stay as sweet as you are

Big-box retailers seem to be bursting at the seams with Valentine’s Day gifts these days and for good reason. It’s a holiday where you can express your affection for those you love. Who doesn’t love love?

My favorite Valentine’s Day gift was actually a birthday item given to me in my 30s. My grandmother gave me a framed photo of my Great Grandma Olga and me with a Valentine’s Day card that Olga wrote in 1971 but never mailed.

It’s an uncommon experience to receive a card some 30 years after it was written, but this photo and card are among my favorite possessions. The card is just so lovely. I admire Olga’s spidery handwriting and the sentiment of her message. On this Valentine’s Day, stay sweet as you are, friends and readers. Be someone’s Valentine.

bang the loom

Do you have a relative you never met but wished you did? I do. Her name is Hilma, and she was my great grandmother from Sverige (Sweden).

Hilma

When Grandpa would talk about his mom, his eyes would well with affection and sometimes tears. Hilma came to the States in 1903 to marry a Swede, and together they raised eight children on an 80-acre parcel of land about 25 miles north of Eveleth, Minnesota.

And then her husband, my great grandfather, died unexpectedly in 1928. She had eight children to care for and no formal education. To feed her family, she wove and sold rag rugs, washed butcher aprons for the local meat markets, and did laundry for a local recreational hall. She had no car to sell her rugs so she had to walk door to door, family to family, in the towns of Eveleth, Gilbert, and Virginia, and other parts of the Mesabi Range.

Grandpa’s youngest sister Elsie wrote an appreciation of Hilma, and this might be one of my favorite parts:

Mom prided herself in her excellent rag rugs. She had strength to really bang her loom so that the warp tightened against the strip of rag. Mom had complete faith in people, believing that no one would harm or cheat her. If someone would forget to pay her, she’d say that they didn’t mean to do it. Such trust can only come from her strong faith, which was Apostolic Lutheran.

I remember the Apostolic Lutheran faith as a very simple religion based on direct forgiveness. We all know about God’s forgiveness, and I’m sure we ask it of Him many times, but when you hurt or wrong someone–it is their forgiveness that we need.

Here’s to banging looms–whatever you do that is your strong suit and a source of pride–and the faith of direct forgiveness.

you have the map of scotland in your face

Chief. My dad (or Chief as I like to call him). He was stationed overseas in the late 1950s and on a train where he struck up a conversation with an older British woman. She inquired about his ancestry. “Where are you from?” she asked. He replied, “I understand my heritage is British. My family is Montgomery, Graham, Good.” She studied his answer and then informed him, “You have the map of Scotland in your face.”

I’m not sure what features are classically Scottish, per se–the nose, the dark blue color of his eyes, his fair skin, the high forehead–but I have always loved this photo of my dear dad. I believe he is in his teens here, and I see his optimism. His keen mind, which he keeps to this day and which I attribute to his love of books and reading.

My dad once pointed out that his life was much changed for the gift of his hometown (Clinton, Indiana) receiving a Carnegie library. If you’ve never visited Clinton, you should know it’s a working-class coal mining town (Grandpa was a coal miner). Clinton is an essentially modest Midwest town. And this Carnegie library–gifted by Scottish businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and built in 1917–was a lifeline for my dad. He would bring books home and read them by flashlight at night when he otherwise should have been sleeping.

Thinking of the Chief today. Grateful for Scots, maps, and books.