my grandmother is 97 years old today.  that's pretty incredible on its own – three years shy of having lived an entire century.  and at such an impressive age, one would be completely entitled to any help needed for everyday life.  but get this.  bestema gets around completely under her own steam – she has two teflon knees and has had eye surgery, lives in her own apartment, plays the organ, goes swimming, does crosswords, and is ON EMAIL for cripes' sake. my dad gave her a digital photo frame for her birthday and said someone would come over and help her set it up – but she's already done it. she is quite simply one hell of a granny.  and not 'just' a grandmother anymore, either – three times a great-grandmother, with a fourth on the way!  (but not from here.)

so in her honor i'd like to share a few of the memories i've gathered at her extremely capable hands, over the last almost 30 years' worth of visits.

during the early years of my life, we used to visit bestema & bestepa in florida at easter.  these visits were full of tropical magic (compared to march-april weather in minnesota), with sunshine, palm trees, intrepid early morning anole-hunts, and pastel summer sun-dresses.  sometimes our cousins would visit at the same time. we all dyed and colored eggs on the days leading up to easter, then went on a thorough search through the spiky grass, knobby palm trunks and prickly bromeliads, trying to recover them and any foil-wrapped chocolate eggs before the slugs found them.   one year i camped out on the front steps with my cousin kurt in the hopes of catching the easter-bunny red-handed… and caught the easter-bestema instead.  there were swims in the pool, trips to the beach and to the suncoast seabird santcuary to see the talking crows and the huge brown pelicans.  dad would put me on his shoulders and hand me up slices of bread to feed the wheeling, diving seagulls.  there were grapefruit fresh off the tree in the back yard.  during these visits, bestema taught me almost all the card games i know.  there were trips to sea-world, where i can remember seeing shamu and petting stingrays.  i can also remember (with horror) my first roller coaster, at busch gardens – i think i was five and either they didn't have height restrictions in those days, or dad snuck me on.  thanks, dad.

later on we would visit sometimes at christmas instead, at bestema & bestepa's newer house nearby.  this one was a little different, but still included the necessary 'florida room,' and still had everything inside that let us know whom we were visiting – a night light in the bathroom made of christmas lights piled inside glass bottles, shelves of knick-knacks we had grown up loving and handling oh-so-carefully, and the grandfather clock that bestepa (appropriately) had built.  the new house backed onto a golf course with a big pond, and came with a sense of adventure – sometimes there were alligators in the pond.  we mostly watched birds – skimmers, ducks, and the occasional heron – but it was deliciously chilling to think about what might happen to them at any unexpected moment.  here, too, there was a pool, and a community clubhouse with a pool table. 

every year around christmas, if we weren't visiting, we received packages of homemade lefse.  these packages were carefully guarded by our parents, and had to be shared out in small doses to make them last.  the taste of lefse is still the taste of christmas for me.  and there were other bestema specialties from the kitchen – lemon meringue pies, and the most supreme chicken and dumplings – mouth-watering to think about even now.

the first quilt i can remember was bestema-made.  many quilts followed it, but the first one was particularly special – a crazy mix of fabric squares in all different colors and textures.  my favorites were the dusty green olive velvet squares, which all wore thin from constant stroking.  when i ran away at age 5 (to live in the hallway outside our apartment – this lasted an hour), i took a box of saltines and the bestema quilt. when the dog chewed a hole in it, i was distraught until bestema made it new again.  some ten years ago, we converted my stockpile of high school t-shirts into a new quilt, and most recently bestema has been helping me on the first quilt i've ever undertaken (admittedly a rather ambitious pattern for a beginner, so still a long way from being finished).

recently, bestema moved to north carolina, to be near my uncle, cousins, and the new additions.  last summer, dad and i stopped through to see her and the rest of the family.  we took a trip out to the lakeside property where my aunt and uncle plan to retire, and bestema hiked down the hill with us, and then rode in the inflatable kayak back across the lake.  i told you, she really is amazing.  and we are so lucky to have her.

happy 97th, bestema.  we love you!

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