Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One Who Got Away

I'm almost 48 years old, but I haven't lost too many people. My beautiful and young friend Jon died; a great magazine writer who had greatly influenced me, and whom I worked with briefly, Lou Stathis, died; and my father died. Then there was my gramma Inga.

Inga Lund, daughter of Ole and Tomine Lund, was a second generation Norwegian-American. She was a strong, sensible woman who didn't suffer fools gladly. She married John Blashill, and they had three children: Richard, Helen, and Donald James, who became my father. They were poor. John Blashill died when my father was two years old, so Inga had to raise her three kids by herself after that.

She always called my dad "Donnie."

After my dad and his brother and sister had left home, Inga moved out to her brother Oskar's farm. Oskar sometimes worked sixteen-hour days, and Inga took care of the cooking and cleaning for him. When I was a boy, we always visited Inga and Oskar at the farm. One summer, we picked and ate fresh strawberries until I turned red.

Years later, after I'd finished college, and Oskar had died, my father and I went to visit Inga in South Dakota. She was selling the farm, which had always been profitable, and finally moving into town again. One afternoon, after she had withdrawn a couple hundred thousand dollars from one bank so she could move it to another bank, we stopped for lunch at a diner. Gramma Inga was usually a pretty sober sort, but as we sat down to eat, she grinned, patted her handbag, and said, "Go ahead, Pat--order anything you want. It's on me."

A few years after that, Inga had a stroke, and her health gradually deteriorated. In the last few years, she didn't always even recognize my father when he came to visit her. And because of this, I thought I had already said goodbye to her. But then, when she died--my gramma!--it slammed me. Even if you expect it or think you're prepared, death can surprise you.

Maybe it's the only way to understand the word "forever."

Anyway, in case you are wondering, dear reader, there is a hook to this post, and it's sad news. On Saturday, September 12, my wife's mother, Resi, died. She was two weeks shy of her 80th birthday.

She will be missed.

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