My Aunt

My aunt and my dad’s sister, Maj Siri Ulmen, passed away last week while I was in the States. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about this until I was flying out of the country on Sunday. Last May she fell and hit her head, eventually leading to a blood cot that had to be removed. Her two daughters, Leah and Erin, kept a blog about her progress over the summer. I hadn’t checked it in a few weeks because I thought Maj Siri was getting better. My dad is in Minneapolis this week, visiting my cousins and their families.

The photo above is of my dad’s family. It was some sort of passport photo taken just before they boarded a ship to America from Sweden. As I understand it, their immigration in the early 1950s was inspired by the success of Sven’s brother, John, in Iowa and Nebraska. From left to right is Edla (my grandmother), Bo (my dad), Bert (my uncle), Maj Siri, and Sven (my grandfather). My dad was the middle child. I imagine that he must be feeling quite alone now, as he is the only surviving member of his family.

To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t seen my Aunt in over 25 years. And I only met one of my cousins very briefly when she was a little girl. There were various reasons why so much time passed without any contact between us. I do have many good memories of Maj Siri when we lived in Minnesota, however. She had a dry sense of humor and a really throaty laugh. She became an adult in the ‘60s, and there was always something hippy-like about her that I found fascinating. I know this is going to sound awful to contemporary ears, but I also fondly associate her and the rest of my dad’s Swedish relatives with the smell of cigarette smoke. As a kid I’d hang around listening to their conversations as they all puffed away on their cigs. The women usually had a special case for their packs, and everyone seemed to carry a personal lighter. My grandmother later developed a hacking cough, and most of the family died at relatively young ages due to various health problems. But memories of smoke-filled discussions (and plenty of arguments) between Maj Siri, my dad, Bert, and their cousins can still easily bring a smile to my face.

My thoughts are very much with my dad and my cousins. And I’ll say a prayer for my Aunt too.