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Friday, January 25, 2013

Mrs Shellenger or the practical side of Love

Mrs. Shellenger's quilts

As the result of my friend, moving to another state, I inherited a grandmother. There was no other family left in the area for this elderly Finnish woman. Over the years I had met her at my friend's house and grown very fond of her, so this was not a hardship in anyway.

My younger daughter was seven when we first started visiting her regularly. We would drive up after school, when her other three siblings were otherwise engaged, and take tea.  I would listen to this woman's stories, her gift to me; were well worth the time. Her sing-song English, which only a Scandinavian can produce, would lull me into time past.

Mrs. Shellenger lived in a small cottage her husband had built. At the time the house was built, there was nothing but farmland around. The land had long disappeared into other small houses, like a cash crop, around her.  This was about twenty minutes north from our home but might as well been another country. The neighborhood had changed a great deal over the time she had lived there. Not nearly as genteel as it once was, my friend was happy to have a set of eyes checking in on her grandmother, and eased my friend's worry about moving away.

Mrs. Shellenger was a tall thin woman, who once told me, she was always surprise by her image, when she would catch it in the hallway mirror as she walked past.
I asked "why?"
She said "I never expect to see grey hair or wrinkles."

SOme of Mrs. Shellenger's incompleted work

She had grey hair she wore like a halo around her head. Her glasses were rimless and rested three quarters of the way down her nose, most of the time; her eyes were a very clear blue, which could look right through to your brain. She had a pragmatic bent that I am quite sure kept her from ever being scammed on anything. Coupled  the facts, she had lived a long life and understood human nature in a way a younger person is not yet educated in, kept her safe from harm.

Mrs. Shellenger was around ninety at this time. All of her four children had preceded her in death along with her husband and her seven siblings. Her grand children all lived in other parts of the country so she managed to get by with a woman named Rata, that came several mornings a week to help out, and us. We filled in the companionship void that was left by my friend's move.

Since I was a small child, I have always enjoyed the company of the elderly; it began with my own grandparents, who I could listen to for hours. Of my four children, only one had that same ease with older people.  So, she and I would head out together each week and spend time with Mrs. Shellenger, at first out of love for my friend, and soon because we loved Mrs. Shellenger too.

I have many stories from those quiet afternoons, but my favorite one is   this:
Normally, she would be sewing small pieces of fabric together that would eventually be assembled into quilt tops and I would knit socks, while my daughter would investigate Mrs. Shellenger button box, which was a treasure trove of riches (rhinestone buttons being the item of fascination at this time, Jewels!), allowing my daughter to keep (just) one each visit.

This one afternoon, while enjoying the companionship of each other, I asked Mrs. Shellenger had been anyone else that she had been interested in prior to her husband? She stopped sewing, which she never ever did in our typical conversation, peered out over her glasses at me and said:
 "Why yes there was."

I waited sensing this pregnant pause was going to give birth to a story, I did not want press, but I did want to hear. Slowly she spoke, without looking up:

"Before I met Mr. Shellenger (that was how she spoke, never ever referring to her husband by his Christian name to me) there was another young man I was courted by."

Another long pause, as if she was transported back to that time. She shook her head, as if some private joke had been told that I was not to know, and went on to say:
"He was very kind and taller than me and we always found something to say to each other"
Mrs. Shellenger's silk tie crazy quilt
I had never met her husband, but from the photographs, he was shorter than his Finnish wife.
Not wanting to push, but also intensely curious at this point, I waited a bit before asking:
 "What happened? Did the war separate the two of you or…?"

She shook her head, ever so slightly, looking down at her sewing and taking another stitch, before she answered "No. He had a big head."

I waited for her to elaborate, and when she did not I asked:
"Big head? Like full of himself?"
"No" she countered, quickly, like she did not want me to get the wrong idea, "a big head, in size, not his nature"
"Well," she said, "It would have been very painful to have his children and so I thought better of it."

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