My childhood is filled with distant memories of my great-grandmother. Her name was Mable Croyle, but she adopted the nickname GG, short for great-grandma, when my oldest cousin Ross was born.
Every weekend when I was little, my mom, sister and I would go to the nursing home where she lived and stay there for anywhere from one hour to what seemed like the entire day.
Visiting my great-grandmother meant I had to be ready to do any sort of random chores my mom and GG could think of to keep me occupied long enough for them to have a cup of tea and talk about life.
Often the chores would be rather simple, as I was very young, but they seemed to always take more effort and energy than I wanted to put out. I would clean her kitchen and bathroom, and I would take the garbage out.
One chore in particular was my least favorite.
My great-grandma had a giant rug in the middle of her living room, and the edges were lined with frills about 3 inches long. They would get tangled from being walked on all day, but GG had a special tool that looked like a miniature rake. I would start at one corner raking the little frills straight and not stopping until they were untangled all the way around the rug.
I don’t exactly know why this chore was so daunting for me. It was, without a doubt, the easiest. But I suppose sometimes when you’re a little kid you don’t need any rhyme or reason to like or dislike something. You just do.
I wish I had been old enough to understand just exactly how amazing my great-grandmother was. Her family moved to America from Norway in the early 1900s. She lived most of her life in Central Washington, around the Wenatchee area, and moved to Marysville sometime I believe in the early ’60s. When she died in 2004, I was 8 years old, and it wasn’t easy for me to comprehend what that loss meant to our family. She had raised my grandmother and her brothers practically on her own, and, as my grandma would put it, “she did a damn good job doing it.”
GG had hundreds of her own secret recipes in a small box in her kitchen, and when she died she left that little box to my Aunt Tammy.
That’s how she found the recipe for lefse.
The year GG died we started a new tradition in her honor: the annual family lefse party.
All my aunts, uncles and cousins meet at my grandma’s house at 9 in the morning two days before Christmas, and we begin the assembly line. One person gets the dough made, usually Grandma. Then, the next person takes the dough and makes a bunch of little balls. The next person rolls them out as thin as they can and decks them with flour before the final stage of cooking.
Each one of the cousins takes part in the assembly line while we all sing carols and “A Christmas Story” plays in the background.
These parties still go on every year, and I hope the tradition will continue long after me. Every year, I look forward to making lefse with my family, almost more than I look forward to actual Christmas.
Time spent with family is the most precious time we have, and the memories last forever. It’s funny how certain memories stick out in your brain more than others, as when I think of my GG and I’m immediately brought back to my childhood days, raking out the frills of her rug and waiting for my mom to tell me it’s time to head out.
But now that I’m older, all I can think about is how great it would be if my great-grandma was able to see the tradition that her recipe helped start. If I could just have one more talk with her, or even just one more chance to rake out those frills, I would not take it for granted.
From the late Mable Croyle via great-grandson Eljay Johnson
5 large potatoes
½ cup sweet cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
Flour ( ½ cup per cup of mashed potatoes)
Boil and mash potatoes, Add cream, butter and salt; beat until light and let cool, Add flour, roll into ball and knead until smooth. Cut off pieces about the size of an egg, roll until flat and thin (thinner than a tortilla). Place on large griddle with no grease on medium heat and flip when it starts to bubble. Wait until underside is light brown.
Eljay Johnson is a recent graduate of Spokane Falls Community College.