She lived on this earth almost as long at the old Methodist church we turned into our home.
Grandma was born in 1915, about 24 years after the construction of the building that would one day become Church Sweet Home.
She passed away in 2019 at age 104.
I was given the diaries she kept from 1985 to 2009, her retirement years, and I spent several weeks last year sifting through the entries to write a biography (it was not unlike sifting through the detritus left in the church to create our home). And today is launch day!
Fruitful Labor: How to Live to 104 Gracefully, Gratefully describes my grandmother’s life, her faith and her labor, usually related to gardening and making pies (more about her pies here). The title, Fruitful Labor, comes from a verse in the first chapter of Philippians in reference to life here on earth. Here’s the book synopsis:
Laura Wallgren (1915-2019) was a farmer’s wife, a devoted Christian and a talented quilter. Living a simple life among the rolling hills of New York Mills, Minnesota, Grandma Laura was plain speaking, spunky and a little bit vain. She also was one of those rare Americans who lived to 104. Can you imagine? Even she couldn’t imagine. The centenarian said more than once she didn’t know why she had lived so long. But the answer may be found among her twenty-five years of diary entries documenting family, good food, the weather and gratitude for all of it.
Revealing a retirement story that unfolds in a small town in the mid-1980s to 2009, Wallgren’s journals feel like an anthropological study of a Central Minnesota widow. The diaries are a quilt of sorts, detailing the dash between the years of birth and death. From the threads, Wallgren’s granddaughter Monica Lee coaxes stories of her grandmother’s appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables, an accident in which Wallgren breaks her neck at age 84, and a touching account of a daughter-in-law’s battle with cancer. Each day is its own unique block, yet knitted together, patterns emerge, colors coordinate and a beautiful tapestry of family love and personal perseverance emerges.
A charming tale of family ties, over-the-top gardening and persisting despite the brutal Minnesota winters and the volume of grief only a 104-year-old experiences, this heartfelt portrait of a Midwestern centenarian who carries on with grit and humor is like a Wallgren family recipe for fresh strawberry pie (recipe not included).
Fruitful Labor has been available since December, but I waited to officially launch it until I could send copies to my cousins, Grandma’s grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated. I put this book together with them in mind. Paging through Grandma’s diaries these past few months made me feel so close to her, and I wanted them to feel the same. We all are clear evidence of Grandma’s presence on earth, and now this book is another way she lives on.
Whether or not you like pie or knew my grandmother, you might enjoy this little book (and pick up a few tips for longevity, the first being if you’re gonna eat pie, you should make it from scratch). You can get Fruitful Labor everywhere there’s wifi. Fruitful Labor is available on Amazon as both a paperback and Kindle version, and it’s priced to share: