Myrtle Swenson-Stinton and daughter Ramona, circa 1935
I wake up some mornings with messages in my head. Sometimes, they’re from people who are long gone, like my Swedish Grandmother from Minnesota.
It might be attributed to having awakened in the middle of a dream, or, for those of a more spiritual bent, a message from beyond the grave. I can’t tell you what it is. It just happens. Sometimes, as with this most recent incident, it’s comforting.
My Grandmother, Myrtle Carolina Swenson-Stinton, was born in Minneapolis along with two sisters and four brothers. Her father, Lars Swenson, was an immigrant, who got to the U.S. by serving as a a bond servant. He had no money, and selling himself into servitude was apparently the only means he had of getting to America. Eventually, after working off his debt, he learned the upholstery business and opened a furniture store in Minneapolis.
At some point in the process, he saw a photo of the woman who would be my Great Grandmother, Johanna. He asked for her hand and she agreed. He sent to Sweden for her, she arrived and they produced seven kids, my Grandmother Myrtle, among them.
It couldn’t have been easy. In the few photos I have my Great Grandmother looks weary, as though she’s been beaten up by life, even though my Great Grandfather apparently died a wealthy man so he probably could have afforded to get her some help with that big family.
Non of this has anything to do with the message from my Grandmother. Or maybe it does. She too, led a relatively difficult life and it is perhaps helpful to occasionally remind ourselves that we don’t come from weak people.
I remember wash day, when my Grandmother would feed the bedclothes into an ancient washing machine down in the basement. It was open on the top and she’d sprinkle in a little soap powder and then push the sheets down into the tub. After the rotor had sufficiently beaten the sheets for a few minutes, she lifted them out soaking wet and fed them into a wringer attached to the top of the machine. She would then turn the wringer by hand as she fed the sheets into the contraption. Once they had been wrung out she’d repeat the process with clean water to rinse out the soap. I swear to God, it was barely a step above taking everything down to the river and beating it on the rocks, which, in fact, might have been an easier alternative.
Myrtle Swenson – Stinton, was a tall, slender woman, with an iron will and the disposition of a Minnesota Methodist. There was no smoking, drinking or swearing in her house or on her property. She was habitually neat and clean and I will forever remember those big white sheets drying on the line in her backyard, waving in the Minnesota breeze until they were freshly dried and fit for her family. While she rarely complained about anything or had a bad word to say about anybody, this morning I awoke knowing exactly what she’d say about our current state of political affairs.
“It’ll all come out in the wash” she’d say. Maybe she did say it, as it was the first thing in my head when my eyes opened? Again, I have no idea where these things come from, but it was and is a comforting thought, so I’m not complaining.
One thing I do know for certain is that my Grandmother, a good Minnesota Methodist, would never, ever, tell a lie. It’s nice to have someone you can count on, isn’t it?