Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 30, 2004
Face to face with Grandpa
Grandpa Nels Mostrom lived his last nine years in a nursing home. Grandpa thrived with all those "old people" - his term for the other residents. His Bible and the hymns he had sung at Marion Hill Lutheran Church brought him daily comfort and wisdom to meet whatever came his way.
Mom and Aunt Edith visited Grandpa every week, sometimes several times a week. They saw to it that Grandpa had everything he needed and wanted. His candy dish was always filled with soft peppermints. He always had plenty of note cards for his weekly correspondence with us grandkids. His clothes were always mended when they needed it, and his tables were crowded with photos of his daughters, their children and their children's children.
For Christmas 1980, Jerome and I were going to the farm to be with my family. I thought we should bring Grandpa along, so I called the nursing home. I was in tears when I got off the phone.
"They said it's too cold and that Grandpa might get sick if we take him out," I told Jerome.
"That's BS," he said, in his typical no-nonsense way. "He's 95 years old and this might be his last Christmas. We're NOT going to leave him there. He should be with his family."
When we entered the home, the residents were already in the dining room waiting for their Christmas Eve supper. When Grandpa saw us, his eyes lit up and he stood to greet us.
"We're taking you home with us for Christmas, Grandpa," I said as I led him to get his coat.
"Ja, dat be fine," he responded.
Grandpa played his harmonica for us that Christmas which, as it turned out, was his last. He died three months later.
But Grandpa joined us again this Christmas. Edith had loaned me a 1963 tape of a woman interviewing Grandpa. Grandpa told about his life in the northern part of Sweden and as a miner and lumberjack in Colorado. He also talked about Swedish customs and superstitions, such as that of the "Jul Tomte" - the Christmas troll who does mischief if you haven't been kind, but leaves gifts if you've been good.
But my favorite part was Grandpa singing the hymn, "Face to Face."
I asked Art to make a copy of Edith's tape for me and then pull off the hymn to give CDs of it to Mom, Edith and each of us five grandchildren for Christmas. Art obliged, first putting the song through an editing program on his computer to smooth out scratchy parts and to delete a dog barking in the background.
The sound of Grandpa's voice echoing in the house took my breath away. It was as if he were right there with us singing his heart out.
He sang all four verses a cappella, adding the refrain after each one.
"Face to face shall I behold Him, far beyond the starry sky; Face to face in all His glory, I shall see Him by and by."
Art put a photo of Grandpa, and the words to the hymn on the sleeve of the CD case. He also added a picture of the ship Grandpa took from Sweden to America in 1909 and the words, "Singer Nels Mostrom braved the stormy Atlantic Ocean on the steamship Adriatic just so he could sing his favorite hymn for you at this special time of year."
When Edith received her CD a few days before Christmas, she called me.
"Thank you so much," she said. "I sat right down and listened to it, and I cried."
My brother had a similar reaction. We had gathered at our home to exchange gifts and when he opened the CD, he said, "You're kidding. Does this really have Grandpa singing on it? Where did you get it? Here, put it on."
When Mariya put the CD in the player and Grandpa started singing, Dave got all choked up. He couldn't say anything for a few minutes.
Dave's daughter-in-law Rachel, who is pregnant and due in May, filled in the silence.
"I want a copy so Nels' great-great grandchild will know his voice," she said.
So, more than 40 years after Grandpa sang the hymn and 24 years after his last Christmas, once again we were face to face.
Grandpa Nels Mostrom at Christmas time 1964.