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Marilyn Heltzer: Celebrating the Fourth of July with friends and family

This is being written several days before July 4. And you’ll read it some days after Independence Day. But here’s a family record that is probably unequaled. Every Fourth of July for seventy-plus years, the Fenskes have celebrated the day with a picnic: Noon. Potluck. Lake Marquette. Be there.

 My dad, who’s long gone, wanted to own a piece of Beltrami County and he bought several lots on the lake south of town. He never lived here, but he did buy a farm and planned to retire in the North Country. But the poor man died before he reached retirement age, and the only remnant of the farm are couple of houses, both are in bad shape. The barn was torn down some years ago.

But back to Lake Marquette and the picnic. It’s always scheduled for noon on the fourth. Because the men had to get back to the farm to milk the cows and they had to leave around four o’clock. Now nobody in this family has milked a cow for many years, but the tradition goes on. And if the Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday or another day of the week, that’s tough. We always celebrate on the fourth.  

My dad and his dad hammered up a cabin at the lake that we came to each summer when I was a kid. The old aunts, only two of whom are still alive (both at age 93) used to get together for coffee to plan who would bring what.

Now it’s all done by email and the cousins are urged to forward the message to their kids. And yes, we’re into the fourth generation. Or maybe the fifth. It’s hard to keep track.

This year, we’ll also have Finnish relatives. My grandma and her sister came to this country from Finland back around the turn of the century, the last century, just to be clear. Both got married, and their husbands farmed the land. The Fenskes in Bemidji Township and the Lunds in Grant Valley Township. l.

There will be name tags of course:  Pia, Rasmus, Sophia, Rune, Karitya, Gorel, Nisse. Those are some of the names of our Finnish relatives. Of course, our names are so recognizable:  Chet, Harold, Gerald,  Nancy, Bill, Angie, Jim, Linda.

We will all gather on the Fourth. A relative who’s a retired Lutheran minister will lead us in table grace, probably one we sing, and then we’ll go through the line and load our plates. We won’t talk politics because while some of us are Democrats, there are Republicans in the family too.

Maybe international relations, but we don’t want to put our Finnish relatives on the spot. Now, the weather is always a safe topic. So as we get to know one another, we will surely talk about the weather: here, there, everywhere.

And we will celebrate American Independence Day. Maybe folks in a generation to come will join our kinfolk in celebrating a Finnish National Holiday. Who knows?