ST. ALBANS — Ask St. Albans author Ilamae Lund about plans for her birthday next year, or any designs she might have for a fourth book, and she laughs. Hard.
“It’s a day at a time for this old kid,” Lund said on Dec. 9, during a book signing at The Eloquent Page, in St. Albans.
Lund turns 90 next June; she does not look it, nor act it. Instead, she is in the middle of her second straight holiday season of book promotion for her 2015 release, “Holy Cows,” which describes Christmas memories of her childhood in Depression-era Iowa, with her family of seven.
“I’m pleased with it — kind of modestly pleased,” said Lund, who uses her full name — Ilamae Vinje Warnes Lund — in her work. “These are not embellished memories. I remember them. I have an extraordinary memory, for some reason. Not necessarily for really important things — just for life.”
Lund was “born into a storytelling culture” in Worth County Iowa, and she earned an English degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., but she took a lifetime to live a dream: to publish a book for widespread release.
In “Holy Cows,” Lund recalls her first Christmas tree, a wonderful gift that her mother received from her brother, Lloyd, and the Christmas Eve that Lund, then just 4, was allowed to help with chores in the barn — a treat for her at the time, and a moment that her mother made into an unforgettable memory.
St. Olaf College carries “Holy Cows” for sale. In Vermont, the book is available at: The Eloquent Page and Breezy Acres Primitive Barn, both in St. Albans; Crow Bookshop in Burlington; Phoenix Books in Essex; Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne; Bridgeside Books in Waterbury; Bear Pond Books in Montpelier; and Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.
(Incidentally, that list is on Lund’s blog. Yes — she even blogs.)
Lund wrote “Holy Cows” after moving to St. Albans three years ago to be closer to her daughter, Kate Wolinsky, and Wolinksy’s family. Wolinsky has a home-based graphic design business on St. Albans Bay. She designed and formatted “Holy Cows.”
Lund recruited Fairfax artist Harald Aksdal to illustrate “Holy Cows.” Initially, he rejected her.
“I don’t illustrate books,” he said, when she called him with her request.
Then he considered her name, and his, and — in Norwegian — asked if she was of Norwegian descent.
“Yes, I am,” she replied — in Norwegian.
Aksdal followed suit: “Why don’t you come over, and we’ll discuss your book?”
Aksdal has finished 24 new illustrations for a collection of short non-fiction stories that Lund will launch in early 2017. Like “Holy Cows,” Lund’s new book, “The Spoon Holder,” will be self-published; it will follow Lund from childhood to her graduation from St. Olaf College.
“‘Holy Cows’ turned out quite well,” Aksdal said. “Ilamae is a wonderful person.”
Lund was born on June 13, 1927, to first-generation Norwegian immigrants Olai and Dagny Vinje. They had five children, four survived. Lund’s father, Olai, died when she was 3, the result of rheumatic fever he had as a child. He was 52, leaving his son, Lloyd, as the family’s surrogate father. Lloyd left St. Olaf College and returned home. He was a junior in school.
The Vinjes had 10 cows, but sold the farm when Ilamae was 9.
“There was no way we could manage it,” she said. “We did everything we could to survive, and it was all self-reliance. We sold cream. We traded eggs from our chickens for groceries. We had a flock of sheep that we sheared once a year. And Mom had a huge vegetable garden. Lloyd took a job teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. I think he made $60 a year.”
After Lund graduated from St. Olaf in 1949, she signed a teaching contract in Montana and met her first husband, Chris Warnes. They had two children and lived out West. Their marriage ended after 35 years.
Lund remarried retired management consultant Roald Lund when she was 70. He was 85.
Roald died in 2010, which sparked Ilamae’s first “real” book: a family-and-friends-only collection of words and photos that focuses on the cross-stitch projects that Lund did while Roald was dying. She’s also considering this book, “Why Grandma Kept Herself in Stitches,” for release in the coming year.
Ilamae Lund did not officially start writing until she was in her late fifties. She believed it was important to write about her life and define herself for her grandchildren and other descendants.
She also wanted to paint a picture of farming in America — “a culture that is now lost,” she said.
“It’s all bigger business now,” she said of farming in the U.S., from the West to the East. “We were self-reliant. We had no cash. No machines.”
Robotic milking machines were foreign to her until just this month.
“My mind can’t even go there,” she said.
Lund hasn’t lived on a farm in decades. She is in the publishing world now.
“To my knowledge, there are very few 90-year-olds out there writing and publishing books,” she said. “But I’m confident there are no Pulitzer Prizes in my future.”