Grandma, A Woman of Sisu

Today would have been my Grandma Tyne Eleanor Lammie Naasko’s 95th birthday. Born in 1923 to Finnish immigrant parents, she embodied the cultural spirit of her Sisu heritage from an early age. She had an abundance of determination, grit, courage and resilience. A harsh toughness sometimes concealed her softer and gentler side, but as a granddaughter, that’s the side I knew best.

Grandma was a survivor. At age 7, she survived a tornado that lifted her house from its foundation and carried it 50 feet.

As a teenager, she took the nation’s only “school train” and stoked the fire on board when temperatures dipped far below zero in the frigid and deeply snowy winters of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

She became the first person on that side of my family to graduate from high school. Class of 1940.

grandma train page 1-800

grandma train page 2
School kids walking to the train during the winter of 1940 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

As an adult, grandma could bake 20 loaves of bread a day while caring for nine kids, and the cows and the chickens, and then cook lunch for the local school. She lost her husband while she still had four young children at home. She carried on, watching two of her sons go off to Vietnam and one come back home without his legs.

“You can stay here for awhile, but you can’t stay forever,” she told him.

Sisu.

My dad had it in spades, too.

Here’s what I remember most about Grandma: Her deeply accented chuckle, and the rides in her car up and down the dirt hills to Agate Beach. Her pasties and pan pizza. The smell of warm soapy dish water and old wood. Clothes hanging from the wash line. The way she spit in a sink. The creak of the stairs as she walked upstairs and the creak of her chair as she stood up. The forlorn look she wore while sitting in the vinyl chair she kept by the back kitchen window. Her fiercely unwavering manner.

She was a woman of conviction.

Most vividly, I remember her as we pulled up to her remote farmhouse, long after dark and a days-long drive from Colorado. I remember her opening the door and descending the old wooden steps to greet us at the end of the gravel driveway. I imagine she’d been waiting for hours in  anticipation and worry. These were the days long before cellphones pre-announced arrivals.

I remember seeing the look of anxiety and burden melt, her eyes start to dance, and her arms opening for a giant bear hug. That was the real woman, and she was a softie.

grandma ben and me
That’s me in the pigtails, my bro in the overalls.

*Feature photo is Grandma showing her fun-loving side with her sister, Gertie.

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