I read a lot of blogs. Some inconsistently and others religiously; checking for updates several times a day if I have the chance. I read blogs in English, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic. And just the one in French (which might sound impressive but truly isn’t: Alix translates her posts into English as well. But I really try to stick to the French, in an attempt to keep my limited knowledge of that beautiful language alive…)
Emily’s blog is in Swedish, but she writes English summaries. She’s a freelance photographer and her images are gorgeous. So gorgeous that I sometimes almost want to eat them. (I can’t imagine what Freud would have to say about that particular impulse. Probably nothing good. Oh, well. I digress). This December, Emily’s doing a Christmas calendar of blog posts; writing about a previously decided-upon topic every day, and challenging other bloggers to do the same. As we’ve established, I’m not disciplined enough to do a post every day but I still wanted to participate. Today. Because the topic for the day is: tell us about a person you admire.
I am a lucky, blessed person – I have a lot of people in my life that I love and admire in different ways. My parents, my siblings, my friends and other family members. Today, though, I’d like to tell you about my grandmother – whom I have loved since I was born but have grown to admire as I’ve got to know her as a person, not just as my kind and wise grandmother.
This is my grandmother. And me. I look a bit crazy, I know, my hair is a mess and I’m also completely out of focus. Ignore me. Today, it’s all about her.
My grandmother will turn 86 years old on Tuesday. She grew up on a farm (like almost everyone of her generation in Iceland) in the southern part of Iceland where the sky seems endless and the waves crashing against the shores of black sand are huge. In her youth, she got really excited if she saw a ship having trouble off shore – like everyone else. A stranded ship – and no means to transport all the goods aboard it to Reykjavík – meant that the farmers could look forward to a little bit of luxury. Some biscuits, tobacco, maybe even red wine. She just told me about the time when her father and some of his friends returned home after helping the crew of a stranded ship and receiving some goods in return; red wine, to be exact. She was eight. They were drunk. And she was so intrigued by the exotic bottles of wine they brought with them that she snuck one out and drank it by herself. She couldn’t drink red wine for decades after that.
If my grandmother had been born in another time, I’m sure she would hold a PhD. She never got the chance to go to school – except for elementary school, that is. She’s still one of the most knowledgeable people I know. She has an opinion about just about anything, is completely up to date with the world news, widely read and wise. This is even more impressive when you take into account that she’s been almost blind for more than a decade and doesn’t hear all that well either. She’s been deaf on one ear since her childhood, and the other is failing.
My grandmother worked hard every day of her life. She was a cleaning lady and took lots of other odd jobs as well; anything, really, in order to help support her family. My family actually had to intervene to get her to stop working only about six years ago, when she decided to take on a job as a cleaning lady for a forty year old bachelor in town. She was 78 and blind.
Through the years, her hands got very dry from all the water and soup, so she always kept a tub of hand cream on a shelf in the kitchen, rubbing it onto her hands everytime she passed the shelf. The scent of her favorite hand cream is the smell of my childhood. Her hands are still dry from all the years of hard work. As I’ve gotten older I’ve enjoyed buying her more luxurious creams, scented with lavender or rose or orange blossom. She smiles as she rubs them onto her hands. That makes me happy.
My grandmother is funny. And she laughs with abandon. At her own jokes, too. She was at a funeral this past Friday where women her age were compairing their shades of grey hair. My grandmother listened for a while, got bored with the conversation and promptly asked if they weren’t jealous with her own still naturally red hair. They looked stunned. And then she laughed and walked away.
She’s an optimist. When her sight was failing she packed down all her beautiful embroidery projects. She still has them. She intends to, she says, pick up where she left off when she gets her sight back.
She has a sixth sense. She sets the table with an extra plate before the unexpected guest arrives. She wrote my name, Sunna, on a slip of paper just before she left for church, where I was to be given my name. My parents hadn’t told anyone. But she knew. She also knew that when, some years ago, she suddenly got a feeling that she should go visit her brother, who had been in hospital for a long time, she shouldn’t hesitate. And she didn’t. She took a taxi, walked to his room and sat down by his bed. She thought he looked a bit lonely, so she asked if he wanted her to hold his hand. He had never really liked touching before, but he nodded. So, she held his hand and told him she loved him. He closed his eyes and died in his sleep five minutes later.
She enjoys life. The picture above is taken at the very hip Kex hostel/restaurant, where she was dying to go after having heard about it on the radio. It’s frequented by Reykjavík’s movers and shakers and foreign guests. And then it was us. My grandmother wore her comfy pants and woolen cardigan and twenty year old glasses and loved it.
My grandmother bakes the best cakes and laughs the best laugh. She’s resourceful and stubborn. The other day, she told me that she intends to live until she’s 100 years old. It’s not that she’s afraid of dying, she’s not. She just feels that there is still too much fun to be had. I am very, very grateful for that.