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Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Good Finn

As you can see, I’m wearing white socks today.

White socks means I’m not planning on leaving the property. Instead, I’m smoking a corned beef, as a belated celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, and as an annual tribute to the late Finnish Grandmother of Bruck (LFGOB), whose birthday fell on St. Patrick’s Day. Every St. Patrick’s Day in the family of Bruck was a combined celebration of LFGOB’s birthday (although the L didn’t apply prior to 2002) and our not-totally-certain Irish heritage. The family of Bruck continues to follow the tradition of celebrating the dual holiday with an Irish boiled dinner, and green beer to toast the memory of the LFGOB.

I’m also steaming some tobacco on the gas grill today, to make pseudo-Cavendish for pipe tobacco blending, but that’s a whole nuther story, perhaps worthy of its own VOB entry.

Today we’re going to explore the life and legacy of one Lila E. W. (I never use full/real names here without permission which she is in no capacity to deliver), AKA Lyle to her friends, Nana to the grandchildren, and “Old Blue Eyes” as circumstances indicated.

The LFGOB’s life was not conventionally noteworthy – she wasn’t rich or famous, didn’t write a book or invent anything, didn’t lead anything or commit any significant crimes that I’m aware of. While not exhibiting any behavior one might interpret as ambition, she was by all accounts a good wife, mother, grandmother, homemaker, and Hank Williams fan. And she made exceptional Finnish-style pasties and cabbage soup.

Here’s her condensed bio: Born and raised in northern Michigan in an upper middle class family along with several siblings, married fairly young, raised one daughter (the exquisite mother of Bruck (EMOB)), lived in Detroit, MI, as an adult, moved to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, in her middle age until her husband’s death, then wintered with her daughter and son-in-law, the parents of Bruck, until moving to a nursing home where she counted out the last 15 years of her life (that has to be some sort of record).

It wasn’t all sweetness and light, however. The LFGOB was the “black sheep” of the family, although by today’s standards she’d probably be on the short list for canonization. She was the rebellious one who opted for partying when offered the chance for a formal education, which was a rather precious commodity in the late 1920s/early 1930s, particularly for women. She married outside of her clan, which even today is somewhat unusual for northern Finns, although I suspect that it’s now more a function of opportunity than cultural bias. Religiously, she was either agnostic or atheist; in any case, if she had any measure of belief or faith in the Almighty, she hid it well. Other details I’m aware of, let’s just say, why seek the living with the dead?

Lots of good stories, though. She never enjoyed the company of her husband’s sister, for reasons I never fully understood. After her husband died, she averred that she shouldn’t have to continue to consider her a sister-in-law. She enjoyed watching the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on TV with the sound off. She was also a big fan of “Dukes of Hazzard,” “Hee-Haw,” and professional wrestling. She sang frequently at home, but had a limited repertoire which included a few lines from popular songs from the 1940s and the national anthem. We got to the point where we didn’t even notice, but once when a friend was over watching TV, he said, “Quiet, can you hear that?”
“Hear what,” I replied.
“Your grandmother is singing The Star Spangled Banner!”

She had an interesting perspective on funerals, never attending those of her friends. When asked how 
she would feel if nobody came to her funeral, she replied, “What do I care, I’ll be dead!”

I could go on and on. But what of it? As I sit on the back deck in northern Virginia smoking corned beef and steaming tobacco, contemplating a nice Irish dinner and a green beer, I wonder, what is Old Blue Eyes’ legacy? What is her lasting influence?

The first obvious answer is biological arithmetic: the EMOB, who has very little in common with her mother, nonetheless can attribute 50%, give or take, of her genetics to the LFGOB. Approx. 25% for us at the grandchild level. etc. By the numbers, she leaves one child, three grandchildren, and six great grandchildren (that we know of). That would be 1/2 plus 3/4 plus 6/8 = 2, so she’s doubled herself.

Second answer:  while she may have been singularly unambitious herself, she did manage to raise a professional, responsible, achievement-oriented daughter who doesn’t spontaneously break into the Star Spangled Banner or I Can’t Help it if I’m Still in Love with You. Much. And although she may not have held formal education in high esteem, three generations of offspring hold college degrees, some with multiple degrees. All are retired or active professionals, or studying to become one. There’s something to that.

Third answer: pasties. Sharp, wry humor. Rebellious nature – not particularly valuable in and of itself, but I believe it has morphed in her progeny into a spirit of innovation and creativity borne of rejecting convention.

But here’s the real answer: I wrote this dispatch, and you’re reading it. Play it over 1000 times. Run it out to the nth level of implication. Set it to music. If not for the LFGOB, I’d be someone else, if I existed at all. In large or small ways your life would be different.

And to this I raise my glass!


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