When Erik and I were engaged I asked him, “When are your parents’ birthdays?”
“Hmm,” he thought for a minute, “Summer?”
His one-second answer taught me more about his family dynamics than the nearly 18 years of experience since. Primarily, that they are very low-key, no-fuss people. I quickly sleuthed that Maria’s birthday is June 16th(today!) and Fritz’s falls on June 18th.
Their birthdays always, always land near Father’s Day. And they are always happy with one simple celebration. Truly, less demanding people never lived.
With five sons of my own I dread being the mother-in-law some future day. But Maria embodies some fabulous traits that I hope to emulate: she doesn’t give advice, she doesn’t criticize, she think I’m pretty fabulous and she absolutely believes that our kids are perfect. What more could I ask for?
Maria grew up in Denmark during World War II in a town called Odense where her family has lived for over 500 years. They came from a long line of farmers where the last name changed with every generation: Simonsen, Hansen, Kristiansen, Larsen…..
As a child Maria witnessed the ration lines, the parades, the protection of the Danish Jews(we take great pride in books like Number the Stars and The Yellow Star) and finally the German occupation. One afternoon she was standing on the street with her teenage sister Ellen as the German troops rolled through and shot out shop windows. Ellen’s head was grazed with a bullet that literally skimmed across her scalp.
Ellen’s head was shaved as her injury healed. But rather than being distraught over her close call she was simply embarrassed to have a shaved head. When Danish girls were disloyal enough to date the occupying German troops the villagers kidnapped them and shaved their heads. She would rather have been shot in the arm than look like a Kraut-lover!
After the war Maria became a nurse. Working in the sick ward one day she met a very ill American missionary and his companion. As she nursed him to health they taught her about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and the Atonement of Christ. Although she’d been raised without religion, Maria said it was as if they were simply reminding her of things she had already known.
When the Elder was well, Maria was baptized and entered the crazy, wild, wonderful world of becoming a Mormon. She loved her branch in Copenhagen, served a mission to Norway and served in all kinds of callings. She wanted to stay in Denmark; she wanted to marry and raise a family in Odense as her family had done for so many generations. But there was simply no one of her religion to marry.
At twenty-five, Maria left her family, her friends, her language, her home and her country for Bakersfield, CA. I’m a fairly adventurous soul and would love to live in a foreign land but I can’t imagine leaving everyone and everything behind. Among the immigrants I know, Maria is the only one that came to America completely ALONE.
For the next few years Maria worked and moved and dated boy after boy. Feeling very old-maidish at 31, she was living and working in Salt Lake City and JUST about to give up and go home when Fritz spied her in church one day. The rest is history.
Back in Denmark, her family could not believe Maria had traveled all the way to America to marry a German immigrant.
Bjorn was born literally 9 months after the wedding and Erik came two years after that. Fritz and Maria always wanted more children, but Erik benefited from a happy childhood where he received more than enough attention and love.
And all that extra love? Well now my kids are the beneficiaries of Grandma Maria and her goodness.