I know that I have been neglecting this blog. I am sorry about that. It is just that it has been hard to write since my beloved Uncle and Godfather Myrwin Larson passed away on December 22. I cannot seem to write without tearing up.
So instead of blogging recipes and writing, I have been painting a landscape of Jesus finding the lost lamb. I keep painting it over and over again. It should have been done weeks ago. In fact, it was done and I had signed it and posted a picture of it on Facebook.
However, each time I look at it, I feel compelled to pick up a brush. I just keep thinking that I can do it better. Make it right. Make it perfect.
Apparently I can’t make it right or perfect anymore than I could make Uncle Myrwin himself again once his Alzheimer’s advanced to the point where he had to be in assisted living. That was over five years ago.
So, every week for over five years, I sent him a hand-written letter filled with farm memories. Uncle Myrwin and my dad farmed together. It was like we were all one big family. Until I married and moved away, I saw my uncle almost every day. In fact, it would have been cause for alarm had he not called our house everyday before 8 a.m.
As happens with this awful disease, Uncle Myrwin’s memories faded away over time. It had been awhile since he could recognize my dad, his youngest and only surviving brother. He had troubles at times recognizing his children and grandchildren. He stopped answering the phone years ago. In the past year it was difficult for him to make conversation, walk and sometimes eat. But, he always knew my letters were coming.
When he got to the point were he could not remember his farm, where he had spent his entire life and where I had been born, I painted him a pictograph of the place. He had it hanging in his room, next to the bright blue rooster watercolor painting I had done for him. Many times, I was told how proud he was of those pictures and how much he enjoyed telling visitors about them.
It seemed that everyone could visit him, but me. Due to my battle with cancer and my damaged spine, for the past four years it was just too painful to ride in a car that far. So, I kept sending him letters, gifts and flowers.
My cousins, his children, had my paintings on an easel at his viewing and funeral, right by his lovely blue casket. They also had the toy John Deere tractor that I had sent him there. It was an exact replica of the old tractor his dad, my grandpa George, had purchased right after World War II.
Many, many days were spent on that tractor in hot humid Minnesota summers, riding up and down field after dusty field picking rocks. The loader on that tractor seemed only to haul three things: manure when the cow yard needed cleaning, rocks and kids that picked the rocks. The toy tractor had his name written on it so no one would take it. His whole life Uncle Myrwin put his name on everything he owned. I would not be surprised if his children had M.W.L tattooed somewhere on their persons in blue ink.
Everyone back home, if they knew my uncle, knew that his favorite color was blue. So, every year that he was living in the assisted-living home, I would send him blue spring flowers, that included blue delphiniums like those he had grown on his farm. In the fall, I would send a bouquet that had to include ripe wheat, because a farmer has to test ripe grain with his teeth to know when to harvest. Each Christmas he would get a bright blue poinsettia.
When he was first in the home, he would keep his poinsettia alive until the next one came. For a full year. Farmers never stop being farmers. This year he wasn’t up to taking care of the plant, which was sent right after Thanksgiving. Neither he or the plant survived until Christmas.
Somehow it just didn’t feel right for Uncle Myrwin not to have a blue poinsettia on Christmas even though he had died three days before the holiday. So, I sent him another one to be with him in the funeral home and at his funeral.
As it turned out the plant was the same color as his casket and so very beautiful. Crow River Floral in Hutchinson, MN, always does such a great job. They kindly delivered all of the flowers I had sent my uncle throughout these past five years. Hutchinson to Cosmos is quite a drive especially when the roads were icy. Not only did they bring flowers, but they stayed and visited with him.
While he could, he would call me, and I would again hear the voice with the distinct Swede Grove Township accent that I had heard each morning as a child say, “My dear girl, thank you for all of your wonderful, letters!” When the calls no longer came, I would get short and shorter notes of thanks from him. Those, too, stopped several years ago.
I have known for some time that even if I had gotten the chance to see him again, he would not have recognized me. Late this fall I learned that he was on the decline and had been put on hospice.
At that time he was not my only relative on hospice, my three-year-old niece Laney was on hospice for her leukemia. Laney passed away the very last week of November. That was hard.
A couple of days after Laney’s funeral my phone rang and I heard a male voice saying,”Is this my cousin, Pat?”
Myrwin was a great believer in bad things always happening in threes. He also believed that if you ate a double-yolked egg you’d have twins. And, that the first fall frost would come six months to the day after the first clap of thunder after the first of the year. So, as naturally I assumed the worst, figured he was dead, and tactfully inquired if he was OK.
My cousin, Bryan, happily told me that I had made his day and went on to tell me that he had gone to visit his dad that morning. When he arrived he had found Uncle Myrwin sitting up in a chair. Since his dad had been bed bound for a time, my cousin was surprised and thought it a good sign.
Bryan saw my letter for the week had arrived and decided to read it to his dad. I had written about how muddy my backyard was from my two big dogs and all of the rain we had just received. I explained that my yard looked just like the pig sty on the farm and the dogs looked like a couple of filthy hogs. I wrote of the tunnel on the farm that passed from the sty to the pig pasture and how when the pigs heard us putting mush in the feeding trough, they would come spurting out of the tunnel like soda pop out of a bottle that had been shaken. It was a visual explosion of pigs.
Bryan could tell that his dad was listening and explained that I had two really big dogs. It was then that Uncle Myrwin started to laugh and laugh. I can just hear him. I can also hear him proclaiming, “What did she think was going to happen with two big dogs!” Bryan said that he could not remember the last time he had heard his dad laugh.
The front of the cards I made for Uncle Myrwin always had some type of a farming picture that would mean something to him. On that card was a small red Farmall tractor. My cousin had that very tractor. Father and son, once again, talked tractors together.
Then, later that afternoon, my dad called. He, too, had gone to visit Uncle Myrwin as he was leaving in a day or so to winter in Arizona. Dad was overjoyed that his big brother, again, recognized him. He hadn’t for years. They even got to visit. Dad was so very happy, that for those few moments, he had his brother back.
Uncle Mrywin did well for about two weeks after that. I am so glad he had that time and that so many people got to say good-bye to him, even if I didn’t. What a great last Christmas gift for his family.
The last letter I wrote to him was about Christmas in the church where our family has worshiped for generations. Where he and I were both baptized and confirmed. Where his funeral was held. I described the beautiful stained glass windows and how some of the gentlemen, including his Uncle Ed, would sing Christmas hymns in Swedish. I wrote about being together on the farm to celebrate Christ’s birth and how special it was when the Mennonite families came Christmas caroling. How they sang in perfect harmony.
Just like the Mennonite’s songs paintings need to harmonize. With this painting; however, I am just not finding the right note. I have tried and tried to make the light and colors balance only to have perfection flee in a brush stroke.
Obviously, I am never going to create a perfect anything, but if I could produce perfection my great niece Laney would be a perfectly healthy skipping, tongue-sticking out, singing three-year-old. Not a little lost lamb. Her mother, my niece, would again have her daughter. She, too, would not be a little lost lamb.
In a perfect world, I would have been able to hug my uncle Myrwin a last time and tell him how much I loved him. I would have gotten one of his famous whisker burns and bear hugs. There would have been a proper good-bye…or see ya around. Then, to lighten the mood he would have exclaimed with gusto,”I have Alzheimer’s, my dear girl, what did you think was going to happen?”
Really, what did I think was going to happen? That everyone I love is going to live forever? That pain, grief, suffering and all other bad things only happen to others? Only old people die? That God is a cosmic vending machine and if I only pray or believe hard enough he will give me my way? That my will supersedes his will?
No, I thought none of the above. I know that in this life we all take our turns. I have prayed many times on bended knee for God’s will to be done and for me to accept his will….whether I like it or not. I say that as a two-time cancer survivor and a woman who lost several babies.
God is the only perfection. It is because of the imperfections in this world and myself, that he gave us Christmas in the first place. God so loved us that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him shall never perish, but have eternal life. I know that I will not be parted forever from those I love. That someday we will all meet again.
Our family motto, according to my nephew Adam, is that Larson’s never quit. So, I will finish the painting. Its sunrise will be very pink, the waves on the lake will be bright blue and Jesus will find the little lost lamb.
When the painting is finally done, I will frame my grief for Laney and Uncle Myrwin beautifully.