An Extraordinary Woman

Stories move in circles. We don’t always notice when we become part of a story, but they can twist and turn and emerge around us. And sometimes one story is found within another, and without us noticing it, we become part of something completely different.

On my first evening in Norway Lars took me to his grandmother’s house to look for old pictures together with a neighbour. Hanna-Marie Hillestad’s house is a cosy collection of various pieces of furniture, holiday souvenirs, decorative stuff and all sorts of bits and pieces that have accumulated over the years. At the beginning of the year she moved into the old people’s home, which is why only the three of us sit on a sofa and leaf through a dozen photo albums. One thing struck me again and again: in many pictures the focus is on flowers or plants, while the people tend to move blurred into the background. At first I attributed it to a technical error or an inexperienced photographer, but then Lars began to tell me about his grandmother. Hanna-Marie was pre-eminent in the field of botany and must have been one of the most knowledgeable people in this field in her best days. She collected seeds from different countries, sold homemade teas, tinctures and healing ointments and even gave lectures about them. Later in the evening Lars showed me the basement full of dried herbs and shelves full of books and notes.

In the weeks to come, Lars took me with him to the nursing home. He visited his grandmother every Tuesday, for which I honestly admired him very much. For me it was a strange feeling to meet this special woman from the stories and pictures of her grandson now in real life. It was still an honor to meet this dynamic and stubborn lady from the photographs. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have met her a few years earlier. Age awaits us all sometime.

Among the many different tasks that Lars and I worked on was the deassembling of Hanna-Marie’s old greenhouse. There was not much left of the huge garden in which once several hundred different herbs and plants had grown, but Lars will take over the house, keeping the good pieces and memories and build new ones. In the rain we took the metal frame apart and sorted the contents of the former greenhouse. Between clay pots and old garden chairs we found a red metal box containing some small bags with different plant seeds. To our surprise the box had kept wind and weather away.

Unfortunately Hanna-Marie died with 89 years in the night to the day of my departure. No one had expected it, but it’s better than to see her suffer. That night a great woman died, whom I knew only from stories and pictures, but who accompanied me somehow during my whole stay at Lars‘. I think she was a very strong-willed person who stood up for what she believed in. It is not only in this respect that I consider her to be a role model. When I look at her grandson, I believe that this special spark, which only a few people carry within them, will continue to exist for a long time to come.

For me, the circle has closed that day. Lars allowed me to keep the seeds from the box in the garden. I carry the white bags in my backpack until I get home and there I will try to plant them. I don’t have a green thumb like Hanna-Marie Hillestad, but I will definitely try it. And maybe, who knows, that’s the beginning of a new story.

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