Today is Ricky Ohren's 36th birthday. I know this because he and I started school together in 1978 and graduated together in 1991 and every year on April 29th, he shared his birthday with my Grandma Minnie. In 5th grade he had a big boy-girl birthday party for the whole class, and I don't remember why but I had to leave early, and they all watched "All of Me" with Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin, and I was jealous for years.
But Ricky Ohren is not why I'm writing this post. I'm writing this post for Minnie, my paternal grandmother, who was born at home in her parent's house in Hendrum 108 years ago today. It was a house her grandfather built with his brother, and was the house where, 29 years later, she'd give birth to my father. She did no things of great record in her lifetime: she spoke only Norweigan until she started school at age 6; she liked to dance when she was younger, was married to the same man for 40 years (until he died) and lived another 30 without him. She raised four children, though the birth certificate of the fourth lists 6 births, but she never spoke of any others, and if anyone asked her, she likely didn't answer. She was very hard of hearing, so that when I walked into her house, my father taught me to turn on the dining room light so as not to startle her too much. She belched and farted and never said "Excuse me" (but she was 72 already when I was born. Who did she have to ask to excuse her?). She was not terribly kind, and was rather selfish in many ways, but she loved her children and grandchildren deeply. When her second son, my father, had a stroke at 55, she was 85, and I think it broke her heart every time she saw him afterwards. For several years, they lived in the same nursing home, and she would check up on him, look at his dinner plate after he was done eating, crane her neck to see him in the hallway. It drove him crazy, but now, as a mother myself, I don't blame her a bit.
When we were little, we would come home from school with pictures we'd painted just for her, but she would never take them. My mother says we came back in tears from her house many times because of this, and it made my mother angry; I like to think, though, that she didn't not take them because they were crappy children's artwork, but because she didn't feel worthy. She suffered from depression for much of her life, I suspect, and had some difficulties with it even when she was younger. But the photos of her as a young woman show a smiling, bright eyed Norweigan girl, with a sweet bobbed haircut and a look of daring about her. Babies, farm life, the Great Depression, two world wars...she had seen so much more than I can imagine.
I hope she knew I loved her, that I didn't mind the dusty old candy she'd press into our hands, or the TV turned up way too loud. I hope she knew I would always remember the smell of her house, the sound of her voice, and the blue in her eyes.
Happy birthday, Grandma Minnie.