirky imagination. I am so grateful that I was able to fly home to Washington beforehand to share in the last days and
moments of her life.
As those of you who have said good-bye to loved ones already
know, we find relief from our grief in the stories that we tell about them. My niece,
Jacqualine, shared the following memory with us:
It was a large family gathering, most likely Leif Ericsson
day. There were tables laden with all sorts of tasty food and desserts. The
great-grandchildren were running around playing with their toys, and everyone
else had settled down with a good meal.
I was relaxing with a plate of lefse, when Grandma came and
sat beside me.
Around this time she had begun a special diet, so I wasn't
surprised to see her with a napkin full of vegetables in her hand instead of
dessert. However, I did think it a bit curious that she seemed to be munching
away without touching a single carrot.
So I decided to watch.
When she thought no one was looking, Grandma reached under her napkin and pulled out a cookie.
"Grandma," I said pleasantly scandalized.
She just looked at me with a mischievous smile and a twinkle
in her eye, and then in one quick motion popped the cookie into her mouth. She
chewed happily, and all I could do was shake my head and chuckle.
This is how I learned the top-secret napkin trick, which is
very useful if you’re in the business of smuggling treats.
I’ll see you in heaven Grandma. Make sure you save me a
place in the choir. Yes, that was my mom. I couldn't let her birthday pass without writing something in her memory:
I grew up on the Puget Sound. Winters were mild. Summers
were full of rain. But there was one winter with a succession of days so cold
that nearby Snake Lake froze over. My father, who was born in the neighborhood,
said it used to freeze nearly every year when he was a boy. He bundled us all
into the car and we drove down to the lake. It was such a peculiarity that
dozens of other families were already there ahead of us. Some of them even had
skates. It was a beautiful sight, just like a scene from a Christmas card.
Other than a frozen mud puddle here and there, I had never walked on ice. I slid down the bank with my brothers and sisters and
stepped onto the edge of the small lake. I wasn’t more than eight years old and
the whole idea of walking out into the middle had me frightened. I wasn’t
afraid of falling down, I was afraid of falling through. Even though there were lots of people scooting back
and forth across the ice, I dabbled around the edges. I wasn’t an adventurous
Then my father came along, took my hand and led me across to
the other side. I remember holding tightly to his hand and sliding the soles
of my shoes carefully across the uneven surface. There were twigs and leaves trapped in
the ice; maybe there were fish and frogs watching me from below. I imagined
myself gliding and twirling effortlessly like Hans Brinker and the Silver
Skates, but I felt more like a tottering, newborn colt just learning to walk.
The lake was surrounded by evergreens, leafless scrub, and thin, frosty, winter
air. There was an undercurrent of shared excitement and, best of all, the
inimitable wonder of walking on water. I was still afraid that the ice wouldn’t
hold me, that at any minute it might crack and the dark water would swallow me, my confidence in the ice was thin because I'd had no experience with it, but beneath the fear was the strength of my father's hand and the solid trust I had that he would rescue me from danger. If not for that trust, I would still be dabbling around the edges.