Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday's Treasures & Things

Today's treasure is a small heart -- a piece of Swedish folk art. 

A gift from Elsa, my friend Barbro's mother, who was like a second mother to me, I have owned it now for almost 30 years. My own mother was wonderful and there was no need for a second mother in my life, but sometimes life brings us blessings beyond our wildest expectations.

The heart hangs in our bedroom over the frame of a watercolor of Katarina Church, the church in Stockholm where I was baptized. As with all my treasures, it comes with a story:

It was the spring of 1946 and I had ventured across a hill that separated our street from another street in our suburb. The freedom of being a child then, able to move around freely and explore, was my childhood's greatest gift to me. There was a tree on the other side of this rocky hill. It had a branch, coveted by all us children. The branch was low enough for us to reach, strong enough for us to climb, and, best of all, you could hook your knees around it and hang upside down.

On this day, I met a girl my age there. Her name was Barbro and we struck up an instant friendship. She invited me to her house across the street and when the door opened, I had the biggest surprise of my young life. It was opened by Barbro's mother, Elsa, a very tall and large-boned woman, dressed in one of the flowery housecoats that women wore in those days. Elsa had a very friendly face and demeanor, but what really got me was her voice. My mother was short and soft spoken, not Elsa. She was tall and her voice was incredible. It was loud and strong and happy and it made a lasting impression on me. After visiting for a while, I went home and told my mother about this wonderful woman I met and, years later, we would still talk about her voice. 

Barbro and I – we are the same age, so you can see how tall I was.

Barbro and I are still friends; she stayed in Sweden, married young and had two daughters. Now she has a beautiful granddaughter as well. Every time I go back to Stockholm, we spend time together and, for me, this time is important and unforgettable. I have been friends with no one else for so long, 65 years this spring, and our friendship means the world to me.

I always spent time with Elsa when I came back to Stockholm. In 1983, Elsa and I walked and talked about life and death. My brother had just died at the age of 40 and I needed to talk about such things. We walked past the riding school, the stables and barns, through the beautiful park, all part of the place where I grew up. I remember so clearly that she told me she was not afraid of dying. She felt very calm and reassured about death, she told me. Our conversation has stayed with me all these years. And it is helping me now, as I am getting old myself. Oh, the gifts we give to others without really knowing..... Elsa passed away in the early 1990s at the age of 80, I believe. I will always love her and I will always remember our walk that summer evening in 1983.


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