Tanya Lockwood never wanted to play Scrabble against her mother-in-law Lauma.
“We’d play a word like cat and she’d throw out xylophone,” Tanya shared at Lauma Lockwood’s memorial gathering on Thursday night at Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel. “Her knowledge of the English language was incredible. She was an amazing communicator.”
What made Lauma’s Scrabble skills extra remarkable? She wasn’t a native English speaker; Lauma was born in the small town of Gulbene, Latvia in 1932.
Her father, Jullijs, was a forester for the Latvian government and soldier for the Latvian Military while her mother, Natalija, was a busy homemaker and managed the family’s small farm. Lauma was raised in a rural Latvian environment alongside her older sister, Gaida. As a young girl, she attended a one-room schoolhouse with children from adjoining farms.
WWII greatly impacted Lauma’s family. When the Germans invaded, her family had soldiers living in their home for a period of time, which was inconvenient to say the least. However, it was when the Russians pushed back into Latvia that her family began having the most problems. At one point, Lauma’s father, Julijs had to hide in the woods near the family farm to avoid being captured by the Russians. Eager to escape, her family fled to Germany in 1944, spending six years in refugee camps in German cities. Lauma continued schooling in the camps along with other Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, and Polish refugees. It was during this time that she learned to speak English.
In 1950, Lauma’s family was sponsored by the Lutheran Relief Fund to come to the United States to live with and work for a family on their farm. Eventually, Lauma and her family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
So it was only fitting at Lauma’s memorial gathering that there was Latvian food and liquor.
“As you walk around this room tonight and read the stories, look at the pictures and eat the food, I hope you get a sense of the woman that my mother was,” Lauma’s son Doug told those gathered.
Family and friends were treated to Piragis (Lauma’s recipe) and some of her most sought after baked goods—pecan bars and cherry coffee cake. And, of course, there was Riga Black Balsam.
“This is truly what Latvians drink at funerals,” said Doug after inviting everyone to take a glass and share in a toast to his mom.
“She was one of the most selfless people I ever knew," Doug said. “She will be very missed.”
Throughout the evening, relatives and friends looked through Lauma’s scrapbooks full of old Latvian passports, pictures and documents, and they circled up to share stories about the impact Lauma had on their life:
“She was the best letter writer.”
“She was an amazing hostess.”
“When she walked it was like she was dancing.”
“She was so elegant and poised.”
“She was all about bringing people together.”