In his sweet eulogy of his grandmother Mary Marsden, Evan poked gentle fun at Mary’s strong Minnesota accent in which she greeted him on the telephone — “Ohh, heyeee, Ev” — and signed off with “That’s all from Lake Wobegon,” a reference any Minnesotan and many others across the country recognize from Garrison Keillor’s storytelling on Minnesota Public Radio’s “Prairie Home Companion.”

That’s all from Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.

Garrison Keillor’s motto about his fictitious small Minnesotan town of Lake Wobegon

Mary was a strong woman — and passionate progressive Democrat — whose life force kept her going through heartbreak and cancer to her beloved winter escape in Acapulco and back until just before her 93rd birthday, when, days after Joe Biden’s win, a brief illness stopped that determined forward momentum.

It is hard to believe that powerful voice, with all its nasal twang and Norsky vowels, is gone.

Mary and Dave Marsden were very close Macalester College friends of my parents. Their first child, Betsy, was the first baby my mother had ever held before I was born a few months later. Their second child, Annie, was my sister’s age. The Marsden home in St. Paul was on our home leave circuit every couple of years when we visited from overseas. We grew up with Betsy and Annie during these summertime reunions on the wide, welcoming porch of Mary and Dave’s St. Paul home.

When I dropped out of college after my sophomore year and drifted to Minnesota during the final years of my dad’s Foreign Service career, Mary gave me not only a home but also a purpose, as if I were actually needed. Somehow that “job” resulted in me making oatmeal for a very surprised breakfast crew of the younger Marsdens, Brian and Craig. Mary knew I’d find my way, and she just accepted me as I was, then and always.

Years later — after Betsy and I moved to Brooklyn and I wore one of her dresses for my first date with the man that became my husband — Mary also embraced my husband and daughter, declaring them “precious” at every opportunity. In return, Mary became precious to each of us.

Last Mother’s Day, I wrote Mary a letter thanking her for taking me in without judgement all those years ago, for lovingly patting my fat bottom (which I hated at the time), for embracing my family. When we last spoke a couple of months ago, that Minnesota twang still made my ears buzz.

Her life may have ended, but she’s going to be with me, along with my imitation of her accent, for the rest of my life.


Me, too, Evan. Me, too.

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