If you’ve subscribed to this blog any length of time, you’ve run across entries written about my paternal grandmother.
Grandma was a tiny person physically, but she loomed large in her family in part because of her longevity. Born in 1915, she died in 2019 at age 104. I have clear, vivid memories of her because I knew her when I was an adult, a middle-aged adult. We were pen pals for decades, and as the proud recipient of many of her diaries, I have relived many of her days with her as I paged through her journals.
Drawing on those diaries, her letters, my memories and the memories of some of the other people in our family and community who will never forget her, I wrote a biography, Fruitful Labor: How to Live to 104 Gracefully, Gratefully. Today is launch day!
Fruitful Labor describes Grandma’s life, her faith, her labor and, to a lesser extent, her pies (more about her pies here). The phrase “fruitful labor” doesn’t just refer to Grandma’s pies, though. It’s also used on Philippians 1:21 in reference to life here on earth. At her request, I read a passage from Philippians at Grandma’s funeral when she died two years ago. She didn’t just fill space during her lifetime; she was a faithful servant.
Whether or not you like pie or knew my grandmother, you might enjoy this little book (and pick up a few tips for longevity, the first being if you’re gonna eat pie, you should make it from scratch). Here’s the book synopsis:
Laura Wallgren (1915-2019) was a farmer’s wife, a devoted Christian and a talented quilter. Living a simple life among the rolling hills of New York Mills, Minnesota, Grandma Laura was plain speaking, spunky and a little bit vain. She also was one of those rare Americans who lived to 104. Can you imagine? Even she couldn’t imagine. The centenarian said more than once she didn’t know why she had lived so long. But the answer may be found among her twenty-five years of diary entries documenting family, good food, the weather and gratitude for all of it.
Revealing a retirement story that unfolds in a small town in the mid-1980s to 2009, Wallgren’s journals feel like an anthropological study of a Central Minnesota widow. The diaries are a quilt of sorts, detailing the dash between the years of birth and death. From the threads, Wallgren’s granddaughter Monica Lee coaxes stories of her grandmother’s appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables, an accident in which Wallgren breaks her neck at age 84, and a touching account of a daughter-in-law’s battle with cancer. Each day is its own unique block, yet knitted together, patterns emerge, colors coordinate and a beautiful tapestry of family love and personal perseverance emerges.
A charming tale of family ties, over-the-top gardening and persisting despite the brutal Minnesota winters and the volume of grief only a 104-year-old experiences, this heartfelt portrait of a Midwestern centenarian who carries on with grit and humor is like a Wallgren family recipe for fresh strawberry pie (recipe not included).
Fruitful Labor has been available since December, but I waited to officially launch it until I could send copies to my cousins, Grandma’s grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated. I put this book together with them in mind. Paging through Grandma’s diaries these past few months made me feel so close to her, and I wanted them to feel the same. We all are clear evidence of Grandma’s presence on earth, and now this book is another way she lives on.
Fruitful Labor is available on Amazon as both a paperback and Kindle version, and it’s priced to share: