Adine is my oldest friend. And by oldest, I don’t mean by the number of years we’ve been friends (19), but by age – Adine is 101. She lives in her 18th-century home in a southern Swedish village with a feisty beagle mix that, until a few years ago, she took on daily two- to three-mile walks in the woods. Now she walks on her treadmill. Her house sits in a spacious garden of that she’s planted herself – colorful, but casual, in the Swedish manner – at the end of a lilac- and raspberry-lined gravel drive.
During my years living in the village, she came often for dinner, crossing the front yard with Mira punctually at 6:30. I always invited her when non-Swedish friends visited because her English is flawless (as a child, she went to school in London) and she tells stories that would fascinate Jack Kerouac. I suppose I made her sing for her supper, but I never tire of hearing her exotic tales of romance and adventure. I may not remember them precisely.
Her mother was a late-marrying, half-Norwegian, near spinster, who met her husband at an ex-pat garden party in in Tehran in 1913 while on a grand voyage with her aunt. Adine’s father belonged to a group of Swedish military officers hired by the Qajar ruler of Iran to organize a national army. I envision women in white muslin dresses and wide-brimmed hats drinking tea and men in uniforms playing polo. A lively telegram exchange continued the relationship once Near Spinster returned to her rambling family apartment in a building on a high bluff with panoramic views of Stockholm. Several telegrams in, the Swedish Officer sent his proposal and she responded ‘yes’. Adine has the telegrams. Arranging the marriage was complicated because, although she was Jewish, the couple wanted to be married by a Lutheran priest. Sweden’s Jewish community in the early twentieth century was not particularly observant.
Thus, back to Tehran. The closest Lutheran priest was stationed in Sarmarkand, so off the couple went, with Auntie chaperoning. By the time they arrived and got married, it was fall 1914 and World War I had broken out, blocking New Wife’s planned route back to Stockholm through Europe. Plan A, returning with her husband to his new post in Shiraz, seemed unwise. So, she and Auntie returned via Moscow. Back in the train-only days.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Adine married a Latvian musician in the early 1950s and the couple decided to spend their honeymoon hitchhiking across North Africa. At one point, Husband fell ill and couldn’t travel. They were running out of money. Adine left him in – I forget – Marrakesh, Casablanca? She hitchhiked alone to another country – to Tunis? Algiers? – where their mail was sent. The natives were very helpful and at one point the police provided overnight hospitality, true hospitality, in a jail.
Adine oriented me to Tolg, taking me on various long walk through the forest, where chanterelles spring up along the banks of a babbling brook and narrow animal paths remind you that you’re never really alone. When she was in her mid-80s, Adine decided to plant a jasmine bush. A fragrant one. She bought one from a local nursery and patiently waited two years for the first fragrance-emitting blossoms. Nothing. They were odorless. She returned to the nursery, and they gave her a replacement bush. Two more years of anticipation and again, no perfume. Adine, now over 90, drove determinedly to the nursery was given her third jasmine. Finally, a magnificently fragrant one!
The highlight of my mother’s visits to Sweden was time spent with Adine. An artist, Adine once invited my mother to choose a watercolor as a gift and Mother selected one of a red onion shedding its skin, which now hangs in my kitchen. When Adine was 99, she successfully renewed her driver’s license. A few years earlier, eager to master new skills, she decided to build her own outdoor steps to her kitchen entrance. She built the form with lumber and mixed and poured the concrete herself. They’re not perfect, but they get you to the door – so good enough and pretty impressive for a first attempt.
Every summer, I took Adine for a row. She loved it and she took her turns, too. Sometimes, we’d row out to Lake Tolg, past the spot to which we occasionally walked in the evenings, past a pasture with horses, a potato patch, to a quiet place where you can hear the loons in the evening and watch the odd fish jumping. Other times, we’d head in the opposite direction, through what I called ‘Troll Forest’, with its mossy, arthritic roots looping into the water along the shore. It’s dark, quiet, and mysterious and you might see a cow, fox, moose, or owl. She painted us together there.
Adine is my role model. With her salt and pepper grey hair, wrinkle-free face, good posture, and sturdy build, she looks thirty years younger. Always curious, always kind, always creative, always strong, Adine inspires me to be my best self. Happy birthday, dear Adine!