Oh, most of you don't know that story. Right. Some of you do; skip on if that's you. So I was about 8 or 9, making it 1986 or '87, and Mother and Dad and I were up here visiting my grands (which always, always means my mother's parents). The five of us had packed a big picnic, way more of everything than we needed, and set off with the intention of enjoying the city outdoors. And we were driving off, and suddenly it hit us that we had wandered into Nordeast and were not far from Great-Grandma Lingen's apartment. And there was space in the minivan and food enough in the coolers. On a whim, we dropped in to see if she was there and wanted to go on a picnic with us. She was. She did.
So we got to Lake Harriet, and we noticed that there were bunches of people gathered at the Bandshell, but there was nothing audible. It was the week of the Fourth of July. Lovely, we all said to ourselves (but not out loud). It'll probably be a community band playing John Philip Sousa marches for Great-Grandma for the holiday. Couldn't be better. So we got out and settled into our picnic spot. And the music started.
Mid-'80s thrash metal. Amps turned up to 11. No possibility of conversation, or really even coherent thought.
Now, you have to understand, Great-Grandma Lingen had had a hard life, including ongoing pain from her angina, so she was not always the world's most cheerful person. So the grands and Mother and Dad and I sort of collectively sucked in our breath, winced, and turned, oh so slowly, to see Great-Grandma's reaction.
She was beaming. She thought we had done it on purpose. She went around for months afterwards telling her friends that her grandson and his family thought she was so cool and fun that we took her to rock concerts with us. We got in the minivan when we were done eating, and she declared that that had been fun, and where were we going next? And so we drove along the old streetcar line, and she told us stories of the different things that had happened to her on the streetcar when she was young, and the time during the Depression when her brother who kept his money in grocery bags sent her home with grocery money in a glass jar he'd dipped into the bag, and how scared she was that someone was going to take it from her before she could get it home. And we went down to Minnehaha Falls, and she told me all about the picnics and church socials they'd had down there when she was a girl, the fun they'd had, and then when she and Great-Grandpa were first married, the good times at the Falls. She pointed out what was "new" since then. And that's the day I fell in love with the Falls. (I've regarded the Lake Harriet Bandshell with a wary fondness as well.) She glowed with happiness the rest of the day. We had strawberry malts. We drove back down Wirth Parkway. She told stories, and we all wanted to hear them. It was one of the perfectly happy days of my childhood. I think it was one of the perfectly happy days of her old age.
When she got older, Great-Grandma would write me letters that began with things like, "Dear Marissa, I've been to three funerals this week. Not such good turnout for Bill Johnson's. Don't know what the Johnsons were thinking," the sorts of things that a college student has trouble answering. She overtly kept score with her family. My other great-grandmother, my Gran, was cheerful and upbeat as well as having a wicked sense of humor, and I'm afraid in some ways Great-Grandma Lingen was the "difficult" great-grandma for me. And I adored (and do still adore) Gran's eldest son, while I have very little use for Great-Grandma Lingen's because of his consistent lousy behavior over my lifetime. So that was in some ways a bit of difficulty as well, though not as much as perhaps it could have been.
But living in this city I know how much it was her city, too. I know she loved it like I do, because she made sure to show me how she loved it, that day and on the day she took me on the roof of her building to show me how pretty our city is all spread out in front of us. So I come around corners and find my "difficult" great-grandma very much in my heart and very much on my mind. And I'm really glad that my folks said, "Hey, should we take Great-Grandma along? Why not?" on that day, because that one day made so much difference in how I remember her.