I got an early birthday card in the mail the other day from my 102 year-old grandmother. In her familiar, but shaky, handwriting is a little birthday greeting. I’m touched that she remembered and impressed, once again, at her strength. Her hearing has been slowly deteriorating for as long as I can remember and now she is almost deaf, but she is still bright and engaged, thoughtful and caring – and a whiz at Scrabble.
We took Miya out to Saskatchewan when she was about 5 months old, and she met her great-Grandma, who had then recently turned 100. It was amazing to look at the two of them and think that close to a century had passed between their births.
The youngest of four, my grandma Edythe was born in 1909 to Tomina and Engelbert, Norwegians who had moved to the northern United States with their families when they were teenagers.
Grandma liked to tell the story of how she came to Canada at the age of one.
Her father had gone ahead with agreement that his wife and children would follow some weeks later, giving him time to get a homestead ready. But things were much more difficult, the land less hospitable, and the costs higher than he’d expected. After arriving, he sent a letter to his wife to advise her to hold off on her trip. That letter never arrived.
As planned, Tomina set out later that year with her four young children in tow (ages, 6, 5, 3 and 1). Grandma would always remind us at this point in the story that back then there were no dining cars on trains and the young woman had to pack everything for her children’s needs and comforts.
Not expecting their arrival, Engelbert was not there to meet the train when they arrived. It took Tomina days to find someone in the town who had heard of her husband and was able to get word to him that his wife and children were anxiously waiting for him. They spent their first harsh winter on the Canadian prairies in a one-bedroom shack.
But they managed to survive and my grandma is a survivor to this day.