Tillie (1919-2004)

This story begins with a girl named Mathilda…a big name for a little girl. Wisely her parents did not burden her with a middle name and Mathilda soon became known simply as Tillie.

Tillie was born to Cornelius and Mathilda (Tillie’s namesake) whose early life took them from Sweden to Ellis Island where they joined many others who were excited and proud to become Americans. The young couple met and settled in the Midwest among other immigrant families. There they raised four daughters, Tillie being the second oldest.

Tillie’s story can hardly be told without Mel, her sweetheart of 72 years. They met when they were both 12 years old. Mel was the new-kid-on-the-block in their neighborhood and one day Tillie stopped to talk to him.

Young hearts were exchanged that sunny day in the year of 1931. In 1935, at the age of 16, Tillie and Mel sealed that love with their first kiss. They were sitting on a neighbor’s fence chatting when Mel suddenly leaned over and pecked Tillie on the cheek. He immediately jumped down and ran away like greased lightning. Tillie waited patiently for his return. After running for two blocks Mel decided maybe he should go back. He thought if Tillie was still there it would mean she liked the kiss, and, if she was gone…well, then he had made a big mistake. When he got back to the neighbor’s fence he found Tillie still sitting there and she had a big smile on her face.

On June 29, 1940, in the living room of her family home, Tillie and Mel committed their hearts and lives to each other. They soon started a small business with the determination and optimism of 1st generation Americans and began a family. Then a brave move to a new state, Arizona, was made to hopefully relieve the symptoms of their eldest child’s asthma.

Years passed, the family grew. Love was all around. Tillie helped Mel at his new business while she cooked and baked and made their house a home. In the little household Mel was the tree but Tillie was the flower. She made everything look and feel lovely and each day unfolded with her gentle touch and soothing ways.

Tillie’s home was always a gathering place for adult friends and neighborhood children. Friends would frequently declare that she had the cleanest house and was the best cook in the neighborhood. She was famous for putting on the greatest kids’ parties with handmade decorations and scrumptious food. No one wanted to miss one of her parties.

Tillie sewed intricate Halloween costumes, made family Christmases memorable, played lots of games, and cooked wonderful things. We would come home from school and see a freshly baked pie cooling on the counter or be greeted with the amazing aroma of her famous Swedish Rye Bread. She made her four kids feel that they were the luckiest in the whole world. And they always knew that she would be their supreme defender and unflagging champion. She was the mom that every kid wanted.

Over the years Tillie was blessed with 7 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren, all of whom she adored beyond belief and spoiled unashamedly. She was known as the “fun Grammie.”

Even now, over a decade after she passed away, we miss her terribly. We have included Tillie as a contributor in our blog partly because we are a part of her and she is a part of us. But, also, because we are lucky enough to have her old recipe cards and she would be ever so happy if we shared some and she could continue cooking for you, our readers.

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