July 10, 2019. She’s 102 now, one of 21 children born to the same parents and the only one still alive. As if that’s not enough to amaze, she owned this piece of property 50 years ago and I didn’t even know that. Today, she visited Camp Many Moons.
“She” is Aunt Martha, my Dad’s sister. Sharp-minded, inspiring, kind, resilient, irrepressibly cheerful, and admired by dozens of nieces and nephews; also a much-loved former nurse, award-winning hospital administrator, care-taker of several siblings, land-developer (with her husband), and stand-in mother to countless children; and, still, a fluent Finnish speaker and awesome Scrabble player! She is one-of-a-kind.
Her home was the center of our large extended family. So it’s not surprising that, for her 100th birthday, relatives came from all over the country to pay homage to this amazing woman and the heritage she represents. Her Finnish parents immigrated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from a tiny town called Vadso in far-northeastern Norway — the part that overlays the top of Finland — north of the Arctic Circle, near the Barents Sea and Russia. (You see how I come by my love of the far-north, winter, and Finnish-ness.) My parents spoke Finnish at home and I tried to learn as an adult, but it’s a tough language. I use a few phrases whenever I visit Martha, but between her hearing problems and my bad memory, we usually end up in giggles.
Martha was the first reason I began to return regularly to the U.P. (My love of its nature, and Jeff, came later.) I like to think of myself as “the special niece.” 😉 We are both professional women who had no children but nonetheless enjoyed rich lives filled with people of all ages, so my visits always left me feeling more content. Inspired. Relevant. Loved!
Rakastan sinua (I love you), Aunt Martha. It seems inevitable that our histories are connected this way – not just through family, but through this parcel of property. May you enjoy it with me for monta kuuta (many moons) to come. Mene jumalan kanssa (go with God) — but not yet.