Twenty-five years ago, I married into a family of giants.
By giants, I’m referring to skills and accomplishments rather than physical stature—although my husband’s late father, Anders Folke Erickson, was well over six feet tall and had hands the size of Christmas hams. Those abnormally large hands were no doubt indispensable to his team of Swedish water polo players when they came in fifth at the 1948 London Olympics.
I’ll never forget the pained expression on my future father-in-law’s face when he found out I don’t know how to swim. “I can’t even dog paddle,” I said.
Obviously, I was far from perfect daughter-in-law material, but Folke bore his son’s seemingly inferior choice (at least in the pool department!) with stoicism, which is what the Ericksons do when it comes to enduring anything. They are descended from Vikings, after all—the kind of people who “relax” by taking volcanically hot saunas before jumping into water so cold, it’s one degree short of frozen.
Also, if Folke wanted a new lamp or a table or a set of fireplace tools, he didn’t hop in his car and drive to the store. He made them. You should see the tools he made for our fireplace. Not only could I not make them, myself—I don’t even know what all of them are.
The perfect compliment to her overachieving husband, Folke’s wife, Alva, now in her late eighties, was a gourmet cook who grew her own herbs. She also made her own clothes and curtains. She re-upholstered furniture, painted most of the artwork on their walls, and could create a centerpiece out of four buttons, a gum wrapper, and a dead rat that would dazzle guests at a White House dinner party.
Their daughter, Jensina, is no slouch, herself, in the giants department, even if she’s only slightly taller than Disney’s Tinker Bell. A full-time nurse living on a “gentleman’s farm” with her husband, Wendell, they provide food and shelter for a dozen or so chickens, mules, donkeys, goats, a passel of dogs, and at one time, an ornery pet turkey that was better than a pack of slavering Dobermans at keeping strangers off their property.
Jensina is also a fabulous cook (and a vegetarian!), owns and operates an actual kiln, grows her own vegetables, and can turn whatever site she sets her sights on, into a flower-filled Garden of Eden.
And then there’s my handsome husband, Leonard, who spent this past weekend re-building part of our deck. He never built a deck before, so he read up on how to do it and well, he just did it. It looks amazing and is to “code,” which is a really good word in the secret language of guys who build stuff.
Leonard is also a computer genius and a professional drummer. He can fix or build just about anything, too, which is the sort of mate any person whose idea of “fixing” involves multiple rolls of duct tape, finds indispensable.
So you can see how a girl might get an inferiority complex, trying to fit in with this group. I may be a published poet, but I’ve never made a table, have I? Or fireplace whatchamacallits. Or beef bourguignon. Still, for two and a half decades, my name has been “Erickson.” I’m a member of this superlative family and they are part of mine.
And despite my lack of swimming prowess, Folke and I had a good relationship. In fact, when my husband and I took him to Sweden a few years before he died, I held his hand as we walked through the streets of Stockholm. His fading eyesight made it difficult for him to negotiate those busy city streets, and we didn’t want to take any chances he might fall or get lost.
I will say, my hand in Folke’s was like a finch flying around an auditorium, but somehow we managed to stay connected.
Isn’t that the point of family? Feeling connected? We love each other, in spite of ourselves, no matter what. I don’t always like my husband, but I love him and he loves me, or else he wouldn’t stick around. In fact, he could probably build a robot version of me if he wanted to, one that has more practical application. But so far, he’s still content with the real thing.
And we visit my mother-in-law every other week. Sometimes she calls me, “Darling,” which is way better than “Leonard’s latest flame,” which is how she introduced me to their neighbors at a backyard barbecue when Leonard and I first started dating. So I’d say we’ve made progress.
As for my sister-in-law, we don’t talk a lot because she never sits down. But I admire her a great deal, as long as I don’t have to feed her chickens or water her plants. Plants in my care seldom last long. As far as my relationship with living, breathing chickens, I like eggs. That about covers it.
So while I’ll never be a successful gardener or an Olympic swimmer, a gourmet cook or a musician, I’m a pretty decent poet and can make you laugh if you give me a minute to tell you a funny story. In my view, every family needs a poet and a comedian, and lucky for the Ericksons, with me, they get both!
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