Even though I have been equipped with a large biological family, my life has been influenced largely by „chosen family“ or as Scandinavian puts it so brilliantly, bonus family. One of them was my bonus grandmother. She passed away on Wednesday and with the grief that this loss brings comes also a great deal of gratitude for the privilege to have her in my life.
When I was only seven, we moved from the city I was born in to a tiny, tiny village. It is an often retold anecdote how we met the landlords of what would become our home: the landlord was grumpy and strict, the landlady had baked strawberry cake and was radiated so much warmth we decided for the apartment they owned even though it wasn’t the nicest we’d seen. When asked whether she would like us as tenants, the landlady said, in her special dialect, „Oh, a little girl in the apartment down there, I would really like that“. I was the little girl and the landlady I would come to refer to as my bonus grandma and choose as my godmother at confirmation.
The village and we, May 2015
In the following three years, we lived closely together, she lived upstairs, I lived downstairs. I longed for a cat, she convinced her husband who was against pets. I wanted a second cat, she intervened again in my favor. Almost every night, I would come up to say good night and she would give me one single piece of chocolate, the Betthupferl, a bedtime treat. I still remember the brand and how it tasted.
She taught me how to bake and my mom uses her recipe for Bienenstich cake to this day. She read the yellow press papers with me where my original interest for royal families must come from. She also read the proper newspaper with me and I remember how she taught me the for me then unknown word „quickfidel“ [jolly] that I read aloud from the paper’s report on my class’ theater performance. A performance she attended, of course.
On Sunday evenings, we would watch the German weekly soap operas Lindenstraße and Die Fallers together. Every Sunday even today, I watch Lindenstraße.
Looking back from an adult perspective, I now see how much she must have promoted my educational development as well. When I was bored, she would write down a very long word (German has many of those) and gave me as a task to make as many new words as possible out of it. She taught me how to play nine men’s morris and sat countless hours with me playing. And all that time, she was not babysitting or doing her duty, no, she was enjoying the company of a child. She enjoyed having me around and she let me feel that. In an environment that was difficult to adjust to as a little city girl, that must have had an tremendous emotional impact on me.
Even though I had to move away from her when I was 10, I never lost touch with her. We wrote letters to each other, called and I visited. During my years in Sweden, there were only two people who got endless letters with photos about what I was doing: grandpa and she.
But most of all, she has always been a shining example for me, one of a kind.
She got married when she was 40 and had her children in her forties in a day and age (and place) where that was very unusual – being an exception like that never seemed to unsettle her at all.
When she experienced hardships, she met them with her never faltering positive attitude. Her way of dealing with irritations was a remarkable display of serenity.
When I saw her last four weeks ago in the retirement home, she was fragile and recently widowed, and still she said, as if giving me a final lesson in gratitude, „You always have to see the good things. You have to be thankful to get to live to 84“.
”Ack är det redan här så skönt / på denna jord så härligt grönt / hur skall det då ej bliva i himmelen/ där Gud berett vad ingen här i världen sett/ och ord ej kan beskriva.” (I denna ljuva sommartid)
„I think art Thou so good to us / and scatterest joy and beauty thus/ o’er this poor earth of ours/ what nobler glories shall be given / hereafter in Thy shining heaven / set round with golden towers.“