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Remembering the No. 1 Lefse-Loving Lady

Mary Jane, the beloved No. 1 Lefse-Loving Lady.

“What are you snobbish about?”

That was the question posed during a small gathering of friends and family in our living room last spring. We agreed that everyone has an uppity attitude about something. Then we each took a turn admitting our own particular area of assumed superior taste. One confessed to being a martini snob; another to being snobbish about movies.

Because of our sister Mary Jane’s well-known open-heartedness, we knew she would have trouble coming up with a sense of superiority about anything. We unanimously rejected all of her proposed persnicketiness — until she declared herself to be a snob about lefse. With a touch of indignation in her tone, she insisted: “You cannot make real lefse with instant mashed potatoes!”

Scary Lefse?

As a fierce defender of homemade lefse, Mary Jane always showed up for the family’s fall festival of lefse making at sister Nancy’s house. Starting from scratch with russet potatoes, we six siblings — along with some of our spouses, our children, and, eventually, grandchildren — mixed, rolled, and baked lefse. With four electric lefse grills fired up to 500 F, fuses would blow at least once during the daylong lefse-making marathon. The kids called out “Open griddle!” whenever a hot grill stood empty for a moment too long. We ate plenty of lefse while we worked. And we stacked up enough lefse to wrap and save for Thanksgiving dinner.

Lefse witches Mary Jane, left, and Kathleen Weflen. Be afraid, be very afraid!

For Halloween Mary Jane and I had a tradition of wearing costumes to greet trick-or-treating kids at my front door. Most often, we disguised ourselves as witches. But one year Mary Jane showed up at my house dressed in white and wearing an apron and a chef’s hat emblazoned with Uff da. Her face was dusted floury-white and her cheeks were blushing lipstick-red. She was wielding a lefse stick.

“Do you think the kids will know what you are supposed to be?” I said, laughing. “Since when did lefse makers become scary?!”

Lefse for Her Last Birthday

At a family dinner, someone asked each of us to name our all-time favorite, couldn’t-live-without food. Without hesitation, Mary Jane said: “Lefse!”

So I made a batch of lefse for her 58th birthday. Lefse — plus a jar of lingonberry jam, birchwood butter knife, and dishtowel embroidered with Grandma’s lefse recipe — seemed a perfect gift. Sunday, May 7, we Weflen siblings and Mary Jane’s daughter gathered for a backyard picnic to celebrate.

That birthday turned out to be Mary Jane’s last. Though ever-hopeful and full of faith and joy, she was suffering from lung cancer.

Mary Jane died Nov. 3, 2017. Our family did not make lefse for Thanksgiving. But our lefse-making tradition will hold.

Fresh Lefse at the Cemetery

Mary Jane and I belonged to a Norwegian-American scholarship organization called Lakselaget, aka the salmon club of “women who swim against the current.” An American Sign Language interpreter, Mary Jane orchestrated and interpreted a memorable Lakselaget presentation by a deaf professor. He told about his travels to Norway to teach at a folk school for the deaf. At a Lakselaget luncheon this past February, Gary Legwold spoke about lefse and his book Keep on Rolling! I demonstrated how to roll lefse. Mary Jane would have, in her words, “loved it all to pieces.” A slideshow beforehand featured an epitaph and portrait of Mary Jane smiling joyously. So I rolled each round in honor of our No. 1 Lefse-Loving Lady.

On a Saturday night this May, I made lefse. Then Sunday I brought the fresh lefse to Corinthian Cemetery in Farmington, Minnesota. There, our family gathered to remember Mary Jane and her birthday. We picnicked on lefse — rolled up with unsalted butter and brown sugar, just how Mary Jane loved her lefse.

A sweet moment of two lefse sisters enjoying some shade in the spring of 2016.
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